Xinmu Domestic Service (Shanghai)
Provide service for more than 5,000 expat families in Shanghai
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[How To]: Hire an Ayi in Shanghai

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Everything you need to know about hiring someone to help out with your house, life

From the directly and minutely useful to information on living your best self in the world. How To is our regular column on how to accomplish things in the city.

The world is run on ayi power. This corner of it anyway. The RIGHT ayi is exactly a superwoman — they save your damn life with their amazing abilities and powers. Here's everything you need to know about the different kinds of ayis, where to find the right one for you and your family, and general ayi employment concerns.

WHAT'S AN AYI?

The word "ayi" — or ā yí, or 阿姨 — carries a few meanings in Chinese: an aunt; a random older lady you meet in the street who's name you don't know but you'd like to show politeness to; and the lady you hire to clean your house. We're talking about the last meaning here — house cleaners — which is a popular service among both local and expat communities in Shanghai and China as a whole.

Even the term "house cleaner" doesn't accurately outline the range of services available. Cleaning yes, but ayis can also do personalized tasks — look after children, cook food, and / or handle dry cleaning — based on individual needs.

The Three Types of Ayis

Cleaning Ayi (保洁阿姨, bǎo jié ā yí)

"Cleaning ayi" refers to workers who only do tidying. They usually come once or twice a week and are paid monthly to take care of your apartment — cleaning up, laundry, dishes, mopping the floor, making the bed. You can also hire cleaning ayis for a one-time service like dealing with the aftermath of a dinner party or moving in and / or out of an apartment.

Full-Time Household Helper (全职保姆, quán zhí bǎo mǔ)

A full-time household helper does it all. Usually, working families with young children will hire a full-time household helper to take care of the daily cooking and cleaning, as well as nanny tasks — looking after the kids during the day, picking them up from school, taking them to the park, that sort of thing. If you have a dog, they will help take them out for a walk. You pay more for the all-round service but you get to worry less. It's a deeper and more professional relationship. Full-time household helpers might stay at your place if you arrange for it or they go back home after a day's work. Hours are flexible but it's usually 7-8 hours a day.

Yuesao (月嫂, yuè sǎo)

Yuesaos are specialists at caring for women who have just given birth. A yuesao is supposed to have sufficient knowledge and experience in taking care of both the new parent and the baby, both physically and mentally. Because of the training they receive and the attention they need to give to their clients, the price is the highest among the three types. Their work ranges from helping the mother to get back in shape to preparing healthy food for kids. Usually, yuesaos move in with the family for one to three months after the new baby arrives home and work for 24 hours.

How Much Do Ayis Cost?

Cleaning Ayis:

  • Part-time: 40rmb-50rmb per hour; goes up to 80rmb per hour for fluent English speaking ayis

  • Full-time: 5,500rmb per month

Full-time Household Helper:

  • 8000rmb per month (8 hours a day)

Yuesao:

  • Starting from 10,000rmb to 14,000rmb per month

HOW TO FIND AN AYI

The best time to find an ayi is in the weeks after Chinese New Year when many return from their hometowns, seeking new employment. The worst time, on the other hand, is in the time leading up to Chinese New Year when lots of workers are calling it a year and preparing for holidays.

Initial Concerns: Trials Periods and Paperwork

For the two more formal categories of ayi, before hiring, it's not uncommon to ask your candidates to come in for a meeting and trial.

Also, for these two categories, when you find a suitable candidate there are a few documents you should make sure the ayi has in order: a criminal record check and a health check, if they're going to be taking care of your kids. For yuesaos, they are required to have official certification (Chinese name).

When you hire an ayi through an agency they usually make sure these documents are taken care of.

Finding an Ayi Through a General Recommendation

For newly arrived expats, the time honored way to find an ayi is through a referral of one from a friend or co-worker. Wait around long enough and someone will recommend their ayi to you. For cleaning ayis this usually works fine.

If you are looking for a more formal ayi arrangement you might want to check out...

Finding an Ayi Through an Agency

Working through an agency will allow you to choose the specific skills you want your ayi to come to the job with, including child care, pet care, paying bills, and / or speaking with building management staff.

Finding a good agency is another issue, though. It's important to work with established and trusted agencies that know their ayi staff well. Some of the smaller agencies just act as one-time intermediaries between an unvetted ayi looking for job and a client. Always ask the agency how well they know that specific ayi.

Agencies usually charge one month of the ayi's salary as a commission and a small fee to the ayi as well but this fee comes with advantages. An established agency will help you communicate even after the employment contract has been signed or agreed upin, as well as help resolve issues down the line should they arise.