If you have already decided you want to go abroad as an au pair, you probably want to know how to pick the right family for you now. If you used agency services to find a family, it may happen that only one family is going to be offered to you and you will have no choice but to accept (if you really want to go, otherwise you can always stay home). But above all, I think it's important to have an idea of what kind of family you want to be in and to know what you are getting yourself into.

Are you going with an au pair agency?

I admit that every time I went as an au pair, I went through an agency. The first time it was because I didn't know exactly what I'm going to do and how. And the second time I did so, because I wanted to travel to Spain and I didn't speak Spanish at all. For the latter stays I used agencies simply because it's then a whole lot easier as they will find a family for you and check all the paperwork. You don't have to do pretty much anything (except for the initial paperwork, which can be pretty terrible). But I also searched for the families by myself so that I would have a choice in case only one family would be presented to me. And if you are going for the first time, I would recommend you do the same and create a profile on e.g. the aupairworld website. At least you will find out what kind of families are out there and what exactly they want from an au pair. Especially if you go for a longer period of time - I think it's way better to carefully search for the right family before your departure from home rather than finding yourself in stressful situations afterwards (there are way too many ocassions when an au pair could not handle the stress then and just packed her bags and went back home).

Do you want to find a host family on your own?

If you are looking for a family by yourselves, I recommend you the website above. You don't have to pay anything and there is really a plenty of families. But since you have so many travel options there, just be careful and search for the requirements for your stay in the particular country. And also, remember, never pay anything in advance. If there is some "nice family" who wants you, is great and offers you quite a high allowance, but... they also want you to pay them some visa or something... just don't do it, it's most probably a scam. You can also look for a family on Facebook where there are many different groups of families and au pairs and you can also find there groups with all the families in which other au pairs had a bad experience. If you are unsure about how you feel about a certain family, search the family online or ask for recommendations. If they had an au pair previously, ask them for her/his contact and then talk in person with the previous au pair as they will most likely not lie to you. But the most important points when looking for a family on your own - do not rush the process, give it some time to find the right family and most of all - Skype! And if there are any doubts on your side about the chosen family, continue the search, the right family waits for you somewhere pretty sure :-)

What can you expect your host family to be?

An important point to mention is what can you look for in a host family. Certainly, ideal would be a family where you feel to be a part of, where the kids are not spoiled, listen and are nice. Where you won't be cleaners, cooks, gardeners etc. Where you will have a huge room to yourself only, preferably with a huge bathroom as well. Where you will be able to invite your friends. Well, you will probably all agree that a family like that is really hard to come by. I don't say they don't exist, just that it may be difficult to find them.

A good thing to start with is by knowing what you really don't want. A family with 3 kids, living in a barn 100km from the nearest city, for example. Just think about the things you really don't want and which would make you uncomfortable and would limit you too much.

I personally didn't want to be in a family with smokers because I do not smoke myself and it really annoys me. I also don't drive too much (pretty much never), so I looked for a family which didn't need a driver. Other facts to consider would be meeting other au pairs, possible activities, school nearby, or religion. When you are choosing a family it is important to keep in mind that you will be in touch with them all the time and it's a good idea to avoid everything which would cause trouble for you.

How to find out how the host family will behave?

This point is the most difficult yet probably the most important. I personally don't like families where I'm just a cheap labour force. But again, it depends what you want yourselves, I prefer to have rather less money but to feel good in a family. Many times you can see this from the family's profile already, or from the way they communicate with you on Skype and e-mails.

I have learnt after the years that going with an agency at your back doesn't mean you will be lucky and get a great family. Or that they will be able to find you a new family in case you need a change. If you want a change, you mostly have to find the family on your own. Of course you can write the agency and ask them for help, but it usually takes a long time, there might not be any available family nearby and it just takes time. And if you are not comfortable or have conflicts with your current family, you probably want to run away ASAP. Moreover, if you are going for a shorter period of time, for example like I did for 3 months, nobody's going to find you a replacement family for you anyway.

Au Pair
How to have the biggest chances?

Something which is quite important in today's world pretty much everywhere - the first impression. Families choose the au pair based on their website profile or documents from an agency.  Either way, both of these contain some pictures, a letter to the family and a short info about you (in case of agencies also some references, medical statements, etc.) In these materials you should be honest and definitely not try to make things up. It's not really a good idea to write about how much you love cooking Jamie Oliver's recipes when in reality you can barely cook pasta on its own. The family will expect you to be as you said you are and if you lie, you can very easily slip and have a big problem. It's good to pay extra attention to the materials. Choose the nicest pictures with kids (preferably where you all look very happy) and write the documents in a way so that they are interesting and your personality will show through. Otherwise you would lose a lot of chances pretty much for nothing. I also recommend you give the materials to someone else to read so that you can get a feedback. Very important is also conversation with the family (e-mails, Skype and phone calls).

To conclude, I would like to mention that you can get on with every family pretty well. I have met many au pairs and most of them had the tendencies to complain. About kids, surroundings, parents. It is understandable since you are in a strange family, taking care of strange kids and are in a strange country. But you are not at home anymore and it is important to understand the fact that you cannot replace your own family and friends by your stay. If you put your worries aside though, I can promise you you will enjoy your stay at maximum :-)