Want to travel to Switzerland, but you don’t have thousands of dollars to toss away for high-priced water and S-Bahn fare? Take some kids under your wing and move in with your employers! Trust me, it isn’t (usually) as scary as it sounds.
I always wanted to travel, but couldn’t manage to accumulate anything but punch cards (and sadness) in my wallet – no matter how many hours I put in. Even with a full-time corporate job, I couldn’t save enough for much more than my much-too-expensive Los Angeles apartment and necessary Netflix subscription. So, what did I do? I left LA to live with a family in the land of chocolate and cheese.
Being an Au Pair is not for everyone. But, if you’re as broke as I was (…am), you can still visit pricey places like the Alps and the Eiffel Tower by trading in your home address for some car seats and a closet full of stained clothes.
If you want to know what my workday consists of and how I’m able to afford to travel (both in terms of time and money), keep reading. This article includes information about time off, salary, additional perks, legal requirements, and everything else it takes to be an Au Pair in Switzerland.
What is an Au Pair?
An Au Pair is essentially a cross between a live-in nanny and an exchange student. In most cases, you are provided a room in your host family’s home. Occasionally, you might be given your off-site apartment or studio if the family does not have enough space in their house. *In Switzerland, you are entitled to your room and you can not be forced to share a bedroom with anyone else (including the children).
In return for providing up to 30 hours of childcare per week, you receive free room and board. This means that breakfast, lunch, and dinner must be provided by the family in some way. This is also true on weekends and days off. I live in the canton Aargau, which requires host families to pay a food allowance for all meals that they don’t facilitate. You are given a small stipend as reimbursement for meals that you pay for with your own money. This is the compensation I’m entitled to:
- Breakfast: 3.50 CHF
- Lunch: 10 CHF
- Dinner: 8 CHF
You may also be asked to complete simple household tasks, but you are not required to fulfill the duties of a housekeeper, maid, or home manager. In fact, my contract forbids it. The definition of “light cleaning” is fairly subjective, but some examples include:
- Loading/unloading the dishwasher
- Cleaning up after the children when they are in your care
- Keeping your own room neat and tidy
- Occasional sweeping or vacuuming
Deep cleaning tasks or a standing list of housekeeping chores isn’t appropriate work for an Au Pair, so be sure to discuss this with any potential families and have this be part of your contract before you start working.
What Do I Need to Be an Au Pair?
The age, visa, and documentation requirements vary from country to country. These are the basic qualifications to become an Au Pair in Switzerland if you plan on staying for longer than three months:
- Mother tongue must be different from your host family as well as the language spoken in the Swiss region you’ll be moving to
- Unmarried and without children
- Willing to take a language course
- Willingness to register with a recognized Au Pair agency (SECO)
- Valid passport
Here are some additional requirements that depend on your country of origin:
- 17-30 years old (at the time of entry)
- Can stay no longer than 24 months
- 18-25 years old (at the time of entry)
- Ability to obtain the necessary visa(s) for your country of origin AND potential host country
- Can stay no longer than 12 months
Is Experience Required To Work As An Au Pair?
Depending on the age of the kids you’ll be taking care of and the preferences of your host family, it can be beneficial to have some childcare experience under your belt before becoming an Au Pair. However, this is not a requirement and is often not the case.
Above all else, the Au Pair program is a cultural exchange. In Switzerland, at least one parent or guardian must be present during 50% of your work hours. You’ll be expected to talk to the kids in your native language, and you will have the opportunity to learn about their language and culture in return. Au Pairs often have a misplaced reputation of being cheap labor or a better solution to paying full-price for daycare or a nanny. Indeed, hosting an Au Pair IS usually a cheaper option than other forms of childcare, but the workload is completely different.
Au Pairs in Switzerland can work up to 30 hours per week, and a maximum of 6 hours per day. Of those 30 hours, the children’s parent or guardian must be present for at least 15. This is not the case for a traditional nanny, who would likely also be required to handle housework regularly and a more demanding schedule.
Does Switzerland Have Requirements for Au Pairs?
As an Au Pair in Switzerland, you are protected by two main entities: the Swiss government, and your Au Pair agency. To prevent mistreatment of Au Pairs, both of these groups enforce certain rules that ensure the wellbeing of both Au Pairs and host families:
- Au Pairs must have their bedroom/sleeping quarters
- Au Pairs are entitled to stay at the family home regardless of whether or not the family is present
- If meals aren’t provided, Au Pairs must be compensated for their food (see above)
- Au Pairs must be allowed at least one full day off per week, and at least once a month that needs to be a Sunday
- Minimum gross salary for an Au Pair is 990 CHF
- Au Pairs are entitled to 4 weeks of paid holiday per 12-month working period
This is more something that is handled by the agency, but both Au Pairs and host families must give a period of notice before terminating the terms of the contract. In my contract, it states that I must give my family/they must give me one month of notice. However, my first month of work was my trial period, so at this point, only seven days of notice would have been required. Of course, some emergencies might warrant a shorter term of notice. But, failing to follow these rules could result in both parties being barred for participating in an Au Pair program in the future.
How Can I Find a Family As an Au Pair?
I think most Au Pairs would agree with me in saying that AuPairWorld.com is the BEST resource. I found my family here, as well as EVERY single Au Pair I know. It is possible to find a family from other websites (or even via social media) but you run a much higher risk of getting scammed or taken advantage of if either applicant isn’t subjected to a two-way verification process.
Using this website is easy, and they do their due diligence to make sure all applications are authentic and trackable. Simply make a free account, fill out your preferences (such as the country you want, whether you want to live in a city or small town, etc.), and you’ll likely start getting matches right away. They also provide a ton of useful information about everything from expected duties to how much you can expect to be paid in each country.
How Much Will I Get Paid?
Speaking of payment, this is a HUGE factor when considering to be an Au Pair. In many countries, you get paid next to nothing. I’m not knocking other programs, because it is still an amazing (and more affordable) way to experience a new culture first hand. But fortunately, Switzerland offers one of the highest salary packages.
At minimum, Au Pairs must be paid at least 700 CHF net in most Swiss cantons. This is AFTER all standard deductions, and the gross amount (outside of room and board) must be at least 990 CHF. This isn’t including your meal allowance, legal holidays, or payment when you are sick. Even if you are unable to work, you are still entitled to your salary.
Am I Responsible for Any Costs as an Au Pair?
If you are a member of the EU/EFTA, your trip to Switzerland will likely be completely free since you won’t need to apply for a visa for the period of time before your residence and work permit become valid. If you are a member of a non-EU/EFTA country, you will be responsible (in most cases, some families are extra generous) to pay for the cost of your entry visa. Coming from the United States, my visa cost me $68.
Most cantons require the host family to pay for your transportation costs to enter the country. Standard costs such as health insurance and the number of language courses you need to take as required by your canton will also be covered by your host family.
Are There Other Perks?
This can vary from canton to canton (and family to family), but there are a lot of different perks that you might receive in addition to what’s listed above. For example, I needed a car for my job since I was responsible for picking the kids up from school. I was also allowed to use the car during my off time. If you need to take public transportation to take the children to and from activities, your family will likely pay for you to have a travel card or train pass.
When my family took a three-week vacation in Italy, they brought me along. I was PAID to watch the kids for a few hours a day, while I spent the rest of my time eating gelato by the Mediterranean Sea. When they took a family vacation over the Christmas holiday, that meant that I was given three weeks of paid vacation that DIDN’T count toward my 4-week annual vacation allowance. So, I took a solo trip across Greece, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. This would never be something that I could do back in the States.
How Many Days Off Will I Have As an Au Pair In Switzerland?
At a minimum, you are entitled to 4 days off per month in addition to public holidays (they differ in each canton) AND 4 weeks of paid vacation. If you get lucky enough to find a family that goes on holiday more frequently, you might also benefit from either being brought along or given additional free time to use on your own.
Will I Have Any Bills While in Switzerland?
For the most part, your expenses will be taken care of by your host family. I only pay for my cell phone and gas that I use for personal trips. Everything else I need, such as food, lodging, health insurance, and car insurance is paid for by my host family. They also paid for my airfare to Switzerland and the agency fees, which saved me hundreds of dollars right from the start.
If you have any questions about what is or is not included in your entitlements as an Au Pair, you can contact the Swiss Cantonal Labour Market Authority. If you’re already in the application process and have been assigned to an agency, they can also help you with any questions you might have about the process.
During my time here, I’ve traveled to 25 countries in addition to countless places all across Switzerland. No matter where you’re coming from or what you have to start with, you might be able to drop it all and start a new (temporary) life in one of the world’s most exclusive alpine wonderlands. Trade your rent payment for some cows and an impossibly difficult dialect today!
Keep reading: The Perfect Swiss Road Trip For Active Travelers