Parents today have several options when it comes to hiring child care, such as nannies, day cares, or babysitters. An additional lesser-known alternative, hiring an au pair, can be a wonderful and very cost-effective solution for families with an extra bedroom.
Au pairs are young adults from another country who live with a host family and provide up to 45 hours per week of child care in exchange for the opportunity to experience life with an American family. The au pair program is a government-regulated international cultural exchange program. Au pairs travel to the United States through the J-1 Visitor Exchange Visa. Because they come from other countries, au pairs may provide a cultural education to your family in addition to the other services they provide. In some instances, au pairs may even help your child learn another language. In this way, au pairs often become much more than child care providers; rather, they become a role model and integral part of the family
Most host families hire au pairs through agencies, which charge families fees for their services. Some agencies have discounts for military families or repeat customers, so it can be helpful to explore those options when looking for an au pair. The State Department manages all au pair agencies in the United States and agencies are required to provide support to host families and au pairs throughout the their time in the program through monthly meetings. Au pairs must be between the ages of 18 and 26 years old. Different agencies have different processes for background and references checks. Both parents and au pairs are required to submit an in-depth application and interview via skype or video conference during what is called “the matching process.” More information regarding the au pair process is available on the State Department’s website.
Hiring an au pair comes with a specific set of guidelines. Au pairs must be provided with room and board. They must have a private bedroom and access to a bathroom. They are limited to working 45 hours a week and no more than 10 hours a day. Over the course of their year, they receive two weeks of paid vacation. Au pairs are paid a stipend that is set by the U.S. Department of Labor, $195.75. Additionally, au pairs must attend school, earning six credits or 72 hours of instruction at an accredited university or college. Host families also contribute $500 toward the cost of the required education. Host families pay between $8,000 and $9,000 to the sponsoring agency, with the total cost for hosting an au pair to be approximately $19,000 a year or approximately $8 or $9 an hour.
Although seemingly expensive at the start, au pairs are often less expensive and more dependable than full-time nannies or day care services in the long run. Their costs do not change with additional children. With an au pair, you can rely on a fixed number of hours for child care while still having flexibility, as the host family can determine the child care schedule on a week-by-week basis.
Although au pairs can be a wonderful addition to your family, there are a couple things you may consider before making the final decision. It is an exchange program, and host families must be prepared to approach the au pair relationship as much more than an employee and employer. Because au pairs are live-in, you may have to compromise on your family’s privacy, and it may take a while to adjust to any cultural differences. Additionally, the au pair program is only 12 months long, although it can be possible for au pairs to extend their visas for up to a year.