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.

Parents and Babysitters: Preparing for Emergencies

No one wants to think there will be an emergency when a babysitter is home with a child, and most likely it won’t happen. But it’s best to be prepared. Here’s a brief list of steps both parents and sitters can take to be ready.


1. Write down your home address. It sounds basic, but many parents forget. Before you leave for the night, make sure your sitter knows where you’ve written it down. She’ll need it if she needs to call 911. Also necessary: Your cell number and where you’ll be for the next few hours.

2. Be clear about food and/or medication instructions. You know your child best, so don’t tell the sitter to prepare a food (such as hot dogs) if there is a major risk of choking. Also be certain to make the sitter aware of any food allergies. And if your child really needs medication, be super clear about how much, when, and how to put it away. Better yet, give your child the meds before you leave or when you return. This way, there’s no room for error.

3. Make certain your sitter knows the basics. Tell her you’d rather her call 911 than wait around for half an hour if you’re not answering your cell phone. Also, printing out basic CPR instructions is never a bad idea. Tape them to the inside of an upper cabinet or keep them in a top desk drawer. Or, find a sitter that already has child and infant CPR certification, first aid training, or has taken a babysitting course. If you already have a favorite sitter, offer to pay for classes to get them trained.


1. Know your numbers. The parents’ cell numbers, 911, and Poison Control. Try the parents first, but you can call 911 for most emergencies, and if you’re fearful, better to err on the safe side. The 911 operators will ask you for the home address and guide you through the process. Also, if you think a child has ingested medicine or hazardous cleaning products, call Poison Control. In the United States, the toll-free number is 1-800-222-1222.

2. Prevent choking. Found objects are definitely a choking hazard, so find and put away anything small you see when you arrive, but everyday foods can also be a choking risk. Make sure to follow all the parents’ instructions regarding food, but also be aware of these foods that might pose a challenge. Always watch children while they are eating and if you see them choking or turning blue, try the Heimlich maneuver (if you know it) or call 911.

  • hot dogs (be sure to cut length-wise AND width-wise)
  • carrots (cut into small pieces)
  • grapes
  • popcorn
  • hard candy
  • nuts

3. Take a babysitting and/or CPR course. Parents love a super-qualified sitter. Many local community centers as well as the Red Cross offer babysitting classes that cover all of the above, including first aid and child/infant CPR. You’ll feel even more comfortable babysitting when you know you’re prepared.

To find CPR and first aid trained sitters near you, visit UrbanSitter.