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Everything You Need to Know about Hiring an Au Pair
March 3, 2023

Everything You Need to Know about Hiring an Au Pair

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Everything You Need to Know about Hiring an Au Pair.
Everything You Need to Know about Hiring an Au Pair

Looking for a childcare solution that offers flexibility with both your work life and your home life? While daycares and nannies typically operate during the eight-to-five workday, an au pair can work any combination of up to 45 hours per week, even in small, non-consecutive blocks.

If you hear “au pair” and imagine you have to be a well-to-do upper-class family with a sizable disposable income, we have good news: Hiring an au pair can actually be one of the more cost-effective childcare options as long as you have a spare bedroom in your home.

What is an au pair?

An au pair is essentially a combination of a live-in nanny and a foreign exchange student. They’re often young adults in their late teens to mid-20s who are looking for a fulfilling cultural exchange opportunity. They work on contract for 12 months (with one option to renew for another term) through an agency that matches them with a host family.

In exchange for living with a host family, learning about their host country and receiving a weekly stipend, au pairs provide up to 45 hours of childcare per week and teach their host family about their home country and culture. The experience is meant to be mutually beneficial for everyone, not just the children.

“Au pair” means “equal to” in French, meaning they are equal to the rest of your family, not like a household employee. For example, your au pair will likely eat most or all meals with your family and spend quality time with you when not actively working. When host families go on vacation, they typically bring the au pair as well, which includes paying for the au pair’s travel expenses, food, activities and anything the family is enjoying together.

Au pair vs. nanny

Both au pairs and nannies typically perform the same types of childcare duties, but most nannies don’t come with the expectation that you’ll house and feed them and provide a stipend like you would with an au pair. And while there is such a thing as a live-in nanny, there are still a few key differences between the two:

Au Pair Nanny
Late teens to mid-20s Any age, though typically older than 35
Only hired through an agency and require a special Visa Can be hired through an agency or independently
Paid a weekly stipend, usually minimum wage Paid market rates, usually above minimum wage and varies by experience level
Integrated as an equal (temporary) family member Firm boundaries as a household employee
Attend accredited courses during their stay No educational component tied to their employment
Maximum working hours are determined by agency and state laws Maximum working hours are agreed upon between nanny and family
Maximum employment is 12-24 months Often long term employment

How to hire an au pair

Though you’ll be mostly working with an agency to find the perfect match for your family, you will have to do some of the work yourself. Here’s a step-by-step guide to hiring an au pair:

1. Determine your budget.

Some au pair agencies offer different levels of service or experience, each with a different price point. We’ll go over the typical cost range in the next section, but it’s important to figure out early on how much you want to spend on childcare and whether or not an au pair is within your budget.

2. Research agencies.

There are several reputable au pair agencies that work within the US:

  • Au Pair in America is the first official au pair agency in the US (founded in 1986) and is part of the American Institute for Study Abroad (AIFS Abroad).
  • Cultural Care Au Pair is the largest au pair agency in the US, offering the largest number of au pair candidates and serving the most areas.
  • EurAuPair has operated in the US for 30 years and is connected to a wide range of other countries thanks to its roots as a European organization.
  • Au Pair USA is part of InterExchange, a long-standing American foreign exchange agency that has specialized in au pair programs for 30 years.
  • AuPair.com operates internationally and acts as a database for matching au pairs with host families as well as an online encyclopedia for everything relating to the au pair experience. Note: AuPair.com is not a full-service au pair agency like the others in this list; host families are responsible for organizing all legal documents and travel arrangements themselves.

3. Register with an agency.

Registration is free for some agencies, but not all. Be prepared to complete a family profile, including photos, descriptions of household members and details like your daily schedules, childcare needs and activities.

4. Research available au pairs.

Or have the agency recommend candidates that match your family profile. The research portion is often free, but you’ll likely have to pay a processing fee once you start making matches.

5. Interview au pairs.

Interviews are usually done via video conferencing, and you’ll want to prepare a list of questions in advance. Ask each candidate about their experience, what kind of workload they want and what they’re looking for in a host family.

6. Choose your au pair and sign the contract.

The contract may include things like the au pair’s workload limits, expectations for the host family, au pair and agency, weekly stipend agreement and a background check for all adults living in your house.

7. Prepare for your au pair’s arrival.

Prepare a private room in your home with all agreed upon amenities and write up a daily working schedule and any household rules. Also be sure to talk with your children about the au pair and all the changes taking place. Depending on which agency you’re working with, your au pair may attend childcare trainings like CPR and First Aid before arriving at your home.

Our biggest tip: Start the process early, at least two to three months before you need childcare. Hiring an au pair can often be a somewhat lengthy process. From the moment you register with an agency, it could be several months until your au pair arrives at your home. It takes time to search through the database and hold interviews to find the perfect match, and after that there are contracts and orientations that need to be completed. According to AuPairUSA.org, “it will take approximately five weeks for your au pair to arrive [after they’ve agreed to match with your host family]. During this time, we handle all of the pre-arrival details such as online training, making travel arrangements, and assisting with the visa process.”

Au pair cost

Unlike with nannies and daycares, paying for an au pair involves more than just their regular paycheck, though they’re paid much less than a daycare or nanny. According to Au Pair in America, guaranteed costs include the match processing fee, the program fee and the au pair’s weekly stipend (about $200 per week, though specific states could require more), which all adds up to between $17,000 and $25,000 for one year ($1,468 to $2,083 per month) depending on which program you choose.

Educational stipend for au pairs

Host families also provide their au pair with an education stipend. Every au pair is required to fulfill an educational requirement, says au pair Viktoria Robertson, who worked with a San Francisco family through Cultural Care. “The requirement is six credits for each term, and they can be in any subject,” she says. “There are regular college classes and weekend classes, and a lot of them are free. If a class costs money, the host family pays up to a certain amount, and the rest comes out of the au pair’s pocket.” Depending on which program you choose, as a host family you may be responsible for anywhere between $500 to $1,000 for the educational stipend.

Household costs for au pairs

There are other, less obvious costs, too. Since an au pair lives in your home and is encouraged to be a “temporary family member,” you’ll likely see a small increase in your grocery and utility bills (au pairs typically don’t pay for their own groceries unless they specifically choose to). If you’ll be requiring your au pair to transport your kids, you’ll also need to add them to your car insurance, which could affect your premium.

You may also be responsible for your au pair’s health insurance, depending on the agency, the state you live in and whether your au pair has appropriate travel insurance from their home country.

Pros of hiring an au pair

Flexible scheduling. Most au pairs work a maximum of 45 hours a week, but living in the home means those hours can be spread out however makes the most sense. Just remember that your au pair does need time off. “Au pairs can’t work just a few hours every single day. We’re required to get one-and-a-half days off consecutively every week,” Robertson says. “We also get two one-week vacations during the 12-month term.”

Built-in check-ins. Au pairs and host families meet once a month with someone from the agency, Robertson says. This is their opportunity to be honest about how things are going, work out any issues and, if needed, find a new match.

Cultural exchange. While there are plenty of nannies and daycares that can teach about different cultures or languages, it’s a large portion of the au pair experience, and a key reason why many au pairs and host families choose to participate.

Cons of hiring an au pair

Lengthy process. If you decide you want to hire an au pair, the process needs to start well in advance of when you need childcare. Don’t wait until a week or even a month before, or you won’t have childcare in time.

A known end date. The Visa for au pairs is 12 months, with only one option to renew for an additional three, six or 12 months. After that, an au pair is required to return to their home country for a period of time before they can return to the US on a different (non-au pair) Visa.

Less socializing with other kids. Children who attend daycare are constantly surrounded by other children, so they typically build social skills faster than those who spend most of their time with a nanny or an au pair. While it’s not required, host families can discuss socialization opportunities like playgroups with their au pair to make sure their child is around other children on a regular basis.


Amylia Ryan

Associate Editor

Amylia Ryan is the Associate Editor at Babylist, specializing in the topics of health, wellness and lifestyle products. Combining a decade of experience in writing and editing with a deep passion for helping people, her number one goal in her work is to ensure new parents feel supported and understood. She herself is a parent to two young children, who are more than willing to help product test endless toys, books, clothes, toiletries and more.

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