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Live-in Nanny vs. Au Pair: What's the Difference?

Price, schedules and background are a few of the ways these types of child caregivers differ.

The main difference between a live-in nanny and an au pair is that a nanny is a professional child care provider who is usually from your town (or at least from the United States) and has decided to make a career of caring for children. Au pairs are young people between the ages of 18 and 26 who come from overseas on a cultural exchange visa to live with an American family and care for their children. There are pros and considerations to each type of caregiver. Here are some tips for choosing which is right for your family.

Live-in Nanny

PROS

  • Trial periods. One of the biggest advantages to hiring a nanny is that you can do your homework, but if they turn out not to be a good fit, you can easily let them go. Jami Dennis of Denver, a nanny and board member at the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies and owner of ABC Nannies, advises that "a family can request that a potential nanny come for a working/trial day with the children to make sure they are a good fit for the little ones, as well as the parents, which is critical to a long-term match."  
  • A life outside of your family. "While many nannies grow close with their employers/families and develop a strong, personal connection, they are not reliant on them for any socialization or orientation, nor do they expect to be involved in family activities outside of working hours," Dennis says. Someone new to this country may not have that support base already in place.
  • Understandable credentials. When someone comes from a foreign country, you might not know what the comparable credentials are in the U.S. This results in extra work in the hiring process. A nanny from this country should have a fairly typical background, with nanny and teaching experience, a desire to work as a child care provider and a true understanding of childhood education and development, says Dennis.
  • Training. Live-in nannies are typically professional career nannies. This is their job and they take it very seriously. Some may be active members of nanny organizations, trained in specific areas of child care.

CONSIDERATIONS

  • Price. Most families typically provide live-in nannies with a weekly salary, room and board and benefits like insurance and taxes. All of the little things can start to add up.
  • Availability. Although live-in nannies do stay in your home, they're not available 24/7. You need to be respectful of their personal lives and stick to a schedule that you all agree on.
  • High turnover rates. A good live-in nanny is hard to find. Many parents find that the demands of this job can become too much for a less experienced caregiver.

Au Pair

PROS

  • New culture and language. One advantage of hosting an au pair is the exposure your children will have to another culture as the au pair shares her country's music, games, crafts and cuisine. "Many families choose the au pair program for the opportunity to have their children experience another culture and learn a second language," says Susan Robinson, a spokesperson for Cultural Care Au Pair.
  • Affordable. Part of the benefit that an au pair receives is being hosted in the U.S. As such, their pay rates aren't as high as full-time nannies. Mike Liberty, a spokesperson for Au Pair in America says that "The average weekly cost of a nanny is approximately $750 (depending on the area of the country and the number of children in the family) versus an average weekly cost of approximately $356 for an au pair (regardless of location or number of children)." In addition, many au pairs are insured by the agencies that place them, so you don't need to purchase medical insurance.
  • Availability. While hiring an au pair doesn't mean that you get to have an around-the-clock caregiver, they can be more flexible with their time. According to Liberty, "Au pair host families have the ability to create their own child care schedule on a weekly basis. As any parent can attest, no week is identical to any other in terms of events, commitments, work, etc. An au pair allows parents to schedule 45 hours of child care each week, just about any way they like."

CONSIDERATIONS

  • Experience. Because au pairs are not necessarily looking for a career in child care, they may not have a lot of experience caring for kids. They're a fine solution if your kids are a little older, but may not be the best choice for infants or young kids who need a lot of specialized care. 
  • Language barrier. You will have access to a database of potential au pairs, so you can pick one who speaks English fluently, but there will always be differences. Much like the way English is spoken differently in Los Angeles versus Atlanta, it's also spoken differently all over the world. You may end up needing to explain a lot of things.
  • No in-person meeting. Since au pairs live in other countries and need to get paperwork situated before visiting the U.S., there's no way to meet your au pair before you hire her. You can conduct Skype interviews, but it's no replacing a face-to-face meeting people.
  • Confusing credentials. As mentioned previously, credentials differ in different countries. If you're new to the process, it can be hard to make heads or tails of a foreign resume. Liberty states that this shouldn't be cause for worry. "All au pairs are interviewed in-person and must have three verified references, complete a psychometric test and take the California Personality Inventory (CPI) test, one of the most intensely studied and researched personality tests. In addition, all au pairs must have their education level, police record and comprehensive medical report from their home country reviewed and confirmed. All of these results are then made available to families during the placement process."

A little bit of hesitation always accompanies the decision of who will care for your children. As to whether or not an au pair or a nanny is better, it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Find a person that matches your personality and understands your parenting style. Don't be controlling, but do explain steadfast rules. If you do your research, you can find your ideal caregiver.

Alaina Brandenburger is a freelance writer in Denver. Her work can be found here.

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