If you're thinking about hiring an au pair, you know firsthand how much work is involved in raising kids. The pandemic switched life to extreme hard mode for working parents with young children. Hiring an au pair is one of the best ways to save on childcare and have more consistent and flexible help.
Thankfully, the pandemic is behind us. We ended up homeschooling our son for 18 months, from April 2020 until August 2021. It was exhausting at times with a wild 4-year-old and a very curious 1-year-old at home practically 24/7. They got into everything!
But the days and memories we've had with them are also precious. We've far surpassed the average amount of time a parent spends with a kid a day. Further, we've also been able to save $24,000 so far on preschool tuition.
For those parents who are constantly exhausted, hiring an au pair could be the perfect solution. And thankfully, hiring an au pair is now more feasible due to new regulations under the Biden administration.
We had two au pairs from the end of 2019 until 2022. The first one was a life-saver and stayed with us for 2.5 years during the pandemic. The second one last a year and was OK. The fit wasn't the best, but we were grateful for the childcare help.
What Is An Au Pair?
The term au pair means “on par”. The au pair is intended to become a member of the family, albeit a temporary one, rather than a traditional domestic worker.
Au pairs are typically women (18-26) from a foreign country who come to live with a host family for 1-2 years. They provide childcare, learn a new language, experience a new culture, and attend school. Men can certainly be au pairs as well, but the vast majority of au pairs are female.
Au pairs agencies act as the intermediary between au pairs and host families. Prospective au pairs first apply to an agency. Then, the agency performs background checks, reference checks, and publishes a profile about the au pair for prospective host families to search for and browse.
When a host family locates a profile for an au pair they are interested in, they arrange an interview to decide if they are a good match. When a host family and an au pair both agree to match, the agency collects a signed contract from both parties, collects fees from the host family, and helps arrange airfare, basic training, and the au pair's arrival.
If You Enjoy Different Cultures, Hire An Au Pair
If you enjoy different cultures, the au pair program is wonderful because you can try to match with au pairs from many countries. The au pair also has an exciting opportunity to experience your country's culture as well.
We are a multicultural family and have always enjoyed experiencing other cultures. Sam studied abroad in China and I studied abroad in Japan while we attended college. We've also traveled to over 30 countries together, and Sam has been to at least 7 more for work and through his own personal travels.
In addition, one of our family values is to raise our children to be accepting of all people. More than ever, the world is in need of more harmony, love, and cultural awareness. Exposure to different cultures and languages plays an important role in stamping out racism and hate.
It's much harder to hate someone if you gain a better understanding of their background. As the pandemic dies down, we hope more Americans can experience international travel.
An Au Pair Provides For More Work Life Balance For Parents
When you become a parent, your appreciation for family and a support network grows. Unfortunately, none of our relatives live within a 5-hour flight.
Welcoming an au pair into your home not only provides more support, it can result in more joy as your family grows. Having an au pair join your family may be like having an auntie to your kids. That could be really special, especially during lockdowns.
As much as any parent loves playing with their kids, having work/childcare balance is key. We all need to have adult conversations and mental outlets. One can only listen to the ABC song at full blast, say “please be patient,” or repeat “come back here I need to change your diaper” so many times in a row before going a bit nuts.
A Mental Break For Parents
It's important to have quiet time to work or relax a little without your kids literally all over you non-stop. Balance is also important for mental health and marital happiness.
Having support from an au pair that you trust is huge for improving the balance between caring for your kids, work, time alone with your spouse, errands, and self-care. Too often we don't prioritize self-care when we're busy caring for our kids, and that can make everything harder.
I remember one time during the pandemic I was trying to spoon feed our daughter with one hand and type with another. That was tricky. Getting puréed prunes flung into my keyboard every 10 seconds sure made my keyboard very sticky! Surely all of you working parents out there with young children at home 24/7 due to the pandemic can relate.
Overview Of Hiring An Au Pair
In my research on hiring an au pair, I spoke with dozens of host families and a couple of the best au pair agencies. Further, I have spoken to at least a half-dozen au pairs over video.
I put together a helpful guide below explaining what an au pair is, the US State Department requirements for au pairs in the US, pros and cons, and the typical costs involved.
By the end of this article, you should have a much better idea if hiring an au pair is a wise decision for your family or not. The time to hire an au pair is before the fourth trimester begins. The first 3-12 months after a baby is born is the hardest!
J-1 Visas For New Au Pairs Relaunching
Back in June 2020, Trump imposed visa restrictions via Presidential Proclamation 10052 (PP 10052) that blocked most new au pairs from entering the US. In other words, even if you wanted to hire an au pair, you couldn't unless the au pair had special skills for your child's special needs.
However, the agency Au Pair Care, a division of Intrax, has been helping US families get au pairs since October 2020, ahead of PP 10052's expiration, due to a court order.
In addition, some families and au pairs could still qualify under PP 10052 if they met the National Interest Exception criteria below:
- Host families who are members of the medical community who are caring for those who have contracted COVID-19; and/or those involved in research related to COVID-19.
- Host families who have children who may require specific care such as: medical, special education, or sign language and who have been diagnosed by a qualified medical individual.
- Au pair applicants who are subject to aging out of their current immigrant visa classification before the relevant President’s Proclamation expires or within two weeks thereafter.
Visa Laws Are Always Changing For Au Pairs
Fortunately, PP 10052 is set to expire March 31, 2021. This means it should be much easier getting an au pair again. Check with the Department Of State for the latest. Entry to the US is still restricted from a few countries, but most bans have been lifted.
As of now, entering au pairs are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within three calendar days of departure, or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days. If you're thinking about hiring an au pair, better get started sooner rather than later. Most embassies are scheduling visa appointments, but there are still backlogs to work through.
The au pair program is usually a one year program followed by a full year if both parties agree. Due to the pandemic, there are cases where existing au pairs get to stay for an extra 6 months if desired.
Au Pair Requirements
There are various requirements depending on where you live. Here are the basic requirements you should know about hiring an au pair in the US. These terms are regulated by the US Department of State.
- Au pair age range: 18-26
- Work hours are limited to 45 hours per week or 10 hours per day.
- Job responsibilities must be solely for childcare and child related light housekeeping.
- Weekly stipend of $195.75* or more provided by host family.
- Good health is required.
- Conversational English skills or better.
- Police background check must be clear.
- Prior childcare experience is a requirement.
- Childcare references from two or more non-family members.
- Personal reference from one or more non-family member.
- Secondary school graduate or equivalent.
- Pass an in-person interview in English with the agency.
- Psychometric Evaluation – DISC Personality Assessment.
- A private bedroom must be provided by the host family.
- Transportation to classes and monthly au pair meetings must be provided by the host family.
- $500 educational allowance from host family for accredited courses.
- J-1 visa is required.
* $195.75 is the min required Federal stipend as of 2023. If you live in Massachusetts, a court ruling from 2014 requires au pairs to be paid the state's minimum wage and 1.5 pay is required for over 40 hours a week. You can utilize meal and lodging credits, however 40 hours a week costs $463 in 2023, significantly higher than the min weekly Federal rate of $195.75.
Au pair agencies may also have their own set of evaluations, screenings, and training requirements for au pairs. Some examples include:
- 200 hours or more of childcare experience
- Medical history
- CPR and first aid training
- Child safety
- Driving safety
- American caregiving styles overview
Pros Of Hiring An Au Pair
One of the best pros of hiring an au pair is getting reliable one-on-one childcare with flexible hours. Given your au pair lives with you, an au pair may be more reliable than a nanny. But, there are many other great benefits as well.
Here are the main pros of hiring an au pair:
- Flexible hours
- One-on-one childcare
- Language immersion
- Cultural exchange
- Youthful energy that kids love
- Affordable option for the hours, flexibility, and 1×1 care
- Gain a new family member
- Candidates are pre-screened
- In-home care can protect your family's health, ex. COVID-19
Cons Of Hiring An Au Pair
Hiring an au pair isn't for every family. It's a big adjustment to have someone new come to live in your home 24/7. Perhaps you're nervous because you read about a family's horror story hiring an au pair. Or maybe your house simply isn't big enough to house an au pair comfortably.
Keep in mind, however, there are bad apples in any line of work. Daycares and preschools aren't immune from issues either. What's important is to ensure you and your partner are both on board. Take the interview process seriously and don't rush your decision.
There are a ton of amazing gems out there. And thousands of families adore their au pairs. Nevertheless, there are some possible cons of hiring an au pair that you should know.
Here are the main cons of hiring an au pair:
- Loss of privacy or less privacy
- Potential difficulties in communication
- Lifestyle adjustments and compromises
- Stress and conflict if she doesn't abide by your rules
- Exposing your family's weaknesses
- Cultural clashes
- Jealousy that your child starts to prefer the au pair over you
- Father often gets crowded out, which creates dad guilt, loneliness, and sadness
What if you move forward with hiring an au pair and it doesn't work out? The good news is that even though you sign a contract for 1 year (or potentially less if the au pair is already in the US and looking to re-match), you always have the option to break the match.
It might be awkward, but if it's not working out, you absolutely have the right to break the match. The au pair agency will coordinate her departure and (partially) refund their fees if applicable.
Oh, and one funny con might be occasionally scaring each other in the house by accident. When you aren't used to someone new living in your house, you might also not be used to their movements. Maybe buying a big, expensive house would have been the right decision after all!
Costs Of Hiring An Au Pair
Hiring an au pair is expensive upfront because you have to pay the agency for their time as well as the airfare for your au pair. Upfront fees also vary by agency. Here's a sample of what you may have to pay.
- Application fee $50
- Placement fee $250
- SEVIS fee $35
- Airfare from training site to your home $390
- Program fee $8,675
- Minimum stipend $195.75/week
That comes out to an all-in cost of roughly $19,329/year or $1,611/month. Don't forget you also need to provide food for the au pair. Transportation to classes and agency events is also typically required. But, you can simply provide a bus pass, pay for ride-share fees, or let her borrow your car. Expect utility usage to go up as well with another adult in the house.
If you want to be generous, you may want to pay for your au pair's vacations, fun day trips, eye exams, teeth cleanings, and more. After all, even if your au pair is an adult, you should treat an au pair as a beloved member of your family. Therefore, the monthly cost to have an au pair may be closer to $2,000/month.
Is Hiring An Au Pair Worth It?
Raising kids is a wonderful and wild adventure. I can't tell you if hiring an au pair is the right choice for your family. It's up to you and your partner to make that decision.
Here's some helpful feedback from host families I spoke with:
Getting an au pair was the best decision. The flexibility is great, our kids are learning Spanish, and we really feel like she's a part of our family now. The one-on-one care is worth every penny and much cheaper for us than a full-time nanny.
There's no such thing as a perfect au pair so don't expect to get everything on your wish list.
Put together a detailed list of all the house rules you want the au pair to follow. Be as specific as possible. When you find an au pair you're serious about, let her review the document thoroughly. The more expectations you set upfront, the better luck you'll have finding a good match.
You might have your heart set on an au pair from one country, but I suggest being open in your search. We had au pairs from five countries. I always wanted an au pair from France, but only one of our five au pairs was French. She wasn't the dream au pair I envisioned. To our surprise, we adored the au pairs we had from Brazil and Colombia and still keep in touch.
We had seven au pairs from Thailand. The best matches were older, more mature, and held jobs before. The job didn't matter, just that they knew how to be responsible, show up to work on time, adapt, follow instructions, etc.
If you’re unsure if a candidate’s English is good enough, ask yourself if she could communicate with you in an emergency. If the answer is no, you best keep looking. Communication challenges are the most common reason families break a match.
Don’t rush and match with the first candidate you interview. Talk to multiple candidates and interview your favorites several times before deciding to match.
Hiring An Au Pair Could Be The Best Decision Ever
I hope this post helped to clarify if hiring an au pair is a wise decision for your family. Your children are your most precious assets. So, finding the best type of childcare for your needs is a decision not to take lightly.
Managing childcare and work at the same time is an extremely difficult task. If you don't have extended family close by to help provide childcare support, hiring an au pair is a wonderful idea. Just make sure to diligently interview your au pairs over multiple video calls. Set expectations up front to minimize unwelcome surprises once an au pair joins your family.
The more you like different cultures and the more you enjoy other people's company, the more you will enjoy having an au pair. If you don't hire an au pair, consider hiring a nanny for part-time help. After a long and exhausting pandemic, you deserve some relief!
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Reader Questions And Recommendations
Readers, have you hired an au pair before? How many types of childcare have your used? What has your experience been like? How much did the pandemic impact your family's childcare needs?
Sam's note: After three years of having an au pair, I believe they are worth it for the first three years of each new child's life. After two years, the returns diminish given your kids may start going to preschool. Further, if you are the stay-at-home parent, the home will get crowded. If you are two stay-at-home parents or work-from-home parents, unless you have a mansion, you might feel cramped too.
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