“Have you heard…she’s got an Au Pair!”

“Have you heard…she’s got an Au Pair!”

By Vanessa Douglas

Five years ago, life was great! I was a stay-at-home Mum with 3 healthy children. My daughter had commenced Prep and I had 2 boys at home, a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old. Having previous careers of a lawyer in Brisbane and a legal recruitment agent in London, I was busy and that’s how I liked it.

However, I was also very lucky. My amazing mother would travel an hour from her home and spend several nights a week with my family helping me conquer these babies, as my husband worked very long hours.

One day I got a call and this all changed overnight.  

My beautiful, adoring, angelic and my-one-hero, my mother, was diagnosed with terminal Stage 4 lung cancer and was given a diagnosis of only weeks to live. From the grace of God, this turned into a year.

Without hesitation, my twin sister and I decided between us we would give our mother palliative care at home until she passed. Our father passed away when we were young girls and my mother’s current husband was not of good enough health to care for her at their home.

Hence, very unexpectedly and very swiftly I entered the Au Pair world. I have now since had six Au Pairs and have had a lot of learns on the way as well as some rich and wonderful experiences.


What does it mean to have an Au Pair?

An Au Pair is typically a foreign person who lives in your home, has their meals provided by you and is also provided with some “pocket money”, a wage. In return, they will assist your family with the care of your children and perform light domestic duties. As Au Pairs are often foreign travellers, they will be unlikely to stay with you in a paid working capacity for longer than 1 year, which of course is dependent on their work visa permits.

Families will typically consider Au Pairs for their flexibility and for their cost effectiveness! Au Pairs are popular with dual-working families, families with 3+ children, with those that find themselves in stressful family situations and with families who desire a carer to look after their child/children in their own home.

Having a great Au Pair can make such a difference to the happiness of your home and also your wallet. If you can secure a loving secondary care-taker for your children, the stability to the family can be wonderful.

Some Au Pairs really relish and want to become part of your family. Others are keen to be more independent and social outside of the family unit in their downtime. However, in my experience, they are all keen to engage with another culture and desire the knowledge that you genuinely care for them.

In a thriving Au Pair relationship, this is rewarded in spades with love shown to your children and a genuine effort to be helpful in your home.  

Advantages of Hiring an Au Pair

Cost Effectiveness

Without a doubt, the huge draw card in hiring an Au Pair is the cost-effectiveness, especially if your home can easily accommodate. If you are requiring or wanting an at-home child-care arrangement for substantial hours, an Au Pair can literally save you hundreds of dollars per week.

The Au Pair industry in Australia is largely unregulated, therefore there are no formal contracts, and the payment is an informal agreement which is made between the Host Family and the Au Pair. It is up to you to make a mutually acceptable financial arrangement with your Au Pair. Personally, I would always offer a fair amount straight away, as a working relationship needs to start on a good footing. If you try and hire an Au Pair with minimal pocket money, he/she may not feel valued from the outset and this could foster resentment and/or have the Au Pair putting in minimal effort.

An Au Pair’s total package will consist of, but is not limited to:

  • Their board in your home (wifi etc);
  • All their meals–if they are heading out on their own time, don’t be surprised if they take a packed lunch with them;
  • Pocket money;
  • Transport money if they are travelling with your family;
  • Excursion costs, if they are out and about exploring with your children;
  • Other discretionary things such as toiletries and so on, will be decided on by the individual Host Families.

An Au Pair’s “pocket money” in my experience is typically between $6.50 to $7.50 per work hour.

For example:
30 hours of work a week: pocket money would range from $195 to $225 per week
35 hours of work per week: pocket money would range from $225 to $260 per week
40 hours of work per week: pocket money would range from $260 to $300 per week

This is by no means a set rule, but is a fair guide. I have ascertained these amounts from what I have paid in the past, what my friends have paid and through making independent searches for guidance on payment. You can of course agree to pocket money outside this guide if both parties are happy.

I would throw caution to getting your Au Pair to work more hours outside of this. The work load can be taxing on Au Pairs and often they will be too scared to speak up in fear of letting down their Host Family. However, of course there might be a date night or some situation where you would require the Au Pair to work additional hours. In my experience, Host Families would then pay the Au Pair an hourly rate, of say between $12-$15 per hour, and Au Pairs are always happy for extra money to go towards their travel adventures.

In contrast, if you were to find a professional Nanny, you could be paying between $25 to $30 per hour, as well as other costs such as agency fees and so on. These can be substantial, with finding-fees sometimes inching close to $2,000! If money is no object to you, the upside is that using a Nanny agency will reduce the risk of hiring someone who is not suitable, the person will have had significant child care experience, police checks and so on. However, this can be a prohibitive sum for a lot of families.  


As Au Pairs are living in your home there is typically a lot of flexibility in terms of their work hours.

You can have set hours per week, or as I did, set the hours for the week-ahead every week. As I am a stay-at-home Mum with three kids, my needs changed every week and where I saw gaps I would fill them. This was especially true when my sister and I were providing palliative care to my mother. At a drop of a hat I would sometimes need hours changed, and this was happily accommodated by my beautiful Au Pair at the time, Tara, our Canadian Au Pair.

As the working arrangements are determined between the parties this is something you can discuss together.

Consistency of Care and Support

An Au Pair is able to provide consistency of care. I desperately wanted my children not to be pulled from pillar to post, to be able to be in our home and be cared for primarily by one other care giver when I was not available.

If you can get it right, the Au Pair and the Host Parents can become a formidable team–working off each other’s cues, seamlessly implementing the household routine, providing love in the home environment and executing discipline in a unified manner.

Such a positive.

Cultural Exposure

Finally, as cliché as it sounds, having Au Pairs has enriched my family. Currently our need for an Au Pair is no longer there, but over the last few years, we have taken a lot from this experience.

We have learnt about different cultures and countries, from Canada, France, Italy, Germany and Holland. We have learnt about the Au Pairs’ families, their hobbies, their food and their language. We have learnt how to cook Dutch pancakes, how to count in different languages, and I even had a reinvigoration of my piano playing, after our Au Pair from Germany, made our house alive with “Elton John” piano playing skills.

We have even had Au Pairs accompany us successfully on holidays, both domestically and internationally. This proved wonderful for both the Au Pair and my husband and I (who doesn’t like another pair of hands on holidays!).

You can truly learn about different cultures, if you are open to it, and in a country like Australia where we are so far away from many countries, this cultural diversity is very refreshing.

Disadvantages of Hiring an Au Pair

No Contract in Place

As there are no contracts in place, there is theoretically nothing you can do if an Au Pair decides for some reason to leave without notice or for example doesn’t even show up for their start date with your family.

These are real risks and would be of great disruption to your family and your work commitments.

The only way to minimise this risk is to do your best to hire an Au Pair that suits your family (read on below), that is respectful of these considerations and of course to communicate to the Au Pair a notice period you would like if they decided to leave before the agreed end date. Once again though, this all relies upon your Au Pair–there is nothing to stop them leaving early.  In fact, one horror story a friend of mine encountered was arriving home from work with the Au Pair standing with her bags packed and leaving without any notice.

Living under the One Roof

It is really important to spend considerable time vetting your potential Au Pair. They will not be coming and going, they will be living with you, so it is very important that you enjoy their company and are aware of their living habits.

If they start and you decide you cannot live together, then this is an immediate problem and could mean that you need to start the process all over again.

It is important to know there is a risk that your Au Pair hire will not work out–maybe they have taken a position out of town but realise they miss the busyness of the city, perhaps they can’t handle 3 kids or lose confidence with a baby. These things can happen, but you can work hard on your end to make the best possible hire for your family so as to minimise these issues.

Au Pairs are not superhuman beings. They have their flat days and lethargic days, just as we do, they can become homesick, they can get sick... all of these things will happen under your roof and can occur at varying degrees. Are you ok with that?

This blog is a 1 of 3 part series. In the next two blogs, Vanessa will take us through 'Tips for a Successful Au Pair Hire' and 'How to Foster a Successful Working Au Pair Relationship'. 

Vanessa Douglas

Vanessa Douglas is a stay at home mum with three beautiful children.  She and her family live in Brisbane.  Before children, Vanessa worked as a lawyer at a top-tier Family Law firm in Brisbane. When she and her husband relocated to London, Vanessa changed career paths and began working in Legal recruitment, specialising in the Corporate and Banking & Finance sector of Private Practice. She was one of the top billing recruiters in the UK during her time with her recruitment firm. She has placed many many successful clients, overseen hundreds of resumes and has a knack for picking the right person for the right job. Her professional experience combined with her practical experience of navigating the world of ‘au pairs’ makes her article a 'must’ read.

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