If you’ve ever looked for child care options for your kids, you’ve probably come across the concept of hiring an au pair — a young man or woman from another country who comes to the United States as part of an exchange program to care for your kids.
Contrary to popular belief, hiring an au pair isn’t just for rich families or oddballs who don’t have the time or inclination to raise their own kids. It can be a cost-effective way to pay for child care for a full year, for less than traditional day care or a nanny, while letting your kids experience a new language and culture right in your own home.
What Is an Au Pair?
First, let’s shed light on some of the myths that surround au pairs:
What is an au pair?
An au pair is a young man or woman, between the ages of 18 and 26, from overseas. They travel to the U.S. to live with a family, care for their children and go to school while in the states. They come to America on a J-1 Cultural Exchange Visa, which is good for 12 months but can be extended via the U.S State Department.
Who hires au pairs?
Anyone who needs child care has the option to hire an au pair, as long as they meet the requirements.
What is required to host an au pair?
If you’re interested in hosting an au pair, according to the state department you’re required to pass a background check, be a United States citizen who is fluent in English and be able to meet all the necessary financial obligations.
What does it cost to host an au pair?
You will be responsible for food, room and board, and a weekly stipend for your au pair, as well as the program fees and tuition for your au pair to attend classes. Au pairs have to complete at least six credit hours worth of classes during their 12-month stay.
How much does an au pair work?
Contrary to popular belief, au pairs aren’t always on call. Like any standard job, au pairs can only work 45 hours a week, and a maximum of 10 hours per day. Au pairs also are required to have one full weekend a month off, and two weeks of paid vacation during their 12-month stay.
Unlike day cares or nanny services, au pairs become a temporary member of your family, joining you for meals and outings. They’re a big brother or sister from another country to your children.
Benefits of Hosting an Au Pair
What are the benefits of hosting an au pair in your home?
First, you’ve got someone in your home 24/7 to help with child care and light chores. While you probably won’t need overnight care too much, this is useful in emergency situations when you wouldn’t otherwise have options for child care.
Also, it’s a great way to expose your children to new cultures and languages — your au pair will arrive from another country, bringing their culture and language with them.
If we’re talking cost, hosting an au pair in your home is dramatically less expensive than any other traditional child care services. Not including your program fees, which will vary depending on the program you choose to use, your au pair’s weekly stipend is $196.
When you include your program fees, an au pair program tends to cost an average of $356 per week. When you consider that this is for your entire family rather than the cost per child, it ends up being much cheaper than day care.
Hosting an au pair also keeps your kids in the home when they’re not at school instead of sending them out to day care. You can be sure they’re getting the attention they need when you’re not available. This could be helpful with homework or trips to the park or whatever you and your au pair decide is appropriate.
Is An Au Pair Right for My Family?
Hosting an au pair can be a great, enriching experience for you, your kids and your au pair, but it’s not the perfect solution for everyone. You might have a great experience, or you might be matched with an au pair that just doesn’t mesh with your personality or way of life.
If you’re open to having a person from a foreign country living in your home and caring for your children, take a look at the au pair programs that serve your area. If you’ve got the money to host an au pair — and let’s be honest, it’s so much cheaper than sending your kids to the local day care — it might be time to take that leap and consider bringing an au pair into your family.
You might find that you love having an au pair and can’t live without them, or you might find that having a stranger in your house is too much of an invasion of privacy and you just can’t stand it. Either way, it’s a new experience for you and that is what life should be made up of — new experiences.
Hosting an au pair isn’t some crazy thing that only the super rich or the super reclusive do, at least not anymore. Just remember that while they might be there to help with your kids and maybe do some light housework, an au pair is human too. They’re a young person in a strange country where they don’t know anyone and might not even be fluent in the language.
Be patient with them as they learn the idiosyncrasies of our country and of your home, or if they seem to be homesick. You might be homesick too if you uprooted your life to spend a year or more in a foreign country.
If you’re looking for child care in your area and all the options seem like they’re far outside your budget, consider looking into an au pair program. It’s totally OK!
Jennifer Landis is a 27-year-old healthy living blogger who loves yoga, running, and dancing it out with her toddler! You can find more from Jennifer at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or by following her on Twitter: @jenniferelandis.