Au pair vs nanny? What’s the difference?
And how do you decide which is best for you?
If you’re trying to figure out the differences between the two and you’re mystified:
We get it. You’re not alone. We were there too once.
A good place to start is with the au pair program’s sponsor, the U.S. Department of State.
After that? There’s a TON to learn…
So in this post, we unpack 25 differences between an au pair vs a nanny.
We’ve had both an au pair and a nanny, so we can help!
For example, there are pros and cons of an au pair vs a nanny, so it’s important to do your research and figure out which is right for you.
And you can learn the basics if you head to our post What Is An Au Pair?
With that said…
Let’s get started by talking about the differences between the two.
Differences Between An Au Pair Vs Nanny
1. Au Pairs Live With You, Nannies (Usually) Don’t
It’s the beginning of the day and you’re running late.
Your nanny calls and she’s going to be late too!
With an au pair, you never have to worry about them getting stuck in traffic on their way to your house for work!
Because they live with you.
This is extremely helpful for many reasons:
- It cuts down on your commute time
- It makes your childcare provider (au pair)’s life easier
- It makes the mornings go smoother
Simply put, that’s an awesome benefit!
2. You Provide Room and Board for Au Pairs, But Not Nannies
Now in this post, we’re NOT talking about live-in nannies. We’ve never had a live-in nanny, so we can’t speak from personal experience.
But we did have an au pair two years ago, and we’re doing a nanny share this year.
While our au pair lived with us for about a year, our nanny does not. And that’s a BIG difference between au pairs in nannies.
When our au pair lived with us, we had a lot more logistical things to think about. Things like food, transportation, bathroom sharing, and more.
Contrast this with our nanny: She just shows up for work every day.
So far, we’re loving it! But we also loved our au pair experience while it lasted. There are pros and cons to both situations.
3. Au Pairs Come From Overseas on J1 Visas, but Nannies Are Hired Locally
Au pairs are usually between the ages of 18 and 26 and come to the U.S. on a J-1 visa.
The Department of State explains the J-1 visa as follows:
“Exchange visitor (J) visas are nonimmigrant visas for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States.”U.S. Department of State
Check out this video to learn more about this type of visa:
This type of visa allows au pairs to work in exchange for room and board with the host family.
On the other hand:
nannies are, on average, a bit older, and, it’s more common they are hired from the local labor market. They might have families of their own.
In our experience, many of the nanny candidates we interviewed were working professionals who prefer to work as a nanny rather than at a daycare center.
Nothing wrong with that!
Since it’s a new experience for au pairs to come to America, they will have a lot of things to learn and figure out!
Americans have a different way of life – so your au pair will have to learn how things work in America.
They’ll need help navigating the day-to-day, figuring out things like:
- setting up a bank account
- getting registered for a social security number
- getting a driver’s license
- making a plan in case your au pair can’t drive
- navigating scheduling doctor’s appointments
They’ll be starting from scratch in a new culture, and they might not have ever been immersed in another culture.
So be patient! Inow that you’ll have to show them the ropes more than you would with a nanny!
There is an upside to this for you thought…
5. Au Pairs Will Want To Go Places In Their Free Time
If you have a car…
They’ll want to use it!
Now, if you don’t have a car this won’t be an option, so you can skip ahead…
But if you do have a car, this means you’ll have to add them to your insurance policy! And exactly how much this cost is going to depend on your insurance carrier, your vehicles, and where you live.
You’ll also need to provide driver training in terms of your own rules and help them learn the laws of the road before they drive.
You’ll also have to help them navigate your local and state laws for international driver’s licenses, and that will vary from state to state!
6. You’ll Have To Add Your Au Pair To Your Car Insurance
The responsibility of covering the au pair on your car insurance is yours.
There are some steps that you need to take so that you don’t get into any trouble…
Here are some tips for adding an au pair to your car insurance:
- Find the au pair option on your insurance provider’s website
- Make sure your au pair is listed as a driver on your policy
- Maintain records of any time the au pair drove the vehicle
- Report any accidents, collisions, or tickets involving their driving
- Make sure your au pair understands where insurance documentation is
- Review what to do in an accident with your au pair
It’ll also require some research on your part to figure out exactly how to add your au pair to your car insurance.
When we had an au pair we ended up having to GEICO to figure it out.
7. It’s A Different Kind Of Relationship
You’ll have a different relationship with an au pair vs a nanny.
Au pairs are more like friends or roommates who live with you and provide childcare, but nannies are more like employees who show up for work every day.
Now, that isn’t to say that over time, you might become friends with your nanny!
But it’s still different…
Nannies have more of an employer-employee type of relationship with the family that they work for, while au pairs feel more like co-parenting childcare partners living in your home.
Because they live with you, that’s why you’ll want to think seriously about what makes a good au pair so you can find an au pair with the qualities that will match your personality and lifestyle best.
By being thorough in your interviewing and screening, you’ll reduce the chance you have to go through the au pair rematch process.
8. Au Pairs Are Not U.S. Citizens (But Nannies Might Be)
Your au pair is not a U.S. citizen, so you’ll have to help them figure out how to live in America.
While au pairs aren’t going to qualify for any benefits or assistance, the structure of the program means they shouldn’t have to.
You provide them with room, board, and a living stipend, and the program provides insurance.
They will, however, need to get a social security number. They’ll need this to be able to get a driver’s license in many states out there.
That was our experience with our au pair!
She had an international driver’s license and was well trained (and a VERY experienced driver in Brazil), but it did take her a long time to get a social security number and a driver’s license.
So know that this is another aspect of American life you’ll have to help your au pair navigate, and plan ahead!
9. Au Pairs Will Continue Their Education
Au pairs must enroll in a university here and take classes.
The au pair program offers them a chance to study and work simultaneously.
This is a part of the program that makes it appealing to a lot of young folks!
They get to do some additional studying without having to commit to a full-time academic program or jump through the hurdles to get into one in the U.S.
10. Au Pairs Aren’t Just There For Childcare
The au pair program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, so it’s not just about providing childcare, it’s about cultural exchange too!
Hosting an au pair is an opportunity for host families to learn more about another culture, and for the au pairs to learn more about American culture.
While you might learn about another culture if your Nanny has a different cultural background than your own…
That the au pair program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and specifically has a cross-cultural focus, means that everyone will be thinking about it from the get-go.
11. You’ll Stay In Touch With Your Au Pair When He (or She) Goes Home
One of the amazing benefits of hosting an au pair is the opportunity to build a friendship for life between your family and your au pair.
From WhatsApp to social media and international video calls, it’s never been easier to keep in touch from afar!
Even if you disagree with your au pair on everything, and you won’t, it’s still incredible for your kids to keep in touch with him or her and keep learning about their home country for years after.
Our au pair extended her second year to go to warmer weather in California, and we still FaceTime with her.
Our 4-year-old knows all about Brazil and even picked up how to count to 10 in Portuguese from her.
12. Au Pairs Are Younger On Average Than Nannies
One of the biggest differences – in our experience- between au pairs and nannies is the average age.
In our experience, nannies are, on average, older.
This isn’t a bad thing! It’s something to be aware of and think about as you conduct your search.
With age differences can come different perspectives, preferences, childcare norms, and levels of maturity.
Nannies tend to be working professionals looking for regular hours, while an au pair has other goals to consider beyond just taking care of the kids.
13. Au Pairs Give You Flexibility You Wouldn’t Have Otherwise
When you’re a parent with children, your schedule can change from one day to the next.
And if you work, juggling the demands of parenting can be a tough challenge.
Plus, the demands are changing as your children get older. So it’s beneficial to have a childcare solution that can be adaptable to the shifting demands placed on you.
This is where the flexibility of an au pair can be a big advantage over other types of childcare, like nannies.
Since n au pair lives with you and becomes part of your family, they’ll understand you so much better than a nanny ever wood.
If your schedule changes, theirs can too.
An au pair can be very flexible in their schedule and are often able to help out on short notice. On the other hand, nannies typically have a schedule they adhere to.
There are great things about both!
14. Au Pairs are Household Members But Nannies Are Community Members
Have you ever traveled to a town or city where you felt at home?
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
For a lot of folks that could be Europe or New York City or some other big city on the coasts. For others, it might be the country or some rural area.
Now, think about when you had to spend time somewhere you weren’t excited to be.
That gets on your nerves and annoys you like fingernails scraping a chalkboard.
Ever thought about the difference?
It’s the sense of community. You feel part of something. And so it is with hosting an au pair vs. a nanny.
An au pair is more likely to be looking for a community and experience, but a nanny is looking for employment and probably has a community of his or her own.
Plus, while a nanny will have a life outside of work, an au pair will become part of your family.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both, so consider both sides when thinking about what works best for you.
15. Having The Au Pair Experience vs. Being A Nanny’s Employer
The ancient philosopher Heraclitus is supposed to have said:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
And similarly the poet John Keats said:
“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced”
And whether you choose an au pair vs. a nanny…
So it will be with childcare.
No two experiences are ever going to be the same, and whoever you choose won’t fully realize the experience of being your au pair or nanny until they are doing it.
This brings us to our main point:
And you have to think about this difference at the fundamental level when doing your “hiring” for your au pair or nanny.
When looking for an au pair, your focus should be thinking about finding a match with someone who is looking for the au pair experience.
And if looking for a nanny? Think about what type of experience you and your nanny will have in an employer-employee relationship…
‘cause at the end of the day, that’s what it’ll be. And because of that, you’ll want to make the most of it, so take the time to reflect on which experience will be a better fit.
16. Au Pairs Usually Work A Year, and Nannies Usually Longer
Au pairs and nannies are different because of how long they work for a family.
Au pairs usually work for one year…
But nannies might work for a family for a longer time or a shorter time. It depends on the family and the nanny.
Consider, for example, the following hypothetical year-long calendar for an au pair:
January – Arrives in the United States and begins working
February – Participates in cultural exchange events and gets settled in.
March – Meets up with local au pair coordinator and plans social events with other au pairs.
April – Celebrates holidays with the host family.
May – Starts looking for a course to take (required) and settles into routine working with family.
June – Travels within the United States
July – Picks a course to take and registers or starts working to complete it.
August – Enjoys some vacation time, perhaps visiting NYC or Washington D.C.
September – Continues working with the host family and begins planning for future travels
October – Reflects on the au pair experience and shares stories with friends and family
November – Begins wrapping up duties and thinking about the transition home
December – Enjoys the holiday season with the host family and prepares to say goodbye
January – Says goodbye to host family and returns to home country
Please note that this is just an example and au pair experiences may vary!
17. Au Pairs Will Have A Different Schedule Than A Nanny
Because they live with you, an au pair can end up having a different schedule.
Here is an example of a daily schedule for an au pair:
6:00 AM – Wake up and get ready for the day
7:00 AM – Prepare breakfast for the children
8:00 AM – Take the children to school or other activities
12:00 PM – Pick up the children from school and help with lunch
1:00 PM – Supervise outdoor play or indoor activities
4:00 PM – Helps with homework and prepares dinner
5:30 PM – Eat dinner as a family
6:30 PM – Put the children to bed
7:00 PM – Free time or complete any remaining tasks for the day
10:00 PM – Lights out and go to sleep
Please note that this is just an example and au pair schedules may vary.
Contrast this with a sample schedule for a nanny, which might look like this:
7:00 AM – Arrive at the family’s home and help the children get dressed and ready for the day
8:00 AM – Prepare breakfast for the children
9:00 AM – Take the children to a nearby park or engage in other age-appropriate activities
12:00 PM – Prepare lunch for the children and eat together
1:00 PM – Assist with naptime for younger children or quiet time for older children
3:00 PM – Resume activities or errands as needed 5:00 PM – Begin preparing dinner for the family
6:00 PM – Eat dinner as a family
7:00 PM – Assist with bedtime routines for the children
8:00 PM – Complete any remaining tasks for the day and prepare for the next day
9:00 PM – Depart the family’s home
Please note that this is just an example and nanny schedules may vary.
18. You’ll See Au Pairs On The Weekend
Au pairs are typically considered part of the host family and may spend their free time together on weekends.
Nannies, on the other hand, are typically not considered part of the host family and will likely have their own separate plans on weekends.
Host families may spend quality time with their au pair on the weekends, such as going on trips or doing activities together, but will probably not do the same with their nanny.
Plus, your au pair may want to travel on their own – and they may want to use your car to do it. Or these days with people getting back to more travel, they may be flying off to some exciting location!
Regardless of how much travel your au pair does, you’ll probably feel a sense of responsibility for his or her well-being and safety.
But if you have a nanny? You won’t think about what they’re doing on the weekend at all.
19. Hosting An Au Pair Will Feel Like Having Another Family Member
Hosting an au pair in your home can often feel like you’ve added a new family member to your family.
And while it’s a unique and exciting experience that can add a lot of laughter and fun, that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges.
You’ll get to share your meals, daily life, and experiences with your au pair – as if they were your child.
That also means:
You’ll have another person to take care of and watch out for! Granted taking care of a 20-something-year-old student is very different that caring for a young child, but it’s still another person living with you.
But at the end of the day? It’s a great way to expand your family’s horizons and make memories together!
20. You’ll Feel More Involved In Your Au Pair’s Social Life
Since your au pair will live with you, you’ll likely end up being more involved in your au pair’s social life.
That at least was the case for us!
Yuu’ll get to meet their friends, be invented to social events, and learn about their culture.
This can be a chance to learn about and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds.
But it can be overwhelming too! How much so could depend on whether your family is more introverted or extroverted.
You might have to adjust your expectations for what you considered “family time” in the past when it was just your family without the au pair…
But that’s all part of the process of becoming and experiencing being a host family – all a good thing.
21. You’ll Have to Think About Taxes With A Nanny
Hiring a nanny is an awesome way to go if you’re not interested in hosting an au pair..
But it does mean you’ll have to think about something you don’t have to worry about with an au pair:
When hiring a nanny, you’re considered an employer and that means you’ll have to figure out how to save and plan for payroll taxes – a hassle, but a necessary one!
So if you’re looking for childcare that’s not a daycare, without the headache of taxes, an au pair might be a better fit!
Because the Au Pair program is a U.S. Government program, you don’t have to pay taxes on the au pair’s stipend – a win-win!
So while you don’t have to worry about paying taxes with an au pair, you do have to worry about the next thing.
22. An Au Pair Will (Probably) Want To Use Your Car To Travel
Our au pair wanted to travel and see the U.S. and was a strong driver, so we agreed to let her take our car to visit Washington D.C.
She took off and we wished her a fun trip. Everything went fine until she got home and was telling us stories about her trip…
She had traveled with a friend of hers – another au pair- and in talking about their travels she casually mentioned they had “stopped in NYC” (!)…
New York City is at least a 4-hour drive from Washington D.C.
In hindsight it was clear:
She had taken our car to NYC without even telling us(!) – much less even asking us.
In the end, as frustrating as it was, we decided not to make a big deal of it.
Now, you may not agree with that. And that’s ok.
But for us, at that point, she had already done it, there wasn’t anything we felt we could do after the fact, and we didn’t want her to be made and quit as an au pair.
But lesson learned. At the end of the day, we could have communicated with her more clearly about our expectations for her travel.
We get it – hiring a local nanny can seem overwhelming…
But with some preparation and research, you’ve got this. It is possible to find the right fit for your family, but it’s going to take some flexibility.
First, you’ll want to think about your needs for a nanny.
Think about things like the hours you need him or her to work, the salary and any other benefits you can offer, and any other requirements you need.
Then you can begin your search.
Ask for recommendations from your social network. Check out social media groups (i.e. Facebook), and even consider placing an ad.
Then, you’ll interview your candidates. Once you’ve found a good fit, make a clear offer and even consider drafting a contract of some kind (note, this is not legal advice, do your due diligence, etc).
We’d also recommend doing some sort of background check.
Last, be clear about expectations around the start date, and use that time leading up to the start to establish a positive relationship with your new nanny.
24. Hosting An Au Pair Means Learning To Adjust To Different Cultural Norms
If you want to have an amazing cross-cultural experience and learn firsthand about different cultural norms without leaving your house, hosting an au pair is a fantastic way to do so.
And if that is something you are excited about, you’ll get to adapt to a variety of new cultural norms and differences.
In some countries, for example, it’s customary to take off your shoes when entering someone’s home. Another example is in some countries it’s common to greet people with a kiss on the cheek.
Your au pair might be used to doing all sorts of things different from your culture and customs.
Being open-minded and taking the time to ask questions to learn about your au pair’s culture and customs will help your au pair feel comfortable, and will help you build trust and a relationship with them.
25. The Unpleasant Surprises of an Au Pair or Nanny Quitting
Having an au pair or nanny quit suddenly is a stressful risk for going this route for childcare, but it’s not a cause for longer-term panic.
You will have to assess the situation and find short-term childcare to bridge the gap till you find someone new.
Once you’ve done that and caught your breath, think about why they quit and what that means for whether you want to re-match with another au pair, find a different nanny, or go with a childcare center or in-home daycare.
A couple of things to consider while you work on this:
Use your social network. Family and friends might be able to help you do some research or find local childcare options.
Talk with your employer- you might have to take leave or adjust your schedule (if possible) in the interim to be able to juggle your lack of childcare and work commitments.
Last – it’s important to talk or address any lingering issues with the au pair or nanny.
You might owe them unpaid wages or expenses.
At the end of the day, remember that with some planning and action finding a new caregiver is possible!
Before You Go…
As for us?
We’ve had both an au pair and a nanny. As with anything, there are pros and cons to each.
The important thing is to be aware of the differences so you can have realistic expectations…
And that’s what we’ve tried to help accomplish in this post!
If you’ve enjoyed this post and feel like an au pair might be a good fit, check out our post 10 Fantastic Reasons to hire an Au Pair in 2023.
If you found this post helpful in explaining an au pair vs nanny, drop us a comment and let us know: