Wondering how to au pair in Spain? Look no further. This step-by-step guide walks you through the visa process, host family selection and packing tips.
As senior year of college was winding down, I frantically began to send out resumes and try to figure out what on earth I was going to do with my life and my degree in International Studies.
While I considered corporate desk jobs, and even applied to a few, I still could not get the idea out of my head of living abroad again for a bit before I started “real life.” I studied abroad for a semester in Sevilla, Spain during college and had the time of my life, so I decided that I wanted to find a way to live in Spain again. I lived in an expensive city during college and had not been able to save that much of my own money, and I knew that I could not ask my parents to fund my trip after they had just provided me with a wonderful education.
I looked into all of my options as an American with a college degree, and finally decided that au pairing would be the best fit for me for many reasons. It would require living long-term in one location, which would ensure that my travel and accommodation fees would be kept to a minimum. Every country and family is different, but most provide housing, food, and pocket money, so in all it seemed like a good deal.
I also figured that it would be a good balance between teaching young children English and not having to get up and go to an office or school every day.
Although my parents were extremely hesitant for me to take a year off of school and work, after I had chosen a host family and let them meet over Skype, they were much more excited and supportive of my decision. Even though the practice of hosting or being an au pair is not very common in the States and I therefore sometimes feel like I have to defend my decision of following this path, I have learned more in the past year than I could have possibly imagined and am beyond happy that I decided to take this leap.
That being said, it has definitely not been a smooth journey! There were relatively no articles online about how to become an au pair in Spain when I started the process, so I had to rely on instructions from my host family (even though I was their first American au pair) and blogs about teaching in Spain.
Americans wanting to live in Spain for more than 90 days must obtain a visa, which is no easy task. Although the stress and drama associated with obtaining a visa for Spain was totally worth it, I definitely could have used a step-by-step guide specifically designated for Americans wanting to be an au pair in Spain:
Choose a location
This is a personal preference, but for me, location was key. I knew that I wanted to be in a bigger city, and if not right in the city center, at least close to public transportation. My apartment is in a very nice neighborhood in the center of Madrid, which is exactly what I was looking for.
If you like smaller towns, then go for that, but keep in mind whether or not you want to travel on your days off, as it is so much easier to do so if you are at least within the public transportation network of a bigger city. Also, it is easier to make friends if there is already an au pair network. Big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Granada attract loads of au pairs and other expats, which makes finding friends pretty easy.
If you are more interested in small towns, at least make sure that they are within a relatively short distance to a bigger town or city so that you do not feel isolated. There will be days when the companionship of other au pairs is no less than crucial.
Also, do some research on the climate and culture of the regions and cities that you are interested in. Just like America, dialects and temperatures vary greatly in Spain. If you are wanting to really be immersed and learn Spanish, maybe Barcelona and surrounding towns are not for you because they speak Catalan. Summers can be brutally hot in Sevilla, so if you are not into that, maybe look into the Basque country up the north.
Decide on a duration
Lots of Americans choose to au pair in Spain just for the summer. This is an awesome way to experience the Spanish culture without interfering with school or worrying about how to pay for it. But remember, depending on where you are in the country, the summers are HOT.
If you want to stay longer than 90 days, you will need a visa. My specific situation is a bit different, which I attribute to poor research and planning on my part and maybe a bit on my host family’s, as well. I wanted to stay for a year from September-September, but as it worked out, I was there from September-December (90 days), had to come home for another 90 days, and returned for another 90 day period from April-June. This is because I was denied a proper visa due to poor preparation before my consulate visit, and under the Schengen Agreement it is only legal for Americans to reside in Spain for a maximum of 90 days within a 180 day period.
Keep this in mind when deciding how long you want to stay, because the process for obtaining a visa is long and needs to be started at least three months before your intended departure. Many of my American friends in Madrid decided to take the easy way and simply go for 3 months, and some of them even stayed illegally without any issue, but I was not comfortable with that idea.
Find a host family
Once you have narrowed down an area where you would like to live and for how long, it is time to start looking for a host family! I (and the majority of my au pair friends) used Au Pair World. Families and potential au pairs can create free profiles and message each other to find a good fit.
The website is extremely user-friendly and you can narrow down your search based on whatever specification you desire. It even offers good information for the whole process, from how to initiate conversations to applying for your visa.
My advice is to talk to as many families as possible without overwhelming yourself. I narrowed my choices down to my top 10, and then sent those families my personal email to continue the line of communication. From emails, I narrowed it down to about five families that I Skyped with.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! Speaking with the families (including the children) as face-to-face as possible and having them show me their house and where I would be sleeping was a game-changer. This is so cliché, but follow your gut.
I Skyped with one family that I initially liked over emails and the dad was so creepy from the start of the Skype session that I hung up on them! Use your best judgment and if something feels off, it probably is. The second I saw my host family on Skype I just knew that they were whom I wanted to work for.
One important thing to remember is that although part of the reason you are going is to learn Spanish, you also want to eliminate the stress of a language barrier if at all possible. Most families will only want you to speak English around their children, which is totally understandable, but try to choose a family that understands that you want to at least have some opportunity to practice your Spanish.
My situation is perfect because both parents understand and speak English, so if there is an emergency we can communicate quickly, but normally I speak in English and they respond in Spanish so I still get to hear it on a daily basis. Also remember that there will likely be other extended family members that do not know any English, so you can always practice with them!
Decide on a school
If you do decide to stay for longer than 3 months, you will need to sign up for language classes. Spain is unique in that host families are not required to pay for language classes, which can sometimes run up to $2,000. The family should be able to help with this, as most neighborhoods and communities have a language school close by that all the au pairs from that area attend. The school must be certified through the Cervantes Institute, or be a well-known university if you would rather take other types of classes than introductory language classes.
Make an appointment at your consulate.
Each state is assigned a specific consulate that all residents of that state must go through. For instance, I am from South Carolina and therefore had to fly to the consulate in Miami, which was another added expense. The appointment is made online and is pretty straightforward, but normally they are pretty booked so do not wait too long to go online and check.
I waited until July to make my appointment, and the first available was the end of August, which was cutting it very close for my intended September flight for Spain. Note: it is recommended to not purchase a flight until you have received your visa back from the consulate.
Gather your documents
Here is the link for the Spanish Consulate in Miami, which gives specific instructions on how to apply for an au pair visa.
Remember that you are essentially applying for a student visa. Every consulate is different, but most require the following documents (plus at least one copy of each):
- National Visa Forms (2 copies, each with a passport photo glued to the top front page in the designated box)
- Valid passport (2 years from expiration with at least two empty pages) plus a copy
- Driver’s license and school ID with a current address (originals and copies)
- Certificate of admission to the school, written in Spanish (see website for details)
- Proof of health insurance. The family is required to pay for at least half. Some people get private travel insurance in the US, but I was added onto my host family’s plan.
- Proof of means of support, either through bank statements or a written and notarized letter from your parents saying that they will support you financially each month.
- Au pair contract between you and the family.
- A notarized invitation letter from the family.
- Local health certificate with letterhead, stamp, and signature of the doctor stating that you are free of diseases, translated into Spanish by a certified translator (see website for details, this is another added expense. I thought that I could just translate the letter, but when I called the consulate to ask they insisted on a certified translation which ran me about $90)
- Certificate of good conduct translated into Spanish by a certified translator (see website for details. I received a state background check that then had to be notarized and translated, another expense)
- Visa fee (only by money order, this was around $120)
As you can see, this list is a bit daunting, so make sure that you start the process early as there are bound to be setbacks and expenses that you might not have planned for. Multiple copies of each signed document are recommended, and I kept everything organized in manila folders with labels so that I did not get overwhelmed.
If you have all of the required documents, the consulate visit is a breeze. You simply show up at the scheduled time (be prepared to wait) and when your name is called you hand the person each document as he asks for it. He will likely ask you some questions, and if everything is good, he will keep all the documents and your passport for processing.
The passport will be sent to Madrid to be stamped with the visa, and you will have to return to the consulate and collect it in person once it has returned. This is a huge issue if you do not live close by, so some consulates will ship it home to you if you provide them with a pre-stamped envelope. The Miami consulate is not one of them.
Book your flight!
Once everything is in order with the visa, you can book your flight! Make sure to contact the host family once this has been done with the flight information.
When you get there:
Have fun! Remember to give yourself plenty of time to adjust. You are landing in a foreign country where you probably do not know the language very well and are living with a strange family in their home.
This is an incredible opportunity to learn about a new culture, but it is not a very natural situation. Do not forget that it might be weird for them too at first, depending on how many au pairs they have had in the past. With the children, try to be patient and remind yourself what it would have been like if you had grown up with au pairs coming and going every year.
It may take them some time to warm up to you and trust you, but most of the time once they do the bond is so special. The easiest way to make friends is through the language classes and Facebook groups. This was essential for me!
Also, if any issues come up with the family, refer to the contract that you both signed and use honest, open communication. If you are still uncomfortable after a few weeks and have tried discussing it calmly, remember that you can always find another family in the area!
Would you ever want to au pair in Spain?
About the author: MaryAnn Robinson is a Carolina girl who has just moved back to the States after a year of living in Spain. She likes churros con chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is forever trying to find excuses to return to Europe. When she’s not taking a siesta, you can find her on a rooftop terrace sipping tinto de verano or wandering through Zara, contemplating if she has enough room in her suitcase for another pair of shoes.
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