An au pair receives an allowance and his/her own room. The usual practice is that au pairs eat with the family most of the time, and join in some of the usual family activities such as outings and trips. However, host families ordinarily expect to have some private time to themselves, particularly in the evenings. During this time, an au pair might retire to his or her room to watch television, study, or go out with friends. Provision is often made for the au pair to have time for studying, especially the language of the host country. The Council of Europe recommends that au pairs be issued standard contracts with their family.
Some au pairs are now male, but females remain the overwhelming majority. Many governments impose limits as to how many hours an au pair is allowed to work. Tasks can include taking children to and from school, taking children to after-school activities, cooking, cleaning, ironing, tidying up and babysitting. Each placement varies depending on the host family.
In many developing countries, an abundant supply of local domestic labour is still available, so there is little or no demand for au pairs.
Au pair relationships between host families and au pairs can be established through various means. Traditionally, au pair agencies located in a given host country have served as an intermediary between young people seeking to become au pairs and families in the country that are interested in hosting an au pair. Such agencies typically charge a fee to the host family for fulfilling an intermediary role between the host family and possible au pairs. The agency conducts some process of screening and evaluation of prospective au pairs and then proposes possible au pairs to the host families, who are their principal customers. Traditional agencies also assist with the arrangement of some of the bureaucratic formalities associated with an au pair visit.