Are you looking for alternative childcare options because of cost factors or the need for care outside of the “normal” Monday-Friday daytime hours?
Do you have a large family and need extra help at home taking care of the kids?
Is the waiting list for any decent daycare near you ridiculously long?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then just answer ONE MORE question:
Do you have an extra bedroom?
(Yes, this would include that room you have that you just dump things in that you don’t have time to find an actual place for)
If you do – AWESOME! Because there is another lesser-known childcare option that might be the right fit for your family!
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THE SEARCH FOR FLEXIBLE & AFFORDABLE CHILDCARE
Before I planned on having children, I was generally aware that childcare was not cheap, especially in my neighborhood. Then the day came that I found out I was having twins.
I knew I had to immediately start contacting daycare centers, to find one we could afford for two and that also had the space for both. When the responses started coming back, the quotes weren’t pretty. Several were going to be more than my husband brought home in a month!
So began the frantic search for alternate options.
Nannies for two were also very expensive and the prospect of wading through background checks and references to make sure we hired someone who was trustworthy was just not something I thought I could handle.
During a desperate Google search, my husband came across the au pair program.
WHAT IS AN AU PAIR?
Basically, an au pair (pronounced “opear”) is a live-in childcare provider from a foreign country. My not-exactly-correct but simple explanation to people who ask is that it’s like having a foreign-exchange nanny.
The term “Au Pair” is of French origin, meaning “on par” or “equal to”. This means that an au pair is considered an equal in the household and should be treated as a family member during her stay.
In the United States, au pairs come to the United States for 1 year under a J1 Visa to provide up to 45 hours per week of childcare for their host families. In exchange, a host family must provide room and board as well as a weekly stipend.
Au pairs are also required to complete at least 6 credit hours worth of post-secondary education during the year. To help with the cost, the host family is expected to pay up to $500 of the au pair’s course fees.
Au Pairs are also allowed the option of extending their visit for up to 1 additional year if they desire. Some choose to stay a second year with the same host family, and some decide to find a new family for a different experience.
Individuals who apply to be an au pair in the United States must be between the ages of 18 and 26 and a secondary-school graduate. If you are interested in more information see the US Department of State website for full requirements.
HOW DO I FIND AN AU PAIR?
One of the GREAT things about the Au Pair Exchange Visitor Program is that it is run through independent agencies. Au Pair applicants go through an extensive application process with an agency that includes background checks, reference retrievals, interviews, and language competency evaluations.
This means you don’t have to deal with the headache of doing those things yourself!
All you have to do is find an agency that you want to work with, and they will provide you with potential au pair profiles. From there, you will be able to schedule interviews (usually through Skype) with the applicants that interest you.
There are several agencies that sponsor au pairs in the United States. I chose to work with Au Pair in America because they were the first legal au pair program in the US and they’ve now been placing au pairs for over 30 years! I was also able to see what they offered without completing a full application, just basic contact information.
WHY CHOOSE AN AU PAIR?
I am SO happy that we found the Au Pair program as an option, and there are many reasons why it works so well for us and could for you too!
1. THE COST
I’ll go into more detail in a little bit, but for two little ones, having an au pair has ended up costing us less than a daycare or nanny.
I don’t think we would have been to afford childcare otherwise without either me having to work overtime or my husband getting a second job. We did not want to sacrifice time with our children in order to make ends meet. Seriously, who would?!?!?
Also, the “nanny tax” does NOT apply to wages paid to your au pair, so you don’t have to worry about that!
2. FLEXIBLE HOURS
For parents that DON’T work 9-5 weekday jobs, childcare can be tough.
If your schedule means you need coverage on evenings or weekends, it is absolutely an option with an au pair. You can create the schedule to fit your needs, as long as it falls within program regulations.
Au pairs can be scheduled for up to 10 hours per day and 45 hours per week. They can work weekend shifts as long as you give them one full weekend off per month.
3. IN-HOME CARE
If your kids are sick, they can get sent home from daycare and then you have to take time off work. My kids are CONSTANTLY sick (probably because ***everything they touch goes in their mouths***). If I had them in daycare, I would have lost my job early on with how much time I would have had to take off.
With an au pair, the only time you would have to worry is if SHE gets sick (which is much, much less frequently than the kids).
The other thing I have been extremely thankful for is the fact that I don’t have to waste time every morning and afternoon packing up and driving my kids to and from daycare. Who honestly wants to do that??? I have much better things to do with my time, thankyouverymuch.
4. AN EXTRA HAND
Though I did have a 3 month maternity leave, our first au pair arrived about 2 weeks after my children were born. IT WAS A LIFE SAVER. Yes I was home, but I had TWO newborns. I really don’t know how we would have survived those first few months without her.
You don’t HAVE to be a working mom to have an au pair. You may just have a larger family and need the extra help at home keeping the kids entertained and learning and driving them around to their various activities.
To be clear, though, an au pair is not your housekeeper. The program specifies that their assigned duties must be childcare related.
So you CAN have her help you with the kids’ laundry, cleaning their rooms and play areas, preparing their food, or other similar tasks. You CAN NOT have her do your own laundry, mow the grass every week, take your dog to the vet, etc.
Now, since you are expected to treat her as a family member, it is acceptable to have her participate in family chores. It is reasonable to set a standard that she keeps her room and bathroom clean. If everyone in your household takes turns taking out the trash at night, you can include her in that. Just make sure your expectations are clear and reasonable – it’s a good thing to discuss before matching.
5. CULTURAL EXCHANGE
You and your au pair will learn SO MUCH about each others’ cultures. Want your children to grow up learning another language? Having an Au Pair is a FANTASTIC way to do that. Applicants come from all over the world – Au Pair in America currently recruits from nearly 60 countries!
When deciding whether an Au Pair is right for your family, there are direct and indirect costs to consider.
There is a yearly program fee that you will pay to the agency. The Au Pair in America fee for 2019 is $8950, which will need to be paid prior to your au pair’s arrival. The agency does offer a payment plan if you cannot pay everything up front. Additionally there is a $450 match fee that is due when you initially choose and match with your Au Pair.
A host family is required to pay an au pair a minimum of $195.75 weekly (this is regardless of which agency you choose to work with – it is a federal minimum requirement). In addition to this, you will pay up to $500 per year towards her educational expenses.
So taking into account the agency fees ($9,400/year) and the payments you will make directly to your au pair ($10,679/year), we come up with a yearly cost of $20,079. Averaging it out over the year brings the cost to about $386 per week.
Many of the quotes I had gotten for daycare centers came close to or even exceeded this amount PER CHILD! The cost of an au pair is PER FAMILY, not per child, making it an excellent option for anyone who has multiple children.
So lets move on to other costs you need to factor in…
You will be providing room and board for your au pair, so costs related to this to consider are utilities and your grocery bill. For me the utilities increases have been negligible. You aren’t expected to pay for your au pair to go out to restaurants to eat with her friends (that would come from her weekly stipend), but you do need to plan to provide meals/food at home for her and pay for her food if you take the entire family out to eat.
If your au pair will be driving, you will need to add her to your auto insurance policy. If you have a AAA membership I would also recommend adding her to that too, but it isn’t required.
Au Pairs are provided medical insurance through the agency, so you do not need to worry about that.
I don’t think its directly specified, but you should probably pay for her cellular service. Let’s be honest, if you want to be able to keep a line of contact open with the person who is taking care of your children, you don’t really want to worry about if she paid her cell phone bill for the month. Both of my au pairs have brought their own cell phones with them so we didn’t need to actually pay for a phone, just the service.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
If having an au pair sounds like it could be the childcare solution for your family, I recommend heading over to Au Pair in America to check it out for yourself! Registering on the website allows you to view au pairs with no obligation to actually commit to one.
Being able to look at the au pairs they have available without actually filling out a full application was super helpful in my decision to move forward with Au Pair in America and more seriously consider the au pair program for my family.
So what do you think? Leave your thoughts and any other questions you have about hosting an au pair in the comments below!
If you decide to start looking for an au pair, check out these 8 questions you need to ask when interviewing au pairs.