What is the Difference Between a Live-in Nanny and an Au Pair?

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Life as a parent can be beyond hectic. From meeting the kids’ needs to prepping for that work presentation to getting everyone to their extracurricular activities on time, the days of a busy parent fly by in a flurry of activity.

Some of you might even contemplate how much easier life would be if you were part octopus. Surely, six extra arms (or legs) would come in handy, right?

But nobody ever says it takes an octopus to raise a family. They have said it takes a village but clearly bringing the village home is not viable. For some families, though, all it takes is an au pair or a nanny to help bring manageability to their lives and improve their parenting work-life balance.

If you are interested in hiring someone to help with childcare and housework, you might be considering an au pair or a nanny. To help you decide what's right for you, below we shed some light on the differences between the two roles, the pros and cons of both, and some tips on how to find the right fit for your family.

Differences

There are some commonalities between au pairs and live-in nannies. Both care for your children. Both do housework and cooking. Both drive your kids to and from school, appointments, and daycare. And both can help bring a greater sense of balance to your day-to-day life.

For instance, having a nanny or au pair can give you more free time as a family and opportunities to build memories together. Arlene Byles, a teacher and parent of one, says one of the biggest benefits of their family's live-in nanny during her daughter's younger years was the quality time they were able to have as a family.

"We really loved how our free time as a family wasn't spent doing chores around the house," explains Byles. "On top of caring for our daughter in the week, our nanny did things like making beds, cleaning, and laundry which ultimately freed up our time to do fun things as a family."

Though the roles of the nanny and au pair have some similarities, there are a few notable differences. For instance, an au pair is generally between the ages of 18 and 30 while there is no age restriction for nannies.

Additionally, an au pair's main role is to care for the children and to take care of housework that pertains to their care such as laundry and dishes, while a live-in nanny can take on household tasks that go beyond the children.

An au pair also may stay with a family for a few months and often up to 1 year while a nanny tends to be with a family for longer. What's more, an au pair is generally someone from another country who joins a family as a cultural exchange experience while a nanny is often (though not always) from the same country.

In exchange for childcare and light housework, an au pair is given a place to stay, food to eat, and some pocket money. Currently, the minimum is $195.75 per week while a nanny is paid a salary. The average yearly salary for a live-in nanny in the U.S. is $33, 428 but the cost depends on the going rates in your area, as well as years of experience, with the highest salary being around $65,000 per year.

Au pairs also work fewer hours than nannies. For instance, they can work a maximum of 10 hours per day and 45 hours per week but are entitled to one and a half days off each week.

Meanwhile, a nanny often works 10 to 12 hours and between 45 and 60 hours with overtime being paid according to federal and state overtime laws. Most au pairs negotiate time off with their individual families while most professional nannies receive major holidays off with pay and 2 weeks of paid vacation per year.

Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to everything and it is no different when it comes to comparing nannies and au pairs. What's more, a con for one family may actually be a pro for another. Therefore, it's important to really consider your priorities and expectations when determining which option is best for you.

For example, if you like the idea of your child learning a second language you might appreciate an au pair who could share their first language and some of their culture with your children. With an au pair, it's possible your kids would be exposed to another language, different foods, and various customs.

According to Robin Leon, a representative from Au Pair in America, culture is one of the biggest benefits of the au pair program.

"Au pairs are more than employees," says Leon. "They become full-fledged family members, sharing a cultural exchange experience that often leads to a lasting relationship with the host family."

Here are some pros and cons of an au pair to consider.

Pros of an Au Pair
  • Costs less than having a nanny

  • Provides opportunities to learn about another culture

  • Offers flexibility as the schedule can vary depending on the family's needs

Cons of an Au Pair
  • May require guidance and assistance settling into the role

  • Offers only a short-term solution since stays are usually 1 year or less

  • Requires adhering to the maximum hour guidelines

While you may really love the idea of the cultural exchange an au pair provides, you may also value having a caregiver long-term. In this case, a live-in nanny may be more suitable than an au pair. These are the sorts of considerations to make when deciding what suits your family best.

"In both cases [with nannies and au pairs] this person truly becomes a member of the family," says Lindsay Aspell Thomason, CEO and founder of The Nanny League. "But in the case of having a nanny, their tenure with your family usually exceeds more than 1 year."

Whether you decide to go with a live-in nanny or an au pair, the decision is a personal choice based on your family's needs, dynamics, and financial means. Here are a few pros and cons of a live-in nanny to consider.

Pros of a Live-in Nanny
  • Possesses expertise in childcare and household management

  • Understands local customs, expectations, and education

  • Functions as an employee so boundaries may be more defined

  • Becomes a long-term childcare solution

Cons of a Live-in Nanny
  • Costs more than an au pair

  • Requires management like an employee would including taxes

  • Requires screening and background checks unless an agency is used

Finding the Right Fit

When it comes to finding the right live-in child care provider for your family, Aspell Thomason suggests going through a reputable agency. This way, it's more likely that the nanny you hire has already been vetted.

"Going through an agency helps you save time and the stress of weeding through numerous applicants," she says. "We do the vetting for you—background and reference checks, verifying certifications, education, and immunizations—an agency will present you with only the most qualified candidates for the position."

Aspell Thomson also stresses the importance of trusting your instincts. For instance, you might ask yourself, "Does this person seem like someone who I’d like to have at our family dinner table?" She suggests meeting in person and watching them in action before inviting them to join your family.

Be upfront and honest about who you are as a family and what you are looking for, suggests Leon. "Think about your actual family, not your aspirational family," she says. "Are you a family of introverts, who enjoys reading quietly by the fire each evening? Great! There’s an au pair for you. Or, are you a more social family, always entertaining friends and family? Wonderful! There’s an au pair for you too."

An honest depiction of who you are and a clear idea of your expectations can help ensure a good fit between your family and an au pair or nanny.

Another concept to consider is what you value and hope to see in the relationship between your live-in nanny or au pair and your kids. Byles and her husband identified happiness and one-on-one engagement as priorities for them.

Not only is identifying your top priorities, and what you would like to see in the relationship, important but so is widdling down the specifics of what you hope to happen in day-to-day life. "If you want your children to be engaged in art, singing, sports, or trips to the park, make these expectations known," Byles says.

Being upfront about what you expect, including such things as how much screentime is allowed, can ensure clarity and the opportunity for a genuine match.

A Word From Verywell

When determining whether an au pair or a live-in nanny is best for you, start with a clear idea of what you are looking for and open communication about your expectations. You also may find that using a reputable agency or child care service will help you ensure due diligence and increase your chances of finding just the right live-in person for your family.

Sure, having extra arms (or legs) would be kinda cool. But, we all know that is not possible. In reality, an au pair or nanny might be what your family needs. Plus, finding the right person may help you achieve more balance in your life.

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  1. Au Pair in America. How much does an au pair cost? Updated 2021.

  2. Talent.com. Live in nanny average salary in the USA 2021. Updated 2021.