Advice for Working as an Au Pair in Spain

July 6, 2016
Advice for Working as an Au Pair in Spain

When I moved from the United States to work as an au pair in Spain for a full year, I had expectations about what I would experience and how my life overseas would be. If you too are considering moving abroad, I highly suggest doing it but keep in mind that these expectations will most likely change. My advice is based on my time as an au pair in Spain, but whether you are teaching English abroad or living with a host family, this article may be of help.

1) Living with a host family

Living with a host family is generally one of the cheaper ways of living abroad. I am a ‘live in’ au pair in Spain, and understood my living conditions before I moved in with the family. However, I did not know how much of an introvert I was before living with my host family, or how much I valued my personal space and time. I consider myself relatively outgoing but I realized I need time to recharge. Each family functions in its own unique way, in the US or in Spain, so understanding the daily schedule of a host family and how you can work with this is important, so you can attain the personal time you need. Do not be afraid to ask for any personal time if you feel this need is not being met.

2) Cultural differences

I became more familiar with the cultural differences between Americans and Spanish people. For one, our eating schedules are opposite. Instead of having the biggest meal of the day at night around 7, I started to eat this meal around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, then another meal at 9 or 10 at night. My body hated me for the first month or two abroad, but eventually I became more comfortable with this eating schedule.

Another cultural difference is that your personal space or ‘bubble’ does not really exist in Spain. My first week in Spain involved many kisses on the cheeks to men and women of all ages, and I had to remind myself that these people were trying to welcome me, not scare me away. It was a bit awkward at first but then I realized how warm these welcomes were and I forgot my discomfort.

Do not be hard on yourself as your body and mind are both adapting to these changes and will need time to adjust. People across the world live differently, so embrace these differences and push your comfort zone.

3) Language barriers

Overcoming language barriers is hard. At a local restaurant, market or with a host family, sometimes conversations become difficult and Google Translate does not have the answer. But don’t give up. My Spanish is still a work in progress, but generally people want to help you and want to chat with you. So patience is the key here.

In my Spanish class, we could only speak in Spanish and I had to figure out how to state my questions or thoughts with my limited knowledge of the language. I realized there is more than one way to express a thought, so a friend suggested I started to focus on the words I did know, rather than the ones I do not know. This sounds like common sense but it had not occurred to me to change my thinking process. If you reach for a translator each time you speak, maybe consider how else you could state what you want to say. If you do not know any words in another language, hand gestures and pictures are quite helpful too. Patience, again, is the key to overcoming language barriers.

4) Know your new home

When I first moved to Zaragoza, I wanted to travel everywhere but there. Being in Europe for the first time, I was blown away by all of the famous landmarks I had only seen on TV, which were now only an airplane flight away. However, my free time, and wallet, only allowed me to travel so often and I began to explore the city I lived in, and other Spanish cities. I realized there was a lot to explore within Spain and if anything, I should be a travel expert, mas o menos, of Spain as it would be my home for a year.

Other au pairs have said one of their greatest regrets was not going to local festivals, museums or other cities within Spain that are lesser known. One advantage of having a host family is that they know these lesser known places, when to go, what transportation to use and what to see. I luckily have had a host family who have helped me a lot in planning these travels.

Most Spanish cities and villages have tourism offices too that can help you find the sites to see in addition to maps and directions. I have found that the more I explore my local area, the more at home I feel and the more comfortable I am with my new surroundings.

5) Childcare suggestions

When it comes to childcare, I think it is important to talk with the parents about their expectations relating to your tasks, activities, and the do’s and don’ts of your job. Open communication with the parents has helped me understand what kind of experience the kids should have with you as a caretaker. From how long they can watch TV, when is homework time or how long they should be playing outside, these are all questions to ask. Some parents are more particular about their expectations while others may have a few rules but are pretty lax. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because how else will you know how to do your job?

Keep in mind that cultural differences may play a role in your expectations as well as the family’s. Some actions that may seem acceptable to you may not be for the parents, or vice versa. The ages of the kids will shape these expectations too, so keep in mind that a 5-year-old child will behave differently to a 12-year-old child. Again be patient, as kids can be difficult sometimes but really love you deep down.

All of my advice arose from my comfort levels being tested. To me, this is what traveling is about. Being an au pair in Spain is difficult at times, but is rewarding and enjoyable too.

About Angela Colonna

Angela Colonna is a Minnesota native and a Florida Gators fan. Her hobbies include traveling, eating cheese, having fabulous conversations over a glass of red wine, hiking and being outdoors as much as possible. She enjoys the Latin culture and exploring countries south of the United States. Her next steps are to explore Asia and Europe.

4 thoughts on “Advice for Working as an Au Pair in Spain

  1. Anna
    April 4, 2018

    I’m also from Minnesota, looking to get an Au Pair visa for Spain. Did you have to go to the Spanish Consulate in Chicago in person to handle all of the visa application, procurement things, or were you able to do everything online/via telephone. I have so many questions, but I tried calling and they don’t take questions over the phone, and I can’t find them online, but I want to make sure if I have to go to Chicago that I have everything I’ll need ready to go so I just have to make one trip.

  2. Haley
    October 5, 2017

    Hi Angela,

    My question is super similar to Hannahs, so I wanted to ask if you would mind explaining the VISA process to me? I just started it and plan to leave to au pair in January for 6 months. I have specific questions about the insurance you got and if your host family helped you with that. Any advice you have about the visa process would be much appreciated.

    Thank you!!!

  3. Hannah Moulds
    September 12, 2017

    Hi Angela,
    My name is Hannah and I am moving to Barcelona in February to be an au-pair for about 5 months. My question for you is, did you have a visa for your year abroad, and if so what kind of visa did you need? I am trying to avoid the au-pair visa if possible because it requires me to be in language courses full time, which is 20 hours a week. which would take away a lot of time with the children I am taking care of. If you could give me ANY kind of advice about visas or other ways to stay a year in Spain legally, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you for your time,

    • Angela Colonna
      September 21, 2017


      So going to Spain was hands down the best decision I have made so far in life. The experience was amazing and one I will never forget.

      I did have a visa from the Spanish consulate and I did attend a Spanish language course. I found this course was a great break from the family so I could make friends, expand my social circle and get a solid foundation to learn Spanish.

      I would not worry about not having enough time with the host family. I found I needed more time to myself and that although being with the family was always exciting, I still needed time to recharge. Now, everyone is different, maybe you don’t need too much time to recharge. However, meeting other internationals was also a huge part of my experience abroad and now I have a solid group of friends all over Europe I now call friends.

      I’d say it depends on what kind of experience you want to have abroad. Your host family will definitely be a large part of that experience but my Spanish class was also a great experience in itself, if you have the money and time to do it.

      My other goal abroad was to learn Spanish. If you already know Spanish then maybe paying money to attend a class isn’t in your best interest. It is really up to you and what you want from the experience.

      In terms of visas, the tourist visa is only good for 90 days. So after that 90 days, you will have to leave the country and the Schengen area for 90 days to reset your visa. This post was helpful:

      And this:

      So if you are in Spain for 5 months, that will be tricky without a long-term visa. I got an au pair visa (which is similar to the student visa) because I knew I would be staying long term. Five months is tricky because it is too short but too long for a tourist visa.

      I ended up staying longer in Spain by 3 months too so if you think that may happen, I’d say go for the visa to cover your bases. I can show you what documents I used to apply for my visa and walk you through the process I went through, no problem.

      Does that help? I hope it is at least a start. Message me if you have any other questions. I’m happy to help because I know it can be super stressful.

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