Work as an Au Pair in Italy
Cultural Immersion with an Italian Family
In the Valle d'Aosta with the Italian family that employed the author.
At this time last year I knew very little about Italy, or being an au pair for that matter. I didn’t understand a word of Italian; I couldn’t cook pasta, and my fashion sense was minimal. However, I was ready to be enlightened. One year on, I love Milan and my initial 1-year nannying contract is open-ended.
If English is your mother tongue, the work opportunities are rife. Loads of families are looking for someone to interact with their children in English without giving them structured lessons. All Italian children are obliged to learn English at school, but nine times out of 10 it is taught by someone who has never spent more than a 1-month holiday in an English-speaking country. Generally, the families want someone to play with the children, help around the house, and help pick them up and drop them off at various activities. It’s not a complex job description.
Before You Arrive
Ideally, everyone likes to have a job lined up before they set off for a foreign land—especially if it is a country where you don’t speak the language. This is the route I took, and I highly recommend it. The family that will be employing you is usually expected to pay for your return airfare and travel insurance. This obviously saves enormously on costs and hassle.
The downside is that in most cases you will not have met the family beforehand and therefore know very little about them; so it is a gamble. Try to contact the family’s previous nannies because they will have the most honest answers to your questions.
From your home country, the most widely-used sources for job hunting are Internet agencies. These can be risky, so it pays to be wary. See Transitions Abroad's list of au pair agencies and jobs and do your due diligence as you would for any placement agency at home or abroad.
Once You Are in Italy
If you arrive in Milan, jobless, and with only a slight knowledge of the Italian language, or things haven’t worked out with your previously arranged family, your best option is a Milan-based nanny agency.
Europlacements, an agency run by ex-Australians, has a good reputation. The future employer pays the agency’s fee and you have the assurance that the prospective employers are committed to finding a good nanny because they have shelled out €3,000 just to place the advertisement.
Another option is to scan the small newspapers that target the English-speaking community. Hello Milano, published monthly, can be picked up from the tourist information office near the Duomo. This guide to what’s on in Milan has job advertisements. Similarly, jobs can be hunted down through EasyMilano, a fortnightly shopper with a section for childcare positions. You are without any support or backup if you opt to take a job privately.
Duties and Hours
As a nanny or au pair your primary role is to take care of the children and interact with them in English. Food and accommodation are provided. Housekeeping duties are minimal, although a nanny or au pair is usually expected to do the work required by the children—making their beds, washing and ironing their clothes, and cooking their dinner on the odd occasion. Babysitting is obviously one of the roles of the nanny, but this should not exceed two nights a week (some nannies agree in their contract to babysit regularly).
Be sure the hours you are expected to work and your “free time” are clearly defined. This can be difficult to establish, but with most families the daytime hours are your free time when the children are at school. In addition, you are entitled to one to two days off a week.
Pay varies hugely in Milan, but it is usually based on the number of hours the nanny is required to work and the number of children in the family. For minimal duties, beginning at about 4 p.m. when the children finish school and ending at 8:30 p.m. when they go to bed, you should receive about €100 a week (with food and accommodation provided). For more demanding schedules your pay should increase accordingly.
Weekends are tricky. This is often when you would like to be free but it is also the time when the family most requires an extra helping hand. It pays to be flexible and obliging if asked to work the occasional weekend, because when you want time off they are more likely to return the favor. My arrangement with the family is that all weekends are my free time unless I am specifically asked to work. On these occasions, I am paid extra. This works really well.
Contracts usually last one year but can be extended. Within the year you are entitled to three weeks’ paid holiday, generally to be taken at a time negotiable. Pay is usually monthly, in cash (Most nannies and au pairs don’t have a bank account here and the income is not taxable.).
It is important to remember that each family is different and no definite work hours apply to all jobs. For example, in some families the nanny is required to dress the children and get them off to school in the mornings; in other families, the parents prefer to do it.
The law in Italy requires that all foreigners obtain a Permesso di soggiorno—permission to remain for a designated period—within eight days of arriving. The quickest and most efficient way of doing this is to go directly to the Questura (The Italian Police Department). Non-EU citizens need a visa from their home country before being entitled to the permesso. In addition, you will need your passport, two photos, a work or study permit, and a blue application form (that you pick up at the Questura).
EU citizens just go to the Ufficio Stranieri (Office for Foreigners). The office has information on the rights and duties of foreigners and is very helpful.
The easiest and quickest way to obtain a permesso di soggiorno to work as a nanny is to sign up for Italian study. This then becomes (in the eyes of the law) your primary reason for staying in Italy, and the money you earn from the family is then viewed as pocket money rather than income. All Italian schools are equipped to supply you with the relevant documents and necessary information for proof of course enrollment. Go to the Italian government website for foreigner visas, and under "Reasons for your stay," type "Study," and you will receive instructions.
Since the role of a nanny or au pair is not demanding and you are usually left with a lot of free time during the day, while the children are at school, the best option to fill this time is to enroll in an Italian language school. The options in Milan range from 4-hour-a-week introductory courses to intensive 18-hour-a-week courses in preparation for exams on the European Framework scheme. The school that best suits you will largely depend on the amount of money you are prepared to spend and the amount of free time you have available.
If you are unsure of how committed you will be to studying, L’Orlando Curioso, a school located in central Milan, offers 4-hour-a-week programs (two hours, twice a week) for a period of approximately five months. The classes are small and interactive, but the pace of learning is piano, piano (slowly, slowly).
If you are ready to commit yourself to becoming fluent in Italian, Dante Alighieri offers a range of classes for all levels, all based on the European Framework. The advantage of attending a school like this one is that it is associated with an internationally recognized qualification and there is flexibility in the type of course (grammar or conversation). Class sizes are small.
I unreservedly recommend au pairing and nannying in Milan. It provides the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture without the stress and added costs of living alone in Italy. If you are as fortunate as I have been and find a loving, welcoming family, you will be surrounded by all the support, encouragement and fun that you could ever hope for. But of course as with all experiences you only get out what you put in. So, as the Italian’s say, forza!