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[How To]: Hire an Ayi in Shanghai

Everything you need to know about hiring someone to help out with your house, life
2022-06-13 12:00:00
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 whose 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 8-10 hours a day.

Yuesao (月嫂, yuè sǎo)

Yuesaos are specialists in 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 taking care of the new mom (including cooking healthy meals that can help with quicker healing and milk production), and also the baby. She will wash the clothes of the newborn, help to feed (if bottle-fed), hold and take care of the baby, etc. Yuesao doesn't handle any other tasks in the household (no other kids, no cleaning, no cooking for the rest of the family). Usually, yuesaos move in with the family for one to three months after the new baby arrives home and works for 24 hours/day.

How Much Do Ayis Cost?

Cleaning Ayis:

  • Part-time: 50-70rmb per hour; goes up to 80rmb per hour for fluent English speaking ayis
  • Full-time (live-out): from 8,000rmb/month (8 hours/day). If more than 8 hours/day is needed, the salary will of course be higher.

Live-in Household Helper:

  • From 10,000rmb per month (8 hours a day).


  • From 16,800rmb to 20,000rmb for 26 days.

How to Find an Ayi

The best time to find an ayi is just before and in the middle of CNY. Most ayis know if they will come back to their family after CNY or if they want to pursue another job.The worst time, on the other hand, would be 1-2 months before CNY (Ayis get their yearly bonus just before CNY and they would not want to miss out on that).

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 an interview 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 a 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 upon, as well as help resolve issues down the line should they arise. Some agencies also offer a free replacement service during the length of the contract, in case the relationship doesn't work out. Also, having a working relationship governed by a contract is always a benefit.

Ayi Matchmakers

This is one of the most established and popular agencies in the foreign community. Started by a Danish expat with two former ayis who are now partners, all the ayis in the Ayi MatchMakers system have been individually vetted and trained. Ayi MatchMakers offers a full range of ayi services, from short-term cleaning to full-time ayis who can cook Chinese and Western cuisine, and take care of your children or pets. The service fee is one month of the ayi's salary in the first year and a smaller reduced fee for every renewal.

View Listing & Details

Finding an Ayi Through Online Services

You can also directly book an ayi through apps and online services. This is especially great if you need an ayi for a one-time clean.

Tian E Dao Jia Bao Jie (天鹅到家保洁 tiān é dào jiā bǎo jié)

This mini-program has a neat, user-friendly interface, and mainly focuses on cleaning. It allows you to book an ayi by hour, or buy deep cleaning services for specific rooms/items. For general cleaning (only surfaces will be cleaned), they charge 50rmb per hour; bookings start from two hours. The price for cleaning each furniture piece is slightly more expensive: 115-165rmb for an air-con; 149-334rmb for a washing machine; 170-280rmb for the fridge. Windows has a different pricing system, which is 17rmb per square meter.


Yes, your online supermarket is versatile enough to have one-time cleaning services, too. Compared to the first option, Hema is a safer go-to. Part of the Alibaba business, this is a big brand where you can talk to people and make complaints if things happen. To access the service in Hema, you simply type and search 家政 (jiā zhèng):

A list of options will then show up — all in Chinese. Luckily, the titles are straight-to-point. You'll need a translation app to figure out the option you want. Services include: general cleaning, deep cleaning, and furniture cleaning. General references for prices are as follows: 139rmb for a three-hour general cleaning; 279rmb for three-hour window cleaning; 369rmb for deep cleaning the bathroom, etc.

Training Your Ayi

When people come from different cultural backgrounds, they are going to have different ideas about how to properly maintain a household. To avoid issues, it's important that you work with your ayi to explain how you would like things to be done. Do you have special laundry requirements for specific articles of clothing? Do you want to use a specific cleaning product on a surface? Do you not want her to take apart and put away your half-finished 3000-piece jigsaw puzzle you've been working on for six months?

Voice these preferences at the start of your relationship to avoid problems down the line.

Legal Concerns with Employing Your Ayi

Do you need to sign a labor contract with your ayi?

Short answer, no.

SmartShanghai legal columnist Jin Wang from Jin WANG & Associates explains that for working relationships between two individuals, as opposed to a worker and a company, the law leaves it up to the individuals to accept their own arrangements, and that can come as both a written and/or an oral contract.

If you are hiring an ayi from the second two categories, however — full-time ayis and yuesaos — a written contract can't hurt. With a more formal arrangement, the details of your work relationship have been discussed and are written down (work hours, pay, overtime pay, holiday leave). This is called a "Civil Contract" as opposed to a "Labor Contract". Civil Contracts are basically just two people agreeing to a set of rules for each other at the outset of a relationship and are not subject to the Labor Laws that govern other employment contracts.

Do ayis get overtime pay, sick leave, and annual leave like regular employees?

Short answer, no.

Unless you've written these clauses into your Civil Contract with your ayi. Again, a civil contract is an agreement based on free will and mutual consent. The law does not intervene when two individuals have entered into a mutual agreement.

Do you need to pay taxes and social insurance for your ayi?

Short answer, no.

Taxes and social insurance are Labor Law concerns. Again, it's a civil relationship.

Is there a minimum wage that I have to respect?

No. But... see the prices listed above. That's basically the market rate.

What's the deal with Yuesao's that work 24 hours, how is this regulated in the labor law?

JIN: A free-will contract can include anything mutually agreed between the parties as long as it does not relate to illegal actions like crimes or goods such as drugs or weapons. However, there is a certificate called the Nursery Professional Qualification Certificate in China and to achieve such certificate the matron has to go through lessons and exams which are under the control of the national department of government. However, whether the matron you hired must have such certificate is a freely agreed option of yours that can be agreed in the contract. Saving money wise, some people do not require the matron to have a certificate and include such certificate in the agreement.