How to Hire a Chinese Nanny or Ayi
If you are reading this, then you most likely are living in China, or you are thinking of moving to China and want to understand your costs of living in China better. A virtual high-five for your adventurous spirit from afar. We truly enjoyed our time in China and miss a lot about it, including having an Ayi.
What is an Ayi?
Ayi (阿姨) is the name given to a woman who comes to your house and takes care of your children, or when there are no children, she maintains the home. The translation means aunt and is a way of addressing a woman who might be of your mother's generation. However, many Ayi's will be younger than you.
Coming from the U.S., the idea of having a nanny made me feel inadequate. I can clean my own house, cook my own food, and watch my children. American society puts a lot of pride into these activities and guilt on those that fail at doing all of them perfectly. However, I was born in Mexico and have a lot of family that still live there. Most of them have nannies, cleaners, drivers, gardeners, and maybe all of them working fulltime. I am familiar with the concept of paid help, although brought up in the U.S.A., so I feel wholly inadequate when I can't mop my floors every night.
China is very similar to Mexico, where these jobs (nanny's, gardeners, drivers, etc.), are increasingly sought after. They pay well, are low on the laborious scale compared to construction jobs, and come with a level of respect.
Our Ayi in China supported four children, parents, and in-laws off of her and her husband's salaries. She and her oldest daughter learned some English. I gave her the oldest daughter free English classes in the evenings every so often. They experienced celebrating Western Holidays, and in exchange, we experienced celebrations from her hometown.
The point in sharing all of this is that we quickly learned the benefits of having an Ayi as we did provide well-paid stable employment for a mother of four.
Why have an Ayi?
China's daycares are becoming more commonly found, however, it is still more common to have an Ayi that will come and care for your children. Many people also work very long days and don't have time to properly cook a healthy meal for their families. Health is critical to Chinese society, and foods with preservatives are costly and not favored. This is why you might find a couple with no kids employing an Ayi.
5 Steps in Hiring an Ayi
Decide what kind of Ayi you are looking for and how much you would like them to do. Have a clear picture of your ask. For example, we knew that we wanted the weekends to ourselves. So even though it was common for an Ayi to work six days, we only requested five days.
Everything is word of mouth. I would only hire an Ayi that you learned about from a contact. Now, this can be any contact but contact nonetheless. Some ideas of where to look are Facebook Expat Groups, your place of employment, your regular sushi lady, your translator, even your hotel concierge.
Work out the working agreements with your translator present unless your Mandarin is very, very good. I even recommend this if they say your Ayi speaks English. You don't want any misunderstandings with someone who is going to work in your home.
Set a clear schedule with expectations and rules that might need to be followed. This probably sounds harsh, but think of it as your job requirements and the employee handbook you have to follow. Example: We requested that she give our children an instant carnation breakfast every day for extra vitamins. Also, while our son was potty training, he could not wear split pants out in public. She was responsible for managing the grocery money since she purchased all the groceries. We asked that she write down what she spent every day so we could keep a running tab of where we were at in our grocery spending.
Be ready for your Ayi to not work out. As I am sure we all of our daycare stories, these come with Ayi's as well. Things may not have been as they seemed in her eyes (again why setting expectations with a translator is so important), or you might not like their style. They are in your home all day with your children or cooking your food. It is okay to let an Ayi go if they don't work well with your family. Example: We hired an Ayi without a proper translator (this is why I push it so hard), and after three days, she was frustrated with our lack of understanding in Mandarin, and to be honest, I don't think she loved our Western Style parenting. She quit on day three. We had learned our lessons and now pass them onto you. :)
One more thing to add is to ask for references. You might have to use your translator here again to read the references, but well worth the 20 USD in translator fees.
Cost of an Ayi
Everyone's experience is different, and I am sharing our knowledge. We paid 2200 RMB a month for our Nanny, who worked five days a week, this was in 2011-2012, and I am guessing prices have changed a bit, but again we are sharing information here.
Things that will make a difference in how much you pay will be; how many kids you have, where you live (city, rural, gated community, etc.) experience, language skill, cooking ability, and the chores you would like them to complete.
It would be great to add what you currently pay or end up paying your Ayi for future readers.