If you want to come to France but you aren’t ready to do a master’s degree and you aren’t sure if you want to teach English, one way to get a visa is to become an au pair.
An au pair, or a “stagiaire aide familiale,” is a way to be a student in France, learn French, and have a place to live – while working for a host family taking care of their kids after school.
But before you sign a contract with a family, you need to know exactly what to expect, to make sure that both you and your host family are fulfilling the responsibilities that come along with working as an au pair in France.
What conditions do I have to meet to be eligible?
The au pair program was originally devised to be an exchange between two countries. Allowing a young foreign national to come live in France for a period of time to learn French, inexpensively, was the basic idea.
Au pairs must typically be students or young graduates, and have to be between the ages of 18 and 30 in order to be eligible for the au pair visa.
As part of the work contract, au pairs typically work up to about 30 hours per week – with the limit being 964 hours per year, as with a student visa.
Finally, au pairs are required to enroll in French language classes, and while there is no legally established minimum number of hours, French consulates around the world typically recognize 10 hours of class per week as the minimum necessary for getting the student-au pair visa.
How long can I be an au pair for?
Au pair contracts can vary in length, but the most typical au pair contracts are between 3 months and 12 months. Contracts can be renewed once, for a maximum duration of 18 months.
What do I get paid?
Au pairs registered as such with a proper work contract are provided with housing and food by their host families. The au pair agreement stipulates that the au pair have his or her own room, access to family common areas (kitchen, living room, bathroom), and eat meals with the family. Thus, your room and board should be totally taken care of for the duration of your au pair contract.
Actual milage may vary.
In addition to your room and board, your host family should provide you with a monthly stipend, called “argent de poche,” each month for the length of your stay. The legal minimum for this amount is currently around €263, and it is reevaluated each year in relation with minimum wage and inflation.
This is your spending money for your personal expenses, including French language classes.
In addition, the family pays for your benefits, including health insurance, sick days, and retirement, by declaring your presence through URSSAF. The family pays about €534 per month to cover these social charges, while you do not have to pay anything out of your own pocket.
What about those French classes?
Au pairs are required to take French classes in order to maintain their visa status while in France.
The host family is responsible for finding a suitable French class of at least 10 hours per week, and enrolling the student before his or her arrival in France. Indeed, the pre-enrollment certificate provided by the language school is required in order to get a visa.
This means that the family will pay the €100 or so pre-enrollment fee to secure your spot in the classes. Many language schools in France offer programs specifically for au pairs, which is what you’ll most likely take.
Once you arrive, however, you are required to pay tuition for your own classes out of your savings, as enrollment fees are due before you start classes.
When you take into account the “argent de poche” provided by your host family, you’ll end up breaking even.
Working as an au pair for a year is a great way to get to France and improve your French, all while working to pay your living expenses. If you want to take intensive French classes but have no idea how you’d pay for it (as language classes are more expensive than other French university programs), it’s an excellent way to prepare to enroll directly in a licence or master’s program the following year.
Plus, being an au pair gets you a pseudo-student visa, allowing you to stay in France as a student if you enroll in further classes.
You can get your foot in the door, learn French, and get to know Paris by working for a few months as an au pair.