California, I love you / Being an Au-Pair

March 13, 2017
being an au pair in california

When I brainstorm ideas for blog posts the first thing I think about is how you can benefit from my experiences. Many friends ask me about my year as an au-pair. It’s a great way to improve your English without breaking the bank.  So today I’m going to introduce you to the world of au-pairs.

I'm from Spain and I've lived in England, Ireland and the USA. Living abroad is something I always recommend. Everyone should do it at some point in their lives. It should be compulsory! It opens your mind and it's such a rewarding experience. Even if it’s just to have stories to tell your grandchildren, do it.

Living in California had been my dream since I was a little girl. The Golden State is portrayed like the best place to live in countless movies or TV shows. Beautiful people and houses, palm trees and beaches. Maybe it’s all stereotypes but I became obsessed with it. I mean, who didn’t want to live the O.C. life? 

In 2008 I had finished university but I wasn’t ready for a steady job, I felt I still had to live my biggest adventure to date. I started looking into options to move to California. I didn’t want to continue studying since I already had a degree so I looked into job positions. Getting a visa is the hardest thing so the best thing to do is go with something arranged from home like an exchange program. And that’s how I became an au-pair.I applied for the program and asked to be matched with a family in California. If you want a specific location it takes longer to find a host family but after a few months I got an email saying that there was a family for me near San Francisco. The process of application is quite tedious since you have to fill in many forms, get a medical report, a criminal record certificate and a psychological test. At that moment it never seemed to end!

Here’s a quick summary of the main characteristics of the au-pair program. The program is for ages 18-26 and you have to spend at least a year with your host family. Then, even if your visa has expired, you can extend for 6, 9 or 12 months. There are many advantages. As an au pair, you receive a weekly stipend of $200 during your stay with your host family. Your hosts provide room and board, so you won't need to worry about paying for housing or meals during your time in the U.S. Your hosts also provide you with up to $500 per year for classes at a local college or university. Finally, they also pay for your plane ticket to their location and then back home when you’ve completed the program. Many people are worried about doctor bills since there isn’t universal healthcare in the US but au-pairs an accident and sickness insurance. This is a work and travel program, so once you successfully complete your time with your host family, you may stay in the United States for an additional 30 days. You can use this time to travel around the U.S.; however, you are not permitted to work.

In August 2009 I packed my bags and was ready to go. When I arrived in the United States I had to attend a comprehensive Orientation and Training program that takes place in New York. I was given training in childcare and safety and had the chance to visit New York! It took place at the New Yorker Hotel where I shared a room with 3 other girls. It was a really fun experience and I made some great friends from all around the world.

new york radio city broadway
m&m new york
new york squirrel central park
Even though it was overall a wonderful experience there are hard times. The one that I remember most vividly was when the training program ended. We had to say our goodbyes and head to our host family’s home. That moment of realization came as a heavy blow. I had agreed to spend a whole year with strangers in a house across the country and the moment of truth had finally arrived. I was at La Guardia airport and I was terrified. After all, whether you make it or break it as an au-pair will depend on your relationship with your hosts. I was extremely lucky. My host family is a loving and caring family with whom I still keep in touch. They welcomed me into their home with open arms and treated me like one of them. As hard as it is for us to devote one year of our lives to strangers, you have to think that they are probably feeling the same way. Host families are opening their houses and letting a stranger take care of their little ones. 

Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold. Not everyone was as lucky as I was. I had friends who didn’t get on well with their hosts. Some switched to different families, others were not ready for this experience and went back home. I know people who were doing house chores even though you are not supposed to. Also, some had to deal with troubled parents. However, even at hard times having a good relationship with the family depends on your mood or predisposition. If you want things to work out, they will!

Another issue you may face is homesickness. A few months after moving to California I started thinking about home and I began to appreciate little things that I always took for granted. However, I wasn’t alone. Each month, our Local Coordinator (a person who lives nearby and is always there if you need help) organized a meeting for all of the au-pairs in the area. We did a different activity every time. For instance, I helped out in the San Francisco Food Bank, visited Alcatraz and went ice-skating among other things. That’s how I met most of my friends. I already talked about the unbreakable bonds and friendships I established in this article.

being an au pair in california
being an au pair in california
being an au pair in california

The most rewarding part of this experience? The people I met. Some of those friendships are going to last forever and I couldn’t be happier to have those people in my life. The worst part is that you can see them as often as you’d like to. However, they are a great excuse to travel! We can meet in a different location every year or visit each other at home. I also got to visit San Francisco a few more times. A year after coming back to Spain I was invited by my hosts to go back for a few weeks. And I’ve visited them two more times after that. This summer I will see some of this wonderful people at my wedding.

If you’d like to know more about being an au-pair or have any questions hit me up with an email ( or leave a comment below. I’d also like to know if there’s anyone interested in more posts on this topic because. If so, I’ll write more “becoming an au-pair” posts.

xo Cristina



  1. I would love to visit California one day, it looks amazing!

    Vanessa x |

  2. California is the prettiest! It has always been my dream to live out there for a period of time. Sounds like being an Au Pair is a great way to do it!

  3. Your story is so interesting, Cristina! I think it's because I've always wanted to go to California too (that's MUCH thanks to the OC!) I gotta say - I love those red converse :)


  4. what a great experience!! I had no idea you were from Spain. I too always wanted to live in CA, when I got there I only lasted a year and a half because I succumbed to the home sickness.

    xx, Elise

  5. Such a great story and beautiful photos Cristina!! Thanks for sharing! xx
    Vesna - Home Chic Club

  6. Nice to meet a fellow au pair! I used to work as one years ago and now I live in California around the same area! Ohhh the memories!

    xoxo from Napa Valley!


  7. Nice to meet you too, Paulina! It's always a pleasure to meet fellow au-pairs :)

  8. I'll be moving to California soon and absolutely cannot wait! I love your causal street style btw- your photos make me want to be there RIGHT NOW! Also, I spent time in your country, Spain, in Salamanca, and fell in love. Had a summer romance, even, that I'll never forget. Ohhh the joys of traveling and the adventures that await us. Your blog is fire! *subscribed!*

  9. Welcome to Memories of the Pacific, Jess! I'm so glad you like the blog. How long are you staying in Cali? Are you going to work, study, travel? If you have any questions or need any advice, let me know :)

  10. I am planning on moving to Cali indefinitely. We'll see how things work out. I'll be going for work, but travel is definitely in the plans and studying-- always! Thanks for asking!


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