Your New Auntie: Choosing an Ayi in China

Your New Auntie: Choosing an Ayi in China
Mar 18, 2010 By Brandon King ,

Upon bidding your nuclear family goodbye and arriving in China, you will quickly adopt a much larger and more confusing “family” with terms like didi (弟弟, little brother) and gege (哥哥, big brother) given to your friends and colleagues. In the midst of all the names, however, try to remember one more than any other: “ayi”, or auntie. Ayi is commonly translated as housekeeper, but a good ayi is more than that; a Renaissance woman who can cook, clean, raise your children and maybe even teach them a little-known village dialect in the process (choose your ayi wisely). With a bit of due diligence, you can find the right ayi to fit your needs in China.

Choose your ayi according to your needs, and know that the cheapest available will probably be ill equipped to handle a sick child or any other emergency. The cheapest ayis are migrants from the countryside with no English ability and few skills beyond cooking and cleaning. They might be a real bargain at as low as 10RMB an hour, but if your ayi is caring for your child, peace of mind will cost plenty more. If you employ an ayi to care for your child full-time, your offspring will likely pick up a fair amount of Chinese. But if you have visions of them speaking a scholarly Beijing Huar, don’t choose an ayi from Sichaun. That said, your child would probably become an amazing cook.

For many, the value of an ayi lies in her cooking ability, and selections are made based on her hometown. China’s major cities have migrants from all over the country, so you can choose the ayi who specializes in your regional cuisine of preference: some like Sichuan’s spices; others, Guangdong’s sweet flavors. Dongbei dumplings warm the soul, and Hunan’s food is some of China’s best.

All ayis should be able to clean an apartment well, though an hourly fee encourages some to dust the drapes a few extra times before clocking out. Some of the more professional ayis found through agencies will have the credentials to care for children. Filipina ayis can also be found in major cities, though their rates will be more since they will probably speak English.

Finding an Ayi is a straightforward process. Asking friends for recommendations will yield quick results and an ayi with a solid reputation. Inquiring at the housing office in your apartment complex is another way to find one, and, if necessary, you can go to an agency, which will have the characters 家政服务 on the front of its building. They will charge you a one-time finder’s fee, but after that it is between you and your ayi. Fliers are one way that ayi agencies reach out to potential customers, but those of you with a stuffed mailbox already know this.

10 RMB per hour is the absolute cheapest rate, 15 RMB an hour a more realistic base, but fees can reach upwards of 30 RMB for those with more complex needs. A live-in ayi will cost between 1000 and 2000 RMB a month, and you should overpay her a little bit to keep her happy and ensure she has at least two days a week off. Most foreigners find that this practice of overpaying and under-working their ayis is the best way to remedy any post-colonialist guilt.

If you have concerns about things going missing, schedule your ayi’s visits to correspond with when you are home. If your ayi is cooking for you nightly, then give her a food allowance to buy ingredients with. However, note that she will likely be going to the market and will be unable to provide you with receipts. If you want her to document all her purchases, then you will have to provide extra money for her to shop at the supermarket with.

Child kidnappings have happened, but the risk is almost negligible. There are plenty of ayis eager to work in China, and no need to keep one if there is a lack of trust in the relationship - if it doesn’t work out, simply move on to another. You should quickly find an ayi with the skills and disposition to become an important part of your life, someone who stands out from all the other people in your family.


Related links:

How To: Find an Ayi in Shanghai
Getting the Right Price in China: Ayis, Drivers, Visas and Housing
How to: Hire Chinese Assistants and Employees

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on without written permission from constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



Do you think 2500 is good for an ayi in Beijing? She works 8,30 to 6 pm but she spends minimum 2,30 hours strolling outside with my dog chatting with other ayis.... She works on Saturdays to, rests on Sundays. Can't speak a word of English, does only house works, no baby sitting and no cooking, but worked for us for several years. I raise her salary every year, we started with 1800 5 years ago, went up to 2400 last year, this year I raised her salary only 100 rmb, because I thought it was going up too fast. Do you think it's ok. She doesn't look happy lately...

Jan 20, 2012 06:28 Report Abuse



There's a lot of ayi that we can find here in china but the problem is they don't know how to do the household activity. It's a big trouble because even to iron the clothes they don't know how to do.

Apr 16, 2010 23:10 Report Abuse



What post-colonialist guilt are you talking about? There's a contract, the salary is stipulated, and if the woman doesn't do her job she is fired. If she doesn't like the money at the beginning, she shouldn't even take the job.

Mar 24, 2010 08:05 Report Abuse



Guys, you're kidding me. My husband is an engineer, and he gets 1500 in Xian. We wanted to hire ayi to take care of our child and she asked 2600! For changing nappies!

Mar 24, 2010 08:02 Report Abuse



I must admit, I've never used an Ayi before but it sounds interesting.

Mar 24, 2010 06:53 Report Abuse



We are not talking about natural progession, we are talking about skewing the market. To pay a domestic the same as a univerisity lecturer or a local graduate manager is not balanced. We are not talking a few cents here.

Mar 21, 2010 00:37 Report Abuse



What horrible, arrogant colonialist attitudes you guys have. So we shouldn't allow the "little natives" to up their wages by a natural progression of supply and demand? Does it never bother you that you are paying a poor woman around a dollar an hour to clear up your mess? Don't quibble over a few extra cents.

Mar 19, 2010 04:59 Report Abuse



Mark, you have a good point, and I agree that paying an ayi 4000 RMB per month is totally unreasonable. The overpaying point was brought up because I know many foreigners here in Shenzhen who employ ayis who were enthusiastic to begin with but who soon lost their motivation. My friends found that providing occasional bits of extra cash keeps them happy and working efficiently. I'm certainly not suggesting paying double the market rate here, or anything near that. All it takes are a few people to grossly overpay and then everyone paying for an ayi suffers. I was recently in Cambodia and was told a story of a group of American sailors docking in the town I was in for a weekend. These guys paid upwards of 60 US dollars for a rickshaw ride that would normally cost 1 USD. During the month following their departure every rickshaw driver in the city was asking for 60USD from foreigners. So it goes...

Mar 19, 2010 02:52 Report Abuse



I see on anothe expat website that the authorities are cracking down on Filipinas illegally working as ayis. And that many are now being deported as they do not have a work visa. The only thing I would say about overpaying ayis, is that you will skew the local employment market. There are some expats who, out of a sense of guilt, are paying way over the normal rate. Some ayis in Shanghai earn more than university profs. Even where I am in a tier 3 city they are asking 15rmb per hour now. This is 3x the minimum wage in Shanghai, but we are not even in Shanghai. I even had a client who paid thier live in ayi 4000rmb per month. That is more than double what many white collar (graduate) workers get in China. By paying too much you shift the norm, and then even the bad ayis want too much money. Do you think locals will look at us as benefactors or idiots, for paying too much. I think the latter. I do hate being viewed as a cash cow. This means that even sensible expats have to pay too much for thier ayi.f

Mar 18, 2010 19:05 Report Abuse