Welcome to the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. Check out the archive of Expat Interviews for more!
Becoming an Au Pair is a great expat job since it allows you to live abroad! I’m excited to finally share an interview with an Au Pair, to give those of you considering it more of an idea of what’s involved. Isa from the Americanized Isa blog was an Au Pair for a family in the USA, which is a great option for those looking to move to the USA for a short period to experience life there. I lived there for a year when I was in high school and I’d highly recommend giving it a chance if you have the opportunity!
Tell us about yourself
I’m Isa, originally from Germany and currently living in New Jersey, USA. This is my second long-term stay in America. The first time I got the chance to discover this beautiful country was through the au pair program when I lived in Arlington, VA for two years. Being an au pair was probably the most exciting time of my life. I loved the Washington D.C. area and was very lucky to live with two awesome host families throughout my au pair years. I also really enjoyed the work with my host kids.
What made you decide to become an Au Pair in the USA?
I’ve always loved to travel, but really started out when my best friend decided to get married in Mozambique and of course, I had to go to her wedding! This was the first time I realized how many beautiful cultures and countries there are in our world – and it was then that I decided that I wanted to see them all!
I was in my early twenties.
After this trip, I decided that I needed to move to another country for a while. I applied for several programs all over the world because I couldn’t decide which country I wanted to move to. Luckily, I found a wonderful host family through an au pair agency in America. I had never been to the United States mainland before (Hawaii being the only part of the US I ever visited) and was super excited to get to know the culture by living with a local family from Virginia. I love spending time with children, so this was the perfect opportunity for me.
Tell me about the cost of living as an Au Pair in the USA
One great part of the Au Pair program is that the host family provides you with everything you need. You get a private room in their house, eat their food and often receive a mobile phone and even a car to use in your free time. On top of all these things, you get a weekly salary of $195.75.
When I first arrived in America, I felt like groceries were pretty expensive. After some time passed, I learned that a lot depends on where you do your grocery shopping. There are also store-cards and coupons available for most stores, which allow you to buy many items for a cheaper price.
Currently, I pay about $3.00 for a loaf of bread, half a gallon of milk costs $1.69 and a big pineapple costs around $2.99.
The things that seem more expensive than in Europe are definitely good cheese and alcoholic beverages, especially in bars and clubs. When you go out, the average price of a beer is $5.00- $7.00 and a cocktail is around $10.00- $15.00.
What was the process to find your host family?
First, I picked an au pair agency. The agency made sure I fulfilled all the requirements to become an au pair in America. Once they accepted me into the program, I was able to start the matching process and interview host families. This process is a little different for each agency. I was an au pair with Cultural Care and only able to get to know one family at a time. Some other agencies allow you to talk to several families at once.
Do you need a visa to become an Au Pair in America?
In order to become an au pair in America, you need a J-1 visa. This visa can only be obtained through an official au pair organization.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
The au pair program is perfect to make friends from all over the world! Every au pair is part of an au pair group (some agencies call them clusters). Your au pair organization sets up monthly meetings, where you meet lots of fellow au pairs. Since everyone is in the same situation it’s pretty easy to connect.
Upon my arrival, I also received a list of au pairs in my area. It contained their contact information, age, and home country. It was easy to reach out and get to know each other. Right in my first few days, I met several awesome girls to go out and have fun with. This probably also helped me to avoid getting homesick and miss my family and friends at home too much.
What’s the best thing about being an Au Pair in Northern Virginia?
One of my host children was born when I stayed with the family and it was so special to see her grow up and watch her taking her first steps.
I love to hang out with children, so most of the time my job didn’t really feel like work. I was able to meet other au pairs with their host kids in parks and on playgrounds, we had little field trips with the kids and really had a great time together.
From Arlington, it was just a quick ride to Washington D.C., which is an awesome city full of culture and history. We often went to the famous monuments on the National Mall and the Smithsonian museums, which are all free.
What’s the hardest thing about being an au pair?
Living with a family after I had already lived on my own back in Germany was definitely something I had to get used to – going from complete freedom back to having people around 24/7. Both my host families were very open and understanding though, which made the adjustment a lot easier.
Considering my work, it was sometimes irritating how other moms treated me in the kids’ schools. At first, they would start talking to me and be super nice, but once they became aware that I was “just” the au pair and not the mother of the children, they were no longer interested in chatting – I experienced this several times.
Also, a three-year-old throwing a tantrum in public is not fun.
If we had just one day in the USA, what should we not miss?
If you had only one day in America, you should definitely visit New York. Go up to Rockefeller Center and enjoy the breathtaking view. After that, get a slice of the famous New York pizza, grab a milkshake and take a ride on one of the many hop-on, hop-off buses. I know, this is super touristy, but in my opinion, the most convenient way to explore the city in a short period of time. Definitely, take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. In the evening dive into New York’s lively bar life!
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you spent your au pair year?
If you’re looking for a relaxed, laid-back hangout spot for a rainy day, check out Busboys and Poets on 14th St NW and V St NW in Washington D.C. It’s the perfect mix of a little bookstore, coffee shop, and restaurant and definitely worth a visit!
If you could give one piece of advice to future Au Pairs in the USA, what would it be?
Take full advantage of your travel month. Once your au pair year is over, you have one additional month to travel the country. Create a bucket list for your au pair year and visit all the places you were not able to see throughout your year in your travel month.