While many people use the terms nanny and au pair interchangeably, the two are actually worlds apart from each other.
Nannies are hired by parents to provide consistent, personalized and customized childcare for the couple’s children in their family home. Nannies are employees of the families for whom they work and as such, the nanny’s schedule, duties and responsibilities are determined by the parents. In order work as a nanny in the United States, nannies must be able to legally accept employment.
Au pairs enter the United States on a J-1 visa through the U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Program. In exchange for a stipend, room and board, and the experience of American life with a host family, au pairs provide limited childcare as they continue their education abroad. At maximum, au pairs can provide 10 hours per day of care, maxing out at 45 hours per week. The original commitment is one year, but it can be extended to two.
Unlike nannies, who tend to have extensive childcare experience and choose to work in a private childcare setting because they have a genuine love and working knowledge of children, au pairs are motivated by the opportunity to see America, and may only have 32 hours of childcare training, which is the minimum number of training hours required for participation in the program.
For parents of infants, nannies can provide care as soon as the parents would like. Au pairs, however, can only be placed in a home with an infant three months of age and younger if a responsible adult will also be home.
Parents who have busy schedules and require extensive childcare coverage due to business or social obligations may find hiring an au pair prohibitive since the parents must allow the au pair time to attend educational courses during her stay with the family.
While many parents welcome the cultural experience hosting an au pair brings and don’t mind including the au pair in the family’s daily life and plans, some parents may find the arrangement too intimate and intrusive.
For families looking for a child-focused, in-home care arrangement, especially if the children are young, hiring a qualified nanny is usually the better childcare option.
10 Facts About Au Pair Care
Many parents are surprised to learn that an au pair and a nanny are not the same thing. In fact, many parents who have considered hiring an au pair are shocked to learn about how little of childcare experience au pairs may have and how many limitations are put on the amount and type of care an au pair can provide. While au pairs are often marketed as an affordable alternative to nannies, once parents discover the difference between an au pair and a nanny, they quickly learn this isn’t the case.
- Au pairs are foreign nationals. Au pairs are foreign nationals who enter the United States through the U.S. Department of State J-1 visa Visitor Exchange Program.
- To legally hire an au pair, you must use a designated sponsor organization. The U.S. Department of State maintains a current list of those organizations that can facilitate au pair placements. While some au pairs extend their visit illegally and take on childcare jobs, doing so is in violation of law.
- Au pairs are of a specific age. If you’re looking for a seasoned childcare provider, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Au pairs must be between the ages of 18 and 26 to take part in the au pair program.
- Parents must pay a placement fee. Parents pay the sponsor organization a placement fee to match them with a suitable au pair, which can cost upwards of several hundred dollars.
- Parents must pay their au pair a stipend. Au pairs are compensated for their work according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to room and board, they are paid to provide care.
- Parents must pay towards their au pair’s education. Parents must pay up to $500 towards the cost of required course work at a post-secondary educational institution. Enrolling in coursework isn’t optional.
- Au pairs can only provide care for a set time. Au pairs cannot provide care indefinitely, although some extend their visit illegally. Au pairs start with a one-year commitment that can be extended to two years at the most.
- Au pairs can’t care for newborns. For families with young children, hiring an au pair can be problematic. In homes with infants younger than three months of age, a responsible adult must be present with the au pair.
- Au pairs must only be placed with nonrelatives. While some people believe they can bring family from overseas to care for their children, au pairs are not eligible to be placed in the homes of relatives.
- Minimal childcare experience and training is required. The program requires that a minimum of 32 hours of childcare training be completed prior to the au pair arriving in the family’s home. Au pairs caring for children under the age of two must have at least 200 hours of documented infant childcare experience, which is equivalent to only four to five weeks of full-time childcare experience.
While au pair care may be the right choice for some families, for families looking for long-term childcare from an experienced childcare specialist, a qualified nanny may be more suitable.