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Au Pairs 101 FAQs
1. Why should my family choose an au pair instead of a nanny or daycare?
Nannies are typically very expensive and daycare centers have limited hours that may not fit with your work schedule. At an average cost of $320 per week, regardless of the number of children in your family, Au Pair agencies are competitively priced. You are also able to customize your au pair’s schedule to best accommodate your family’s specific needs. Your family receives more than just live-in, affordable childcare—you also reap the benefits of cultural exchange. You and your children can learn about the customs of another country or even learn a new language. For many host families, welcoming an au pair into their homes is also the first step in building a lifelong, friendship.
2. How do I choose an au pair agency?
You should choose an au pair agency from the list of the 13 designated au pair agencies that are monitored and regulated with the U.S. Department of State. Check out the list under Let’s Talk Au Pair Agencies and read our Review of the 12 Au Pair Agencies.
3. Where do au pairs come from?
Agencies recruit au pairs from all over the world. The most popular areas are: Europe, South America, Central America, Mexico, Australia and South Africa. An emerging market is China (see our article about the sharp rise of au pairs arriving from China).
4. Is it possible for us to host a male au pair?
Yes. However, only some of the agencies recruit and place male au pairs, or as they are referred to in the industry, “mannies.” Male au pairs can become a positive and energetic “big brother” role model for many families and are often more sports oriented and physically active.
5. As a single parent, am I able to participate in the program?
What about blended families or same sex couples? Absolutely. Au pair agencies generally welcomes single parents to participate in their programs. Many single parent families, as well as other types of families, have enjoyed the benefits of hosting an au pair and having that “extra pair of hands” available when raising a family without a partner. Blended families (remarried couples with their own set of children) are welcome as are same sex couples.
6. My child has special needs. Can we find an au pair to take care of our child or host an au pair if we have other children?
Yes. Au pair agencies do have some au pairs who have been identified as “interested in caring for children with special needs.” However, the majority of au pairs do not have any formal childcare education in this area, so you need to discuss your child’s needs with the agency and the au pair you are considering. It also may take longer to find an au pair who is willing to care for a special needs child or to find someone who is suitable.
7. What childcare qualifications and training do au pairs have?
In addition to the childcare experience detailed on their application, all au pairs attend a specially designed, four-day training program focused on child development and safety. Your local representative will also conduct meetings on different safety and injury prevention instruction units as follow-up training. Topics can include bike safety, playground and water safety, effective communication and behavior management. You can also make suggestions on a topic to your counselor who can incorporate additional safety workshops if she feels the majority of au pairs will benefit from your ideas.
8. Can I interview my au pair as I receive their applications?
Yes, you absolutely must interview all prospective au pairs before you match! We have known host families to match only by email interviews – this is not a good way to find out if the young woman who is to take care of your children and live in your home for 12 months is a suitable choice! The phone interview is a crucial part of the screening process and the best way for you to get to know an au pair candidate before making a decision. We suggest doing at least 3 phone interviews before you make a decision to invite an au pair to come to your home (see Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Matching with an Au Pair).
9. Will my au pairs drive? I need a driver!
Most au pairs are fully licensed to drive in their home countries. You may need to assist them in getting a state-driving license upon arrival with the help of your local childcare coordinator. Requirements may vary by state and by insurance carrier. If you require your au pair to drive, you are responsible for securing the appropriate auto and liability insurance.
However, you must do your homework and ask the au pair how long she has been driving – just because she has a license does not mean she can drive well enough to safely transport your children! Typically the best drivers come from Germany and Europe in general, and the weakest drivers come from Thailand, South Korea and China.
10. What plans should I put into place before my au pair arrives?
I always tell my host families, "A Happy Au Pair Makes for Happy Children and Happy Children Makes Happy Parents!" Do what you can to make your au pair feel welcome, secure, emotionally supported and Happy! Any investment in your au pair's well-being will pay off many times during her year with your family!
Her Bedroom and Bath: Make sure her bedroom and the bathroom she will be using is ready! A fresh coat of paint, a new, inexpensive and colorful bedspread and sheets will show that you care and make her feel appreciated right from the start. We also suggest giving your au pair her own TV and cable and a internet line (or computer) that she can use in private.
Welcome Basket: A welcome basket in her room is a very nice way to say “we are happy you are here.” Suggestions for the welcome basket: map of the your town; your counselor’s card; a list of the other au pairs in your cluster with their phone numbers and addresses; a note or picture drawn by the children welcoming her to the family; bathroom toiletries; a Starbucks card and anything else you feel your au pair will enjoy! Getting the whole family involved in setting up her room and contributing to her welcome basket is fun and models to your children that your au pair is special and will be treated that way. Her first day is an important one and first impressions are lasting ones!
Family Welcome: When you pick her up from the airport, bring a welcome sign with her name on it and let your children decorate it. Greet her warmly and with enthusiasm. Dinner should be a quiet affair with just your au pair and the family – she will be tired and overwhelmed coming from a 4 day training session the agency conducts before she is released to your home. Let her spend some time with the family and the children, but let her unpack and suggest a nice, long bath and early to bed.
Tell her to sleep in the next day and once she wakes up, then you can start to orient her to her new responsibilities as your au pair An excellent source for first time host parents is the link smartaupairs
Scroll down the page and read Before the Au Pair Arrives - tons of helpful information!
11. What happens if it just doesn’t work out?
Before you call the agency and start to complain and ask for a rematch, you should allow for a “settling in” period of up to a month. Read our article on Cultural Shock about how au pairs assimilate into a new culture. Your local childcare coordinator will be there to assist you and your au pair during this adjustment period. If you truly feel she is not going to work out with your family (often it is a “gut” sense that this is not the one) and problems are not getting resolved, you should share your doubts with the agency, and they will start to find a replacement for both you and your au pair.
12. Can my au pair care for my children when I am out of town?
Au pairs cannot work more than 10 hours per day or 45 hours per week. These limits would still apply when you are out of town, including hours when the children are sleeping. You would need to make additional childcare arrangements to cover any time beyond the au pair’s maximum working hours. Most parents invite family members to sleep over in these cases, to cover the au pair’s time off. This rule is especially critical to abide by if you have young children or an infant in the home.
13. We love our au pair and want her to stay another year. Is this possible?
Yes! The U.S. Department of State allows au pairs in good standing to extend their program participation for an additional 12, 9 or 6 months. An au pair has the choice either to live with their current host family or to request to change communities for their extended stay. Just make sure your au pair really wants to extend. There is a "curve" in her year abroad which often peaks in the middle of her stay. If her attention and excitement about aupairing is starting to level off, you make want to have a conversation with her and really find out if she is ready to return home. Often the extension au pair changes her mind in the early months of her second year and decides to return home - don't make a hasty decision before you have that talk.
14. What do we do if there is an emergency?
You will be provided with an 800 number for emergencies and au pair agencies provide “coverage” 24/7. You will get a phone call back from someone in the agency. First, call your counselor. If she does not pick up her phone (and don’t expect her too during her off hours and during the weekends – she has a life too!), then call the 800 emergency number she has provided. If you cannot find this, go online to your agency's site - it will be posted there.
Eventually, someone will get back to you – but use common sense until they do. You are the host parents so you need to make decisions in an emergency if your au pair is hurt or needs to get to the hospital. Report all emergencies and medical treatment your au pair receives right away to her counselor - they need to be in the loop
15. Can my counselor or LCC work full-time at another job while she is working for my au pair agency?
It depends. If your cluster (the group of host families and au pairs that are serviced by your counselor is called a cluster) numbers over 15, then no, your counselor is not allowed to work full-time at another job. The Dept. of State clearly states that the limit is 15 families for any counselor who works full-time in another position outside of the au pair agency she contracts with.
16. What is an Educare au pair?
EduCare Program (versus Standard Program):
The Au Pair program includes the EduCare component. EduCare is only for families that require childcare before and after school. EduCare au pairs may not be placed with families that have preschool children except if other, full-time childcare plans have been made.
The EduCare au pair may work no more than 10 hours per day, and a maximum of 30 hours per week. Au pairs participating in the EduCare component receive 75 percent of the weekly rate paid to non-EduCare participants. EduCare au pairs must complete a minimum of 12 hours of academic credit or its equivalent during the program year. The host family is required to provide (up to) the first $1,000 toward the cost of the au pair's required academic course work. exchanges.state.gov