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You may be asking yourself: “What is an au pair?” The answer is simple. Being an au pair is one of the most rewarding ways to see a new corner of the world, grow personally and professionally and make lifelong connections with people from many different countries. However, sometimes people get confused about the exact definition of an au pair, and how it is unique compared to nanny or babysitting jobs abroad. Allow us to explain …

What is an au pair?

An au pair – a woman or man between the ages of 18 and 26 – is a member of a cultural exchange program. As an au pair, you travel to the United States on a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa and stay for 12-24 months. During your time abroad, you live with an American host family and care for their children – in return, you are immersed in a new culture, given ample travel and educational opportunities, and the chance to make progress in your professional life. The term “au pair” translates to “on par” in French, which reflects the kind of relationship you should have with your host family: One that is equal, mutually enriching, and caring.

What is the history of the au pair program?

Established in 1986 by the U.S Department of State, the au pair program advocates for cultural exchange between families in the USA and young, culturally-curious women and men from around the globe. Over the past 30 years, Cultural Care Au Pair has sent more than 145,000 young people just like you to the USA to realize their dreams of becoming au pairs. In doing so, we’ve brought hundreds of thousands of people together from dozens of countries and countless backgrounds to form untold numbers of new relationships and connections that profoundly impact au pairs’ lives.

What does an au pair do?

An au pair lives with a family for at least a year with the opportunity to extend 6, 9, or 12 more months with that family or a different one in the USA.

The U.S. Department of State lists out basic guidelines for au pairs on the program:

  • You may provide up to 10 hours a day – or 45 hours a week – of childcare on varying schedules depending on the family’s needs.
  • You must complete at least six academic credits at an accredited USA post-secondary educational institution.
  • Last but not least, you receive free room and board, a minimum weekly stipend of $195.75, and up to $500 toward the cost of your required educational component.

How is an au pair different from a nanny?

There is currently no legal way to work as a nanny in America – unlike the State Department-regulated au pair program, there is no visa or working option for young people who want to become nannies in the USA. Aside from this major difference, nannies and au pairs have very different motivations for caring for children. As an au pair, you are interested in learning more about American culture and sharing your own with your host family and new community – a nanny’s job isn’t seen as an opportunity to be a cultural exchange participant.

In addition, you come to the USA to find a second family, discover a second home and become fully integrated in your new community, whereas nannies aren’t traditionally seen as members of the family. Furthermore, nannies aren’t required to live in the home with the family while au pairs are – this separation leads to less of a connection between nannies and the children they care for, compared to the bonds built between au pairs and host children.

Lastly, the au pair program is an opportunity for you to fine-tune your professional skills and gain confidence, independence and self-assuredness in a new environment – this allows au pairs to embark on career journeys that are as varied and unique as the au pairs themselves. In contrast, nannies tend to see childcare itself as their long-term, professional career path.

How is an au pair different from a babysitter?

Babysitting is very different from being a nanny or au pair in America, primarily because it’s done irregularly and casually. Babysitters in the USA aren’t part of any kind of government or locally-sponsored program – typically they are friends of the family or recommended through word of mouth. Like nannies, they don’t have any interest in exchanging cultures or forming any meaningful connections with the children they care for. Babysitting jobs are infrequent and short, compared to the au pair’s 45 hours a week work schedule. Ultimately, babysitting is a way for young women and men to make pocket change – it’s not part of a greater goal to travel, learn and grow in the USA.

Being an au pair is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the USA and gain the independence you need to succeed. If you love children and crave the chance to experience life in another country, the au pair program could be the perfect next adventure for you.