The Truth Behind Au Pairs in Denmark

I spent one year as an Au Pair in Germany and had an incredible experience to say the least. Of course my hatred for children grew even stronger, but besides that trivial fact I met the nicest people in the world and felt a part of a loving family while experiencing true German culture. During this time I took on the tasks of a typical Au Pair, including light housekeeping, laundry and cooking, as well as childcare.

As I explained in my first blog ever, the definition of an Au Pair is to be “on par” with the family and to take part in a regular family regimen. I look at an Au Pair as an older sister. One that takes on house chores as any other family member would and looks after the younger siblings when the mother and father are too busy.

So as my Au Pair year in Germany was coming to a close, I decided that I might as well try to be an Au Pair in a new country where I could learn a new language and experience life in a different culture. Denmark would be the next destination.


I didn’t know this at the time, but the Au Pair situation in Denmark is actually extremely controversial and politically involved. I would come to find out why within only two weeks of work in my new Au Pair family.*

*I want to explain the situation in my two Au Pair families before I expand upon the Au Pair controversy.

Upon first impression of meeting my new host family in Denmark, I thought that the dad was incredibly nice, the children were very cute and the mother had a great sense of humor. The location was great (just 10km from the city center of Copenhagen) and the opportunities for my coming year there seemed so promising.

When I moved into my host family’s house I had not yet received my Au Pair visa from the Danish government and was under the impression that I wouldn’t start officially working until the visa arrived, which was supposed to be just a couple of weeks. Well, it only took one day before I was asked to help with the laundry. Then, they asked me to get up early in the morning to help with breakfast. I quickly realized that the idea was for me to start working while still waiting on my visa. Of course, the illegal aspect of it didn’t bother me at all. I thought that these are nice people and they’re still going to pay me for my work even though our contract is not valid yet.

 A few weeks went by and I still didn’t have my visa. I kept questioning my family about why it was taking so long and also about when I would finally get paid. They vaguely explained to me that the Danish government was behind on issuing visas and that they would pay me at the end of the month. My first host family was very good at avoiding direct conversations like that.

During those few weeks that I was waiting for my visa I was working almost 10-hour days. I was waking up at 6:15 every morning to ensure that the children’s breakfast was ready for them on time. Then, I would have to clean up the kitchen, but in no way was I allowed to start cleaning until everyone in the family had already left the house. I found that very strange that they didn’t want to see me do the cleaning. While the parents were at work and the children were at school I was asked to vacuum and mop all floors, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms and children’s rooms, iron, make school lunches and afternoon snacks, and not to forget to clean my own room each day. This took me until about 5:00 in the afternoon when everyone would come home and I would start to prepare the dinner. Afterwards I would clean up the kitchen and my day was over around 7:00 in the evening. I spent no time interacting with the children and instead spent my days as an in-house maid. For all of this work I was to be paid $600 a month. That equals out to about $3 an hour. The minimum wage in Denmark, for even a maid, is $20 an hour.

I finally left that house five weeks later after the parents gave me a 10-page packet of specific directions on how to do my chores. That’s when I realized this family was out of their minds. I was still without a visa and had never received a full payment. I thought that I had terrible luck with this family and that I could surely find a better family in Copenhagen to work for. I desperately wanted to stay in Copenhagen because I had made great friends there and had fallen in love with the city.


 I found a new family within only one week of searching. I truly believed that things were going to be different with this family. But after just one month, a month full of intense cleaning, they told me that I wasn’t doing the job well enough and that I should leave. During that month I was asked to do the oddest chores, such as scrubbing their kitchen floor with bleach. And each week I was told that I hadn’t cleaned thoroughly enough and that I had forgotten to vacuum underneath the parent’s bed. These people were crazy.

 I was left, yet again, with no work and worst of all, without a working visa. I searched again for more Au Pair opportunities, but found that all Danish families in Copenhagen were just like the other two I had previously been with.

 I had begun to realize why the families were all the same.

 I’m not sure exactly when it first began, but somewhere along the way Danish families became accustomed to having Philippine girls as their Au Pairs.  These girls came to Denmark solely to earn money and to send it back to their families in the Philippines. The money they earned in Denmark was worth a lot in their home country. Most of these girls were leaving children and families behind just so that they could have food to eat and a place to live. Some of the girls were even going to extreme limits to marry a Danish man while there so that they could live in luxury in Denmark.

 The Philippine girls are extremely hard and humble workers because of where they have come from. There is no problem for them to work 10-12 hour days, doing the dirties and grimiest work that the Danish families make them. Unfortunately for me and some of the other non-Philippine girls, I was not okay with doing that amount of work.

 What makes the Au Pair situation worse with the Philippine girls is the way that most of the Danish families treat them. During my time in Denmark I learned many things about the relationship between Danish families and their Au Pairs. Many families would not allow the Au Pair girl to eat with the family or even be seen around them. They would be forced to hide if company was coming over. Some families even went to the extreme of paying for the Au Pair to take a vacation on a weekend so that she wouldn’t be around the house. Basically, the families would avoid any confrontation with the girls and almost pretend that they were not there. Maybe this made it easier for the families to avoid thinking about the immoral ways they were treating human beings.

 The actual controversy surrounding this situation is that the Philippine Au Pair girls are using the money they earn and sending it back to the Philippines. This means that the money is not being circulated back into the Danish economy. Not to mention, these girls do not need to pay taxes because of the little amount that they are making. And we all know how important taxes are to the Danish socialist society.

 The other part is the inhumane way that the girls are being treated. Denmark does not want to be responsible for the breaking of the Au Pair contract that most families are doing. The Au Pair contract specifically says that an Au Pair cannot work more than 30 hours a week and that the Au Pair is supposed to become a part of the Danish family in order to experience the Danish culture. Since this is not the case at all, Au Pairs may no longer be allowed in the country of Denmark.

 I find this situation very unfortunate because before I knew any of this I found the Danish people to be very friendly and accepting people. I thought Denmark was a great country and were not affected as much by greed and money. Now, I see that some systems there are corrupt and that some people are in fact racist and can act in inhumane ways.

Of course, I cannot judge a whole country on one problem that’s occurring in one small portion of their society. Most Danish people are truly wonderful people that would never treat other people in the fore-mentioned manner. And since I see that the Danish government is thinking about removing the Au Pair system from their country, I can see that some people have seen the problem and want to end it. It’s a shame for the few families that are using their Au Pairs in the correct way, but it may be more beneficial for the country as a whole to remove it completely.

I still think that being an Au Pair is a great experience and that if someone is thinking about doing it, they should definitely still try it. Just don’t go to Denmark to be an Au Pair!