“What’s the difference between an au pair and a nanny?”
It’s a question we get all the time, from both host families and au pairs! You may think they’re the same thing, but the truth is they’re actually quite different! While both an au pair and nanny are responsible for caring for children, there are fundamental differences between them that are important to know. Most notably, being an au pair in the USA means being part of a well-rounded program that allows you to travel, meet new people, and grow both personally and professionally.
Let us break down the differences between an au pair and nanny for you …
1. By their very definition, au pairs are young women and men aged 18-26 from overseas, who travel to the U.S. on a J-1 cultural exchange visa to live with an American host family and care for their children. Nannies, on the other hand, can be anyone from abroad or from the U.S. employed to care for a child in its own home.
2. Nannies can work part-time, full-time or even overtime hours if the family’s schedule calls for it. For au pairs, working hours and conditions are regulated by the U.S. Department of State. These guidelines are part of the federally regulated au pair program, so there are rules that must be followed. For instance, an au pair can work up to (but no more than) 45 hours a week, 10 hours per day. These regulations protect the rights of au pairs across the nation, and ensure that au pairs have a happy and successful year living with their American host families. It also builds in plenty of time for au pairs to immerse themselves in the American culture by living like a local and enjoying their communities in their spare time, as well as traveling and seeing new corners of the country.
3. How much a nanny is paid varies widely depending on if they are working part-time or full-time, and where in the U.S. they are caring for children. However, au pairs are able to count on a set amount of income every week, no matter what. That’s one of the advantages of becoming an au pair—knowing exactly how much you’re going to earn! Au pairs are paid a set weekly stipend of a minimum of $195.75 per week. It’s important to note that host families and au pairs may agree to a stipend amount above the legally required minimum, as long as it is not in exchange for the au pair exceeding the regulatory limits on working hours (mentioned above) or performing duties beyond childcare-related tasks.
4. Some nannies have gone through professional training or certification courses to make the childcare field their official career. Others become nannies simply as a short-term way to earn money while they decide on college or other career paths. By comparison, while some au pairs are professionally trained, not all au pairs need to be in order to join the program! Many au pairs in the USA have hundreds (or even thousands!) of hours of experience as babysitters, tutors, kindergarten assistants, camp counselors, sports instructors and more back in their home countries.
5. Perhaps the greatest difference is that nannies are considered employees by the family they’re working for—au pairs are considered extended family members. They are treated not as an employee who is fulfilling a contract, but rather with mutual respect, trust and compassion that helps them feel at home in the USA and with their American host family. After all, the term au pair means “on par” in French, which is meant to reflect the mutually beneficial and fair relationship an au pair is to have with their host family.
When it comes to au pair vs. nanny, it’s clear that au pairs are a unique kind of caregiver. Not only are they living in the USA under federal protections as part of their cultural exchange visa, they are loved and welcomed into their American host families because they bring a fresh, new dynamic to the home and a fun perspective on new languages, traditions and cultures to their host children. In exchange, au pairs are given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel, learn and grow in the USA—all while gaining international work experience that can enhance their career potential and jumpstart the next chapters of their lives.
Start your application today and get one step closer to becoming an au pair in the USA. Begin the next exciting chapter of your life!