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Want to hire an au pair? Ask yourself these 5 questions first

Tiffany Smith
Oct. 26, 2018


Want to Hire an Au Pair? Here Are 5 Questions to Ask Yourself First
Image via Getty Images/Hero Images

Heard of au pairs but not quite sure what hiring one entails — or even if it's the right child care solution for your family?

Indeed, au pairs are a great option those in need of in-home child care for their kids. But they're a bigger commitment than hiring babysitters or nannies, largely because you agree to have them live with you.

Au pairs are foreign nationals — young people from outside the United States who are looking to come here for a year to work in child care, take classes in higher education and experience life in America. It's as if they're one-part nanny and one-part exchange student.  An au pair lives with a host family, cares for their children and, in return, the hosts provide room, board and a weekly stipend.

The term "au pair" is French for "on par" or "equal." An au pair is supposed to be an equal part of the family, rather than someone you simply hire to help out.

Many parents love hosting au pairs because they're such a cost-effective way to provide high-quality child care. Au pairs generally cost less than $8 an hour, and they're required by the U.S. State Department to have special training before they're accepted into a placement program.

But they're not the best solution for every family. So what about yours? If you're trying to decide if hosting an au pair is right for you, here are a few questions you'll need to ask:

1) Are we comfortable having someone live in our home — and do we have the space?

If you hire an au pair, you'll usually agree to host her in your house for 12 months. Make sure you are OK with sharing your home in this manner, and ultimately adding another person to your family.

2) Can we afford an au pair?

The State Department requires families to pay au pairs a weekly stipend of $195.75 and a one-time fee of up to $500 towards educational costs. Au pairs aren't allowed to work more than 45 hours a week. But there are responsibilities outside of financial ones, too. As a host family, you have to meet a list of requirements from the U.S. State Department. They include providing not only housing, but food and transportation. 

3) Do our schedules change often?

If you're a parent who works odd hours or travels for work, au pairs can help cover those times when your career keeps you away from home. Au pairs are great because most are available and willing to work around your schedule. But you do have to keep in mind that the State Department regulates the hours an au pair works: They can work up to a maximum of 45 hours a week or 10 hours a day.

4) How long of a commitment do we need from a child care provider?

Typically, au pairs stay with your family for one year. That means if you choose an au pair, you'll likely have to find a replacement for her 12 months down the road. Transitioning to a new caregiver can be tough for your kids, so you'll have to decide if you want a child care provider to be a part of your family for a longer time period.

5) How important is the cultural experience an au pair can bring into our home?

Every au pair brings her own country's heritage, culture and history with her. It can be exciting to have someone from another country live in your house and help open your family's eyes to the world outside of the United States. Plus, showing your au pair how we do things in America can be so much fun! But you'll have to think how these cultural experiences will impact your family before making your decision. 

Read next: The complete guide to child care

Tiffany Smith has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite. 

March 5, 2015

If you want to have an au pair, you better let she goes to school everyday, let her drive a car as much as she wants, do not give her any curfew, don't take advantage of her! Then it will work out very well! If it happens the opposite , the au pair will get crazy, no car, no friends, working more than she has to, no studying English ( she came to USA to learn English), curfew ?but she even can't drive bc you don't allow her driving your car! , etc etc, if all this happens you and her will be very upset with the program. But we can 't blame the program, we can't blame only the family or au pair , it is everybody's fault for not asking, deciding before do the match. I was an au pair in 2010, I stayed in the program just 2 months,I didn 't like at all my experience, my host family (afro american, 4 kids) I couldn 't understand them at all bc of their pronunciation, I had a 2 weeks rematch and I should stay in their house until find other family, they said I could not stay, the coordinator, didn't even offered me help, just said, do you have a place to go? Thank you God, an au pair asked her host family if I could stay with her for 2 weeks. I lived in Charlotte illegal during 3 years, with fear, but then I got married and lived happy ever after :). Expect most au pairs will do it, if you are a family that take advantage of her that even can't talk a good English. If she is isolated from everything car, school, dinner etc don 't say she is addicted to skype, internet, bc this will be the only way for her does not get crazy. Being far from family, stuck inside the house for 24/7, working a terrible schedule , all will just contribute for her to quit, to become a teenager, and show that she didn't really want to become an aupair bc of taking care of your adorable kids, but bc here is the best country to live, bc she wants to go out, study, have her free time, be On vacation all weekend and do everything that she dreamed, yes bc the program advertising makes you dream all that, make you think it is all nice, flexible, but it is not.

Sept. 13, 2013

You get what you pay for! If you want a professional nanny who is passionate about children, you have to pay for it. Don't complain because you wanted to get off cheap and you got what you paid for.

July 3, 2013

Agreed! After 3 Au Pairs in 6 months because one lied about a very essential skill that was needed but we didn't find out until she got here, the next one decided she didn't want to be in the program after 2 days on the job and skipped town to go be with a boy in another state and is still here illegally and the 3rd decided she wanted to leave after 3 months because she wanted to be in another part of the country is absolutely frustrating! We paid a very hefty agency fee for reliable childcare and it was the worst experience for us as new parents. Agreed, I didn't trust leaving my child alone with them since they are so addicted to social media and skyping with their friends and family back home. The system is flawed in that these girls know the agency will rematch them anytime and they can leave their host parents high and dry without childcare and lacking commitment and integrity as to why they signed up for the program. We exited the program 6 months into it and I would never, ever recommend the program to anyone. It's a wonder I was able to keep my job through all the changes and comings and goings of Au Pairs. It's a business for the agencies too, so they will rematch these girls and not care that the families have been left high and dry either.

June 20, 2013

I am a Local Childcare Consultant for the au pair program in our area. I am sorry to hear that hosting an au pair has not been a rewarding experience. The idea behind an au pair is to form a relationship with your caregiver and they become a part of your family. I have been a Consultant for over 6 years and although there have been a few au pairs that did not work out, most of them are very dedicated to their host kids and provide great childcare. Sometimes many of the above issues can be avoided with setting expectations up front and also setting the au pair up to succeed by teaming with them instead of expecting them to be perfect. Au Pairs are still people who do have a social life and expecting that they will just stay home everyday is unrealistic. But, issues can be avoided with good planning and communication. Much of the success begins with the interview process and as a Consultant I enjoy helping families find a good match for their families. The benefits over a nanny are that the hours are much more flexible, you don't have to pay payroll taxes/unemployment, it is more affordable than a nanny and you see your children interact with your au pair on a daily basis. I would love to talk to you about this option and how it can be a successful child care choice.

Feb. 17, 2012

I totally agree with Lisa below. I hosted only one Au Pair but I would never go down this road again. Instead, I would hire nanny. Most of Au Pairs have some agenda other than taking care of children and you will learn than soon after she starts living with you. \

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