Thanks to “Au Pair in the USA”, young people can learn about the American way of life, improve their language skills, and earn some money. Find out how to participate in the program.
“Au Pair in the USA” is a program that allows young people to live with an American family for one year. In return for taking care of the children, these people can count on free accommodation, meals, and a return flight, and even on remuneration. No wonder the program enjoys so much attention. Below, we describe in detail the requirements to be met to participate.
In this article you will find among others:
- who can apply for the program “Au Pair in the USA”,
- what documents should be prepared,
- whether it is necessary to use the help of an intermediary agency,
- what kind of visa do I need to go to the USA under the “Au Pair” program,
- how much is the cost of participation in the “Au Pair in the USA”,
- how much can you earn,
- what are the other benefits of participating in the USA Au Pair program,
- what are the obligations of an Au Pair participant,
- what is an “Au Pair Extraordinaire”,
- what is “Au Pair EduCare”,
- is it possible to extend your stay in the US under the “Au Pair” program?
At the outset, it is worth noting that the trip of an “Au Pair” participant to the United States involves basically four parties :
- the person concerned,
- the family hosting this person in the US,
- one of the US sponsoring organizations,
- Polish intermediary that coordinates the flow of documents and information between them.
In practice, it is virtually impossible to bypass an intermediary company. Even if you find a family in the US to host you and a US government-accredited organization that issues the necessary documents for a visa, the organization will likely refer you to a local agent anyway. Fortunately, although he charges a fee for his services, it makes the whole process much easier.
“Au Pair in the USA” – requirements for candidates
Before you apply to the agency, check if you meet the basic requirements for people wishing to participate in the “Au Pair” program. Contrary to the “Work and Travel” holiday program, for example, there are quite a few requirements. They include:
- age 18 to 26 – departure to the United States must take place before the age of 27;
- single and no children of your own – after all, you have to leave for 12 months, and your loved ones would neither be able to live with you, nor would they even get a visa with you;
- knowledge of English at a level that allows easy communication – a trip under the “Au Pair” program will significantly increase your competencies in this field!;
- graduated from high school;
- driving license – you can apply to the agency during the course, but the broker will not start looking for a host family until you pass the exam (it is best to have some driving experience in addition to the document itself);
- no offenses or crimes on the account – you must provide a certificate of no criminal record;
- good health, confirmed by a doctor – disqualifying factors are chronic or infectious diseases that may impede or prevent childcare, as well as current or past use of psychiatrists or psychologists;
- no addictions;
- readiness to leave the country for 12 months;
- character traits such as openness, responsibility, ease of adapting to a new environment and making contact, especially with children – candidates may undergo psychometric tests to select people with the most appropriate profile;
- childcare experience – minimum 200 hours in the last 2 years; this can be, for example, work or voluntary work in a kindergarten, school, day-room, sports club, summer camps, or church group, as well as home care (so-called babysitting).
Participants in the “Au Pair” program are not required to formally confirm their qualifications (eg diplomas or certificates – except a high school diploma) but must obtain appropriate references. A total of 3 letters are needed, including at least one about the experience in working with children (if this experience was gained in one place only, the rest of the letters may only be about your character).
References should be issued by trustworthy people, preferably much older than the candidate and not related to him. A strong point in the application will certainly be the recommendation of someone who has a local public function, such as a priest, school headmaster, or commune employee.
Note: the vast majority of applicants are girls, but boys can also participate. However, they must reckon with the fact that finding a family that would like to host them may take a little longer. Remember that extensive experience in caring for children, as well as additional advantages, such as completing a lifeguard course, can significantly increase your chances – regardless of your gender.
How to participate in the USA Au Pair program
If you meet the above requirements, the first step to take part in the Au Pair program is choosing a Polish broker to help you in the next steps. It is worth following not only the price but also the opinions and how long the agency has existed. Many of them organize free information meetings regularly – attending such a meeting can also be quite a good idea.
The next step is to apply. Currently, it consists of filling out a special online form prepared by a specific agency. In addition to answering the questions about the above issues, you can also write something about your passions in it. Also, you need to include:
- several photos (including one that meets the requirements for visa photography – see “Photo for a US visa”);
- scanned driving license;
- scan of the criminal record certificate;
- scan of secondary school leaving certificate;
- at least 3 letters with references.
A representative of the agency will check the compliance of the documents with the requirements, will call the people issuing the recommendations to confirm them, and also conduct a short interview with you (you must appear in person at the agent’s office). On this basis, you will qualify for the program and start looking for a host family who would like to host people with a profile similar to yours.
Contact with potential host family and signing contract
There is likely to be more than one such family, so the next step is to find out about several families presented by the agency and talk to them (by phone or via an instant messenger such as Skype). Thanks to this, it will be possible to check if you get along and if you are responding to each other. If so, you will sign an agreement through the agency setting out the rights and obligations of each party (see below).
Note: you can also find a host family on your own, however, it will have to be verified by a sponsorship organization cooperating with the US government. Also, such a family must meet certain requirements. They include:
- having US citizenship (or permanent residence permit – then the ability to use English fluently is also tested);
- no children under the age of 3 months – unless, apart from the Au Pair program participant, they will be constantly looked after by another adult (family member or professional nanny);
- no children with special needs – unless the program participant has documented experience with caring for such children and this is stated in the contract;
- no kinship relationship with the program participant.
Even if you already have a US tourist visa, it does not allow you to work in the United States – and childcare is undoubtedly a job (you can even pay for it). Therefore, you must then apply for the appropriate type of visa. For an “Au Pair” this is a J-1 visa for people participating in cultural exchange programs.
An intermediary agency will help you obtain the document, it will handle most of the formalities, submit and pay for the visa application on your behalf, and provide the embassy or consulate with all necessary documents. Your task will be to deliver some of them in advance, as well as to appear in person at the American diplomatic mission for an interview with the US consul who decides on granting the visa.
Departure to the States and compulsory training
Once you get it, you can start packing for your trip. The issue of air tickets will be handled by an intermediary in agreement with the American sponsoring organization. After arriving in the States, you will have a few more days of practical childcare training, which will prepare you a bit for living in the USA (some agencies also organize various workshops before departure, often in the form of an online course). The final stage is the journey from the training center to the host family.
How much it all takes and costs
The entire procedure takes 2-3 months on average, and you can submit your application at the earliest one year before the planned date of departure to the USA.
The amount of agent fee may vary depending on the agency and can range from PLN 1,000 to even PLN 4,500. When getting acquainted with the individual offers, it is worth taking a look at what exactly they contain (they may even differ in the scope of insurance). Usually, you only pay the fee when you find a host family who is ready to sign a contract with you – and sometimes even after reaching the States. It is worth knowing that selected agencies provide discounts for people who, for example, apply again or have a pedagogical education.
If you want to participate in the “Au Pair in the USA” program, you must also take into account the following costs:
- $160 visa fee – non-refundable, also if the visa is not granted;
- $35 registration fee in the SEVIS system – it is a kind of monitoring system for people coming to the United States based on F, M and J visas (for more information on SEVIS, see the text “Visa to the US for a student – step by step” );
- PLN 30 for a certificate of good conduct – you can read about how to get it here;
- 35 PLN for an international driving license – you can read about how to get one here;
- cost of obtaining medical certificates – depends on the specific medical facility;
- travel costs to the interview and airport;
- any excess baggage charge – the amount depends on the specific airline.
Note: you will also have to pay a tax of around 10% on the end-of-year allowance as part of childcare pay. In practice, it’s usually just over $ 1000 – be sure to include this in your budget!
Responsibilities of a participant in the “Au Pair in the USA” program
In addition to the above-mentioned costs, participants are expected to fulfill certain obligations specified in the written contract. Their scope varies depending on the chosen variant of the program, but always includes childcare and minor housework as well as education at a local college (college).
The latter is perceived rather as a privilege, as you can pass virtually any subject that matches your interests, as well as an English or other foreign language course. The host family is obliged to enable you to study, but the timetable must be adapted to the pre-established childcare schedule.
Note: Before enrolling in some courses, the university may require you to provide a TOEFL certificate proving that you have a sufficient command of the English language.
Variants of the program “Au Pair in the USA”
The number of teaching hours to be completed, as well as the number of hours devoted to childcare – and the amount of pocket money – are strictly regulated by law and depend, as already mentioned, on the selected program variant:
|Au Pair Classic||Au Pair Extraordinaire||Au Pair EduCare|
|work *||45 hours a week (no more than 10 hours a day)||45 hours a week (no more than 10 hours a day)||30 hours a week (no more than 10 hours a day)|
|learning at school||6 hours total||6 hours total||12 hours total|
|pocket **||not less than $195.97 a week||not less than $250 a week||not less than $146.81 a week|
* By work we mean caring for and playing with children, taking them to school and extracurricular activities, preparing their meals, cleaning their room, etc.
Note: the host family must not see you as staff or domestic help. “Au pair” means “on an equal footing” and by the idea of the program, its participants should be treated just like that: on an equal footing with other family members (i.e., take part in joint meals, trips, or holidays, which favors the assumed cultural exchange).
** The host family may give you more pocket money, but they must not expect in return to work more or to perform non-contractual duties.
The “Au Pair Extraordinaire” program is open to people with above-average qualifications useful in caring for children, for example:
- at least a bachelor’s degree in such fields as pedagogy, rehabilitation or studies with a teaching specialization,
- a full 2 years of proven childcare experience full time (40 hours per week),
- diploma of completion of a two-year course for childminders,
- diploma of completion of a course for nurses (+ minimum one year of experience in working with children under 6 years of age),
as well as people who during the last 3 years took part in the annual program “Au Pair Classic” and received a positive opinion of the host family. Due to competencies, the program participant receives higher pocket money with the same amount of duties.
The “Au Pair EduCare” program, in turn, provides for the care of children who are already attending school, so you can spend a little less time on them (only before and after lessons). In this case, the pocket money is lower, but you can count on higher funding for studying at a college or language school.
What do you get in return, i.e., the benefits of the USA Au Pair program
Pocket money is not the only form of gratification for participation in the “Au Pair” program. Moreover, its participant is guaranteed:
- the said study grant of $500 (or $1000 in the “EduCare” option) – if you choose a more expensive course, you will have to cover the difference out of your own pocket;
- own room;
- minimum 3 meals a day – also on non-working days;
- a minimum of 1.5 days off work per week;
- a minimum of 1 free weekend per month (from Friday evening to Monday morning);
- 2 weeks’ paid leave during the entire stay;
- coverage of the cost of return flight tickets – if the program participant withdraws earlier than after one year, he must pay for the return ticket;
- transportation costs for the training in the USA (also free) and the host family;
- local au pair support by phone, sometimes also monthly meetings of the local au pair community;
- health insurance;
- often also the possibility of using the car for private purposes – however, you have to take into account the costs of fuel.
Many people also consider an additional month of visa validity as a certain bonus. After spending 12 months with a host family, you can spend it traveling around the USA (you are no longer allowed to work). You can also apply for an extension of your stay in the US and stay with the same family for another 6, 9, or 12 more months.