Every morning, I start my day with a view of lemon trees and the sea. After draining a shot of espresso, I head to the local language school for my Italian lessons, then spend a few hours with friends or at the beach. It’s not until afternoon that I have to start work, which involves hanging out with two children and helping them with homework and walking them to sports practice.
If you’ve ever dreamed about moving to Italy, but aren’t sure how to make it happen, becoming an au pair might be your answer.
“Au pair” is basically a fancy term for a live-in babysitter. But if you find a good family, the experience can be so much more than just a nanny job. In Italy, most households welcome their au pair as part of the family with the objective of exposing their children to the English language. As a result, the job market for native English speakers is huge.
It’s also one of the most authentic—and affordable—travel experiences out there. Living in an Italian household, you will be immersed in the food, wine, language, and way of life of the bel paese (beautiful country). If the cuisine and culture aren’t enough to convince you, Italy has a much better work-life balance than other European countries.
Who can apply to be an au pair?
Generally, au pairs are between the ages of 18 and 25, but there are no set rules for who is an eligible candidate. Childcare experience will definitely help you land a job but is not necessarily a requirement. Experience babysitting, tutoring, or working with children in any capacity will give you a leg up. Being bilingual is also a sought-after trait. Other things that might score you extra points include playing sports or an instrument.
Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 can obtain a working holiday visa and stay for up to a year as an au pair in Italy.
Things are a bit more difficult for Americans. For the sake of convenience, American citizens usually opt to enter the country on a Schengen tourist visa, which only allows you to stay for three months. A student visa, which gives you six months, is another option but can be difficult to secure. It’s always a good idea to check with your local Italian consulate for up-to-date visa requirements.
What can you expect as an au pair?
As an au pair you’ll have your room and board covered in addition to a weekly allowance. If you use an agency, this is something they will negotiate for you. Your employer providing pocket money is a standard practice, but the amount varies depending on your duties and where you’re located.
You can expect to make anywhere from €60 to €125 per week ($90 to $185 CAD) as an Italian au pair. The rate is location specific. For example, if you are au pairing in a major city in the north (such as Milan) you should be paid on the higher end of the spectrum. Host families are usually pretty set on their budget but there is no harm in trying to negotiate, especially if they are offering you less than €75 euros a week. You might be able to haggle yourself a transportation pass in addition to the pocket money.
Keep in mind that you should never be expected to work full time as an au pair. The typical time commitment is about 30 hours a week and host families should encourage you to make friends and explore the country in your free time. Be prepared for childcare, though, because that will be your job after all. Patience is key, especially when there is a language barrier and the reality is that while au pairing is a great way to travel on a dime, it’s not for everyone—particularly if you don’t love spending your days with kids
When American au pair Madeline Deleo had to leave her her placement in Italy early due to conflict with her host family, she realized that working with kids wasn’t for her.
“Think about what your boundaries are, what you’re comfortable with and be honest with the parents,” she advises. “If you have any doubts about how well you can handle children—or if you even like children—then an au pair position may not be the best option.”
How to find an au pair position
The most legitimate way to find a host family is through an agency. Agencies usually charge a fee for both the au pair and the host family, but they help take care of logistics such as background checks, visas and health insurance. Another benefit of an agency placement is that they provide support during your stay, and if any issues arise between you and your host family the agency will help place you with another family.
Going with an agency is the safer but more expensive option. Celtic Child Care and Cultural Care Au Pair are both reputable agencies that do placements worldwide. Another great option is the Canadian agency Scotia Personnel Ltd., specializing in northern Italy placements.
• Au pair websites
There are several large au pair websites (aupair.com and aupairworld.com) you can use to find a job. You create an account, set up a profile and communicate directly with potential host families. There are hundreds of families listed in Italy looking for an au pair at any given time. You can tailor your search by how long you wish to stay, location, how many kids are in the family and other preferences.
I found my host family via aupair.com and it ended up being a great match. We didn’t run background checks on each other, but we did exchange passport photos to confirm each other’s identity.
Websites are a common method for finding an au pair position, but remember to do your research on the family. Below I’ve included some of the most important questions to ask your potential host family during an interview. Don’t forget to research where they live too; if you imagine yourself in a big city you don’t want to get stuck in a small village. I would recommend choosing a city with at least 45,000 residents, because befriending other au pairs and meeting locals is a huge part of the experience.
Two other things to keep in mind are climate and ease of transportation to the cities you want to visit on the weekends. For instance, the south of Italy features beautiful beaches and warmer weather, but the train system is not as extensive as it is in the north.
I ended up in Italy’s sixth largest city, Genova, not because it was on the top of my wish list but because I found a great family there - and I ended up falling in love with the city. Do your own research on the town you are considering, but don’t be afraid to ask your potential host family about specifics like nearby attractions and train stations.
• Facebook groups
A third way you may find a good host family is via Facebook. There are many Italy-specific au pair groups on Facebook that you can request to join. On these pages, families pitch their offers and hopeful au pairs post introductions of themselves. The benefit of using Facebook is that you can usually get a pretty good overview of a person through their social media. Even if you don’t take this route to choose a family, Facebook groups (including Au Pair in Italy, Au Pair in Italy – Official Group, and Au Pairs in Italy 2021-2022 are a great way to connect with other au pairs in your area.
17 questions to ask your prospective host family
1. Have you ever hosted an au pair before? If so, can I have their contact information?
2. What are your expectations of me?
3. How many children do you have and what are their ages? What is their level of English?
4. What is your parenting style/how do you disciple your children?
5. How many hours will I work per week? When is my time off?
6. What would a typical weekday look like? Will I have a set schedule?
7. What will my household responsibilities include? Will I be expected to do any housework or cooking?
8. Will I have my own bedroom? Bathroom?
9. What kind of food do you typically eat?
10. How much and how often will I be paid? If I work extra hours, will I be compensated?
11. Will I be free to travel on the weekends?
12. Will I be joining your family on any trips?
13. Can you tell me a little about your town? (Is there public transportation? Will I have access to a car? Are there cafes within walking distance?)
14. Will I have a curfew? Are there any house rules?
15. Is there a language school nearby? Are you willing to pay for my Italian classes?
16. Are you willing to contribute to any of my travel costs, such as airfare? (This isn’t typical, but sometimes they will.)
17. What are some of your family’s interests and hobbies?
Signing a contract and managing expectations
After discussing all these questions with your potential employer it’s important to draw up a contract. You can find templates online (I used this one), but the most important things to outline are your hours, pay and responsibilities. While your contract might not be legally binding, at least you will have mutually agreed upon terms laid out in writing. Be sure to video chat with the family multiple times before you make a final decision. Not everyone is going to be a good match, so get to know the family before you agree to spend several months living in their home.
Keep in mind that there are red flags you should watch out for, particularly unrealistic expectations of working hours or duties. Sometimes this will be obvious, but other times it may not be, which is why it’s critical to speak with a family’s former au pair (if they’ve had one). The more firsthand references you can speak to, the better.
American au pair Megan Penney also suggests asking for a virtual tour of the house, including your bedroom. Penney worked as an au pair in Italy, England, and Australia and hasn’t always ended up in a good home. When Penney arrived at the home of her most recent host family in Italy, she found herself in a real-life Cinderella situation.
“The biggest red flag was that I didn’t live in the house with them,” says Penney. “They had a dingy moldy room in the basement that didn’t have any light; that was mine.”
Meanwhile, the family themselves lived in a beautifully renovated palace residence. Worse, Penney was expected to work 50 hours a week without extra pay—and she didn’t have a written contract. She recommends that au pairs be very specific when putting together a written contract.
“Have everything written down,” she says. “Define hours, expectations and even food very clearly."
Tessa Rattee, a former au pair from Canada, says the most important question to ask during the interview process is what your role in the family will be.
“It’s really important for both sides to know that as an au pair, you are a part of the family,” says Rattee. “You should be included in everything they do and be treated with the same respect as they treat their family.”
Rattee used an agency and was placed in a great position. Heed her final advice if you don’t want to end up in a nightmare situation: “You want to make sure that the family’s lifestyle is similar enough to your own that you are comfortable, but not so similar that you don’t get the true experience. Always go with your gut; it’s usually right.”
My only regret as an au pair is that I didn’t stay longer. I got to live la dolce vita on a budget, while making lifelong friends and family. I still stay in touch with my host family and can’t wait to visit them again one day.Add this article to your reading list