Frequently asked questions

We know that most families aren’t as familiar with au pairs versus nannies or day care—but don’t let the mystery of our program discourage you from considering an au pair! Below are some of the common questions we frequently hear from parents. 

General questions

What is an au pair?

An au pair is a young adult aged 18-26 from overseas who lives with an American family on a legal visa for up to two years. While in the U.S., they provide childcare support in exchange for living as a part of your family, room and board, and support towards their required academic studies. Au pairs travel to the US and become a part of your family while also having the opportunity to travel and truly experience life in the United States. Find out more about who our au pairs are.

What does an au pair do?

An au pair lives with your family and helps care for your children. They provide childcare on a schedule you decide, though they cannot exceed the Department of State-regulated limit of 45 hours per week, 10 hours per day. Au pairs can help with tasks related to the care of the children, such as light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation to and from school or extracurricular activities. An au pair cannot take on any tasks that relate to the care of the host parents, or any other family members. Read more about what an au pair is.

Au pairs become like extended family members that many of our host families come to deeply know, trust, and depend on. It is common for host families to stay in touch with their au pairs long after their program term has ended. Find out more about the benefits of hosting an au pair.

 

What is a host family?

In the case of the federal American au pair program, a host family is a family that participates in a Department of State-regulated cultural exchange program and welcomes an au pair into their home. To be eligible, families must fulfill certain requirements. At minimum, both parents in a two-parent household, or the parent of a single parent household, must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents; they must be fluent in English; and they must provide a suitable private bedroom, at least 3 meals a day, and a weekly stipend for the au pair. Please review the host family agreement for all requirements for hosting families.

Beyond the basic host family requirements, being a host family also means helping the au pair immerse themselves in everyday American life by exposing them to new traditions, customs and people—and supporting their goals while they are in the U.S.

Find out more about becoming a host family.

What’s the difference between an au pair and nanny?

The main difference between an au pair and a nanny is that an au pair is not a professional childcare provider. They have babysitting experience in their home country and are eager to learn from you about what your needs are for your family. An au pair is a young person between the ages of 18 and 26 who comes from a foreign country and participates in a cultural exchange program with clearly defined rules around childcare hours and mutual responsibilities. In addition to caring for your children, an au pair introduces your family to a new language and culture, and pursues their own goals while in the United States.

Meanwhile, a nanny is not a participant in a cultural exchange program under the State Department and they are a professional childcare provider. Nannies can be any age, often live elsewhere, and can come from anywhere (including the U.S.) Read more about the differences between au pairs vs. nannies.

Are au pairs safe?

Cultural Care Au Pair is a government-regulated program, meaning there are guidelines in place designed to protect both families and au pairs during the exchange year. It also means that au pairs travel to the U.S. on a legal J-1 visa, allowing them to stay in the country (and with your family) for up to two years.

Moreover, all au pair applicants must undergo a multi-step screening process before being accepted by Cultural Care. As a host family, you can review available candidates knowing they have all been personally interviewed and submitted references (checked by Cultural Care staff), a criminal background check, and personality profile.

Should I get an au pair?

Hosting an au pair has been an amazing experience for many American families, but the program is not right for everyone! You should consider hosting an au pair if the following statements are all true:

  • You are looking for a reliable, flexible, and consistent caregiver for your kids.
  • You are excited about welcoming a young person from abroad into your family, sharing American culture with them, and supporting them throughout their stay in the U.S.
  • You are willing and able to provide a private bedroom, at least three meals a day, and other amenities to make their stay more comfortable.
  • You are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and so is your partner (if applicable).
  • All adults living in your household would pass a criminal background check.
What are the au pair requirements?

To be an au pair with Cultural Care, a candidate must:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 26
  • Pass a physical exam with their doctor
  • Complete secondary school or equivalent
  • Have experience caring for children
  • Be prepared to commit to at least 12 months abroad
  • Complete a criminal background check
  • Have a valid driver’s license

In addition, they must be willing to embrace the spirit of the au pair program—meaning they’re ready and excited to participate in a mutually beneficial relationship with an American family, one filled with trust, respect and cultural exchange.

Can au pairs drive?

Yes. Having an au pair to drive your children to school and activities is one of the benefits of the au pair program. Au pairs are generally licensed to drive in their home country and travel with an International Driver’s Permit. If you anticipate having your au pair drive during their year, you will need to provide the appropriate coverage under your auto insurance and be prepared to help them adjust to driving in the U.S.

Do all au pairs speak English?

Yes, all au pairs speak English. English skills range from proficient to native speaker. During the overseas screening process, au pairs are interviewed in English by one of Cultural Care Au Pair’s recruitment leaders to assess their command of the language. You can use this assessment, included in an au pair’s application, as well as your personal phone interview with an au pair to determine whether their English abilities match what you are looking for.

Au pair costs

How much does an au pair cost?

The pricing of our au pair program is structured in a unique way, but most families find it is comparable to daycare or nannies on an annual basis. Though payments are not made monthly and host families may agree with their au pairs to pay a higher weekly stipend amount than the required minimum, for easy comparison, au pair program costs average out to about $1,630 per month. Note that this does not include additional costs, such as room and board for your au pair, additional insurance (if applicable), and any other costs that might help to make your au pair’s time in the U.S. more comfortable.

How much is the au pair weekly stipend?

The weekly stipend you give your au pair is a minimum of $195.75, which is calculated with a formula using the federal minimum wage and a housing credit. Host families and their au pairs may agree to a stipend amount above the legally required minimum, but not in exchange for the au pair exceeding the regulatory limits on working hours (10 hours per day; 45 hours per week) or performing duties beyond childcare-related tasks.

Do I have to pay the whole program fee upfront?

No. Families who host an au pair for a minimum of 44 weeks are eligible for our extended payment plan (accepted by eCheck only). The extended payment plan allows you to pay in four installments, starting 30 days before your au pair’s arrival and ending 6 months into your program year. Read more about our extended payment plan.

Do we pay extra for having more than one child?

No. One of the benefits of choosing to host an au pair is that, compared to daycare or nannies where you pay per child, the costs for the au pair program do not vary based on this factor.

Host family registration

What are the host family requirements?

In order to become a host family with Cultural Care, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Provide a private bedroom for your au pair

In addition, you must be willing to embrace the spirit of the au pair program—meaning you and your family are ready and excited to participate in a mutually beneficial relationship with an au pair from overseas, one filled with trust, respect and cultural exchange. Read more about host family requirements.

How do I register as a host family?

Our save-as-you go registration is easy to use—simply fill out the registration information at your leisure. Once you’re ready, submit your registration along with Cultural Care Au Pair’s $75 registration fee to get started.

How long does it take to get an au pair?

The time it takes to find you an au pair will be determined by your family’s specific needs and the availability of au pairs with corresponding qualifications. Generally, an au pair can arrive to your home within eight to ten weeks from the time you submit your registration. Read more about the process to find an au pair.

As a single parent, am I able to participate in the program?

Absolutely! Cultural Care Au Pair welcomes families of all shapes and sizes. 

My child has special needs. Can we still host an au pair?

Yes, you can. We will want to thoroughly review the needs of your children to ensure that this program fits your needs and that the au pair you are matched with has the required experience per the regulations. We do have some au pairs who have experience caring for children with special needs and have interest in doing so while here in the U.S. Our current host families who have children with special needs may have waited a little longer to find an au pair who suited their needs, but it is very possible.

Matching with an au pair

How does the matching process work? 

Cultural Care Au Pair offers you the ability to search for candidates on your own as well as a dedicated Matching Specialist to provide you with matching support. Whatever your desired level of engagement is during the matching process, Cultural Care Au Pair is ready to meet your needs.

What if I already know someone that I want to welcome as our au pair? 

If the person you know meets our au pair requirements and passes Cultural Care Au Pair’s screening and interview process, then they are likely eligible to travel to your home as an au pair. You must still submit an application and interview your “pre-arranged match” by phone. However, an au pair cannot be placed in the home of a relative.

Can two families “share” an au pair? 

Two families cannot share an au pair. Au pairs are required to reside with and provide childcare for only one family during their program term.

Do you accept male au pairs? 

Yes, we do accept male au pairs. In fact, male au pairs are some of our most successful placements and represent about 10 percent of the program enrollment. Male au pairs often become energetic big brother figures and positive role models for children of host families.

Hosting an au pair 

How long can an au pair stay?

An au pair can stay up to two years. All au pairs arrive in the U.S. with a legal J-1 cultural exchange visa allowing them to stay with a host family for one year—then, towards the end of their year, they can choose to extend their time with their current family or with a new one for an additional 12, 9 or 6 months if they are in good standing with the program.

What is expected of me as a host family?

In addition to the qualifications required by the U.S. Department of State and Cultural Care Au Pair, host families should be prepared to embrace the cultural exchange spirit of the au pair program. This means welcoming your pair as you would an extended family member and helping them adjust once they arrive. You may need to explain household rules and routines not all at once but more than once. Asking how their day was, being thoughtful on holidays and their birthday, and including them in family meals will go a long way to making them feel welcome and supported in your family. While the needs of your children are of the utmost importance, it is also important that au pairs receive the benefits of an exchange experience and your full support as their American family. Read more about host family requirements.

What do I need to provide for my au pair?

As required by the Department of State regulations, all host families must provide their au pairs with a suitable private bedroom, weekly stipend, financial contribution to their educational component as well as transportation to their classes and an environment where they can be successful on the program.  Aside from love, respect, patience and quality time that helps you and your au pair’s relationship grow, many host families choose to provide their au pair with a private bathroom, a car for transportation, a cell phone plan and a computer. These are optional privileges and should be given by the host family if they believe it will help make their program year together safe and successful. Read more about hosting an au pair.

Can my au pair care for my children when I am out of town? 

Au pairs cannot provide childcare for 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.

Can my au pair care for my children overnight?

The short answer is YES, but it is important to keep a few things in mind. While the regulations do not expressly prohibit overnight hours, it is vitally important that these hours are counted properly. Any on-duty time must be considered working hours, regardless of whether the children are asleep. If, for example, the au pair is expected to get up and tend to an infant during a specific window of time during the evening, all of those hours are considered working time even if the child remains sleeping the whole time. In a 24-hour period, an au pair cannot work for more than 10 hours. So, for example – if an au pair is scheduled from 8pm – 6am starting on a Monday night and ending on a Tuesday morning, they cannot work again on Tuesday until 8pm.

In our experience, we have found that long term use of the program in this way affects the quality of life for an au pair and impacts a host family’s ability to be successful on the program. If this is a regular schedule, an au pair might not have a good chance to spend time with friends or take classes in the evenings etc. so it will be important to consider how often this occurs and if a cultural exchange program is the right long term fit for a family with this kind of schedule.

If your family needs overnight care, you will need to be crystal clear about your schedule, and your au pair must understand it is non-traditional. Like any situation, an au pair may agree to the schedule during the matching process, but once they get into it, they may discover it is too difficult. Families should be ready to provide extra support to au pairs who may be in this situation.

If you have overnight needs, we ask that you speak with one of our matching specialist about your particular needs and schedule to determine if this program is the right fit for your family.

Can my au pair work extra hours if I pay them extra money?

No. The program regulations set out by the U.S. Department of State must be strictly followed. Under no circumstances may an au pair work beyond their 10 hours per day, 45 hours per week for you or any other family—even for extra pay. Families must commit to these limits to participate on the program.

Can my au pair come on vacation with us? 

Yes! You can feel free to invite your au pair to join your family on vacation. However, eligibility to travel outside the U.S. will depend on your au pair’s home country and whether they are a first-year or extension au pair. Before bringing your au pair on vacation, it is also important to define whether they will be on-duty (and therefore be performing their normal childcare duties) or off-duty (in which case they have agreed to take vacation time and should not be expected to work).

Do au pairs have medical insurance?

Yes, all au pairs arrive with at least basic insurance coverage to cover accidents and illness during their program year.

What happens if it doesn’t work out with my au pair?

Cultural and personality differences account for the majority of conflicts and can usually be resolved through better communication and with the help of your Local Childcare Consultant (LCC). If your incompatibilities cannot be worked out, you may decide to continue the program with a new au pair, in which case we will work with you to find a better match as soon as possible.

Can we get an au pair at any time during the year? 

Yes, Cultural Care Au Pair arranges for au pairs to arrive in groups almost every week out of the year.

What do we do if there is an emergency?

In the event of an emergency, you have a network of support services that can help you, including a Cultural Care representative and resource living in your community (also called a Local Childcare Consultant or LCC). You can always reach an on-call Cultural Care staff member, 24-hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-333-6056.

I’m worried about losing privacy. How do families handle this?

This is a common concern, but one that usually disappears after an au pair arrives. Because an au pair becomes an extended part of your family—many families liken their au pair to an older niece or nephew—it will soon feel “normal” for them to live with you. Au pairs are entitled to a private bedroom so that they have their own space during off-duty time. (Privacy is important for them as well.) They also tend to spend much of their off-duty time with friends, taking classes and exploring new places.

What type of household duties can au pairs help with? 

Au pairs can help with household duties directly related to the children including the kids’ laundry, meal preparation, and tidying their rooms. Your au pair can also pitch in, as any family member would, with chores that everyone shares, like helping to load the dishwasher after a family dinner and picking up after themselves around the house. Au pairs’ responsibilities around the house should be reasonable and should not include heavy duty cleaning and cannot be exclusively assigned to the au pair.