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What Is the Difference Between an Au Pair and a Nanny?

How to Choose Whether a Nanny or Au Pair Is a Better Fit For Your Family

Happy young Asian mother and cute little biracial daughter lying on warm wooden floor in living room painting together, millennial ethnic mom or nanny relax with small Vietnamese girl child drawing

Parenthood is a beautiful thing — and having somebody watch your kids for a few hours so you can work, run errands, or, you know, catch a few hours of uninterrupted sleep is even more beautiful. Maybe you are a new parent interested in learning all your options. Maybe your kids are older and just need after-school supervision. Or, maybe you don't want your kids in the same childcare situation as before the coronavirus, and are looking for something with less exposure to germs.

No matter what your reason is, hiring an au pair or a nanny might be the right decision for your family!. But, instead of waiting for the perfect person to fly to your house on an umbrella like Mary Poppins, it's important to learn about your options instead. Keep reading to learn about a few key differences between an au pair and a nanny, so you can find the right one for your family.

What is an au pair?

No, "au pair" is not just a fancy French word for "nanny." The phrase actually translates to "on a par" or "equal to" and refers to someone from a foreign country who is considered part of his or her host family, as opposed to just an employee. Think of an au pair like a foreign exchange student, who will stay with the U.S. host family for a minimum of 12 months in order to earn money while they attend school. According to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, au pairs are between 18 and 26 years old, must complete at least six hours of academic credit at an accredited U.S. post-secondary educational institution while living with you. They will also be fully vetted and interviewed by an organisational representative from an approved sponsor chosen by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Additionally, au pairs have some extra restrictions regarding caring for babies under two years old. For example, an au pair can't be placed with your family until your baby is at least 3 months old (unless you are planning on being in the room the entire time). They also can't be placed with children under two years old without having 200 hours of documented infant childcare experience. And if your family has a child with special needs, the au pair can't be placed with you unless he or she has identified prior experience, skills, or training in the care of special needs children, and the family has acknowledged that training in writing.

What is a nanny?

According to the International Nanny Association (INA), a nanny is a childcare specialist of at least 18 years old, hired by a family to provide expert care and personal attention to the children. Depending on your needs, your nanny can work full-time or part-time, take care of infants, help children develop healthy sleep schedules, and take care of the children's basic needs and social outings according to your agreed upon preferences. Often, a nanny will also have specialisations, certifications, extensive experience, and/or a college degree in early childhood education.

How many hours do nannies and au pairs typically work?

The au pair program has strict requirements set by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and will provide up to 10 hours a day or 45 hours a week of childcare. You can also get an EduCare Au Pair to take care of your children before and after school, but they can only work a maximum of 30 hours per week and have some other rules as well. You also must give an au pair one weekend off each month, from Friday evening to Monday morning, and provide a minimum of two weeks paid holiday annually.

On the other hand, a nanny will work 40 to 60 hours a week, with two scheduled days off. The INA also states that most nannies receive employee benefits, such as two weeks of paid holiday annually, paid holidays off, paid sick days, health insurance or a percentage of their health insurance premium paid, and an annual bonus, among other perks.

Do nannies and au pairs perform other tasks besides childcare?

Most of the time, your au pair will not do any additional tasks, besides childcare and light chores related to the kids (such as cleaning their used dishes or doing their laundry). They are here to experience American culture, take classes, and take care of your children only. However, if you hire a nanny, you can negotiate that they do certain household chores that aren't directly related to the kids, such as sweeping, vacuuming, or doing all the dishes.

How much do nannies and au pairs charge?

If you hire an au pair, the details are worked out with the help of the sponsor program. Since the host family is required to provide meals and a place to live, the salary is less. According to InterExchange, a nonprofit international exchange organisation, an au pair is paid a minimum weekly stipend of $195.75 per week and up to $500 per year for educational costs. You will also have to pay a fee to the sponsorship program that helps arrange the au pair, which can vary. Au Pair USA, for example, charges $8,990, which includes international travel for the au pair, training, monthly check-ins, and accident and sickness insurance among other things.

The price of a nanny can vary depending on where you live, but lists the average hourly pay for nannies in 2020 as ranging from $14.25 an hour to $22.55 an hour. If they work the same 45 hours a week, this adds up to between $641.25 and $1,014.75 per week. Keep in mind that nannies with more experience, or who are watching more than one child, will charge a higher hourly rate. Also, you will have to pay employee taxes for a nanny, but not for an au pair.

Do they have to live with you?

Yes, for an au pair, you are required to provide a private room as well as three meals a day as part of the agreement you sign with the sponsorship organisation. If you aren't comfortable with this or can't accommodate someone in your home, choose to hire a nanny. When looking for the right nanny, you can specify if you want someone who will live with you or not.

There are pros and cons to both nannies and au pairs, especially during this time of a global pandemic. If your child's caregiver lives with you, it may help minimize your family's exposure to germs. On the other hand, host families are encouraged to treat their au pair like a member of the family, inviting them to meals, family events, and holidays, which can be challenging if you prefer alone time.

How do I find one for my family?

To hire an au pair, you must go through a sponsor program approved by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Once you find one, you can talk to them to learn more about host family requirements, the selection process, payments, and other details.

To hire a nanny, you can use a service, such as or, where you can post the details of who you are looking for and receive applications from vetted nannies. You can specify what qualifications and experience you prefer, as well as if you need someone who can work with a child who has special needs, or an infant. Another option is simply to ask around: friend referrals are priceless!

Image Source: Getty / fizkes
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