If you are young and love playing with children there is a free and adventurous opportunity for improving your German language skills and learning about Germany. That is, staying in Germany as an au pair. Thousands of German families are looking for young foreigners who would stay in their house and help them look after their kids. You can work in Germany as an au pair for up to 12 months while attending German classes in your leisure time and taking part in all sorts of social activities as much as your time and wallet allow.
The “au pair” concept originated in Europe in the late 18th century and means “equal to” in French. An au pair is a temporary member of the host family whose main responsibility is taking care of the host family’s children. It is natural that as an adult member of the host family he/she will also have other responsibilities in the household that may include some light domestic chores. The main reason for staying in Germany as an au pair is to learn the language of the host country and get to know its people, their lifestyle and culture. This concept is built on reciprocity. You help your host family with their kids and household and they, in return, give you free board and lodging, some pocket money, and opportunity to learn German and explore Germany.
General Requirements for Au Pairs in Germany
- Age limit: 18-26 years at the time of application, 18-30 years for citizens of the EU and EFTA countries
- Sex: both, men and women can work as an au pair in Germany
- Marital status: single or married but may not have their own children
- Education: secondary education, equivalent to German “Abitur”
- Professional: experience in childcare
- Language proficiency: basic German language skills, minimum A1 level
- Financial: be able to cover travel expenses from their home country to Germany and back home
- Timewise: can stay in Germany for 6-12 months
- Other: clean criminal record, good health, valid passport (EU and EFTA citizens can register just with their ID), must enjoy caring for children and should not have worked as an au pair in Germany before. In addition, an au pair may not be related to any member of the host family and may not come from the same country as any family member.
Benefits for Au Pairs
- 260 euros in pocket money per month (please note that au pairs receive no salary and pay no taxes or social contributions)
- 50 euros a month contribution towards the cost of language courses
- The host family covers the traveling expenses to the nearest suitable language school
- One month of paid holiday for the whole year or two days for every month if staying less than one year
- One and a half days off per week (it must be Sunday at least once a month) and four free evenings per week
- Health, accident and liability insurance costs covered by the host family
- Own fully furnished lockable room in the host family’s house or flat
- Free board, that is three meals a day (also during days off and vacation), must be the same meals as those consumed by the host family members unless the host family are vegans or vegetarians
General Responsibilities of Au Pairs in Germany
- Arrival in Germany at own cost
- Helping the host family with childcare
- Carrying out light household chores
- Working 6 hours a day and 30 hours per week (as maximum)
- Obligation to take up German language courses (at least four hours, once or twice a week)
How to Become an Au Pair in Germany
First make sure you meet all the requirements for au pairs in Germany listed above. Once you have decided you really wish to spend at least six months as an au pair in Germany start looking for your host family. You should plan well ahead because the process from the initial inquiry by the host family or agency to arranging a visa may take up to six months.
Choosing the Host Family
When looking for a host family in Germany you have two options. You can find somebody on portals such as aupairworld.com, aupairquest.com or aupair.com and contact them directly or use an au pair agency that will charge you up to 150 euros for a placement (in Germany they cannot charge you more than that). If you have never worked as an au pair in a foreign country it is recommended you use a certified German au pair agency to find a host family for you and to help you with the paperwork and legal stuff. That is, an au pair agency will make sure that you do everything right and in due time. As an added benefit they offer ongoing local support and can help you switch families if you are not happy with your first assignment.
All au pair agencies in Germany are either privately owned or belong to the church. They do not need any specific licence to conduct their business and, therefore, are not regulated by the government. You are advised to use only those that are certified by at least one of the two professional organizations associating German au pair agencies: Gütegemeinschaft Au Pair e.V. and Au-Pair Society e.V.. The aim of these associations is to guarantee high quality standards of their members. You can search for au pair agencies at their websites by following the above links.
It is important to choose your host family carefully. Some Germans as well as German au pair agencies tend to misinterpret the concept of au pair. An au pair is not a maid-of-all-work but a young foreigner on a cultural exchange. Neither is it an inexpensive nanny and an English tutor combined in one person. As defined by the German Federal Employment Agency the priority of an au pair’s stay in Germany is the “acquisition of German culture and improvement of German language skills”. Therefore, au pairs are only allowed to stay with families that speak German as a ‘family language’ at home.
Native English speakers need to be particularly careful when looking for a host family. Common complaints of many native English speakers working as au pairs in Germany are that nobody in the host family would talk to them in German but rather use them to perfect their English. If you are a native English speaker you are a valuable asset to any German au pair agency because they can get a good commission from families looking for English tutors in disguise of an au pair. This is against the official German definition of au pair but even some reputable, certified agencies do it.
When choosing your host family you should also consider various other factors such as number of children, their age, time schedules of all family members, their daily routines and lifestyle, location and access to public transport, etc. Also, make sure you thoroughly understand expectations of your host family and are certain that you can manage all your duties. It is ideal to discuss these issues over Skype.
The best way to ensure that you and your host family understand their responsibilities is to list duties of both parties, and thus also all their benefits, in the contract (here you can download a free form). Don’t be ashamed to mention that you have heard of au pairs being treated as domestic slaves and wish to prevent that happening to you. Make sure that you are allowed enough time in the contract to attend German lessons and social activities and at convenient dates and times. When drafting the contract you will quickly recognize whether the host family understand that you are coming to Germany to work as an au pair in order to learn German and experience Germany rather than earning money as a cheap labourer or the family’s English tutor.
Once you have signed a contract with your host family the next steps will depend on your citizenship. That is, different requirements apply to citizens of the EU and EFTA countries and to those from third countries.
If you are a national of the EU or EFTA country the process is really simple because you do not need a visa or a residence permit. The only thing you will have to do before leaving for Germany is to apply for a European Health Insurance Card with your statutory health insurer. It is usually issued free of charge. Also, don’t forget to take your personal ID or passport with you. Once in Germany you will yet need to register with the local resident registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt). And that’s it. Now you can work as an au pair in Germany.
Citizens of Third Countries
Nationals of third countries (that is non EU and non EFTA citizens) need a visa (with a few exceptions listed below) and a residence permit to work in Germany as au pairs.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA do not need a visa to enter Germany and, therefore, can apply for a residence permit directly at the local alien office (Ausländerbehörde) within 90 days of their arrival in Germany. They must do it before they can begin to work as au pairs. To obtain a residence permit they will have to submit the same documents as those applying for a visa in their home country (documents required for issuing an au pair visa are listed below). Just like anybody else staying in Germany longer than 90 days they will also have to register with the local resident registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt).
Nationals of all other countries than those listed above need to apply for a visa at the German embassy or consulate in their home country or nearest to their home country.
In fact, when doing so, you will apply for a residence permit in form of a visa. Applications are handled by the Federal Employment Agency in Germany. Once approved, the embassy or consulate will issue you a visa valid for three months that you will have to convert into a residence permit after your arrival in Germany (you must do it before its expiry date).
Documents Needed to Apply for an Au Pair Visa
- Passport valid for at least one year
- Biometric passport photograph
- Duly filled visa application form
- Au pair contract signed by the host family
- Invitation letter from the host family
- Motivation letter where you explain why you wish to work in Germany as an au pair
- School-leaving diploma
- Health, accident and liability insurance provided on your behalf by the host family
- Health certificate
- Criminal record certificate from your home country
- Some German embassies and consulates may require a German language proficiency certificate level A1 (e.g., Goethe Certificate)
Keep in mind that it may take 4-8 weeks for a visa to be issued. So plan accordingly. After your arrival in Germany you will have to register with the local resident registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) in your town and with the local alien office (Ausländerbehörde/Ausländeramt) where you will be issued a residence permit which is valid for one year and will cost you 100 euros. Ideally, a member of the host family should join you to help you with these registrations. Remember, you must obtain your residence permit before you can start working as an au pair in Germany. This is a specific type of residence permit issued to au pairs and it does not allow you to take up any paid job.
How to Make Most of Your Stay as an Au Pair in Germany
You have most likely come to this page because you are learning German. Presumably, when working as an au pair in Germany, you will, in the first place, want to improve your German communication skills and explore Germany. Therefore, use your spare time efficiently. Make sure you can attend German classes every day or at least four hours per week. Typically, the most convenient option are the German courses at the local Volkshochschule but there are also other opportunities at private language schools.
Try to learn as much German as you can while still at home so that your German language skills are better than level A1, a legal minimum to be allowed to work in Germany as an au pair. This will allow you to make better progress. It wouldn’t be the best use of your time in Germany if you had to use English (or common language other than German) all the time to talk to your host family just because your German language skills were insufficient.
If you are a native speaker of one of the world’s major languages try to find a tandem partner in your town. Many Germans who are learning foreign languages are looking for native speakers in their neighbourhood for informal chat. You can meet face-to-face and help each other learn your target languages for free (when following the above link look for the title “Finding German Speaking Partners for Face-to-Face Conversation”).
When staying in Germany, don’t spend too much time stranded in your room. Go out and be social. Go to events organized by your au pair agency to meet other au pairs in your town. Check whether your host town offers a discount card such as “Stadtpass” to au pairs. Holders of Stadtpass are usually eligible for discounts at Volkshochschule but also at various city events, regional busses and trains, public swimming pools, etc.
Moreover, Germany borders nine countries (clockwise: Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands) and all of them are within the Schengen zone. That is, when staying in Germany you do not need a visa to visit them. They are all easily accessible by trains and busses. Visit them during your holidays. You will get an opportunity to test your German also in Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg to see how well you understand the local varieties of German.
Your 12 months as an au pair in Germany are over and you have to pack up and leave. But, do not forget to deregister at the local resident registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt). You will need a deregistration confirmation to cancel any contracts (a bank account or a sports club membership, etc.) you might have in Germany without having to pay cancellation fee. You do not wish to keep receiving bills to your host family’s address once you are gone, do you? Deregistration is required by law, so better don’t leave behind any unfinished business.
After having spent one year as an au pair in Germany you should have a good knowledge of German language and culture. This is an invaluable asset when looking for a job at home or abroad. If you have enjoyed yourself in Germany you may decide to come back some day to do vocational training or to study at a German university. Alternatively, if you are interested in learning about employment opportunities in Germany for young foreigners check out our guide for foreign jobseekers.