As a parent, one of the toughest and more important decisions you can make is finding the right childcare solution for your little ones and young teens. Babysitters are a good option for a weekend or a night out, but most babysitters tend to be young (in some cases, they are not much older than the children they are babysitting) and relatively untrained. Daycare centers are another option, particularly for parents who have regular work and activity schedules, but they offer little flexibility, are geared toward younger children, and they can become cost-prohibitive quickly if more than one child is in daycare.
Many parents are also concerned than babysitters and daycare workers are not as invested in the care of infants and very young children, whether due to lack of training or because they have other children to attend to, so parents find themselves looking for someone who can meet their children’s needs as well as provide a level of reassurance to everyone in the household that the children are in good hands.
Since some of the most common childcare options leave many parents wanting more out of the childcare experience, parents turn to services or individuals who can offer at-home care for their children while providing the social, physical, and intellectual stimulation children need to thrive. Au pairs and nannies can both be good options, but what factors should parents consider when evaluating the option of au pair vs. nanny?
This post will review the cost of childcare for each option, the types of services a family can expect, and the benefits and drawbacks of au pairs as well as nannies.
First, it is helpful to understand exactly what an au pair is (and is not). The term au pair comes from French, and it means at par, or equal to. In other words, an au pair is not an employee or a domestic worker, but rather a temporary member of her host family with a status that is similar to that of the other family members.
Au pairs are further understood to be young people, at least 18 years old but no more than 26 years old, who leaves her home country to live with a family in another country. As part of the arrangement between the au pair and the host family, the au pair provides childcare and other basic services in exchange for room, board, and a weekly stipend or allowance. Au pairs are expected to have completed about 32 hours of specialized training in child safety and child development.
In the United States, au pair programs and placement services are monitored by the U.S. Department of State, and the arrangement between the au pair and the host family is considered part of a broader, regulated cultural exchange program. The host family of an au pair in America provides the young person an opportunity to improve their English language skills (note that most au pair programs require the au pair to be able to communicate effectively in their host’s language) while incorporating the au pair as part of their family for many of their vacations, events, and meals, through the host family and the au pair can expect to have time apart. Au pairs are expected to have a private room as well as free time for socializing or studying, and they can live and work as au pairs in the U.S. for anywhere from three months to two years. While in the U.S., many au pairs are required to complete university coursework as part of their ongoing education and cultural exchange.
A number of au pair agencies and placement services exist across multiple continents, all with varying laws about required training, fees, services provided, and visas or documentation that is required for work in and travel to the host country. Au pair agencies facilitate placement of au pairs from different countries to host families, and the U.S. State Department has designated 12 to 15 sponsoring au pair agencies, including Cultural Care Au Pair and American Cultural Exchange/Go Au Pair. These agencies are authorized to serve as intermediaries for au pair placement in compliance with the foreign and domestic regulations. In the U.S., these agencies may also conduct background screenings and verify that the foreign au pair has met all of the training requirements to serve as an au pair in the United States.
When working with reputable agencies, the host family can expect to pay anywhere from $7,500 to a little over $10,000 in application fees and program fees. These fees go toward the arrival expenses of the au pair, medical and other insurances, training and compliance verification and documentation, and fees to the agency for their placement and host family matching services.
Weekly au pair costs are typically estimated at about $350 per week, but this can be variable based on the number of children, the expertise level of the au pair, and the family’s own spending patterns for meals, travel, and lodging. The minimum allowance or weekly stipend for an au pair to use for her own personal expenses is just under $200 per week. The host family may have to pay an additional amount for car insurance expenses for a foreign national as well as contribute up to $500 toward the au pair’s credit hours and education. Since the au pair is part of the host family, dinners out, travel expenses for vacations and other costs are assumed by the host family on top of the weekly payments to the au pair.
Some programs allow au pairs to work fewer hours per week for a lower minimum weekly stipend, through the family may pay up to $1,000 toward the au pair’s education. This option is popular for parents with children who are in school. However, for families with children under two, au pairs must acquire an additional 200 hours of childcare training, and au pairs are not allowed to assume the sole responsibility of infants who are less than three months old. Families with children under age two, multiple children, or special needs children may pay more to find the right kind of professional au pair or to have an au pair who has more training and experience.
An au pair is not a live-in housekeeper or a household manager. Au pairs can perform a variety of tasks, including ferrying children back and forth to school and to various activities, light cooking and cleaning (especially as it relates to feeding and caring for the children), and overall babysitting, but specific duties vary according to the agreement or contract between the au pair and the host family. Au pairs can generally work up to 10 hours per day and up to 45 hours per week for a flat cost, and they are permitted at least one full day off each week as well as one full weekend each month.
Since the ostensible purpose of au pair programs is to provide an opportunity for cultural exchange, it will come as no surprise that one of the largest benefits of inviting an au pair into your home is exposing your children (and the rest of the family) to the language, food, and culture of another country. Most au pair agencies verify that the au pair has completed the necessary training for working with children, and the agencies also have the au pair complete basic psychiatric evaluations and background checks before matching them with a host family.
Many families enjoy having an extra member of the household who can integrate with the family’s normal routines, and they appreciate the symbiotic nature of providing room, board, and allowance for someone in exchange for receiving basic childcare services that are flexible based on the family’s needs and schedules.
When acquiring an au pair, the family is not hiring an employee. If the family is not equipped or ready to invite a young woman (although some au pairs are male, the overwhelming majority of au pairs are female) into their daily lives, they will find that the au pair is not a good fit.
Since au pairs come from a different country, families can expect to have an online interview, but they will not likely meet the au pair in person until she arrives in the States, and this will be well after the host family has paid in the initial application and program fees. Au pairs are typically expected to live with their host family for at least a year, and this concept is great as long as the au pair and the family have similar communication styles, agree to expected childcare duties and methods, and have personality traits that are acceptable to each other. Although no one wants to spend a year with someone who just does not mesh well with the family, many families and young children, in particular, are distressed when the au pair returns to her own country after fulfilling the terms of her contract.
In some cases, a program that supports cultural exchange may also find that there is a cultural disconnect, although au pairs generally try to adapt to the culture of the host country and host family. In addition, families with infants or with children who have special needs may find it difficult to find a qualified au pair with the appropriate skills, personality profile, or experience level to support the family.
Nannies are, first and foremost, in-home childcare providers employed by the parents or guardians. They may live with the family or live in their own homes, and they may work part-time or full-time. They provide all the services that an au pair provides, but nannies typically come from the same country and live (or move to) the same area as the family they support. Unlike au pairs, nannies are employees who earn at least the minimum wage of the local economy, though they can be hired without all of the upfront fees associated with au pair agencies and State Department regulation. As employees, they can be let go if the family finds that the nanny is not a good fit, but many nannies work with families for years and develop long-standing relationships with the children and adults alike.
Nannies typically offer families a great deal of flexibility for the family in terms of work hours and duties, and they typically have some level of child development training and education, a valid U.S. driver’s license, and safety certifications.
Good nannies are in high demand across the United States, and in high-profile areas like New York City or other big cities, finding a good nanny can be as time-consuming as searching for and buying a new home. Short of receiving a personal reference, your best bet in finding a nanny who fits the needs of your household is by working with an agency like Care As One that specializes in childcare and/or home health care services. Validating references, facilitating interviews, assisting with onboarding, and providing a database of nanny profiles is part of what you can expect from a full-service placement agency.
A good nanny is an investment in the safety and well-being of all members of the household, especially the youngest ones, but many assume that the weekly cost of having a nanny is much more than full-time daycare. In fact, for families with multiple children, special needs children, or infants, hiring a nanny may be as cost-effective as the less flexible option of daycare. So when you ask, “How much is a nanny?”, you must consider all that a nanny can provide.
Nannies earn at least the local minimum wage, but the average hourly wage for a nanny ranges from the average of $19 per hour to $25 or more per hour, and the rate of pay is highly dependent on location, the education and experience of the nanny, and the needs of the family. Nannies are paid on a weekly or monthly basis, although the specific terms will be laid out in the contract between the nanny and the family.
Although childcare costs for daycares are on the rise, nanny costs are relatively stable. Like any other employee, nannies may also require consideration for paid time off, insurance benefits, and hours and responsibilities that are spelled out in a nanny contract.
Nannies are not programmatically restricted in the number of hours they can provide, and qualified nannies can work with children of all ages and need levels. Unlike au pairs or babysitters, nannies are generally expected to create daily schedules for children that include some combination of educational opportunities, social outings, and physical activity. They can drive the children to school and various appointments and activities, and many nannies specialize in providing infant care.
In addition to the scope of their childcare responsibilities, nannies may also agree to take on housework, shopping, and cooking tasks for the family. Some families also appreciate that a nanny can be any age, and some parents prefer to work with more mature individuals, including those have raised their own children.
A nanny’s primary job is ensuring the safety and intellectual, physical, and emotional well-being of the children in her care. Unlike au pairs, nannies have chosen childcare as a profession, and they often have degrees or advanced training in early childhood development or education. This level of investment helps ensure that the children are in the experienced, capable hands of a nanny when their parents are not available.
Nannies are an investment, so it is important for the family to make sure the nanny is a good fit for the parents as well as the kids. Since nannies are employees, they can be let go if needed. In addition, they are not limited to the types of children they can provide care for, and they can work with the same family for years while taking on full responsibility for the children for days or weeks when the parents are away.
A nanny’s credentials and references are generally easier for American families to assess, and they generally have their own lives so that families are not the nanny’s only social outlet. Many nannies can offer a sort of co-parenting support in childhood development as well as in helping the children cope with stressful situations. For this reason, nannies can often be a lifesaver for new parents who appreciate working with someone who has done it all before.
The nanny is an employee rather than a temporary family member, and the parents will need to make sure they managing salary and taxes as well as paid time off and vacation schedules. If the parents are not working with a reputable placement agency, they may also have to conduct their own background checks. Like au pairs or babysitters, nannies do not come with a backup plan when they are sick or unable to work.
The biggest drawback of hiring a nanny is the same as it would be with any other childcare provider, namely, potential conflicts with childcare philosophies. This can usually be resolved with good communication, but the pre-screening and vetting process provided by companies like Care As One can limit the chance that this will happen.