Deprecated: Hook custom_css_loaded is deprecated since version jetpack-13.5! Use WordPress Custom CSS instead. Jetpack no longer supports Custom CSS. Read the documentation to learn how to apply custom styles to your site: in /var/www/wp-includes/functions.php on line 6078
What is an au pair? – My Au Pair and Me

Abbie here. What is an au pair? Au pairs are like the best-kept childcare secret! I heard about au pairs from my friend Maddie. Maddie heard about au pairs from a friend of her Mother in Law’s at a party.

And even when Maddie got her au pair two years before me, I kept wondering how she could afford it. It seemed like something super fancy and out of my league. Then I looked into it and I found out it was so much less expensive than daycare for our three boys. It took me a while to get used to the idea (and to finally clean out the spare room in our house). Now my husband and I wish we had used au pairs as our childcare sooner.

Who is an Au Pair?

Au pairs are responsible young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 years old. Most are women, so we’ll generally use “she” to refer to au pairs, but some are men. I’ve heard the guys referred to as “bro-pairs” and are often hired for extra sports coaching or special needs.

Most au pairs speak English as a second language pretty well (they have to pass a test at their agency). Some au pairs come from English-speaking countries like Australia or Great Britain. However, I love the foreign exchange concept and ask the au pairs to help my kids learn at least some basic words in their language like counting and colors.

How Does Au Pair Childcare Work?

When I’m out and about, the quick answer I give is that an au pair is kind-of like a foreign exchange student nanny. But it’s much more than that. Their role is as a family member, a cross between a big sister (or brother) and a teacher.

Quick Definition of Au Pair

“Au pair” is a French word pronounced “oh pair” and literally translated means “on par” or “equal to.” Au pairs are considered family members, not servants.

Au Pair Family Life

The au pair comes and lives with you to provided childcare. In exchange, you provide room, board, and a weekly stipend (and a few other expenses). Au pairs eat meals with the family (yes, you have to feed them). They also might buy their own snacks and treats for themselves. Your Au pair must have their own private bedroom, but can share a bathroom. They aren’t allowed to live out, or to have second jobs.

She is a member of the family, so she can help with doing dishes after dinner if you cook. If she cooks dinner for the children, it’s generally not that big of a deal for her to cook enough for everyone. Mostly she needs not to be treated like a household servant.

The au pair cares for, plays with, and provides educational activities for your child or children. She can also help with general household tasks associated with their care. For example, she can do the children’s laundry and help keep their bedroom and playroom picked up. She is not responsible for your laundry or making your bed. She’s also not responsible for vacuuming the whole house, weeding the garden, walking the dog, cleaning the kitty litter box, etc. That doesn’t mean she might not choose to walk the dog when she goes out with the kids, but it’s not her responsibility.

The best thing is to have good communication up front and during your year together to set clear expectations and boundaries.

Au Pair Work Hours

Au pairs work up to 10 hours per day and 45 hours per week. This can even include weekends as long as they have one and a half consecutive days off per week. They must have one full weekend off per month (Friday evening through Sunday evening). Au pairs also get two weeks of paid vacation per year.

It is important to note that your au pairs hours do not have to be continuous. For example, you can schedule your au pair to work 2 hours in the morning to help your kids get ready for school. Then later that day she can work 8 hours when your children return home from school.

Another consideration is the educational requirement of the program. During the year they’ll need to earn 6 credits of classes. This is usually through a local community college or through a weekend away program. A 3-credit class at my local college is two days a week and she arranges to take them during her non-work hours.

Au Pairs and Infant Care

Au pairs can be responsible for caring for infants 3 months or older. Keep in mind that au pairs can help with infants younger than 3 months, they just can’t be fully responsible for them. In homes with children under two years of age au pairs are required to have at least 200 hours of documented infant care experience.


The main difference between nannies and au pairs are

  • Location
  • Employment
  • Price

Nanny vs Au Pair Location

Nannies are usually local (no visa required). You can meet them in person to interview them, watch how they interact with the children, etc. Although some nannies are live-in, most have their own homes and their own lives. For A nanny, you might get personal recommendations from someone you know or can contact. Au pair profiles have references of families and schools they’ve worked for in the past, but you won’t be able to contact them.

Nanny vs Au Pair Employment

Another difference is how long the nanny stays with you. With a nanny, you can have a trial period (which can be nice) or a nanny can stay with you for years (which is also nice). A nanny can also leave you at any time (which can leave you in a lurch). The au pair contract is for 12 months, and you can extend another 6, 9, or 12 months. And even when the au pair leaves, many families still keep in touch and visit each other after the contract has ended.

Nannies, being local, have their own lives and houses, and might be harder to find if you require evening or weekend hours. Au pairs also make friends with other au pairs and have activities outside of the family. But since they live with you it’s often easier to have a flexible schedule.

If something goes wrong with an au pair you can go into rematch, but that’s less likely to happen than a nanny flaking out on you. Rematches also happen less often because you and your au pair each have a monthly check-in with your local area coordinator. This coordinator helps to identify and solve problems when they’re small. There’s also a financial consideration to stick it out for a few more months until the contract is done.

Nanny vs Au Pair Price

The salary for au pairs is fixed regardless of if you have one child or four children. Some nannies have a flat price, but some nannies also have different rates for different numbers and ages of children. (Though nowhere near the per-child increase you’d see in daycare.)

According to an International Nanny Association (INA) salary survey in 2017, the average national hourly rate is $19.16/hour, which is more than $760 per week for 40 hours. Because a nanny is your employee, you also must pay taxes.

Au pairs live with the family and their room and board makes up a portion of their “pay”. The minimum au pair stipend is just under $200 per week for up to 45 hours of child care. If you add in all the agency and education fees, the cost is about $360 per week. If you add in extra costs such as phone bill and auto insurance, the cost come out to about $425 per week. The au pair is responsible for her own taxes, and the agency provides the au pair her own medical insurance.

We have all of the costs broken down in our post, How much does an au pair cost?


In the United States, there are 15 agencies licensed by the Department of State to coordinate the au pair exchange. They arrive on a J-type visa, which is different than either a work visa or a student visa, even though they do a bit of both. You must go through one of the licensed agencies in order to coordinate the visa.

Once you’ve picked some agencies, check to find out if you live within one hour’s drive of a local area coordinator or LAC. (LACs are sometimes called local counselor or LC, local childcare coordinator or LCC, etc.). If you live close to a city, you might be able to choose from a number of agencies. If you live in a more rural area, you might have only one agency to choose from.

Once you’ve chosen your agency and been interviewed by the local coordinator, then you can look through the list of au pairs on your agency’s website and start interviewing au pairs. Plan on approximately two months between signing up and your au pair arriving. Things can move slower or faster depending on your situation.

Sometimes families find their own au pair through word of mouth, au pair Facebook groups, etc. Some agencies will offer a discount for pre-matched au pairs. Most families just choose from the agency’s pre-approved list of au pairs.

Au pairs and host families sign a contract for 12 months, but they can extend for an additional 6, 9, or 12 months for a total of up to two years. You can also bring the same au pair back if she’s been out of the United States for two years and is still under 26 years old.

The Agency’s Responsibility

There are only 15 agencies licensed by the United States Department of State to grant au pairs J-1 type visas lasting 12 to 24 months.

You pay the agency a yearly fee of about $7,000 to $8,000. This fee goes towards research and background checks for au pairs, research and backgrounds check for you as the host family. The agency takes care of the paperwork between governments and provide training and orientation for new au pairs. They also pay the local coordinators to check in on and coordinate events for au pairs in a geographic area.

You also pay for the au pair to travel from the orientation week (usually in New York) to your house. (New York to Seattle is about $500). Eventually during the year you’ll pay up to $500 for her education. Au pairs are required to take a total of 6 credit hours over the year. (See How Much Does an Au Pair Cost?)


To be a host family, you have to meet a few qualifications:

  • The host parents or legal guardians (couples or single parents) have children at home from 3 months to 15 years old.
  • Either host parents/guardians or children must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
  • Parents/guardians must be fluent in English (and most au pairs want to live in English-speaking homes to improve their language skills).
  • Live within a one-hour drive of your agency’s local care coordinator.
  • Accept the au pair as a full member of the family and an exchange program participant. She should be included in family meals, outings, and activities.


How Much Does an Au Pair Cost?

You pay your au pair about $200 per week (just over $10,000 yearly) for childcare. She can work up to 10 hours per day, up to 45 hours per week. Her shift can including evenings and weekends, though she must have at least one weekend off per month. She’s allowed 10 days (two work weeks) of paid vacation. During the year, she needs to take 6 credits of classes and you pay the first $500 towards her tuition. (See How Much Does an Au Pair Cost?)

As the host family, you provide her (or him) with a private bedroom (not shared), food, and anything required to help her watch your children.

Au pairs usually come with an international driver’s license. However, she will likely be required by your car insurance company to get a state driver’s license. If you want her to drive children to and from events you’ll need to provide her with a car and add her to your car insurance policy. You’ll also need to provide a basic phone and phone plan so she or he can contact you or 911 in case of emergency. (See How Much Does an Au Pair Cost?)


Au pairs can be a very cost-effective child care option, especially for families with more than one child.

Au pairs:

  • Are young women and men age 18-26 that provide live-in childcare for children ages 3 months to 17 years. The au pair must be infant-certified for children 3 months to 2 years old.
  • Can work up to 10 hours per day, with a maximum of 45 hours per week.
  • Can work evenings and weekends, but must have at least one full weekend off per month (Friday night to Sunday night) and one and a half consecutive days off per week.
  • Get a total of 2 weeks of paid vacation per year at times mutually agreed upon by the au pair and host family.
  • Provide childcare and can do light housework that pertains to the children.
  • Stay with the host family for 12 months, and can extend for an additional 6, 9, or 12 months.
  • Must earn 6 education credits throughout the year (either community education classes, or a weekend program).

Host families:

  • Provide the au pair with a private bedroom, meals, and a weekly stipend (usually around $200/week).
  • Include the au pair whenever possible in family meals, holidays, outings, vacations, and other family events.
  • Match with au pairs through one of 15 agencies licensed by the United States Department of State, who arrive on a J-1 visa.
  • Provide the au pair with $500 towards the education requirement.
  • Provide the au pair with tools necessary for watching their child(ren) (phone, transportation, etc.)
  • Must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents fluent in spoken English.

If you’re thinking about getting an au pair, please join our friendly My Au Pair and Me Community on Facebook. We’re a group of parents supporting each other, whether we have au pairs, or are looking to host an au pair.

  Follow Us

Share This