Hiring an au pair can be a daunting task, especially when you live as an expat. Rina Mae Acosta helps you navigate the hurdles - both personal and logistical - as you start the journey to find the perfect match.
Modern-day life presents unique challenges for many families, especially those who have young children, newbie parents and parents-to-be. For expat families, life in the Netherlands may come with the reality of not having a strong extended support network of close friends and family (i.e. built-in-babysitter network) to help carry the load of parenthood.
Parents who are considering an extra pair of helping hands may want to consider the Netherlands' Au Pair exchange program. The Netherlands' Au Pair exchange program is based on the premise that a young foreigner, usually between the ages of 18-30 years old, stays with a host family and performs light domestic duties in exchange for room and board.
My husband and I recently took a giant leap of faith and hired an au pair. Almost two months into the experience, we can't believe we didn't hire one sooner. As an aspiring writer/stay-at-home mom with an entrepreneur husband who works long hours and a darling, precocious and spirited 21-month son and living in the Netherlands without any family support, welcoming an au pair into our home was the best decision for our family.
Here are my five simple steps to hiring an Au Pair in the Netherlands as can only be given from personal experience and insight:
Step 1: Learn about the Netherlands' Au Pair exchange program
It is essential to understand that the au pair program is a cultural exchange in which a young foreigner comes to live with you and your family to learn about Dutch culture and share his or her culture with yours for an extended period of time (usually a year). The au pair is invited to become a member of your family.
An au pair can help with babysitting duties and light household chores for a maximum of 8 hours per day and a maximum of 30 hours per week. They are also entitled to two days off per week and two weeks of vacation for a year stay. Please be mindful that an au pair is not a substitute for a full time nanny or a domestic servant.
Step 2: Evaluate Whether or Not an Au Pair Is the Right Fit for Your Family's Needs
Inviting someone into your home definitely changes and influences the dynamics of your family life. Inviting a young adult into your family life will alter the dynamics of the household, adding another youthful element to the house. Try drafting a schedule for the au pair and see if your family really needs the additional 30 hours of help or if you possibly need more. An au pair is not an ideal solution for families with parents who are both working a traditional 40-hour work week and who have young children who are not in school.
You also need an extra spare bedroom (a rare commodity in the Netherlands) for the au pair to stay in as well as the financial means to support an extra adult in your household. The income requirement for host families is 1.5 times the legal minimum wage in the Netherlands. Please refer to the IND's Costs and Income Requirements for further up-to date details.
In exchange for room and board, an au pair is entitled to €300-340 per month of pocket money. Other expenses to take into consideration are the au pair agency fees, Entry and Residence Procedure (TEV procedure) costs (approximately €608) if the au pair is not an EU/EEA or Swiss citizen, up to €275 of Dutch language courses, a monthly €10 telephone allowance, and an NS train discount card. While not a requirement but definitely a kind gesture, the host family may pay for the au pair's travel expenses to and from the Netherlands. You will also be asked to submit a schedule for the au pair as well as have a home visit by a recognized au pair agency to evaluate whether or not your home meets certain criteria.
Interestingly, the costs of having an au pair may actually be much lower than a regular créche, or a babysitter in exchange for 30 hours of care.
Step 3: Start "Dating" Different Au Pair Agencies and Hire One
While you can easily find an au pair through various websites such as Au Pair World (not an IND recognized agency) or word-of-mouth, all au pair applications must formally go through a recognized au pair agency. Only a recognized au pair agency can submit an application on behalf of an au pair and the host family. The au pair agency is your recognized sponsor. There are currently only 14 au pair agencies formally recognized by the IND. To get the complete list, please refer to the IND's Public Register of Recognized Sponsors.
Choosing an au pair agency is a very personal decision and one that should be taken with utmost care and concern. An au pair agency is not only responsible for submitting your application to the IND and ensuring that you and the au pair fulfill all the requirements, but also plays the pivotal role of match-maker. An experienced au pair agent will carefully evaluate your family's dynamics and will be able to find an au pair that is the "best fit." The au pair agency will also serve as a mediator between you and the au pair in case of any problems or conflicts.
Step 4: Start "Dating" Different Au Pair Candidates
Once you have found an au pair agency that meets your needs, the agency will introduce you to several au pair candidates. An added sense of comfort with working with a recognized au pair agency is that the agency has already pre-screened any potential candidate. Choosing an au pair also requires lots of great care and attention. I advise you to lean on your own parenting intuition when it comes to selecting an au pair. It may also be useful to consult with other host families who can provide feedback with their own experiences.
Some questions to consider are:
What activities do they plan on doing with the children?
Do they have any experience being an au pair?
Do they have any experience with children of (insert your child's age)?
What are their personal motivations for becoming an au pair?
What are their expectations of what an au pair entails?
Step 5: Submit Formal Application via Recognized Au Pair Agency
The au pair agency will help you with the process of submitting your au pair application to the IND. An application to get approval takes approximately a maximum of three months to complete.
I hope you enjoy your journey in finding an au pair and that your experience is a positive, memorable one. Not only did having someone from another culture enrich our family's daily experience, but it is amazing to have a relatively flexible babysitter (within reason) to allow me some much-needed "me time" and go out on dates with my husband. Let's also not forget to mention the value of having an extra pair of hands around to help in cases of sickness, a difficult night of teething or sleep regression and other hiccups so prevalent in the days of early childhood and parenthood. It's also the most cost-effective option for us when it comes to having regular help for 30 hours a week.
Disclaimer: The Netherlands is continuing to make regular modifications to the Au Pair exchange program. For the latest update and relevant information, please refer to the official website of the IND.
Rina Mae believes being a (expat) mom never goes out of style. Finding Dutchland is a lifestyle blog offering inspirational and educational material for all women, with particular soft spots for expat women, pregnant women and newly minted moms. She also divulges insider survival strategies for living a Dutched reality and surviving motherhood, offering a daily dose of reassurance, motivation and camaraderie.
Photo credit: Rina Mae Acosta