My ayi has been with my family since our little one turned eight-weeks-old. Hiring an Ayi (nanny or au pair) can be an affordable luxury that can provide invaluable domestic help for a family welcoming a newborn, large families needing extra assistance, or to support your household with light ad hoc duties, such as cooking or cleaning a few times a week.
An ayi’s services can be liberating for new parents and those with limited mobility. Many families develop a bond with their ayi beyond that of employer and employee; time and time again, long-term expats have told us that the hardest part of leaving Beijing was separating from their ayi.
When welcoming a newborn into the family, a support network made up of immediate and distant family members, may not be available to you while living abroad. I was privileged to have my mother come and stay with my family for the first three months of my little one’s life, however, I knew that for my plan to continue working and studying, I would need an extra hand around the house to take over the domestic support my mom gave during her stay with us.
I would recommend starting the search for an ayi well in advance, particularly if you are hiring one to take care of a newborn or small children. I started searching and interviewing two months in advance of when I wanted my ayi to start working. If you decide to interview this much in advance, make sure to check the start-date availability of the ayi and be transparent about when the position would be offered should they be successful.
Beyond domestic chores, ayis can also soften the effects of culture shock by helping families navigate some of the more challenging aspects of living in Beijing: dealing with repairmen, tracking down missing parcels, sourcing hard-to-find ingredients, and more.
While a company often assigns personal drivers to executives, the family will almost always hire ayis, either directly or through an agency. The interview is a crucial part of the process, so it is a good idea to ask someone to act as a translator so that both you and the prospective ayi are clear about expectations and benefits. I couldn’t find someone to translate for me in time for my interview with my ayi, however it’s amazing how far you can get just by using WeChat or any online translation resource.
In general, June and December are the best times to look for domestic help because many employment contracts are up around then. The best way to start your search is through word-of-mouth. Parent-focused WeChat groups such as Beijing Ayis can be wonderful resources for sharing referrals and seeking out recommendations. This is exactly how I found my ayi. Finding an ayi with the kinds of qualifications needed to serve an expat family – the ability to work full-time, cook, clean, take care of children and pets, and perhaps speak basic English – can be difficult, so getting in touch with other parents can save considerable time.
You can also use a whole array of other expat forums and online resources, such as the Beijinger, beijingkids, Beijing Mamas, and Beijing Exchange. Families leaving Beijing often post advertisements vouching for their ayi while others post on behalf of ayis looking for additional work. These forums are also a valuable source of information on the benchmark for typical working hours, average pay, overtime rates (if any), and the range of duties ayis can be expected to perform.
Online classifieds are also a research avenue, but ads are often posted by ayi recruitment agencies and will require more sifting through. The building and compound management office can sometimes provide leads or recommendations for ayis that residents have employed in the past. Also, ayis themselves often leave advertisements on billboards at businesses often frequented by expats, such as April Gourmet or Jenny Lou’s.
Once you have a list of applicants, start by checking their references. Do not hesitate to contact previous employers and ask as many questions as necessary; the ayi will have a significant place in your family’s life, so find out exactly what you want to know. Determine the qualifications that are most important to you and ask about the ayi’s experience and performance in these areas. If you need help with childcare, a history of looking after expat kids is a must. If you need someone to do the groceries and cook, a repertoire that goes beyond simple Chinese dishes might also be beneficial.
Once it is time to interview prospective ayis, be candid, clear, and thorough. There is no such thing as excessively going the extra mile to vet a potential ayi. I went to the extent of providing a translated a PDF file containing a list of expectations, requirements, and information about my newborn to be read during the three-day trial I arranged. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the prospective ayi to go through a trial, such as preparing a meal or cleaning and this along with the prepared document gave the ayi an opportunity to think about if my family and this particular role was for her and gave me peace of mind that I had been as transparent as possible about my expectations.
The interview will also provide a good opportunity to see how much English the applicant speaks, but bare in mind that an English speaking ayi usually comes at a higher cost. If you arrange a trial it is customary to pay the applicant a day rate, which you should try and determine ahead of time.
What About Ayi Agencies?
If you are short on time, an ayi agency can significantly simplify the process of finding domestic help, but this requires a careful evaluation of the agency first. Your company may be able to recommend a vetted agency.
However, keep in mind that using an agency will likely be more expensive and possibly carry higher ayi wages, though it is much simpler to change ayis if you are not satisfied with the first one. Agencies usually require a membership or management fee, but the monthly wage should go directly to the ayi. Make sure to clarify how the fees are split between the agency and the ayi. Agency websites are a great resource for pay ranges, which are clearly outlined according to qualifications, language ability, hours, and other criteria.
Going through an agency can take some of the guesswork out of the process, with background checks, health checks, and training sometimes included. During the interview stage, use your own translator rather than one provided by the agency. Monthly wages for a full-time, English-speaking ayi range from RMB 5,000-8,000.
Besides setting expectations for everyday tasks, it is crucial to discuss holiday policies during the interview stage. When negotiating a price make sure that you come to a definitive agreement regarding salary, hourly rates for overtime, sick leave, and holiday. If you go through an agency, it is possible they have their own policies concerning holiday leave and pay.
Questions to consider include
• How much time will the ayi have off for Spring Festival and other national holidays?
• Will they receive a guaranteed bonus (often referred to as a “13th-month bonus”)? Many ayis will expect this, but don’t feel obligated and make it clear if this will not be offered
• Will the ayi receive full salary while you are away on vacation?
• Will you need the ayi to travel with you, including out of the country?
Different ayis have different strengths and experiences. Expect to spend some time showing them what “clean” means to you. At the beginning, demonstrate down to the cleaning product how you would like cleaning tasks to be done, including laundry, ironing, and tidying.
If you are interested in a particular posting or referral, contact the candidate immediately; good ayis are always in demand. Remember, if you’re happy, your ayi is happy, and more importantly your little one is happy, that’s all that really matters. It may take several tries to get it right, but putting in the effort to find and train your ayi will benefit all those concerned.
Keeping Your Ayi
Consider her workload and pay her accordingly. If you have six kids, make sure to pay her extra, and always make sure she is happy with her position. Be the employee you would want to work for, and don’t advertise the fact you have a great ayi to others.
Questions to consider when hiring an ayi
- Does she speak English? If so, how well?
- Do you want her to speak English with your children or help them improve their Mandarin?
- Has she worked for expat families before? If so, were their customs and background similar to yours?
- Has she undergone a recent health check? If not, you may want to insist she does so, although you would have to cover the cost.
- Is she certified in CPR and first aid?
- How old were the children she has cared for in the past?
- Does she have any experience caring for babies?
- Is she available for babysitting and/or on weekends?
- Does she have any experience looking after pets? Does she have any allergies?
- Do you need her to cook? Do you want her to cook western food?
- Do you want a live-in ayi? If so, what are her needs and can you accommodate them?
- Does she live close by? This can affect her availability, should you need her for emergencies or occasional babysitting duties.
- Do you want a trial period? This can range from three weeks and upwards of three months.
If the ayi is to have keys to your house, is she willing to give you a photocopy of her Chinese ID card?
This article appeared in the beijingkids June 2019 Home & Relocation Guide issue.