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Should you hire an au pair or a nanny?

woman sitting on couch reading to two children

Choosing the right childcare provider for your family can be a headache-inducing decision to make, especially with so many options available for families that are looking for some type of live-in or full-time help.

The considerations that go into choosing the right provider often go beyond the basics like education, safety, and level of experience. Many families look for a childcare provider that can add extra cultural and linguistic enrichment to their children’s lives.

Because of this, some families look into the possibility of hiring an au pair – a young child care provider that comes from a different country and provides childcare for cultural exchange. Au pairs, however, come with their own set of cons and aren’t the best fit for a lot of families who need a steady and long-term childcare solution. Surprisingly, many of the cultural benefits of an au pair can be found with nannies as well.

Read on to learn about the differences between an au pair and a full-time nanny, and how to choose the best fit for your family.

Who works as a nanny and who works as an au pair?

There are some big differences in demographics between a nanny and an au pair.

Au pairs tend to be young (18-30), and are always from another country. They are permitted to work in the U.S. on a special au pair visa. Working as an au pair is a temporary job for young people who are seeking a way to travel the world and still make money.

On the other hand, being a nanny is a profession that requires experience, education, and certifications. Because of this, nannies tend to be more mature in age and are committed to their careers as childcare providers.

What is the main purpose of an au pair vs a nanny in the family?

The main difference between a nanny and an au pair is the function they serve in the family unit.

A Nanny – whether full-time or part-time, live-in or not – is a standard employee. All of the boundaries between an employee and employer are relevant to a nanny/employer relationship. Although some nannies eat meals with the family, more often than not they eat meals on their own so that the nanny can have some alone time. Similarly, if nannies are present during family outings and special activities, they are there strictly in a child-caring capacity.

An au pair, on the other hand, is thought of as a temporary “family member”. The au pair is expected to eat all meals with the family, and participate fully with the family in any outings or special occasions.

This is because an au pair’s main purpose is not childcare. The main purpose of an au pair is to engage in mutual cultural exchange in a family setting. Childcare is a bonus that the au pair provides to the host family, but ultimately the family is expected to participate actively in this cultural exchange.

On the other hand, being a nanny is a profession whose whole purpose is to provide childcare.

Hiring an au pair vs hiring a nanny

Contracts for au pairs and nannies look very different.

Nannies are paid a living wage. For all intents and purposes, nannies are employees of the family unit. The nanny’s hourly wage or salary is negotiated between the family and the nanny, or sometimes via a third-party agency.

On the other hand, au pairs are paid a weekly “allowance” that doesn’t translate to a living wage. In exchange, au pairs are provided with free lodgings, food, and cultural experiences. This weekly allowance is determined by the au pair’s country of origin.

In terms of working hours, au pairs are limited in the number of hours they are allowed to work per week. Remember, the main point of an au pair situation is mutual cultural exchange, and childcare is secondary to that. The maximum hours an au pair is allowed to work is set by the host country. In the U.S, that is typically 45 hours per week. Length of employment is also limited – an au pair visa is typically given for a year and extended for a maximum of another year.

Working hours and length of employment for nannies, however, are agreed upon between the nanny and the family. While still in accordance with labor laws, nannies can work up to 60-70 hours per week. How long a nanny works for you is between you and your nanny, and oftentimes families employ the same nannies for many years.

Main pros and cons of hiring an au pair vs a nanny

The main benefit that’s given for hiring an au pair is the language and cultural exposure that they can provide for your children. Parents are increasingly looking for childcare providers that can enrich their children’s lives by introducing them to a new language and new cultural experiences.

Au pairs come with some major downsides, however. Because an au pair is young, it may feel like you’re adding another child to the family. Given that the au pair’s primary purpose is cultural exchange, you may find that they are unable to meet your childcare needs. An au pair’s lack of experience and young age may be especially felt in families with multiple children or newborns, where more expertise is needed.

One of the biggest downsides of hiring an au pair is that their term of employment is limited to a year or two. That means that not only do your children need to deal with losing someone they have become attached to, but you’ll be on the hook for finding someone new each year and integrating them into your family.

On the other hand, nannies provide a long-term, stable childcare solution for your family. Nannies are more experienced and educated than au pairs, and you can look for nannies with specific experience that your family requires. While families tend to look to au pairs for cultural and linguistic exposure, the right nanny can provide those benefits for your children as well. There are plenty of nannies that are bilingual and come from different countries that can provide long-term cultural exposure for your children. A nanny agency like VIP Nannies can help you find the right cultural fit for your family.

Whether you are looking for a full-time nanny or someone part-time, ensuring the perfect fit for your family is of the utmost importance.

VIP Nannies can help you find the perfect childcare provider for your family. We start every search by understanding the unique needs of your household and then searching for the perfect match. Compatibility, chemistry, and communication are the touchstones that inform every match that we make. All of our nannies go through a rigorous screening process to ensure that they are up to your standards.

Ready for the best nanny you've ever had? Call us today!

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