Au Pair Vs. Nanny: Which Should You Hire?

Published February 28, 2022
Au Pair holding baby

When parents are seeking full-time child care, they often research the differences between a nanny vs. an au pair. Learn more about the details of hiring an au pair or a nanny before deciding which child care provider is right for your family. Having a solid understanding of the services each provides, and the important role they will perform within your family structure, will help you make the best decision about whom to choose.

Au Pair Vs. Nanny: Know the Basics of Each Role

Before you move on to weighing the pros, cons, costs, and other details regarding the hiring of a nanny or an au pair, you need to know the actual role for each position. Having a clear and distinct idea of what a nanny is and what an au pair is will help dispel any misconceptions and miscommunications moving forward with a hiring decision.

The Definition of a Nanny

A nanny is a person who is paid an agreed-upon sum for providing childcare in the employer's home. Nannies sometimes have duties outside of child care, like light housekeeping, cooking, and driving children to various activities. All duties are agreed upon by both the nanny and the employer.

The Definition of an Au Pair

An au pair is a helper from a different country than the country of the family who will employ them. An au pair lives with the host family and acts as a functioning part of that family. Au pairs help with child care in exchange for room and board and a monthly financial allotment that both parties have previously agreed upon.

Au Pair versus Nanny infographic

The Duties of an Au Pair Vs. a Nanny

The duties of a nanny and an au pair may be similar or vastly different; since their duties depend on the terms they reach with the families employing them. Think about what you need from a nanny or an au pair. Do the expected duties align with your needs? Regardless of who you choose, aligning expectations of the job at hand is incredibly key to the relationship's success.

The Duties and Hours of a Nanny

The duties of a nanny will vary from home to home. Necessary duties are generally discussed before employment so both parties understand expectations and payment. Nannies sometimes drive children to and from activities, help with homework, perform light housekeeping duties or help with pets. They might also do light cooking if the family/employer and the nanny agree that this is reasonable.

Nannies are financially compensated for the work they do. If they are asked to do more than watch the kids, they should be paid accordingly. At the end of their shift, nannies go home and are completely off the clock. A family would not ask a nanny to pick a child up from dance class at 8 p.m. if the nanny was done with her child care shift. There is a clear expectation with employers and nannies that this is a job, which nannies are paid for.

Hours for a nanny vary. A nanny position tends to be a full-time job, but it is not uncommon to hear of nannies working longer than eight hours per day or working overtime or on weekends. As long as the nanny is being paid for every hour worked and hours worked are agreed upon, extra shifts are permitted.

The Duties and Hours of an Au Pair

An au pair comes to a family to immerse themselves in new cultural experiences and language learning opportunities in exchange for room and board with a host family and aiding in child care duties. Au pairs, unlike nannies, live with host families full-time and have more flexible schedules compared to nannies. Because au pairs live with a host family, they can work their hours whenever needed. Families can utilize their aid in the morning, afternoon, or evening, as long as the hours stay under the regulated weekly and daily time.

Families should not confuse accessibility with being constantly available. While hours can vary due to the living arrangement, au pairs working in the states cannot exceed the legal number of hours allowed for employment. Their hours correlate to the allotted spending money, which is another reason hours worked must remain firm.

An au pair works anywhere from 20 to 45 hours, helping with child care and home tasks. Families who have agreed to host an au pair understand that it is unreasonable to ask an au pair to work longer than that. Part of this unique arrangement is that the au pair has ample time to attend a language course or learn about all that the host country has to offer. This is more of an experience compared to the role of a nanny, which is strictly a job.

The Cost of an Au Pair Vs. a Nanny

If you are working with a specific child care budget, be sure to look into the cost of a nanny and the cost of an au pair. It is surprising to many that one is far more affordable than the other.

Cost of Hiring a Nanny

How much you pay your nanny depends largely on what the family and the nanny decide is agreeable. Both parties take hours worked, jobs performed, and sometimes travel and insurance into consideration. The average median salary for a nanny is in the ballpark of $40,000/year. This varies depending on duties performed, education, certifications, and demographics, much like it does with babysitters.

Cost of Working With an Au Pair

There are several costs that come into play when hiring an au pair.

  • Au Pair in America
    • $475 for a match fee
    • $9,275 for the annual program fee
    • Minimum weekly stipend $195 per week, equating to $10,140 for 52 weeks in a year
    • Additional fees - $500 - $1,000 for language learning courses, $35 service fee for government transfer of living locale
  • Culture Care Au Pair
    • Estimated monthly cost - $1,630
    • Yearly total cost - $19,553

Other Differences Between Nannies and Au Pairs

There are some other striking differences between a nanny and an au pair, many of which pertain to how they are viewed by the host family and what they should have access to once they land the job.

Language Learning Considerations

What a nanny does in their off-hours is entirely up to the nanny. Once working hours are over, the family and nanny go their separate ways. Au pairs, on the other hand, live with the host family. There is an understanding that the relationship is a symbiotic one, where the kids receive cultural and language immersion from the child care provider, and the au pair has the opportunity to learn about language and culture as well. They should be given the opportunity to learn the host nation's native language, and learn about the culture of the new space they live in during their temporary residence.

Time Commitments and Contracts

Au pairs sign on to live with a family for one year, with the option to extend their contractual agreement for six, nine, or twelve months. Contracts can be terminated if the arrangement is not productive to either party. Families hire nannies, but if the arrangement does not work out, the employment can easily be terminated, or a nanny can give notice and quit. Nannies can have contracts, but they are not required. There is no requirement for nannies to leave after a certain period of time.

Relationship With the Host Family

Nannies are employees of the family who hires them for child care services. Being a nanny is a job, and both parties fully understand their roles. An au pair is viewed differently than a nanny. The host family should view an au pair as a temporary family member, not an employee. Au pairs, vacation, eat with, hang out with, and essentially become part of the host family's universe, like a brand new big brother or sister!

Differences in Common Age Demographics

There is no hard rule on the ages of au pairs or nannies, but generally speaking, au pairs tend to range in age from 18 to 30. They sometimes have an education and child care experience, but sometimes they do not. Nannies can range in age. They often have education, certifications, and qualifications that families are looking for, making the nanny a desirable option for employment.

Variations in the Hiring Process

Hiring an au pair generally involves going through an agency (but not always). Contracts are agreed upon and signed, and both parties completely understand duties and obligations. Because an au pair comes from a different country to work in the United States, everything is done legally and by the books.

Nannies can be found through agencies, word of mouth, or child care database searches. Essentially, anyone can become a nanny, as long as the family and the nanny are agreeable to conditions and wages discussed.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

mother interview for nanny on video chat

Regardless of which child care choice you choose, there will undoubtedly be both pros and cons to either. It is a parent's job to look at both the perks and the drawbacks of all options, and consider what arrangement works best for their family.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Nanny

The pros on deciding to hire a nanny include:

  • Less legal work since you are hiring within the country
  • Many have experience and education in childcare - 63% of nannies have at least six years of experience working as a nanny
  • Can often work over 40 hours per week offering services outside typical business hours
  • Can work with a family for several years
  • Can care for children of all ages

The cons of hiring a nanny include:

  • Can be costly
  • If seeking a nanny independently, screening must be done by the parent
  • They can leave employment abruptly should they find another job

Pros and Cons of Hiring an Au Pair

Hiring an au pair is an excellent child care option that comes with some major perks worth noting:

  • Can be cost-effective for families
  • Children are exposed to a new culture and language via the au pair
  • Schedule flexibility (they cannot work over the legally allotted time, but the hours can vary throughout the day)
  • Family member vibe instead of an employee/employer relationship

The cons of hiring an au pair include:

  • Little privacy for families as they live in the home full-time
  • Some au pairs are very young and lack experience
  • Might take the position to experience living in another country, not to care for children
  • Cannot care for infants under three months of age
  • Authorized to work in the United States for one year and can agree to stay a second year (up to two years maximum)
  • Cannot work longer than 10 hours in a day and 45 hours a week

Making the Final Decision

Deciding on child care is a significant family decision that's not to be taken lightly. Spend time thinking about your family's unique needs, talk with people who have utilized both services, and gather their perspectives. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable in your decision. When prepared with details and knowledge, you are sure to pick the perfect person for the most important job in the world.

Au Pair Vs. Nanny: Which Should You Hire?