The Difference between an Au Pair and a Nanny

Au Pair playing with child

A nanny is an experienced professional who provides care for children in their home, while an au pair is a visitor from overseas who lives full-time with a ‘host family’, helping care for children in the home, in exchange for room, board and pocket money. The au pair is not a professional nanny. The au pair is part of a cultural exchange program and is invited to participate in family meals and activities, considered as a ‘big sister’ or ‘big brother’. This is in contrast to a nanny who is usually working as a professional paid carer and is not involved in a cultural exchange.

How does the role of an au pair vs nanny differ?

The main difference is that the au pair lives with the host family and assists with caring for the children part-time. She often works up to 45 hours per week, including at least 1.5 days off per week and 1 weekend off per month. An au pair is often less qualified and experienced, compared to a nanny. She may need guidance from parents and is usually not expected to care for young babies. She is paid pocket money, room and board in exchange for assisting with the children.

A nanny may live-out or live-in and is paid a salary to work part-time or full-time for the family. She is a professional and an experienced carer. She is able to take on more responsibility for arranging activities for the children that are age and developmentally appropriate. Due to her knowledge and skills a nanny can usually care for babies and children of all ages. She can work independently with minimal guidance.

What is the meaning of the word ‘au pair’?

The term ‘au pair’ is French for ‘at par’ or ‘equal to’. The au pair is considered a member of the family, not usually an employee.

Differences between an Au Pair and a Nanny

  Au Pair Nanny
Live-in or Live-out Live-in Mostly live-out, sometimes live-in.
Cultural Exchange Living as part of the family, immersed in a cultural exchange, participates in family meals and activities. Not part of a cultural exchange, is not expecting to participate in family meals and activities.
Is an employee No, usually just assisting with children in exchange for pocket money, room and board. Employee 
Hours Up to 45 hours/wk As agreed. Part-time or full-time.
Meals 3 meals per day included Not required
Pay Pocket money + room + board Paid an hourly rate
Needs supervision Yes, usually needs some guidance and support No, works independently. No supervision needed.
Can drive Yes, if they have an international license. Yes, if they have a license.
Age of carer 18-26 yrs of age All ages
Duration of role Usually 12 months No set duration, as per agreement.
Needs an agency to sponsor visa Yes No
Can do light household duties Yes Yes

How many hours do au pairs work compared to nannies?

Au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week, with a maximum of 10 hours per day.  Host families must give the au pair 1.5 days off in a week, and 1 weekend off per month.  The times of the day and lengths of shifts may vary based on the family’s requirements. Often this can be handy for families who need help with shorter shifts and ad hoc hours or rotating work rosters. Nannies work casually, part-time or full-time hours as agreed with the families they work with. Usually the hours are consistent from week to week.

What ages of children do au pairs care and nannies care for?

Au pairs usually work with a range of ages, depending on their skills and experience. Au pairs cannot be the sole carer for a baby under 3 months of age.  

A nanny commonly works with babies and children of all ages, based on their professional experience and skills.

What type of light household tasks can au pairs or nannies do?

Both the au pair and the nanny may also complete some light household or child-related duties as part of their roles. This might include tasks like helping with children’s meals, wiping kitchen benches after meals, tidying up toys and folding children’s laundry.

How much does an au pair cost?

The au pair provides a certain amount of hours of childcare, in exchange for ‘room and board’ and ‘pocket money’. Rates are rising with the shortage of workers globally, so the table below is a guideline.

Total hours per week worked Pocket Money per week
Up to 45 hours/wk $196 per week

Plus ‘room and board’.

Professional au pairs may earn more ‘pocket money’, due to their experience and skills. 

How much does a nanny cost compared to an au pair?

A nanny’s hourly rates vary based on experience, education and skills.  Hourly rates for nannies typically range between $20-30/hour.  

What is the role of the ‘host family’ for an au pair?

The host family plays an important role in welcoming the au pair to the USA and providing them with a home, information and opportunities to learn about a new country and culture. The family provides the au pair with

  • A welcome and introduction to the USA
  • A cultural exchange opportunity and experiences
  • Being part of the family, including meals and activities
  • Room and board - 3 meals per day
  • Some supervision and guidance in caring for children

What type of bedroom or living quarters does an au pair need?

The au pair requires a separate bedroom, ideally with a bathroom.

Do host families need to pay for airfares, language courses or other expenses?

The sponsor au pair agency will usually pay for flights to the USA as part of the package that the au pair has paid for.  The host family is required to pay $500 towards a government-mandated language course (or other classes), in a post-secondary institution.  The host family usually pays for family meals or shared activities that the au pair participates in.  

How long does an au pair vs a nanny work with a family?

Au pairs require a J1 Cultural Exchange Visitor Visa to work in the USA.  This visa is for a 12 month duration.    

In contrast a nanny will work with a family for a length of time based on the employment agreement. For some families this is several years. For other families it might be a matter of months just to cover a specific need (e.g, work assignments, new baby).

What kind of visa do au pairs need?

Au pairs require a J1 Cultural Exchange Visitor Visa to work in the USA.   The J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that is issued for a cultural exchange program in the USA.  This must be arranged through an au pair agency from the applicant’s country, who will work with an au pair agency in the USA.  The USA agency is considered a designated sponsor organization. 

What requirements are there for the J1 Cultural Exchange Visitor visa?

There are some requirements to be eligible for the J1 visa. They are: 

  • Age (not younger than 18, or older than 26 years of age).
  • Not married and no children. 
  • Sufficient English skills to participate in the program. 
  • Healthy.
  • Must not smoke.
  • Childcare experience.
  • Willing to stay with a family for 12 months. 
  • Secondary school education diploma. 
  • Have a police clearance. 
  • International drivers license and 50 hours of driving experience. 
  • Must participate in a government-mandated language course while in the USA. 
  • This must be the first time the applicant has done the cultural exchange program.  

Do nannies and au pairs both need a Background Check?

Au pairs must pass a police clearance to obtain the J1 visa.  There is no law requiring nannies to get background checks, but we strongly encourage parents to request one before employing a carer.  

Do nannies and au pairs hold a driver's license?

Yes, you can ask for this when selecting your nanny or au pair. If au pairs have a driver's license in their home country they must get an international license before arriving in the USA. 

Are au pairs male or female?

Both males and females are nannies and au pairs. 

How do you find an au pair?

Families must apply to US government designated au pair agencies to find an au pair. The Best Babysitters does not specialize in this niche.

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