For some families who need live-in childcare, hosting an au pair—a young person who comes to the United States as part of a cultural exchange program and agrees to provide full-time childcare in exchange for housing and a weekly stipend—may be an ideal solution. Let’s take a look at the benefits and limitations of au pairs so you can decide if an au pair—rather than a live-in nanny—is the right in-home childcare choice for you and your family.
The Unique Advantages of Au Pairs
There are several pros to choosing an au pair for your childcare needs, including the following:
It’s Affordable Care
Because au pairs programs are government sponsored, costs are regulated. According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, au pairs are paid a weekly stipend equivalent to the U.S. federal minimum wage. The stipend is based per family, so you do not pay more for additional kids. Au pair agency application and placement fees (which cover recruiting and screening, paperwork processing, some travel expenses, visa, training and coordination), a private room, meals, paid vacation time, and a $500 educational stipend are additional. Even with these additional fees—which can be a big upfront cost for the host family—au pair care is much more affordable than live-in or live-out nannies or babysitters.
Flexible Hours, In-home Child Care
For those who work long or erratic hours—or those who need an extra set of hands throughout the day and night—flexible childcare is a top priority. Few providers can match the flexibility offered by au pairs. According to ICEF Monitor, a market research firm for the international education market, au pairs in the U.S. can work up to 45 hours per week, one of the highest maximums for au pairs worldwide. While they may not work more than 10 hours per day, you can coordinate your own childcare schedule week to week.
Exposure to a New Culture
Inviting a foreign student to live with your family is a wonderful way to introduce your children to a new culture or language. For instance, according to AuPair Clearinghouse, who reviews and compares United States au pair agencies, there’s a growing trend to hire Chinese au pairs. They attribute the trend to the increasing popularity of Mandarin as a language option in secondary schools, and the appeal of having a Mandarin-speaker in your own home to help your kids learn the language.
Au Pair Limitations
While there are many attractive advantages to having an au pair care for your kids, there are limitations, too, including:
Limited Childcare Experience
Au pairs are students (18-26 years old) who travel to the U.S. for the educational and cultural experience. Though they are required to complete some childcare instruction, their training and experience are limited. Simply put, they are not professional childcare providers, nor do they necessarily have an interest in pursuing a career in childcare. For this reason, they are often better for families who do not require infant or special needs care.
Short-Term Child Care Solution
Per their contracts and visa requirements, au pairs usually only live with a family for one year (though you can apply for a program extension through the U.S. Department of State). If you need someone longer term—and don’t relish the thought of finding a new solution in a year’s time—a live-in nanny may be a better fit.
Inability to Meet in Advance
Au pairs are carefully screened and can you can interview candidates via phone and email, but you cannot meet face-to-face or have a trial period before committing to a relationship.
Language and Cultural Barriers
Au pairs are students learning a new culture and sometimes a new language as they are getting to know your family and understanding its own unique needs. It can be a tricky adjustment period for both sides.
One of the most important distinctions between an au pair and a live-in nanny is that an au pair is a student you host and a nanny is an employee you hire. If you decide to host an au pair, there are a number of agencies approved by the U.S. Department of State who can connect you with an au pair. If you decide a nanny is the way to go, word of mouth, job boards, and online services, such as UrbanSitter, can help you find and meet nannies in your local area who may be just right for your family’s needs. The choice is yours!