Single males and females aged between 18 and 30 are eligible for a position as an au pair (alla pari) for up to 12 months. The au pair system provides an excellent opportunity to travel, improve your Italian, and generally broaden your education by living and working in Italy. The main aim of the au pair system is to give young people the opportunity to learn a foreign language in a typical family environment. Au pairs are accepted from most countries. If you're an EU national you need only a valid passport and aren't required to arrange a position before arriving, although it's usually wise. Some agencies allow you to meet families in Italy before making a final decision, which is highly desirable as you can interrogate the family, inspect their home and your accommodation, and meet the children who will make your life heaven or hell! However, applicants from non-EU countries need a visa (see page 76), an agreement with a Italian family and a certificate of registration for Italian classes at a language school. These must be presented to your local Italian embassy or consulate with your passport when applying for a visa.
Au pairs are usually contracted to work for a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 months. Most families require an au pair for at least the whole school year, from September to June. The best time to look for an au pair position is therefore before the beginning of the school year in September. You should apply as early as possible and not later than one month prior to your preferred start date or at least two months if you need a visa.
Au pairs are usually placed in Italian-speaking families with children, although non-Italian-speaking families without children can also engage an au pair. An au pair's duties consist of light housework, including simple cooking for children, clothes washing (with a machine) and ironing, washing and drying dishes (if the family doesn't have a dishwasher), making beds, dusting; vacuum cleaning, and other light jobs around the home. To enjoy life as an au pair you should be used to helping around the house and like working with children. An au pair isn't a general servant or cook (although you may be treated as one) and you aren't expected to look after physically or mentally handicapped children. As an au pair, you receive all meals and accommodation, usually with a study area, in lieu of a salary.
Working hours are officially limited to 30 per week, five hours per day (morning or afternoon), six days per week, plus a maximum of three evenings' baby-sitting. You should be given time off to attend Italian classes and religious services. In some families, au pairs holiday with the family or are free to take Christmas or Easter holidays at home. Choose a wealthy family and you may be taken on exotic foreign holidays, although they may be less likely to treat you as a close family member. For your labours you're paid the princely sum of around â‚? per hour. You're required to pay your own fare from your country to Italy (and back). Your family is also required to pay for health insurance under the national health service (SSN).
An au pair position can be arranged privately with a family or through an agency. There are au pair agencies in Italy and many other countries and positions can also be found via magazines (such as the British The Lady magazine) and newspapers, but you're usually better off going through an agency. The better agencies vet families, make periodic checks on your welfare, help you overcome problems (either personal or with your family), and may organise cultural activities (particularly in major cities). An agency will send you an application form (questionnaire) and usually ask you to provide character (moral) and child-care references, a medical certificate and school references. Au pairs must usually have had a high school education or the equivalent, have a good knowledge of Italian and must attend Italian-language classes (see page 191) organised for foreign students. Agency registration fees vary, although there are maximum fees in some countries, e.g. around Â£50 in Britain.
Your experience as an au pair will depend entirely on your relationship with your family. If you're fortunate enough to work for a warm and friendly host family, you will have a wonderful experience, lots of free time and possibly some memorable holidays. Many au pairs grow to love their children and families, and form lifelong friendships. On the other hand, abuses of the au pair system are common in all countries and you may be treated as a servant rather than a member of the family, and be expected to work long hours and spend most evenings baby-sitting. Many families engage an au pair simply because it costs far less than employing a nanny. If you have any complaints about your duties, you should refer them to the agency that found you your position (if applicable). There are many families to choose from and you shouldn't feel that you need to remain with a family that treats you badly. You're usually required to give notice if you wish to go home before the end of your agreement, although this won't apply if the family has broken the contract.
Prospective au pairs should contact a number of agencies and compare registration fees and pocket money, both of which may vary considerably (although the terms of employment should be the same). Pocket money is usually higher in major cities (e.g. Milan and Rome) than in the provinces. Many British agencies are listed in the Au Pair and Nanny's Guide to Working Abroad by Susan Griffith (Vacation Work). Note that it's possible for responsible Italian-speaking young women with or without experience or training to obtain employment as a nanny in Italy. Duties are basically the same as an au pair, although a position as a nanny is a proper job with full employee rights and a real salary!
Italian au pair agencies include Agencia Intermediate, Via Bramante, 13, 00153 Rome ( 06-5747 444), Euro Au Pair, Corso dei Tintori, 8, Tintari, 50122 Florence (055-242 181), Jolly Italian Au Pair Agency, Via Giovanni XX111, 20, 36050 Monteviale (VI) (www.goldnet.it/jolly ) and Mix Culture, Via Nazionale, 24, 00184 Rome ( 06-4788 2289).
This excerpt has been republished with permission from Survival Books. Some of the information may apply to EU citizens only. If you would like to get the inside track on moving to Italy, pick up your copy of this great book by clicking here.