Important questions on au pairing in the USA

In the USA, as opposed to Europe, you must pass through an au pair agency. AuPairWorld asked the director of an au pair department based in Berlin about the best practices in terms of au pairing in the USA. 

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  • Are there fixed dates for the start of an au pair year in the USA or can au pairs start at any time of the year?

    Au pairs can start at any time of the year. However, the majority of the au pairs take their flight to the USA during the summer months. At that time, designated au pair agencies offer the possibility to depart on a weekly basis, for instance. Throughout the rest of the year, the normal frequency is twice a month.

  • Next year, I would like to become an au pair in America. What should I take into consideration?

    In the USA, you cannot organise your au pair stay by yourself. You must rather pass through an exchange organisation which is a designated sponsor for the required J-1 visa.

    In order to become an au pair, you must meet the following prerequisites:

    • You can spend at least 12 months in the USA.
    • You are between 18 and 26 years old.
    • You have a good knowledge of the English language.
    • You can prove at least 200 hours of childcare experience, should you wish to look after children who are under the age of 2 years.
    • You have 3 references from persons you are not related to (2 related to childcare, 1 related to your character).
    • You have successfully completed 12 years of school.
    • You have a certificate of good conduct and a health certificate.
    • Most of the agencies require a driving licence and driving experience, which are important prerequisites for a successfull placement.

    Your benefits as an au pair are as follows:

    • Flight tickets (round trip)
    • Your own room and full board with the host family
    • Introductory seminar
    • $195.75 pocket money per week
    • Up to $500 for educational allowance in the USA
    • Holiday of 10 working days with continued payment of your pocket money
    • Usually, the full insurance package
    • One and a half days off per week; one free weekend per month
    • Employment contract observing a maximum of 45 hours of childcare and child-related chores per week

    Here you can find all prerequisites defined by the US Department of State for your au pair stay.

  • Do I need to have a driving licence to be entitled to receive the visa?

    No, but most of the agencies require the driving licence, as it enables them to find you a matching host family more easily and faster. Many host family require the au pairs to drive their children to nursery, school, sports, music lessons, doctors, friends, etc.

  • Which documents are required to become an au pair in the USA?

    You will receive all necessary application documents from the au pair agency, including the contract, forms for your doctor and the persons providing your references. You will write a letter to your host family, hand in photos or even a video, answer questions about yourself, your motivation to become an au pair and your childcare experiences. Additionally, you need a certificate of good conduct. Most of the organisations require a copy of your driving licence and passport. As soon as you have found a kind host family, which enables you to start your au pair programme, the au pair agency of your choice will provide you with the DS-2019 application form. You need this form in order to apply for the J-1 visa. The next step is to contact the American consulate of your home country.

  • How long does it take to apply for the J-1 visa? In other words, when should I contact the agency at the latest?

    As soon as you have received the DS-2019 form, you must arrange an interview at the American consulate or embassy. During summer time, it may occur that you need to wait several weeks until you get an appointment. Your waiting period really depends on your country and the season. Normally, you receive your visa within five working days. You should apply at the agency about six months before you wish to start your au pair experience. This leaves you enough time for your application process and your documents are still up to date.

  • Becoming an au pair via an agency: how does it work?

    At all agencies, you receive comprehensive application documents and have a personal interview in English, including a psychometric test. All documents will be rechecked in the USA before you qualify for the programme and can be contacted by host families. In the USA, host families are also carefully selected and need to comply with defined prerequisites. Qualified host families then decide which au pairs they wish to contact. Languages, hobbies, child care experience, nationalities, etc. can attract a host family's interest. Host families and au pairs take their decision while they are in personal contact, often via telephone or Skype.

  • What does the psychometric test actually include? How can I as an au pair prepare myself in the best possible way?

    You neither need to be afraid of this test, nor can or need you get prepared for it. Au pairs receive a list of statements. They need to personally rate each of these statements according to a scale reaching from 1 to 5. Here is an example: "I try growing as a person through this experience." Of course, in this context, the au pairs should rather think of their personal development than their body size. You should be honest when you answer statements like "I need to lie to avoid trouble", but you can certainly imagine how your answer will be evaluated by the au pair agency. Nevertheless, being honest is important. You cannot run away from problems. They will not vanish abroad and children should not be burdened with the au pair's conflicts.

  • Do I need an associate agency in my home country? What are the benefits?

    The agency must not be located in your country, but they should have representatives who can interview you personally. Although you should already have a good knowledge of English, clarifying some of the questions in the interview in one's mother tongue might be helpful. Besides, you probably gain more detailed information on the visa application and your visit at the US consulate.

  • Can I find an associate agency in every country or shall I directly contact one of the officially designated agencies?

    Here you will find a list of designated agencies. When you visit the website of an American agency, you will probably find the respective associate agency.

  • What can I do if there is no associate au pair agency in my home country?

    Many agencies have at least representatives who cooperate with an associate agency abroad. The J-1 sponsoring organisations of the au pair programme in the USA can provide you with further information.

  • According to which criteria should I choose the au pair agency?

    Be assured that you can trust all organisations which were approved by US authorities. You should compare costs and benefits and then choose your favourite agency.

  • Why do I find American host families searching an au pair through AuPairWorld, even though I must contact a designated agency anyway?

    This is a good question! Most of the au pair agencies accept so-called pre-matches. This means that they allow host families and au pairs, who have already found each other, to join the programme. On one hand, there are American host families who wish to be involved in the au pair search. On the other hand, some host families may not be familiar with the legal regulations of their country and have not dealt with visa matters so far. They are possibly not aware of the minimum programme duration of 12 months, either. If you have found a host family, you should ask them whether they are aware of the fact that they must contact a designated au pair agency in the USA.

  • How much is the fee an au pair must pay the agency?

    The agency fee depends on the organisation. However, au pairs should not solely look at programme fees, but also at benefits:

    • Is the au pair covered by insurance? If so, is it a basic insurance which means that costs are not covered in case of emergency, or is there unlimited coverage in case of illness or accident? What about legal expenses insurance, liabilty insurance, etc.? Is the SEVIS fee included or not?
  • How much is the agency fee for host families?

    Here, too, you must look which benefits are included in the programme fees. They usually comprise au pair insurance, airfare, orientation weekend for au pairs, educational allowance, meetings with advisors, etc. not to forget the weekly pocket money. Seasonal discounts on programme fees are offered regularly.

  • How much do au pairs and host families pay for an au pair year on average?

    The average costs of an au pair year depend on the country. In general, host families bear the main part of the costs and being an au pair is the cheapest possibility of spending an entire year in the USA. Host families pay for airfare, board and lodge and often for insurance cover, as well. They pay $10,000 of pocket money a year, $500 for educational allowance and an agency fee. By way of comparison, au pairs pay much less for programme fees. Additionally, you pay visa fees in your home country and the costs for the certificate of good conduct, the health certificate, your international driving licence and your passport.

  • How long can I be an au pair in the USA?

    For a start, you enter the USA for the duration of at least 12 months. You can later extend your au pair stay by 6, 9 or 12 months.

  • I would like to go to the USA for half a year. Where do I get information on this topic? Who determines the minimum duration of one year? Why is there a limit, anyway?

    Indeed, these are a many good questions I try to answer one by one. Naturally, you can find basic information on the website of the US Department of State. There you will learn that the minimum duration of the au pair stay of 12 months was stipulated by US authorities. One year truly stands the test for a cultural exchange programme. You can smoothly integrate yourself. At the same time and from an emotional point of view, it is important for small children not having to get used to a new carer every few months.

  • I have dual citizenship, one of which is US-American. Therefore, I wonder whether I can become an au pair in the USA?

    Unfortunately, you cannot! The cultural exchange is the key principle of the J-1 au pair visa. A US-citizen is seen as an American who therefore does not need any cultural exchange with America. There are no exceptions for young people with an American passport who have never lived in the United States. This is stipulated by the US Department of State.

  • How can I prepare myself best for the au pair stay?

    The more childcare experience you have, for instance through baby-sitting jobs, the better you are prepared for your au pair stay. In addition, practical courses at nursery schools, as well as the work with children in the context of leisure activities and at camps can be helpful. Your agency will prepare you for differences in child education and cultural differences between your own country and your host country. Apart from this, you should keep the following in mind: be open-minded, tolerant, friendly, warm-hearted, humorous and curious.

  • What else should I know?

    Despite all the organisational work that needs to be done in preparation for your au pair stay, you should not forget that you can expect a wonderful year. You will get to know the USA from inside out, make friends with Americans and au pairs from all over the world. You have an American family with whom you will propably stay in touch even after your au pair stay has ended. Furthermore, you will surely travel a lot, return home with an excellent knowledge of the English language and the asset of having gained your first working experience in the USA. Seize this unique opportunity and become an au pair in the USA!

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Do you have any other question? Read the information on the au pair stay in America (USA) to find all the information you need or write us an email. We will be glad to help!

We are continually researching and updating our host country information, but cannot guarantee that all material provided is complete and correct. If you notice gaps or inaccuracies, we would like to hear from you.

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