Feb 2, 2024


Hiring an au pair: things to consider when getting live-in childcare help

hiring an au pair
hiring an au pair

Emily Luk

CPA, CFA - CEO and Cofounder of Plenty

Have you heard the expression, it takes a village to raise a child? Plenty of parents will joke about wanting to get the phone number and directions to such a village because raising kids–although rewarding–is a lot of work.

If you’re buried in parenthood already or just starting to think about starting a family, it’s helpful to know what childcare options are available today. 

Today you don’t need to parlez français to learn more about au pairs, a full-time option for families looking to hire live-in help with their kids. You’ll learn:

  • What does an au pair do?

  • Benefits and downsides of au pairs

  • Requirements for hiring an au pair

  • How much do au pairs cost?

What does an au pair do?

The word au pair comes from the French language, meaning “equal to” or “at par.” In other words, an au pair is meant to be welcomed into a home as an equal member of the family

Even though au pairs are hired on a temporary basis (more on that below), some families stay well connected with their au pairs long after they’ve left.

What’s also special about au pairs is they are a bit like foreign exchange students. They come to stay with a host family in a foreign country to provide childcare while also attending school part-time. Both the host family and the au pair have an opportunity to learn a new language and share in a cultural exchange.

Au pairs are typically between the ages of 18 and 26 and work for a period of 1-2 years. They can help with anything related to childcare-washing baby bottles, changing diapers, playing with children, preparing meals, helping with homework, and even driving children to and from school and activities.

Benefits and downsides of au pairs

There are lots of pros and cons to consider before hiring an au pair. Here are some of the main ones to think about.

Benefits of having an au pair:

  • Flexible scheduling including help on the weekends and at night

  • Focused attention on your kid(s) 

  • Relatively affordable full-time care

  • Language immersion and cultural exchange

  • Help with driving and transporting your kids

  • They can travel with you on family trips

Candidates are also generally pre-screened by an au pair agency, which assists with the necessary paperwork and selection process.

Now let’s take a look at some of the potentially negative aspects of hiring an au pair.

Downsides of having an au pair:

  • Less privacy when they move in

  • Possible challenges in communication / cultural norms

  • Increased stress of managing someone who may not do things how you might do them (we’ve seen this especially be tricky when there are differences in definitions of ‘health’ or ‘hygiene’)

  • Less experienced than established professional nannies

  • Potential conflicts due to differences in your personalities, culture, lifestyle

Since an au pair is coming a very long way to join your family and will be living in your home 24/7, hiring an au pair is not a decision to rush into. It’s important to have multiple discussions with your partner about the possible changes to your living arrangements. 

Whether you ultimately end up hiring an au pair or not, if you’re open to the idea, be thorough in your screening process, check references, and have multiple interviews before making a final decision to hire someone.

How to hire an au pair

If you want to learn how to go about hiring an au pair, you’ll first want to find an agency that services your local area. Au pair agencies in the US and abroad partner together to receive applications from prospective au pairs, run screening checks, and connect host families to qualified candidates.

Once a match is made, agencies assist au pairs with arranging visa appointments, onboarding training, and booking their flights to the host family’s location. After au pairs move in with their host families, agencies then check in periodically to make sure things are going well.

Here’s a look at some of the requirements for hiring an au pair in the US that are regulated by the US Department of State.

Au pair qualifications:

  • Au pair must be between the ages of 18-26

  • Conversational English skills are required as well as passing an in-person agency interview

  • Prior childcare experience is required along with 2 or more non-family references

  • Equivalent of secondary school education or greater

  • Must pass a police background check

  • J-1 visa is required for entry to the US

Additional requirements for au pairs:

  • Only childcare related work is allowed

  • Work hours are capped at 45 hours per week or 10 hours per day

  • Host family must provide meals and a dedicated private bedroom for the au pair

  • Provide a weekly stipend and a $500 annual education allowance

These requirements are intended to protect the interests of both host families and au pairs and to make the process as beneficial as possible for everyone involved.

How much do au pairs cost?

Now the big question you’re probably wondering is how much does it cost to hire an au pair? As of January 2024, the federally mandated weekly stipend is $195.75. There are some exceptions though. Certain au pair agencies require a higher weekly amount. And residents of Massachusetts have to pay the state’s minimum wage plus 1.5 pay for anything over 40 hours a week.

But the weekly stipend isn’t the only cost involved for host families. There’s the $500 educational allowance to consider plus meals, transportation, and various agency fees. All together it costs about $21,000 a year to hire an au pair. It does add up, however, it’s still typically less than the average cost of hiring a nanny at $28,000 a year and other daycare costs

Is an au pair for you?

If you have ample space in your home, want relatively affordable full-time 1x1 childcare with flexible hours, and are okay to part ways after 1-2 years, then hiring an au pair could be a great option for your family.

But what if you hire an au pair and it doesn’t work out? Au pair agencies understand that sometimes the fit isn’t right and are there to help you break the match and find a suitable replacement or refund any applicable fees.

How can Plenty help?

Plenty can help you save for childcare expenses and reach your financial goals faster. We make it easy for modern couples to start saving for their families’ needs, together.

Regular contributions add up faster than you think, especially if you’re doing it with a partner. Depending on your timeline, we’ll recommend the best portfolio for your savings.

Parenting decisions can be hard, and figuring out a childcare plan for your little ones is no exception. Thankfully, a little planning and help from Plenty can make it all feel a little bit easier. 

Be sure to check out other helpful articles we’ve put together on managing childcare expenses and saving for your child’s education to learn more.

Ready to get started? Start your free trial today!


Emily Luk

CPA, CFA - CEO and Cofounder of Plenty

Emily is the ceo and cofounder of Plenty. Started by a husband and wife team, Plenty is a wealth platform built for modern couples to invest and plan towards their future, together. Previously, she was VP of Strategy and Operations at Even (acquired by Walmart/One) and a founding team member of Stripe's Growth and Finance & Strategy teams. She began her career as a VC, and was one of the youngest nationally to complete her CPA, CA and CFA designations.

THIS SITE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS INVESTMENT ADVICE. This site/application has been prepared by Plenty and is not intended to be (and may not be relied on in any manner as) legal, tax, investment, accounting or other advice or as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any securities of any investment product or any investment advisory service. The information contained in this site/application is superseded by, and is qualified in its entirety by, such offering materials. This site/application may contain proprietary, trade-secret, confidential and commercially sensitive information.