What Is An Au Pair? 15 Au Pair Myths Debunked For 2021

au pair with girl

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Last Updated on September 28, 2021 by Creative Parenting

What is an au pair?

If you are wondering this & looking for childcare, but don’t know much about au pairs, this post will answer your questions!

To get started, check out this 59 second video explainer:

In this post, we’ll talk about what an au pair does, and a few things to consider before you decide to host an au pair.

We will focus on hosting an au pair in the U.S.

If you live elsewhere you might not find this post as helpful.

After reading this post you’ll understand how an Au Pair can meet your childcare needs.

Let’s get started.

If You’ve Heard About Them But Don’t Have A Clue This Post Will Help

You may have heard about au pairs, but don’t know what an au pair is.

Or you might not know what they do, much less how to get one.

Or, you might think hosting an au pair is more stressful than it’s worth.

You might imagine that the logistics and costs of hosting an au pair make it a hassle…

But we’re here to tell you that hosting an au pair can be awesome!

The Truth About Au Pairs

We had an excellent experience with our au pair.

And we recommend it.

But it’s not for everyone. And that’s OK.

What’s important is to decide whether hosting an au pair is right for your family.

So in this post, we’ll talk about what an au pair does so you can make an informed decision.

Let’s get started.

What Is An Au Pair?

To begin:

Let’s Define Au Pair:

An au pair is a member of your family, child care provider, and cultural ambassador all in one. They come from abroad on a visa and work for up to two years. Your costs include their housing, food, living allowance, and program fees.

Let’s unpack this definition.

Another way of thinking about it is that au pairs wear a lot of different hats.

For example…

You live with them and they become like another family member.

Yet, you rely on them to help you with childcare.

So it’s a professional employment relationship too.

And all while this is happening, you’re having a cross-cultural experience, learning about their language, culture, and traditions.

Because it’s such a varied experience, it can be intimidating for families considering it.

And…

what is an au pair: more than a nanny!
Au Pairs wear a lot of hats!

Because there are so many steps to getting an au pair, a lot of families don’t even consider getting an au pair.

They might feel intimidated about the matching process…

Or they feel more comfortable with traditional types of childcare.

But au pairs are more common than you might think!

According to the New York Times, each year there are 18,000 au pairs in the United States.

The program has been around for more than 20 years. Yet many families aren’t aware that it’s a viable option.

But if you do the research and the planning, you can find an awesome au pair AND have a positive experience.

This incredible program combines many win-win situations into one.

In our opinion?

These stem from the origin of the phrase itself:

“Au pair” is french, and the IRS website has a good definition of the french meaning:

“Au pair” is a French phrase meaning “at the par” or “at the peer” [level], and is used to describe someone who boards temporarily in someone else’s home.

“Au Pairs” via IRS.Gov

Now that you know what au pair means, let’s talk more about the program.

Who Backs The Au Pair Program?

You might be surprised to learn…

The U.S. Government sponsors the program. And it’s not only a work program, it has a cultural exchange component too.

So each year au pairs enter the U.S. with both their own goals and program requirements they must meet.

Au pairs come to the U.S. on J1 visas. While in the U.S., they live with host families, further their education, work as childcare providers, and experience the United States.

Now, there are many reasons that people from abroad want to work in the U.S. as au pairs. We’ll talk about that in more depth later.

But for now, the main things to know about the program are:

  • Au pairs provide childcare AND have other program requirements
  • It’s a big opportunity for folks from all over to experience the U.S.

Now if you’re looking for childcare and this sounds like something you’d be interested in, you might wonder:

How Much Does An Au Pair Cost?

When it comes to cost, we’ve got some good news and some bad news…

The bad news is…

Hosting an au pair isn’t free!

But you might have guessed this already…

You see, both au pairs AND host families have to pay various costs.

For example, Au pairs pay participation fees when applying in their home countries.

And host families in the U.S. pay program fees to the au pair agency they choose in the U.S.

Now, neither au pair nor host family will find it cheap.

But depending on your childcare budget and comparable childcare costs, it could be the childcare option you’re looking for.

According to the Department of State, host families pay $500 for education costs for the au pair, provide room and board, a weekly stipend, two weeks paid vacation, and program contractual costs.

That last cost is a big one! Some au pair program fees can be as much as $9,000.

That’s a big fee to pay for sure. But compared to daycare costs annualized over a year?

The actual month-to-month costs might be MUCH less.

So, you might be wondering if this is gonna work for you.

And after you decide if it works for your budget…

That’s an important question to ask:

Does An Au Pair Make Sense For Your Family? (4 Things To Consider)

Making decisions about childcare for your kids means weighing competing priorities…

  • budget v. ideal
  • commute v. convenience
  • teachers v. location

Finding the right balance between these isn’t easy.

For example, you might not want a random stranger live with you. But if you focus only on that, you’ll miss the bigger picture.

Let’s try and do that with a few points:

First, childcare is crazy expensive and it’s not getting any cheaper!

You see, depending on where you live and how many kids you have, it might be cheaper to get an au pair.

You’ll want to cost it out realistically.

If you’re looking at childcare centers, call around and get some quotes. Be sure to consider the price of both full-time and part-time options.

If you’re serious about an au pair, contact local agencies and find out what their program fees are.

Au Pair agencies are organizations that help match au pairs with host families. They also provide support to the au pairs and families during the au pair year. There are many different agencies, and each has a different culture. You can see a list of them here.

Different agencies will have different fees and different options for paying them.

Be sure to find out if the agency you are considering offers a payment plan.

Editor’s note: Some agencies will let you pay with a payment plan, but you might have to match and match with an Au pair by a certain date to get this benefit (so pay attention to deadlines!).

Also:

With the ongoing pandemic, hosting an au pair might be the in-home childcare option you haven’t seriously considered.

This could be a great option if you’re nervous about sending your kid to a center.

Besides administrative fees, it’s a good idea to consider the practical costs of adding someone else to your household.

When you have an au pair, he or she comes and lives with you, has their own room, takes care of the kids (on a schedule), and more or less becomes a member of your family!

Whether an au pair is right for your family depends on:

  • Your budget
  • local childcare costs
  • Your living situation, and
  • Your childcare goals.

Now, this isn’t by any means an exhaustive list of what to consider…

But at a minimum, consider these when deciding whether to match with an au pair.

After that? Then:

cultural exchange is an important part of hosting an au pair

What is an au pair? Don’t Forget The Cross-Cultural Part Of The Program

Whether an au pair is a good fit for your family isn’t the only thing to consider.

You see, hosting an au pair is much more than having a nanny or hiring childcare.

If you decide to get an au pair, you’ll be inviting someone from another culture to be a part of your family.

For a lotta folks, this is an exciting part of the program that has its own benefits.

For example, this means you’ll get to:

  • Learn about another country
  • Get to know a different cultural perspective
  • Learn some of their language
  • Re-discover your own country by explaining it to your au pair

….and more.

Now for some, this might sound like fun. But if this all sounds like a headache though…

Having an Au pair might not be the right fight for you.

Think carefully about this. Consider all the aspects of having an au pair. That way you can make a decision that’s right for you and your family.

Another part of figuring out whether to match with an au pair is understanding the role they play in your family.

And that brings us to our next topic:

what does an au pair do: she might dance with your kids

What Does An Au Pair Do? (Hint: MORE Than Just Watch Your Kids)

Au pairs don’t just look after the kids. They help out the host family in a bunch of other ways!

They’ll play MANY roles: caregiver, nanny, home chef, emotional comforter, and exchange student.

In other words?

Hosting an au pair is a more intense experience than hiring a babysitter or nanny.

For us, it’s felt more like a partnership than an employer-employee relationship.

For example:

As a host family, you control setting the au pair’s schedule (and other preferences for his or her role).

And since your au pair will be living with you, you’ll see them at all hours of the day. This makes for a VERY different relationship compared to daycare teachers, who you only see during the day.

That’s why it’s so important to communicate expectations with your au pair. Whether it’s about their expected schedule or your family’s routines, you and your au pair need to be on the same page.

Here’s why:

Your au pair may have certain preferences. For example, he may not want to work evenings or weekends, or he may be ok with that. Either way, it’s best to communicate expectations before you match.

Plus…

Broadly speaking, the au program has requirements for both host families and au pairs. Within those guidelines, you can set expectations for your au pair.

In short, having an au pair can be a flexible and affordable childcare option. You’ll find a childcare solution, partner, and create an international bond that lasts a lifetime.

And that’s a key part of the program that makes it different than having a nanny.

In fact…

What is an au pair? An Au Pair Is More Than A Nanny

The relationship you’ll have with your au pair will be very different than with a nanny.

With a nanny, the relationship is more like an employer-employee one.

But since an au pair lives with you, you’ll have a more familial relationship with him or her.

That’s why it’s good to do some planning before your au pair arrives around this expectation.

One way to plan for this is to write a family handbook for your au pair. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Ours was 10 pages. We wrote about our family, how we spend our time, our expectations for our au pair, and some basic family rules.

This handbook turned out to be a useful tool in our au pair interview and selection process.

We were able to communicate our expectations, and provide them in writing after our au pair interviews.

And that gets at the crux of the difference between an au pair and a nanny:

Having an au pair vs. a nanny is like taking a road trip and navigating with a physical atlas road map vs. using your iPhone to navigate with Google maps.

Both will get you there, but you’re gonna have two VERY different experiences using them to navigate.

Like a nanny, a road map is a reliable source of information to refer to at certain points. You might even have to pull over to refer to your road map, but it’s not with you every second. This is not unlike managing an employer relationship with a nanny: you see them during the day, but they’re not living with you.

Compare this to the experience you have with Google maps.

Like an au pair living under your roof though, Google maps is always there…

It’s talking to you through your smartphone. You and google maps are one. It knows your location. It knows where you are going. And it’s there to help you get there.

It’s a more personal relationship, and it’s one built on trust (that when you get off track, the Google maps will get you back).

While the analogy might seem a bit silly, the traditional road map is more like a nanny, and the Google maps more like an au pair.

They’ll both get you to your final destination (i.e. having childcare) … but don’t think for a minute that the two experiences are even going to be remotely similar!

If you’re more of a google maps (i.e. au pair) style person, then keep reading to find out how to get an au pair.

How Can You Get An Au Pair?

There’s so much info out there on how to find an au pair – it can drown out more practical advice.

The process is simple, but it ain’t easy.

Here’s the short version of the process (wish we’d had this when we started):

  1. Pick an agency (or agencies)
  2. Submit applications
  3. Interview with agency
  4. Connect with au pairs on agency platforms
  5. Interview au pairs
  6. Make offers
  7. Match

You want to find an au pair that is suitable for your family, but you also don’t want the process to take forever.

The good news is you don’t have to go out and find one completely without any help.

If you want to hire an Au Pair in the US, you’ll need to work with an agency (and there are many!).

These are nonprofit organizations that support the program in country through matching, orientation, and throughout the program year.

There are all sorts of info on which agencies are great. And all have positive things about them, and negative.

Think of it like buying a car…

If you ask your friends and family for advice on buying a car, everybody’s going to have an opinion.

After all, there’s a lot of factors to consider. No two families are the same. And no two au pairs are the same! For example, each family has different practical needs for transportation and personal preferences.

And just like no one car is perfect for EVERYONE, no one particular agency is going to be the right for every family.

You’re going to kinda have to shop around among all the agencies out there.

You might need to apply to more than one, do a few interviews with coordinators (part of the agency process), and even interview a few prospective au pairs…

Before you fight the right fit for you.

In our case, it took trying about three different agencies before we got a sense of their different styles and the types of au pairs that were drawn to that particular agency.

Once we figured out which agency we liked, we connected to a bunch of au pairs, set up interviews, and worked on finding a great match.

Once you find an agency that’ll be a good fit, then you can focus on finding an au pair!

Finding A Great Match Is Key

You’re on a mission to find an awesome au pair and you’re still figuring out how you can find a great match.

Earlier this year we were in the same place:

At the beginning of 2020, we started our hunt to find an au pair. We filled out applications, connected with au pairs, and even had some interviews.

We got our hopes up. Made some offers. And got rejected. This was very frustrating!

Every time a prospective au pair would say no, it felt like we were trying to play a straightforward game of checkers, only we needed to be playing chess.

We were moving linearly, advancing through the steps. But we quickly realized we needed a more sophisticated approach.

We needed to start playing chess instead.

What did this look like?

It meant going beyond just using the platforms to connect and try to find an au pair.

If you start to believe that, you might feel like giving up too soon.

We certainly felt all this. But…

We would never have found our wonderful au pair, Carol, if we’d given up.

So don’t limit yourself to thinking the only thing you need to do is sign up for a site to get matches and connections.

You’ve gotta take a holistic approach.

This includes:

  • Keeping your au pair coordinator updated on your search
  • Connecting with prospective au pairs on social media
  • Using marketing and sales ideas when connecting with au pairs
  • Differentiating yourself from other host families!

If you take a few simple steps to distinguish yourself from the crowd, you’ll make your search go faster and have that much better outcome!

This is super important…

au pair host family

Because They’ll Be Like Family

This is an important point we didn’t hear much about when we were thinking about getting an au pair.

But the reality is…

Your au pair is going to see you at your BEST and your WORST.

Unless you’ve got a huge mansion where they have a whole wing to themselves, you’re probably going to see them all the time.

And you’re going to have good times and tough times with them. You’ll laugh. You’ll be stressed out. You’ll bond.

And that’s why it’s so important to screen well so you can find a great match.

That way, you’ll bond with them faster and they’ll feel like another member of your family.

More To Know About Costs

Au pairs aren’t cheap, but neither is childcare in the U.S.

But depending on where you live, having an au pair might be cheaper.

Daycare for two kids for example can be OVER $3,000 in some big cities.

With an au pair, you pay a program fee that’s usually around $9,000.

This plus a living stipend, food, incidentals, and $500 towards a class puts it at about $1800 a month.

Still expensive!

But if you’re in the group where you’re priced out of local daycare, it might be a more affordable option in comparison.

Consider Your Family Values

When you’re thinking about what kind of relationship and expectations you want with your au pair, it’s helpful to begin by thinking about your family values.

  • What is your family dynamic like?
  • How do you spend your time?
  • How will you adapt to having another person in your household?

While your au pair will be from a country and culture that’s very different from your own….

That isn’t to say you can’t find an au pair that aligns with your family values.

How you spend your time, how you communicate, and how you want to work your schedules together are all things to consider.

Spend some time outlining your values and incorporate them into your conversations when you are talking to prospective au pairs.

That way you’ll be in a position to select an au pair that’ll mess with your family’s vibes.

Plus, you’ll make sure you’re not super disconnected from:

What’s In It For Them?

Remember:

Au pairs are people too!

They have hopes, dreams and, ideas for their year abroad.

And each individual has different reasons for wanting to be an au pair.

It may depend on what part of the world they’re from, their education and familial background, and what their own goals are…

But generally speaking:

The top things that appeal to many au pairs are:

  • The chance to travel
  • Opportunity to improve their English
  • Further their studies
  • Take a gap year
  • Care for kids

Notice a trend?

Yup, taking care of kids is last on the list.

Remember, when you hire an au pair you’re getting more than a babysitter.

It’s about cultural exchange and education too!

And for many, it’s the opportunity and experience of a lifetime.

So try to remember that as a host family, and see them as individuals rather than another childcare provider.

It’ll help you have realistic expectations and possibly avoid believing the myths we talk about next.

au pair visa application

15 Myths About Au Pairs – Debunked

If you’re considering getting an au pair you’ve probably got a TON of questions.

We certainly did. And when we were starting our search we didn’t know much about the program. We’d heard of people who had them, and heard a lot of stories about terrible au pair experiences.

Plus, with such a variety of info out there, we found a lot of beliefs that existed about that that then turned out not to be true for us.

So we’ve compiled a list below!

Au pairs only provide childcare. In fact, the program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and has several goals. These include cultural exchange and the opportunity for au pairs to further their education.

Au pairs are just using the program to… (travel, get a green card, etc.). Au Pairs have to apply – and pay fees- in their home countries. They go through an application process too.

Au pairs are ONLY for rich people. Now sure, that isn’t to say hosting an au pair is exactly cheap. But it is a myth to think that they’re only for rich people. You do pay program fees, a stipend, and provide room and board to your au pair. It’ll depend on how the math plays out, but it could be more economical than daycare.

The program is just a cheaper option than getting a nanny. Again, the au pair program is about a whole lot more than simply childcare. It’s about childcare, cultural exchange, AND education.

All au pairs out there want a luxurious experience. Some do, but you can screen out for them if you’re not rich. There are some physical requirements, as the au pair must have her (or his) own room and you provide room and board, but you don’t have to set them up to live in luxury.

If you don’t have a mansion (or giant house), hosting an au pair isn’t going to be feasible. Your au pair has to have her (or his) own room with basic furnishings, but you don’t have to own a mansion!

Your au pair needs a million different skills. We see this a lot when people talk about what they want/are looking for with an au pair. They want their au pair to do EVERYTHING. But that’s not realistic. Remember that they are humans too. A great match will get your farther than someone who claims they can do it all. And that isn’t to say that it’s not helpful to find someone who can wear several different hats.

Au pairs are basically a more affordable nanny. An au pair is NOT a Nanny. If you’ve jumped to this section, check out the section we wrote about this above.

The au pair is there to do whatever you want/need them to do. Don’t believe this for a minute! You can control the schedule (but communicate)

It’s going to be a breeze finding an au pair. You apply with matching agencies and interview prospective au pairs.

“I’m going to be able to get an au pair by X date.” Currently, there is a restriction on letting new Au Pairs into the U.S.

“All I have to do is find a match through an agency.” A lot of folks use Facebook groups to connect with matches.

I can pretty much pick what country/part of the world I’d like an au pair from.” Au Pairs come to the U.S. from all over the world.

Having an au pair won’t be that different from having a live-in nanny. Au Pairs become like members of your family

You pick your au pair. This is false. Yes, you hold a lotta control in the process of finding your au pair. But your au pair must also choose you. Your au pair ALSO picks You. That’s why they call it a “match.”

Conclusion

In this post, we’ve talked about what an au pair is, what the program is about, and how you can know if hosting an au pair would be a good fit for your family (or not).

In short:

An au pair is so much more than just a “nanny!” They live with you through the ups and downs, the laughs and the cries, the good times, and the bad.

If you find a great au pair match, he or she can end up feeling like family!

And if you do a good job and put in the hard work with your search, you can find a good match that’ll make your time with your au pair awesome.

If you’re interested in reading more on the subject, check out the articles below:

References For Further Reading (13 Articles):

1: What Are Au Pairs And How Do They Save You Money

2: Is Hosting An Au Pair Right For Your Family

3: Childcare Au Pairs

4: Au Pair Meaning

5: Au Pair Cost

6: Best Au Pair Agencies

7: IRS Tax Guidance On Au Pairs

8: Being An Au Pair

9: Hiring An Au Pair

10: Is An Au Pair Right For Your Family?

11: What Is An Au Pair?

12: Become An Au Pair

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