This article on being an au pair in Spain is authored by Suzie Kelsey.
One of the most daunting moments of my life was when, at 16, I was left alone with this tiny kid throwing a tantrum in a public space. He was screaming, banging his fists on a window, not showing any signs that he was about to calm down.
All because he wanted to be with his parents but was instead left with me. I couldn’t stop wondering, ‘why am I doing this?’
Two months or so later, this boy was my biggest fan. He would hang on to every word I said, beg and plead for me to play with him 24/7, and I could get him to do whatever I wanted.
Looking back, being a live-in au pair is one of the most emotionally, mentally and physically challenging things I’ve ever been through. But it’s also one of the experiences I’ve gained the most from and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
My Experience Before and After Being an Au Pair in Spain
I had been learning Spanish at school and was desperate to find a way to live for a while in a Spanish speaking country. At first, I tried looking at exchange programmes for schools but these were not something my parents could afford.
When I was 15, someone gave me the idea of being an au pair in Spain. I looked into it and loved the idea. I mean, I could be immersed with a Spanish speaking family, learn the language fluently and live and eat for free, all while getting paid! It was exactly what I needed.
Well, it turns out that you do have to work, as well—I hadn’t spent much time thinking about that aspect before I got there. Each family have their own expectations, but at the end of the day, you are a live-in employee, which can be stressful.
However, the experience I had as an au pair in Spain was unforgettable—the skills I learned are indispensable and the family I found were lovely and have become friends for life.
How to Find a Job as an Au Pair in Spain
Sign up to Websites or Agencies
As a high school student, I didn’t have much money so I started doing some research on how to be an au pair for free. I made a profile on a bunch of au pair websites, like aupairworld.com and findaupair.com, and just waited for messages from Spanish families.
It’s totally free to sign up as an aspiring au pair and you can choose pretty much anywhere in the world you want to go.
If you have specific requirements about what kind of family you want to live with or want to message the families you like yourself, you have to pay a small fee for a premium account in most cases. However, usually, it is the family who pays to recruit live in au pairs.
If you’re after more security and better support, a good idea is to sign up for an agency. If anything goes wrong, the agency is there to support you and find you a new placement. However, this alternative costs money.
TIP: Make sure you fill out your profile and give people a good idea of exactly who you are and what you are looking for.
Start Vetting and Talking to Families
Once you get some messages, you can decide which families might be a match for you and exchange details. I set up Skype appointments with them so we could get a feel for each other’s personalities and so I could ‘meet’ the children. This is the time to make sure you have all the information you need so be sure to ask questions.
Some things to consider:
- Do you prefer quiet or more remote areas where you can be fully immersed in Spanish? Do you prefer more bustling locations so you can have fun and get around more easily?
- Living situation. What kind of bedroom will you have? Will you have a bedroom and bathroom to yourself? What meals will they provide and which will you have to supply for yourself?
- How many people are in the family home? How many children are you expected to take care of and how old are they? What are they like? Are they difficult or easy-going? How often are the parents at home?
- What do the family expect you to do? Is it just child minding duties or do they want you to do housework too? Do they want you to teach the children a specific skill (i.e speaking English)? What will your working hours be and when will you be free?
- What else do you get? The family I lived with paid for me to do a 4-month English course. They brought me with them when they went to stay at their holiday home on the coast or other trips. They took me out to eat in quality restaurants numerous times. They took me on day trips to cool places and to see traditional festivals. I got to experience and learn a lot just because I was their au pair. I know some families even pay for your flights and visa applications.
You get the idea. Basically, try to build up a full picture in your head of what you’re in for, so you will get the least shock possible when you touch down.
TIP: Keep notes of what you discuss. A formal contract shouldn’t be necessary but it’s good to have a record of what you have agreed on. This way, you can also write down any questions that come into your mind and bring them up the next time you talk to them.
Choosing a Family
Once you have all the information you need, it’s time to make a decision and choose where you’re going to go. After the first video call, you should have a pretty clear idea on whether you want to continue with a family.
TIP: Make sure you are 100% sure before you commit to someone. It’s not easy for these families to find the right person so don’t let them down! Also, you don’t want to end up stuck with something that isn’t right for you. It’s okay to say ‘no’ if you don’t feel completely comfortable.
Keep in Touch
Once you have decided when you’re going, it’s simply a matter of maintaining a relationship with the family you’ll be living with. It’s important to get to know each other as much as possible before you go.
Set regular Skype dates and keep in touch via Whatsapp (or any messaging platform). Keep them updated with any changes or updates to your plans.
Get Your Visa Sorted Out
Spain is part of the Schengen zone so if you’re from US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and countless other countries, you can enter for free for 90 days. If you’re European, you can enter with no restrictions.
You must speak with your local embassy if you have any doubts about the visa process or you want to stay longer.
Have a Backup Plan
Be aware that things may go wrong. You might end up not getting along with the family, or not enjoying the living situation or finding the job too hard. You never know, the family may just change their mind and cancel on you when it’s too late.
Have a plan for what you will do if you decide not to stay with your host family.
Tips for Being an Au Pair in Spain
- Keep open and honest communication with your host family. Let them know if they do anything you are not comfortable with, and take on any of the feedback they have for you.
- Be prepared to learn the language a bit as it will make your experience that much better. This article goes into more detail about learning Spanish in Spain
- Most of the touristic places are located in the south of Spain. This is also the warmest part of the country during the summer months. That being said, there are beautiful places to see all throughout the country and I definitely didn’t feel at a disadvantage in Spain’s beautiful wine region in the North, La Rioja.
- Au pairing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. There are live in au pairs almost everywhere you go in Spain, so it’s easy to make friends with like-minded people doing the same job as you. If you’re with an agency, they will probably organise events for all of you, but even if you’re not, it’s not hard to find people around. I found one Au Pair girl in Logroño (the city I was in) from an ad she put up on a local noticeboard about looking for Spanish speakers to practise with. I found another one through Couchsurfing. You just have to know where to look.
- Be prepared for bratty kids. When I first started, the little kid hated me to a point he screamed whenever I came close to him or touched him, and would throw a huge tantrum whenever he was left alone with me. I was totally unprepared for that. Over time, however, I got used to him and learned how to handle him. After a rocky first month or two, we were the best of friends! Kids can need some time to adjust, so make sure you’re ready for any situation.
Being a live in au pair is a wonderful, rewarding yet challenging job. You can get so much out of the experience—language skills, a second family for life, the patience and special skills that being responsible for children bring.
However, I wouldn’t recommend it to people who do not get along well with children or who don’t like having a boss. I also wouldn’t recommend being an au pair in Spain unless you are willing to make an effort to learn some Spanish.
Hopefully, this article has given you more insight on how to be an au pair. If it all sounds good to you, go ahead and make it happen!
Do you want to be an au pair in Spain? Or maybe somewhere else? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Kelsey from The Wandering Linguist is a language-obsessed traveller from New Zealand. Her blog is all about encouraging you to improve your travelling experiences by learning the local languages, and she offers plenty of tips on how to do so, along with good old-fashioned travel advice.
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