What Is An Au Pair? Pros, Cons & How To Find A Great One

What is an au pair? An au pair is a student between the ages of 18-26 who comes to the United States as part of a cultural exchange program and agrees to provide full-time child care in exchange for housing and a weekly stipend. For some families who need live-in child care, hosting an au pair may be an ideal solution. Below are some of the benefits and limitations so you can decide if an au pair is the right in-home child care 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:

  • Au Pairs Provide Affordable Care
    Because au pair 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. Keep in mind there are some upfront costs you will incur. These costs include, the au pair agency application fees and the placement fees (which cover recruiting, screening, paperwork processing, some travel expenses, visa and training). Once they arrive, there are additional expenses outside of the weekly stipend. These costs include providing a private room, meals, paid vacation time, and a $500 educational stipend. Even with these additional fees, 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 irregular hours, or need an extra set of hands, flexible child care 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. While they may not work more than 10 hours per day, you can coordinate your own child care 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. One example, according to AuPair Clearinghouse, who reviews and compares United States au pair agencies, there’s a growing trend to hire Chinese care takers. 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 Child Care 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 is limited. Simply put, they are not professional childcare providers, nor do they necessarily have an interest in pursuing a career in child care. 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 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
    They are carefully screened and you can interview candidates via phone, email and video chat, but you cannot truly meet face-to-face or have a trial period before committing to a relationship.
  • Language and Cultural Barriers
    In addition to the limitations above, au pairs are students learning a new culture and often times 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.

What is the Difference Between an Au Pair and a Nanny?

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.

For a deeper dive into the differences, read our article, How to Choose Between a Nanny, Daycare, and Au Pair. 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. If you decide a nanny is the better fit for your family, 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!

Looking for nanny? Join UrbanSitter to browse profiles, sort by pay rate, and book jobs online.

Meet Mara: Babysitter and Future Genetic Counselor!


Mara has been working with kids and families since she was in middle school so it comes as no surprise that she’s now pursuing a career in genetic counseling, where she’ll be able to help people each and every day. Since joining UrbanSitter in 2012 Mara has sat for around 100 different families, and says that babysitting has provided her with income while still allowing her to keep a schedule flexible enough for school, volunteering, and applying to a Masters program.

Here, Mara shares with us a little bit more about her life, her adventures in babysitting, and what she plans on doing in the future.  

How did you get started as a babysitter?
I grew up in a suburb of San Francisco in a neighborhood that had four cul de sacs that were connected, so it was a pretty good place to find babysitting jobs because there were a lot of families. I don’t remember how I got into babysitting exactly, if I decided if I was old enough or if a neighbor approached me.

We had this little newsletter for our neighborhood and it showed which families were in which houses and listed the names of the kids who lived in the houses, too. The kids’ names had boxes next to them that said whether or not they were willing to do yard work or babysitting or things like that.

I made $4/hour to start, as a Mother’s Helper. I was pretty bad at it, because the mom was working at home, and so the kids would just go bother her. And then I’d come home with my $12 dollars in my hand, but you have to start somewhere!

How did your babysitting career advance after that?
I wanted to do more babysitting as I got a little bit older. I took a class about babysitting at the local community center and of course got CPR certified. In high school I went around my neighborhood with flyers and knocking on doors and got a regular babysitting job out of that, that I had throughout high school and my first year of college.

I also took a gap year and was an au pair in Switzerland for 10 months. I went to the  German-speaking part of Switzerland and couldn’t even count to ten in German when I got there, but I picked it up. I was so excited about it that I went with the very first family who chose me (I applied through an online service not an agency) and just said “Yes! I will be your au pair!”

How did you first get started on UrbanSitter?
I’ve been on UrbanSitter for four and a half years, and it was pretty small when I started. I remember that somebody contacted me for a phone interview, and I remember being in a parking lot walking to my car and I got this call from a woman with a really beautiful Irish accent. Both parents were from Europe and the dad was working as a postdoc at UC Berkeley, they didn’t have any family in the area and hadn’t had a date night in forever.

It was a good start because they were a really nice family and just so appreciative. Their little girl was adorable. They gave me a good review and then someone else booked me. So [my time on UrbanSitter] started out slow, but it picked up from there.

You’re studying genetic counseling now, can you tell us a little bit about that?
A genetic counselor talks to people who might be at risk for hereditary medical conditions. Like cancer for example, if a person has a strong family history of cancer they’ll talk to a genetic counselor and decide whether or not to do specific testing to see if they have that genetic predisposition. Genetic counselors also meet with people planning a pregnancy or who are currently pregnant to provide information and counseling about any health problems that run in the family as well as about prenatal testing options.

Has babysitting had any effect on your choice to pursue genetic counseling?
In genetic counseling you’re working with a lot of different people, people trying to plan a family or start a family. And in my babysitting adventures each family is different, with different personalities, and I’ve always found that pretty interesting. In the field of genetic counseling I’ll get to continue to meet different people and work with different people, and I think it’s good to have a foundation in that already.

There’s a particular family that I work for regularly that goes out a lot. They were so, so supportive about this particular application process [for my Master’s program]. They would give me advice and try to help out. It’s a pretty competitive program that I was applying for, so I was very stressed. The dad’s sister is actually a genetic counselor and so he set up a meeting for us, and she gave me really helpful advice and support.  The kid is so great, too, she’s always cheerful and runs to the door when I get there – now that I’ve started graduate school, I find babysitting is a good way to relieve stress!

Babysitting has been really helpful, because I had to do a lot of volunteering to be accepted into the Master’s program that I’m in now. I’ve been preparing for this program for three years. In July of last year, I left my job at Children’s Hospital to be able to take on more volunteering, and an internship, and to take more classes. So babysitting was all of my income, and it let me be flexible.

Saturday night to me is like babysitting night. I think I’ve worked the majority of Saturdays in the last year. And that has really allowed me to support myself in this last year of preparation for the program. UrbanSitter was so helpful because I know I wouldn’t have found as many jobs as I did without it.

Sign up to be a babysitter today at www.urbansitter.com!


Childcare Jobs: The 6 Most Popular Types of Caregivers

childcare jobs

Childcare jobs come in a wide range of different capacities. Whether you’re a parent determining which type of childcare is right for your family or a caregiver deciding what sort of childcare job you’re looking for, it is essential to understand the differences in order to make the right choices for your preferences and lifestyle. Here are some of the most common types of caregivers.

Types of Childcare Jobs

  1. Au pair
    An au pair is a young adult from a foreign country who lives with a family and helps to care for children and do housework in return for a monetary allowance (and the opportunity to learn the family’s language and culture). An au pair will almost always reside in the family home and be treated as another member of the family. Au pairs are enrolled in post-secondary education and their labor is regulated by the Department of State. Hiring an au pair requires extensive commitment on the parts of both the au pair and the hiring family. The process sometimes requires a large sum of money up front, and employers may be expected to provide healthcare and transportation to au pairs during their stay. In exchange, the family will benefit from exploring a new culture and exposing their children to the world from the convenience of their own living room.
  2. Babysitter
    A babysitter is a caregiver who comes to a family’s home to watch children for a limited number of hours or sometimes overnight. Some babysitters work out of their own homes. Most are hired by families on an occasional basis and are paid an hourly rate. More often than not, babysitters work for many different families as their schedules permit. While babysitters’ ages fall into a wide range, all sitters on UrbanSitter are at least 18 years old.
  3. Doula
    A doula is hired to help provide comfort and care to a woman and her family before, during, and/or after childbirth. A doula attends births and imparts constant emotional and instructional support during labor. Doulas are trained professionals, but are not doctors. Usually a doula’s job is done once the baby is born, although some doulas offer breastfeeding instruction, night nurse services, and even postpartum care for a period after the birth.
  4. Mother’s helper
    A mother’s helper is a pre-teen or teenager who is not yet experienced enough or old enough to watch children alone. A mother’s helper may be a neighbor, relative, or other acquaintance of the child’s parent(s) who has expressed an interest in babysitting or caring for the child(ren) in the home. A mother’s helper may be paid or unpaid, but a parent is present for the duration of the caregiving period in order to give guidance and/or supervision. Sometimes mother’s helpers are hired to do light chores around the house or run errands in addition to (or in place of) watching children.
  5. Nanny
    A nanny is hired for a set period of time and is usually given a regular schedule, and may reside in the family’s home (“live-in”) or travel to the family’s home for shifts (“live-out”). Nannies are paid an agreed-upon salary at regular intervals, and most nannies consider childcare their full-time work obligation. However, some are employed part-time according to the family’s needs and are able to take on outside work.
  6. Night Nanny
    A night nanny may be the perfect solution for families with newborns. These caregivers generally come to the family’s home after dinner to help with the new baby’s bedtime routine and provide support to the family overnight, whether rocking a colicky baby back to sleep, heating a bottle and handling night feedings, or helping soothe toddlers back to sleep after a newborn’s cries wake everyone in the house. Parents of multiples may find night nannies especially helpful. Night nannies are usually hired for a short period of time after a new baby arrives, to help a household adjust to their new overnight routine, allow families to get a little extra sleep, or to give new parents nighttime guidance. Some night nannies may have nursing experience as well.

UrbanSitter is an excellent resource if you are looking for childcare jobs or childcare solutions. Good luck in finding your perfect fit!