When it comes to finding child care, parents have choices and can decide on the best option based on care requirements, convenience, schedule, and budget. If a family chooses in-home care, ruling out a daycare center or care in someone else’s private home, they will typically hire a nanny. But what about an au pair? Should you consider hiring an au pair or a nanny?
What is an au pair?
An au pair is a young, foreign person, typically female, who lives with a host family and helps with child care and possibly light housework. They receive a small weekly stipend from their host family along with room and board and some money to attend a post-secondary educational institution.
The au pair program is regulated as a cultural exchange program by the U.S. Department of State. The government approves au pair sponsoring agencies, which then place au pairs with host families.
What are the benefits of hiring an au pair?
The main benefit of an au pair over other options for childcare is cost.
Even when factoring in the sponsoring agency’s fees, room and board, and the education stipend, an au pair can cost much less than a nanny. That’s because an au pair typically earns around the federal minimum wage rate, which is currently only $7.25/hour. Nannies are required to be paid at least the state or local minimum wage if it is higher than the federal rate. Some minimum wage rates can be $12-15/hour and experienced nannies can earn much more.
However, a recent proposed settlement in an au pair class-action lawsuit could mean significant changes in the way au pairs are paid.
The au pairs say the agencies that sponsored their J-1 visas colluded to keep their wages low and ignored overtime and state minimum wage laws. The au pairs claimed that these companies used the federal minimum wage rate as the maximum amount they could earn. Since these companies were designated by the State Department as exclusive sponsors of the program, an au pair couldn’t enter the country without the support of one of the sponsoring companies.
This settlement, if approved by the court, may reduce – and potentially eliminate – the cost advantage as au pairs can now look for fair-market wages and working conditions that are on par with what a nanny enjoys.
What are the other advantages of hiring an au pair?
Your children may benefit from having someone from a different country live with you. They’ll learn about the au pair’s home country and culture and may get to know some words in the au pair’s native language. Keep in mind that au pairs are required to be proficient in English before working in the U.S.
An au pair lives with your family and may be able to provide greater flexibility in caring for your children. Let’s say you work odd hours, irregular shifts, weekends, or need to be on-call at certain times. Having a live-in caregiver can provide some convenience.
However, au pairs can’t work more than 45 hours a week or more than 10 hours a day. If you leave for work at 8 a.m. and return home at 6 p.m., an au pair could only cover four full days of your work schedule.
What are some drawbacks of hiring an au pair?
Besides their daily and weekly schedule limitations, there are some other disadvantages of hosting an au pair.
If you need in-home care for an infant, an au pair is not allowed to care for a child aged three months or less unless a parent or responsible adult will be in the home supervising the au pair.
An au pair is between the ages of 18 and 26. If you want to hire a mature or more experienced in-home caregiver, then you would need to look at a nanny.
Then there is the issue of continuing care.
Families may want an in-home caregiver for the years from their child’s infancy until kindergarten. An au pair is initially authorized to reside in the U.S. for 12 months and then can agree to extend their stay for up to another 12 months. That means you may only get, at most, two years of care from the same au pair. Disruption in child care can have a negative effect on your family and children.
Also, an au pair is in the country for the cultural experience and to attend a post-secondary educational institution. They may receive some training but are likely not professional caregivers or even aspire to have careers in child care or early childhood education. If you’re looking for an experienced, career-minded caregiver, an au pair may not be a good choice for your family.
Should I consider a nanny instead?
You may want to consider a nanny if you need a caregiver for more than 10 hours a day or 45 hours a week. If you need the flexibility of a live-in caregiver, nannies can also be live-ins.
Many nannies have college degrees in childcare-related fields or experiences working with other families, at daycare centers or in schools. This is their career and they consider themselves professionals. Based on our recent survey of nannies:
- 63% have at least six years of experience being a nanny with 26% having more than 15 years
- 91% are satisfied or very satisfied with their job
- 60% mentioned “joys of caring for children” as one of the things they like best about their job; 44% said “make a difference in children’s lives”
If you find an ideal nanny and have a good working relationship that benefits both parties, then you’ll likely keep that caregiver for as long as you need them. There are plenty of stories of families who have kept the same nanny for years as they cared for their kids from the time the children were babies and into their school years. While the relationship with your nanny is first and foremost professional, nannies can become part of your family and cherished by your children for a long time.
Comparing an Au Pair vs. Nanny
|At least minimum wage with a number of factors determining the rate of pay
|Around federal minimum wage plus room and board
|Families pay Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance
|Au pairs don’t receive these benefits
|Can work any number of hours. Subject to overtime of time and a half.
|Restricted to 45 hours/week and 10 hours/day
|Live-in or live-out
|Can be live-in or live-out
|Must provide room and board
|Years with family
|No more than two years
|Can’t provide care for an infant under three months old without supervision
|Can be any age
|18 – 26 years old
|Family’s responsibility or conducted by a placement agency
|Performed by the sponsoring agency
|Families and nannies can get support through their placement agency and the International Nanny Association
|Through sponsoring agency
|You determine the level of experience desired in a caregiver
|Likely limited childcare experience
Hiring a nanny?
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