One of the biggest reasons people visit my blog is to find out how to become an au pair in France. So today we are hearing from Marianne, an American au pair who is currently working in Brittany, France.
Here she walks us through every single step of the au pair application and tells us about her living situation in Brittany.
As many of you may know, I was an au pair in Paris, France back in 2012-13, so this is a post I'm super excited to share with you. Take it away, Marianne!
When I started researching how to become an au pair I found that there were few resources on the internet, other than a couple blogs (some good posts I found were on Ashley Abroad, iminparisgonoles and relokate) that had really helpful pages on how to become an au pair in France.
So now that I've actually successfully completed the process, I thought I'd explain the process for those who'd like to do it as well. In this post I will address exactly what was needed from me, as an American, to become an au pair in France.
Just so we're all clear, an au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s childcare and housework in exchange for free room and board as well as a small amount of spending money.
1. Set up an account on an au pair website
First, set up an account on an au pair website – there are many of these sites that pair au pairs with families but the most popular is Au Pair World. It's kind of like a free OkCupid for au pairs and families.
You can go with an agency where they'll do all the work for you and match you up with a family themselves, but this is rather expensive.
I decided to make an account on Au Pair World. You can add photos, description, specifications, age, etc. Fill this out thoroughly because the more information you put, the better.
You can also search through families' photos and bios as well as contact them directly. My family contacted me directly but this will vary case to case.
2. Find a family
My advice as far as picking a family: get to know them. Send emails back and forth, Skype with them, seriously think whether you could live with this family for a whole year.
How well do you feel like you can talk to them? Are they in a location that you like? This is your time to be picky because you don't want to get there and find out that you're unhappy in the situation.
In my case I almost agreed to be an au pair to one family merely because they were the first family to express interest in me. But when I skyped for the first time with my current family, I knew they were the ones. Even though we spoke to each other through garbled English and broken French, we could relate to each other and we found a way to communicate.
3. Figure Out Which Visa You Need Based on your Nationality
If you are a citizen of the EU/EFTA (this link will tell you whether or not you are one) then follow these instructions. However if you're not a citizen of the EU (like myself, if you're from the United States) then continue with my steps.
4. Apply for Your Passport
This is kind of a given, but make sure you have a passport otherwise you won't get very far. You can get the form online and apply for the passport in most post offices. They'll even take your picture there!
5. Translate Your Diplomas
You'll need to get copies of your diplomas (a good idea is to include both high school and college if you went to both) translated into French. I used OneHourTranslation because it was the cheapest translation service I could find ($.072 c. per word!) and they have it translated in under an hour.
Other services are much more expensive. I've heard that some people have just plugged the diplomas into Google Translate and they were fine, but this wasn't something I wanted to bet on so I went with onehourtranslation. I ended up spending something like $10 to translate both my High School and College Diplomas.
[Editor's note- I used Google Translate and it was totally fine. But of course I understand if you'd rather use a more reliable service.]
6. Make an Appointment With A Doctor
You will need to get a signed medical certificate that states that you are in good health. You can get a copy of the health certificate on the AuPairWorld website here.
Call your doctor and ask for a general physical, then bring the certificate you downloaded and printed out and have them sign it. If you don't have a doctor – you can get a physical at most Planned Parenthood centers.
The only thing is this is a bit tricky – you can't have the signed date be any more than three months away from the date you'll be arriving in France.
7. Ask Host Family To Register You In A French Language Course
To receive an au pair visa in France means the visa you will apply for will be a long-stay student visa. In order to receive a student visa you must be enrolled in a French language course. These are fairly easy courses of all levels, designed for people who are learning French as a foreign language.
Make sure that your family signs you up for a class otherwise you won't be able to get your visa.
8. Sign the Au Pair Contract and Send the Documents
Once you have found a family, they will send you over the au pair contract to sign. Scanning and emailing will work just fine, no need to actually post documents overseas.
Make sure you are very detailed in the description of your duties in the au pair contract. You want to make sure that you won't end up being a maid for the family, or doing things that you may not have agreed to.
Be very clear and ask your questions now. Then when you're done, scan and email the documents back to the family. Make sure you include all the following documents:
- Au pair contract, signed by both parties
- A copy of your diplomas, translated into French
- A health certificate signed by a doctor, saying that you are in good health.
- A photocopy of your passport
- Motivation letter written in French (one page, totally okay to write in English then translate with Google Translate).
9. Host Family Takes Documents to be Approved
The host family will take the necessary documents to be approved. Once approved see #9. This can be a pain as the DIRRECTE may ask for additional documents to be sent.
For me, I ended up also needing to send a copy of my current resume and proof that I took French language classes. I used screenshots from the online portal at the university I had attended, but a transcript could work as well.
10. Have Host Family Mail Approved Contract and Certificate of Enrollment
You'll need to have your host family mail you the approved au pair contract as well as the certificate of enrollment in a French language course as you will need the originals when you apply for your visa.
My family sent it by mail and it took about two weeks to arrive. I'm not sure if you can just take a scanned, approved contract to get your visa, but it was not something I wanted to test out.
[Editor's note- as far as I understand your family has to send over a paper copy of the approved contract and certificate of enrollment, which of course is a total nuisance and should be done by scanning/emailing- oh, France. At least that was my situation as well.]
11. Make an Appointment to Apply For Your Visa at the Nearest French Consulate
To apply for your visa, you need to make an appointment. Depending on the French consulate you go to you may not be able to make an appointment that is any less than three weeks out. I made my appointment for the French consulate in San Francisco in late June and the earliest appointment I could make was July 25th! Something to be aware of.
In order to make an appointment go to this page (this one links to the consulate in San Francisco – you'll want to find the equivalent at the consulate that is closest to you – just Google “French consulate” and then the state you live in) and find the link to make an appointment.
12. Book Your Flight
Depending on the time of year flights will be cheaper. I primarily used skyscanner to find the cheapest tickets, obsessively checking it each day. It has a unique feature that allows you to browse by date to find the cheapest day to fly.
You can also look for flights through Student Universe. They provide discounts for people under the age of 26, or if you're a student.
I found that the sweet spot for cheapest flights is to purchase your ticket about 6 weeks before you wish to fly. I ended up purchasing my tickets about 6 weeks before I was set to leave and was able to get the cheapest ticket through Student Universe.
Keep in mind that flights will be the most expensive during the summer travel months and much cheaper in the fall or winter months.
[Editor's note- always request that your family pay for your flight. While not all will, some do so it's worth asking. For reference, my family paid for my ticket.]
13. Apply For Your Student Visa
In order to work as an au pair you will apply for a student visa, or long séjour mention étudiant. Allow for at least three weeks before you leave for the visa to arrive. Find the nearest French consulate near you and search through their information. I needed to visit the consulate in San Francisco, and on their website it's categorized as “long stay visa for au pair.” They had details on how to make an appointment, how much the visa will cost, everything you'll need to bring, etc.
If you're going to the French consulate, here's what you'll need:
1. Passport valid for at least three months after your return to the US + 1 photocopy of the identity pages. Your passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be valid for at least three months after your return to the US and have at least 2 blank visas pages left.
2. Processing fees ($68) – may vary for different consulates. (This changed – their website said $68 when I checked, I ended up being charged $138)
3. One application form (English version) filled out completely and signed by the applicant. This can be found on the consulate web page.
4. One ID picture glued/stapled onto the application form
5. “Au Pair” Contract approved by the French Ministry of Labour. This contract is obtained by the host family in France at the “Direction Départementale du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle -D.D.T.E.F.P.”
6. Proof of your previous studies (your most recent diplomas) – I'd take copies of both the English and French versions that you had translated.
7. Proof of registration or letter of enrollment in a language school specifying exact dates of attendance.
8. If you are not a U.S. citizen: a valid U.S. permanent residence card (“green card”) or a valid U.S. visa with valid I-94 or valid I-20, or an Advance Parole document.
9. One residence form duly filled out (upper part only) – you'll find this on the consulate website.
10. E-ticket or reservation confirmation showing the departure date for Europe.
11. A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from the US POST OFFICE ONLY – NO FEDEX / UPS / AIRBORNE EXPRESS accepted.
Keep in mind that you'll have to make the appointment for a weekday, you'll need all of your paperwork, and you'll expect to wait three weeks before you'll receive the visa. My appointment was at 9:30am, so I stayed with a friend in San Francisco.
Upon arriving at the French consulate, it took maybe 15 minutes to get everything done. They will make sure you have all of the correct paperwork, plus copies of everything. They'll keep the copies after confirming the originals. Then I was fingerprinted and they took my photo.
I was told I would receive the visa in the mail in 2-3 weeks and I received it just over a week later. It was incredibly easy, but I hear it does not go easily for everyone.
14. Once You Arrive in France, Register With The URSSAF
Ask your host family to register you with the URSSAF. Your family may give you this ahead of time but it's not required before you leave. You'll just need to get it done within the first eight days of being in France. This will cover your social security and health insurance while you're in France and your host family should take care of this for you.
15. Register with the OFII
Within three months of arrival you'll need to register with the OFII (Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration). This will make you officially a resident of France during your stay. In my case this just involved sending the confirmed OFII paperwork via the mail to the necessary administrations. The paperwork is complete when the visa office sends it back (with the visa/passport) to you. This is something very important to remember when packing, otherwise you'll need to have a family member send it over.
I suggest bringing the paper and then handing it over to your host parents once you get to France, they will know what to do with it.
. . . . . . . . . . .
There you have it! Lots of steps and a lot of work, but with good time management and the drive to have such a unique experience, it can be accomplished. The whole process was fairly easy, considering how many things needed to be done.
What to Expect When You Arrive:
Expect to not be able to understand the language. Even if you've had French education, the actual spoken French will be very different from what you studied.
I thought that I had an alright comprehension of French and when I got to France, I found it to be very difficult to speak and understand conversations. It helped that all of the family friends that I met were very welcoming and happy to help me learn. Every family will be different so you may not have a situation that is anything like my own.
My situation: I live with my host family and their two children and I work about 30 hours a week, which is the max that you're allowed to work. My host family pays for my French language classes, my cell phone, my gas for the car that they provide for me (because I drive the children to and from school), and they give me 85 euro/week. I paid for my own airline tickets.
I live with the family but I have my own living quarters. I also am welcome at all of their meals and they will purchase any food I may want. I am free to do whatever I want in my free time. On holidays that the children have from school, I have time off and I can travel freely.
My Schedule: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri: 7:30 – 9:00am and 4:30 – 6:30/7pm, Wednesday: 7:30am – 6:30/7pm. These are average times, sometimes they vary greatly. Weekends I am free.
Friend #1: Works 30 hours at 80 euro/week. Two very young children. Language classes and cell phone provided by the parents.
Friend #2: Works 30 hours at 100 euro/week for three boys. School is not paid for by the parents but cell phone is provided. During school holidays Friend #2 is sometimes required to travel and work with the family.
Would you like to be an au pair in France?
Originally from California, Marianne lives in western France where she currently is working as an au pair and struggling daily with the French language. A lover of dogs, bicycling, bread, and chocolate, she does freelance marketing and web design, and writes at www.californienne.com. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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