The Life Of An Au-Pair In America

The most sought-after question is: Can an Au pair actually have an adventure with a meagre salary in a first world country?

We asked Rachel Andrew, a 24 year old freelance writer, student and au-pair from South Africa to answer this. Absolutely, she says, “It all depends on what you would consider an ‘adventure'”. She went on to offer some vital advice for anyone thinking of au-pairing in the States. “First, if you don’t care too much about the location and want to have the most comfortable and fun time in America, I suggest you wait patiently for the right family”, says Rachel. Most Au pairs just hastily choose the first family because they live in New York or California and they don’t see the possible ramifications that come with not carefully researching the family and making certain that they are the right fit.

Locale isn’t everything. You’re not going for a week just for a little vacation, you’ll be spending an entire year or possibly two and the last thing you want to do is feel like you made the wrong choice. She goes on to say, “within a week you could realise you don’t fit in well with your Host family and it’s not a great place to be in. Take your time, ask questions and know what you’re getting yourself into. Remember the family you decide to live with are going to be around you about 95 percent of your stay”.

“ “It all depends on what you would consider an ‘adventure”

Rachel has spent the last 20 months having the time of her life while au pairing in the lovely Ohio, USA. She agreed to give us step by step guidance through her journey to an adventure while earning dollars. We asked her a few vital questions.

1. How do I begin the application?

There are Numerous Au pair Agencies in South Africa. The two popular ones are YDP and Cultural Care/ Au pair in America.

You’re going to need around R10000 for the entire application process.


Programme Fee -R 6995

American Consular Visa Fee – USD $160 (converted to Rand when you apply)

2. What are the requirements?

Aged between 18 and 26 years

• Completed your secondary education (matric certificate / school leavers certificate)

• Currently employed full-time unless matriculated or graduated within the last 6 months

• Proficient in the English language

• Single with no dependants (never been married/divorced)

• In good health, physically fit and no current or prior mental conditions

• A valid South African passport (or proof that you have applied for one)

• A valid driver’s license (or learner’s license and in the process of applying for a driver’s license)

• International Drivers Permit to be obtained in South Africa before departure

• A police clearance certificate (YDP can assist with this application)

• A minimum of 2 child-care references from non-relatives

• A minimum of 500 hours of babysitting and experience with children under the age of two (preferred)

• Commitment to a full year (12 months) au pairing in the USA

3. What is included in the fee?

One way airfare from Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban to the USA with another one way flight back to South Africa only on completion of the 12 month programme

• Up to USD 500 worth of study allowance

• International travel health insurance for the duration of the programme (12 months)

• All processing costs in South Africa & USA

• Recruitment, screening & selecting of host families

• Application, interview and placement fees

• You will earn USD 195.75 weekly for 45 hours of au pairing with 1.5 days off per week

• Accommodation and meals provided by the host family

• 2 weeks of paid leave on completion of the 12 month programme

4. What’s the schedule like?

That is entirely up to your Host family’s schedule. My schedule was perfect; I worked my required hours during the week and had every weekend off. Some families don’t have the most accommodating of work schedules so you might work mornings and then time off whilst the kids are at school and then resume at night. You may even have to work most weekends but you are required to have one full weekend off per month. That is why it is crucial to carefully choose a host family that benefits you.

5. Is the salary worth it?

Not if you’re used to living luxuriously. Online shopping is huge in America and if you’re not careful you could blow your entire income in one purchase. Frugality when spending is a must if you want to travel far and wide. America has 50 states and so much to explore, the best way to do it is to thoroughly research cheap accommodation and transportation.

6. Is it possible to do a lot of travelling with just 2 weeks of vacation?

The answer is most definitely. In 20 months I’ve been to 11 states.  You could do a lot in 2 weeks. My host family chose to divide my weeks. I got one week at the beginning of my year and one week at the end. In my week I choose two or three states that are in close proximity to each other so I don’t waste time travelling. For example, I visited Los Angeles, California, Las Vegas, Nevada and The Grand Canyon, Arizona all within a week because the distance wasn’t too long and I got the most out of it.

7. Are there cheap ways to Vacation?

There are always cheap ways to vacation, you just have to be willing to research as much as possible and not expect the best outcome in terms of
luxury. Hostel International (HI) is great; it is a shared Male or Female dormitory with free Wi-Fi and breakfast. It’s clean and comfortable and the only time you’ll be in the dorm is when you’re sleeping because you’ll be out taking in the sites (I hope). The great thing about HI is that it’s in most popular states and always in the downtown area so you won’t have to travel far to see any of the grand scenery. Of course, the most important thing about HI is that it costs around $30 per night.

I love walking and because most of the states have popular venues all in one area, I don’t have to use public transportation. If you must use a car, there’s Uber. In the downtown areas it’s especially cheap because of the Carpool system. If you want the cheapest mode then you should buy a bus pass. It’s usually $8 for 24 hours. Washington D.C, New York City and San Francisco are examples of places that your feet would do fine, as long as you have comfortable shoes and a bottle of water. If you’re travelling to neighbour states, the bus is a great way to get there. You can get a ticket for as little as $1. I know right! If you have to fly, and sometimes you do, I suggest airlines such as Allegiant or Frontier. Remember, you have to put comfort on the back burner if you want things to be affordable.

She went on to say, “Overall, this is the best thing I have ever done! I made a dream come true and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Being far from home, in a foreign country, all alone is more of a wakeup call than anything else. I’ve grown up mentally and physically. I’ve learned to independent and self – aware. I would recommend this to every girl and boy (yes, boys can do it too) I know. If you’re thinking about doing this but you’re not totally sure about it, that’s normal. Just make the first move. Start by registering and then everything else will follow. Good luck”.



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