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10 Things to Know Before Your Au Pair in China Experience

Updated: May 23, 2019

Learn the ins & outs of becoming an au pair in China. See a world that you have never come across. Pick up languages in exchange of what you can offer. Meet people from foreign backgrounds and experience a culture which is totally different from your own. Artfully balance the need to know and the need to let things go and have the adventure unwind.

Ready to jumpstart your research into the life of a China au pair? We’ve put together this collection of thoughtfully chosen tips and pieces of advice. Without giving away too much of the good stuff, the following tips will help you have a better au pairing experience in China.

1. Have a clear understanding of your expectations and the family’s expectations

Au pairing is not one-side work, it’s a collaborative effort made by both au pairs and host families. So being aware of what host families want from this practice is as much important as knowing what you expect from au pairing. Most au pairs look forward to exciting city adventures during their stay in China or an in-person experience of Chinese culture. They also want to make Chinese friends and have a closer look of an authentic Chinese lifestyle. On the other hand, Chinese families are, first of all, expecting au pairs are good teachers who can significantly improve their children’s English. So the role of au pair in China as an English teacher would outweigh the roles of babysitting or helping with housework. Apart from that, Chinese families also expect au pairs to be big brothers or sisters of their children, the one who can be children’s friends as well as take good care of their little brothers/sisters.

2. Fulfill the traits that are considered important for becoming an au pair in China

To match au pairs with the most ideal host family, also to select reliable au pairs for Chinese families, we have our considerations too. We hope our au pair candidates always have a heart for children. The role they play in au pairing is not only English teachers, but the ones who have the closest and most frequent interaction with children. They are an important part of children’s life. Meanwhile, being open-minded is another property we look for from au pairs. 

Au pairing is journey of experiencing differences including lifestyle, customs, and culture. Having an open mind not only shows a flexible personality but also means they can better fit into a new and different environment. Moreover, having an outgoing and proactive character is always the rule of thumb, as au pairing with children always requires skills to interact with them and it is always about enthusiasm.

3. Be prepared for culture shock

This is probably one of the biggest challenges most au pairs face, which ironically also doubles as one of the reasons that China has been an alluring destinations for young travelers. From chaotic traffic and satin-like subways to bizarre foods (chicken feet and frog noodles, anyone?). Here are some tips to help you mentally prepare for Chinese culture shock as an au pair abroad:

The first one is time sensitivity. The Chinese are less sensitive with regard to time, which can manifest in difficult ways during au pair jobs in China. In other words, they could be very flexible for family schedules. Family activities can be spontaneous. For example, the host family may announce a plan for trip just an hour before departure. Having been used to being told about upcoming events at least a day prior, some au pairs may feel panic for such a ‘surprise.’ 

The second difference is food. Not only about ‘what to eat’, it is also about ‘how to eat.’ When you come to China, au pairs might be surprised to learn cheese, butter, and bread are not common items on Chinese table—replaced instead by rice, dumplings, or noodles. Meanwhile, no forks or knives are used but chopsticks instead. They may also surprise to see all dishes placed in the middle of the table and shared by all instead of individually on one's own plate. 

Lastly, Chinese parenting style may be viewed as strict by au pairs. Some host families set curfew for children, including au pairs, normally at 10:00 pm. In addition, the boundary of privacy in Chinese family may not be as clear as what it is in most of western countries. It is possible that children just come in the rooms as they please (but this is more out of curiosity rather than invasion!). 

To overcome these differences, talking with people who have experience in au pairing in Chinese families and see how they dealt with them can be really helpful. Also it is recommended that one can always find some Chinese friends to seek for advice. Additionally, orientation provided by the au pair organization can be helpful to better settle down with host family.

4. Learn Mandarin while you’re there—and maybe even a little before

 Having some basic understanding of Chinese before au pairing in China would be really advantageous. This could make you a more competitive candidate in your applications, and will help you fit into your new environment more quickly. In general, your life in China will be much easier. It is also recommended that keep improving this language while au pairing in China by practicing conversations with Chinese friends or self-learning online.

Meanwhile, if you want to improve Mandarin in more depth, having a Chinese class during off-work times could be helpful.

5. Choose the right agency and know what support that they provide

It is crucial to use an agency who is reliable and always able to help in the right way when searching for au pair jobs in China. Your program provider plays an important role in connecting au pairs with host families and ensuring the experience of au pairing is as satisfying as expected. For instance, you might want to book a program with an organization who can pick you up in the airport when you land, help you get a Chinese SIM card, and offer orientation that is useful to get familiar with the new life in China. You may also want some help from a program provider in overcoming cultural differences and exploring a new culture at the same time. In such case, culture activities offered by agency may help resolve your puzzles and give insights to help you understand that culture.  

Culture experience is just a small portion of au pairs’ life in China. A good agency or au pair program should be considerate and take care of au pairs in as many aspects as possible. Insurance for au pairs and instant support any time needed should be taken into consideration. In addition, if your host city is not a mega city, make sure a local program coordinator will be available to help you out there.

6. Download useful apps and web tools in advance

You may have heard that internet accessibility for a China au pair is slightly different from where you come. Here are some recommendations of mobile apps that would help you to make the use of Chinese network.

WeChat. The most popular and convenient online communication app, supporting instant messages as well as audio/video chat. It is also an e-wallet where you can top-up, withdraw and transfer money. There are various official subscriptions offering information including news, lifestyle, food, entertainment and culture available too.

Hello Chinese. An Chinese learning e-book, including basic vocabularies and daily conversation with Pinyin. Having explanations in English, it is quite suitable for beginners. A VPN. As mentioned above, social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are not accessible in China. So if you want to keep a regular touch with friends or families on those online networking sites, VPN is needed. There are various such services but quality varies too, depending on how much you are willing to pay.

Google Translation. Coming to a country where the language is totally different from your mother tongue, it could be sometimes difficult to start a conversation. So having an online translator may help you overcome this problem. Google Translation turns out to be reliable to get relatively accurate results.

7. Understand the living expenses in China

To manage your overall expenditures in China, you need to set up a bank account first. According to the Chinese government newly published rules, foreigners now need a one year visa to apply for a domestic debit card. So, you need to talk with your bank about your trip to China so that the bank card is accessible. Living with host families, the average living expenses of au pairs in China is different from the one of those who live in this country as citizens. 

To give you an idea, here are three tables showing average costs of day-to-day items and public transports in China.

8. Coordinate the proper visa

Normally, au pairs will be on either exchange visa (F visa) or student visa (X2 visa) to participate in the program for no longer than six months. If the au pair will participate in the program for 12 months, he/she has to apply for X1 visa to China. An alternative is to renew the visa for another six months after six months stay in China. 

If you’re not currently in your home country, you must apply for the visa to China in the local Chinese embassy where you currently reside. Furthermore, as you will most likely receive a single entry visa to China, your visa will no longer be valid if you travel abroad during your stay in China. In that case, you will have to re-apply for another visa to China.​​​

​Generally, visa application process will take 4-7 working days starting from the date of submission (not including shipment time).

9. Get travel insurance!

It is important to be insured before they finding au pair jobs in China. So, please make sure you have your medical insurance covered before your departure.

10. Research your host family in advance—and practice open communication while you’re there

Your host family is who you’ll stay with while au pairing, so make sure you know about them as much as you can. Having conversations is a good way to get to know each other. Also it helps you get closer with them. Talk with them over points of working schedules so that you can have a balanced teaching and leisure time. Exchange views about lifestyle to make sure how you can fit yourself in a different way of living. In addition, you can take a full advantage of social media by sharing photos and interesting stories or experiences with your host family so that you can familiarize yourself with your new family members and accommodations.

Au pairing is a great way to explore the world, to see the differences of countries, cultures and people living in those contexts and, on top of that, to practice giving back with your skills in meaningful ways. But before starting this experience, having insight on the basics of those unknowns or differences to ensure the adventure is fruitful as well as enjoyable.

The experience of an au pair abroad could be different from one country the other. Accordingly, suggestions about it would be exclusive for situations in China. Having all points above ticked, you are now ready to kick off the journey of au pair in China!

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