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What Is an Au Pair

The Surprising Things You Should Know About Au Pairs Before You Pass Them Up

Choosing what childcare option works best for your family can be one of the most stressful and important decisions a parent can make, especially if both parents work full-time and the children will be spending most of their days with someone who isn't a family member. While nannies and day care are the two most popular childcare options for such families, there's another choice to explore: the au pair.

Although the name might sound fancy and exotic, there's no reason to be intimidated. There are, however, many ways au pairs differ from nannies, all of which might mean they either are or are not right for your family. Here's everything you need to know before you dismiss hiring an au pair completely.

What exactly is an au pair?

Officially, an au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for and living as part of a host family. The French term au pair means "at par" or "equal to," indicating that the relationship is supposed to be one of equals: the au pair is intended to become a member of the family, albeit a temporary one, rather than a traditional domestic worker.

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Typically, au pairs provide child care and help with child-related housework, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and receive a monetary allowance for their personal use. Au pair arrangements are subject to government restrictions, which specify an age range (18-26 in the US). In the United States, au pairs may legally provide full-time child care up to 45 hours a week.

How are au pairs different than nannies?

An au pair will live with you and your family and must have their own private bedroom that meets standards, including having a lockable door and a window. Since au pairs are governed with a certain set of restrictions and must be sourced through an accredited agency, you can feel confident in their qualifications, but you also must be willing to adhere to certain requirements to become a host family. Since au pairs can work up to 45 hours a week, up to 10 hours a day, you'll have more flexibility about when you use their care than you would a nanny.

Do I have provide my au pair with housing? What else?

If you hire an au pair, be prepared to provide them with housing. The arrangement shares a few similarities with hosting a foreign exchange student; an au pair is invited to come to the United States and care for children in exchange for room and board, specifically with their own private room. Most au pairs also are given the use of a vehicle through their host families, and all receive a weekly stipend and an education credit of up to $500 to use during the time they're with the family.

What are the biggest advantages to an au pair?

Au pairs provide live-in child care, meaning you won't spend as much time coordinating schedules like you would with a nanny or nanny share, and you can skip day care drop-off and pick-up. An au pair's available working hours means increased flexibility (and that your Saturday date night could get a lot easier to schedule). In addition, an au pair will provide your children with cultural and language learning opportunities that a domestic nanny probably would not.

What drawbacks are there to hiring an au pair?

Au pairs are usually limited to one year of service in the US, with an option to extend for up to one more year. The short-term nature of the job can make it difficult for families who want to develop a long relationship with a single childcare provider. In addition, there are some hoops to jump through in order to qualify for an au pair in terms of providing appropriate housing and transportation and offering an education credit. While the stipend paid to your au pair is low (around $200 per week), most agencies require an upfront fee of between $8-10,000 to find an au pair placement.

How do I find an au pair?

In order to hire an au pair, you must seek them out through a US government-approved au pair agency, like AuPairCare, GreatAuPair, or AuPair.com.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Maria del Rio
Product Credit: Left: Equipment Sweater, J.Crew Pants / Right: Everlane Sweatshirt
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