These days, everyone dreams of living overseas. If you read TheSmartLocal’s article on 10 working holiday destinations for Singaporeans, you might notice the less known idea of living and working as an au pair in France.
Even though the Singapore passport is ranked ‘most powerful’ in the world in terms of visa free travel, there are only 2 countries that we can go on a working holiday in: Australia and New Zealand.
While working as an au pair does not earn you as much as you would in AU or NZ with a working holiday visa, we know there are limited issues of those visas and you literally have to camp in front of the computer to book a slot for the visa application before the application opens, and you’d better be fast enough to click submit before the rest of the campers do!
So, because I missed two sessions of the Australia visa and the only one for the New Zealand visa, I went for the only other option: An au pair.
What is au pair?
An au pair is basically a young person, usually between ages 18-35 (different age limits depending on visa issued by the specific country), employed by a local family to babysit the family’s child(ren). Au pairs usually live with the host family and are paid a small stipend (usually around €9-12/hr or €75-120/week) according to the local laws, as agreed by both parties. They usually work between 25-35 hours a week based on legal limitations, but some work more on the side to earn more. Au pairs frequently have to be enrolled in a school for language lessons as part of the requirements, which is great for a full cultural immersion or if you later decide to stay on.
Though the primary job of an au pair is to take care of children, many families also request the au pair to do other things like light cleaning of the house, walking the dog, feeding and cleaning the animals (especially if you live with a family with large animals like horses or cows), and growing crops (especially if they are into permaculture).
Take note though, that you are not required to clean the entire house, because that alone can take up all your time and energy. As a general guide, au pairs would never take up any offers that require them to clean the entire house by themselves and would usually ask if the family hired or is planning to hire a regular cleaner for that purpose.
How to become an au pair?
To be able to work in another country, you obviously need a visa. You will likely be applying for a student visa (Eg. France) or an au pair visa (Eg. Denmark). The very first thing you need to do, is to decide which country you want to go. For the purpose of this article, I will talk specifically about the process for France.
Who (Singaporean) can become an au pair?
To become an au pair in France, you will need to apply for the “Trainee caregiver (young au pair)” visa aka “Visa long séjour mention étudiant”. As with every visa application, there are requirements you have to meet. You’ll need to be/have:
• A passport with at least 3 months validity after the planned date of return
• Aged between 17 to 30
• Completed basic education with certificate or transcript
That’s all. Really.
So, now that we’ve addressed all the basics, let me get down to the steps to take to become a Singaporean au pair in France.
Step 1: Find a host family.
Most of the au pairs here in France used and found their host on Aupairworld.com, but you can certainly use other sites such as Aupair.com if you wish. I highly recommend Aupairworld though, because of it’s simplicity and the amount of information you can get from the site.
After you filled up your profile to sell yourself, you can start looking for host families and send them compelling messages for why they should accept you into their family. Once you got their attention, it’s their turn to get yours. This is very important because you want them to want you and be interested in you too, because if they don’t, it’s going to be hard to live with them once you get there. Skype or video call them more than once, and preferably, talk to every person you’ll be spending time with (as in both parents and all their children). I would say that you would want to sense their sincerity and interest in you, and choose a family not just based on the amount of working hours and money you’d get. My host family was overwhelmingly sincere. My friend passed away and I decided to stay back in Singapore just a few weeks before I was expected to arrive in France so I told them I was not able to leave and my hosts said they were willing to wait for me. As they waited in the 2 months, my host dad texted me several times to check in on how I was coping with the sudden loss. After that whole incident when I was finally going to be in France, I had a 60-hour flight delay and they sent all the kids away while waiting for my arrival so that I could get a good night rest when I finally arrived. I am truly and deeply grateful to their patience and kindness, and I hope you find a family that treats and respects you the same way my hosts did.
Step 2: Sign the contract.
Once you’ve found a match, you need to be clear on all your duties and expectations, on paper. Get them to come up with a schedule so you can have an idea of how your day to day duties is going to be like, as detailed as possible, though a rough guide would suffice. I say that because my actual schedule is quite different from the one my host and I drafted. I thought I had to prepare breakfast for them but it turns out they eat biscuits and drink store bought apple juice for breakfast everyday, much unlike what I was expecting. You would still want it to be as detailed as possible, because you would want to know if there are little things they missed out on telling you, so that if you’re not willing to do them when you get there, you can bring it up as something that was not discussed and negotiate with them.
Some of the basics include:
• a good and reasonable salary,
• reasonable working hours that abides by local laws (maximum 30 hours a week),
• decent living environment (get them to send you photos of the room you’ll be living in and their house so you get an idea of their level of cleanliness),
• coverage of social security (they are obligated by law to pay for you),
• convenient access to local transport with frequently intervals especially if you live far away from the city or a car if no public transport is available (if you only have access to public transport, request that they pay for your transport card and if they provide you with a car, request that they pay for the petrol but it is reasonable for you to pay for additional petrol if you go out a lot),
• 1 week of holidays for every 6 months of work. My hosts go on weekend road trips and short holidays quite frequently so I get lots of time off on top of public holidays and my 1.5 weeks break to go home for my girlfriends’ weddings. Some hosts take their au pairs on their holidays, and they might want you to join them to help with the kids, but talk to them before going on the trip if you want to have time on your own. My hosts brought me to an amazing weekend at their parents’ place near Paris over the Easter weekend but I wished I could have some time for lunch with my Parisian friends and I know my hosts would definitely have been fine with that if I had told them.
There’s only one bus that runs from our town to the city with just 3 intervals (morning, noon, evening) so once you miss it, you’re stuck for hours unless you take a super expensive cab ride which I did end up having to once. Fortunately, I have my own car, so later on I just drove everywhere instead. A classmate of mine lives 40 minutes away from our school in the city and doesn’t have access to a car so she basically couldn’t go anywhere on her off days and had to spend all her free time at home. Trust me, you’ll not want.
Again, I emphasize this, get everything on paper even if they sound like the best people on earth during your conversations.
Step 3: Prepare the documents.
There are 2 sets of documents you’ll need to prepare; one set for your hosts to submit to the local authorities, and one set for yourself when you apply for your visa.
For your hosts
They need to get the contract stamped by the local authorities (DIRECCTE) so you will have to provide them with the following documents and ask them to get it processed as soon as possible because it’s going to take a while (1 week to 3 months).
1) Contract signed by your host and you.
2) Medical certificate issued within 3 months prior to your departure to France. I went to my GP and he asked me what is needed for this and I had absolutely no idea and told him I just need his signature so he sent me for a chest x-ray, then signed the document.
3) Document confirming your education level in your country (translated into French by an agreed translator). It cost S$62 to get my diploma translated at Alliance Française Singapore and I got it within a couple of days. Everything is more efficient in Singapore.
4) Motivation letter written in French. I learned French for 3 months in poly so it wasn’t too hard for me, but you can also just use google translate, it works alright and they aren’t too strict about broken French. If you need a sample, leave me a message and I can send one to you.
5) A copy of your passport.
These are the documents required for the long stay student visa.
1) Long stay visa form filled and signed.
2) 1 passport sized photo.
3) Actual passport and a photocopy of it.
4) Photocopy of our precious pink IC. (Not necessary since your passport already shows your a Singapore citizen but I submitted it anyway.)
5) Photocopy of your degree or diploma. In English is fine.
6) Contract signed and stamped by DIRECCTE.
7) Letter from DIRECCTE. There should be a letter from DIRECCTE addressed to your hosts that confirms the French authorities have accepted your application. It should reflect your name, date of birth, and nationality. This document is very important because it ensures your visa is approved without any glitches, even if you don’t meet other requirements for the visa.
8) Attestation from French school for your French language classes. Basically a piece of document that certifies that you’ve signed up and paid for a French class. Even though the Embassy told me the requirement is 20 hours per week, my attestation reflects only 10 hours a week and I didn’t have problems with that. The Embassy told me that because I had the letter from DIRECCTE, it didn’t matter even if I didn’t so-called “meet the requirements” for the visa.
9) OFII form. The Embassy will stamp this document and return back to you when you get your visa. Make backup copies (digital and physical) of this document because you will need it when you arrive in France. Did I forget to say, bring the original to France?
Step 4: Get your visa.
This is the easiest part! Once you have the above documents ready, make an appointment online, show up for your appointment, submit the documents when you’re called and pay the €99. They will give you a slip of pink paper with your information and application number on it. You can log in online to check the status of your application (either processing or processed), but it will not tell you whether it is successful. Then, the Embassy will contact you to collect your visa once it’s ready or to submit any additional documents required.
Step 5: Fly away!
It took me about 2 to 3 months to get all the paperwork done after I found my host. This means that you will need to plan for this trip way in advance. On hindsight, I feel that 6 months is a good time frame, but it is also doable within 3 months, though you will have to rush through a lot of things.
Norwegian Air has really good deals to London. You can then take the Eurostar, a ferry, or fly cheaply (budget airlines such as EasyJet) over to France. Now with Scoot flying direct to Berlin, you can enter France from Berlin at an affordable price as well. My host is located near Annecy, East of France, and very near to Geneva airport, so I took the SIN -> LGW -> GVA route, where my host picked me up from the airport in Geneva. You will have to discuss with your hosts and find out which is the nearest or most convenient way to enter France. Just ensure that you have a entry stamp on your passport wherever you enter from in any of the Schengen countries. You will need it to get your French residence permit.
If you’re curious, I spent about S$400 for my flights to France all-in with tax (including the added baggage) for both my LGW and GVA flights, though I got all the money back because of the 60-hours delay. So all in all, I spend a total of about S$650 (or actually S$0 because of the insurance money from the delay) for this 1 year experience in France. Not a lot of money if you ask me (I mean S$650), for a once in a lifetime experience.
Step 6: Register at the local authority upon arrival.
Do this as soon as you arrive even though you have 3 months to do it. You MUST mail the following documents to nearest OFII by registered mail (tell the post office aka La Poste that you need a “recommandé avec avis de réception” or if they speak English, registered mail).
1) Your original OFII form stamped by French Embassy in Singapore,
2) a photocopy of the following pages in your passport:
a. the information about your identity;
b. the arrival stamp in France or any of the Schengen countries;
c. your French visa.
3) a photocopy of your medical certificate.
The French Embassy in Singapore should have provided you with a list of all the addresses and highlighted the one nearest to your hosts location.
When you go to La Poste (French post office), go to the counter and ask for a “recommandé avec avis de réception”. They will give you a slip of paper to fill in all the details. Then, you’ll be directed to the self-service machine to purchase your stamp (€5,70). I recommend bringing your own envelope because it costs me €1,80 for one envelope at La Poste but I got a pack of 100 envelopes from Carrefour at less than €2. Once you stick the stamp on your envelope, DON’T PUT IT IN THE REGULAR POST BOX. Return to the counter with the slip you’ve filled and your letter. They will keep your letter and tear out a page from the “recommandé avec avis de réception” slip for your reference. On it, there’s a “numéro de l’envoi” that allows you to track your letter online.
Because you’re mailing it with a “recommandé avec avis de réception”, you will receive the “receipt” at the address you filled on the slip once OFII has received the submission. If you don’t receive this “receipt” within a couple of days, you can track your mail online or call La Poste. After OFII processed your submission, they will then send you a letter with a date to show up for the “interview”.
Step 7: Show up for the “interview”.
Bring your passport, a photocopy of your medical certificate, a photocopy of your hosts identity card or passport, a bill with their name and address clearly shown, and the tax stamp of €60 which you have to purchase online. OFII will then put a secure sticker and a date stamp in your passport. You’re now an official resident in France!
Step 8: Have a great time!
No, you certainly don’t need me to tell you how to do that!
What if something bad happens?
My super awesome friend prepared a list of important contacts for me. While we want to have a great time and not get into any trouble, sometimes things happen. In case something happens or things don’t work out with your host family, here’s what you can do.
Call the relevant authorities at the following numbers. I can’t help you much with that.
17 – Police
18 – Fire brigade
15 – Other urgent medical situations
115 – Emergency shelter
119 – Report child abuse
196 – Sea and lake rescue
197 – Terror and kidnapping hotline
3237 – Outside hours GP and pharmacy information
You need to leave your host family
First of all, remember that your visa is not tied to your host, it belongs to you. If you’re not happy with the family or is suffering abuse (whatever forms), do not hesitate or be afraid to leave! My friends and family were very concerned that I would get myself into a scam because au pairing is such an unheard of job by many in Singapore. I assured everyone that I can absolutely take care of myself because my visa is mine, and I will hold on to my passport even if I have to fight someone for it, unless, of course, they point a gun at me.
1) Register your trip with MFA. This is very useful in case something happens to you when you’re abroad and you should always do this regardless of where and what purpose you’re traveling for.
2) Keep in contact your close friends or family in Singapore, let them know how you’re doing. While there’s not much they can do from afar, at least someone knows about your situation and can act upon it if you suddenly went silent.
3) Tell someone in France. You should try to make friends here not just because you don’t want to spend all your time alone, but also because they can provide support in times of need. A fellow au pair was made to leave her host family suddenly and she was really fortunate to have different friends who gave her a room to sleep in, a place to leave her luggage, and provided transport to the airport.
There are many Facebook groups in France and you can ask your school or classmates or even your hosts, where to find and how to join these groups so you can begin making friends as soon as you arrive. I met all my friends at one of these groups after my friendly school director told me about them.
Last but not least, if you’re lucky like me and found an amazing family with superb living environment, please reciprocate as well. Take the initiative to clean up the table, wash the dishes after meals especially if you didn’t cook that day, help carry the groceries, and generally be kind and helpful without being asked. When people look at you, they see you not as only as a single person, but as someone from your home country and they learn about your culture from your behavior. Respect yourself, respect them, and most importantly, respect your country by carrying yourself appropriately!
Joette is proud to be a jack of all trades but not so excited about being the master of none. She believes in creating opportunities and making things happen as the idea strikes, rather than waiting forever. She started this website to share her experiences and help others find answers to common struggles of living in a fast-paced world where we hold responsibility for our decisions.