Ask A Boston Expert: Deciding Between An Au Pair And A Nanny

June 27, 2014 6:00 AM

(Photo from Thinkstock)

(Photo from Thinkstock)

(Photo from Thinkstock)

Though many people may not realize it, there are many benefits and differences between inviting an au pair into your home and hiring a nanny. Kerry Lavin with Cultural Care Au Pair explains some of the differences.

Lavin is the local development director for Cultural Care Au Pair. She was able to share some insight into the differences between nannies and au pairs, as well as offer some expert advice on finding the proper child care in the city.

Kerry Lavin
Cultural Care Au Pair
1 Education St.
Cambridge, MA 02141
(800) 333-6056

What are the fundamental differences between an au pair and a nanny?

While there are many similarities between au pairs and nannies, the most significant differences are affordability (cost is fixed per family, not per child), flexibility in hours and support from local childcare consultants who live in the community and assist with the families’ and au pairs’ needs through the program year.

What can children get from an au pair that they could not or typically would not get from a traditional nanny?

Cultural Care Au Pair offers a unique childcare experience in which au pairs share a piece of their language and culture with families who otherwise may not have the opportunity to travel themselves. Cultural exchange is often seen at children’s playtime with international games, stories and activities.

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In terms of flexibility and availability, do you find au pairs are better for parents and, if so, why?

The flexibility of au pair care is rivaled only by care by family members. They provide care that can be split up over the course of the day (for example, before and after school), cover odd hours for parents working non-traditional schedules or weekends, handle frequent travel or just in general provide additional flexibility in scheduling and less rush hour stress.

While daycare centers have established hours of operation and most nannies want a consistent weekly schedule, au pairs can work up to 45 hours a week (no more than 10 hours a day) on a schedule that you decide. So, if you need early morning coverage, want to schedule a date night every other Friday or need to work on the weekends on occasion, an au pair can cover those needs.

Does the childcare parents get from an au pair and a nanny differ in any way and, if so, how?

Nannies and au pairs provide a similar standard of care to families. The family typically sets expectations and the au pair is responsible for age-appropriate activities, play dates, homework help, basic meal preparation and overall care of the child. Nannies have similar duties and many nannies share the same background as many au pairs in that they are not professionally trained, but have hundreds or even thousands of experience hours as babysitters, tutors, kindergarten assistants, camp counselors or sports instructors.

It’s important to note that there are some career nannies who are professionally trained or have advanced childcare development degrees. Au pairs are not professionally trained outside of their work experience, but they have passed background, health and personality tests (DISC assessment).

Does the experience of childcare differ for an au pair and a nanny in any way that a parent may find appealing when looking for help?

Unlike nannies or babysitters, an au pair is not an employee—he or she becomes part of your family during their stay. Au pair candidates are young adults who want to be immersed in American culture by becoming one of the family. Many host parents describe their au pairs as the “third parent” in the home. Au pairs become personally invested in your family and vice versa. Many of our au pairs and host families stay in touch for years after the program ends. This personal investment can often translate to better care for the children than a nanny or babysitter might provide.

Childcare is so expensive that parents sometimes forego it and find flexible work or stay home instead. For those who are concerned about the investment, which is the better deal, an au pair or a nanny?

Childcare costs vary, but many nannies are paid $500 per week or more, depending on their experience. The cost of an au pair is $360 a week or $8 per hour, including agency fees, plus the cost of their room and board. This is one of the best-kept secrets in childcare in the sense that it’s among the most affordable and flexible options for full-time care. While live-in childcare is often stereotyped as “for the rich,” au pairs are actually an affordable alternative to nannies and even many daycare centers.

How does a parent go about finding a good au pair? Do you have any tips for vetting potential candidates and do you feel this process differs from finding a good nanny?

Choosing childcare, no matter what the type, is a daunting task for any parent. The most important step in the search is making a list of important criteria to your household like schedule, certifications and other skills. Do you want someone who speaks another language? Do you want someone who is a good swimmer? Think about the activities you want your child(ren) to engage in, and consider including other skill sets you would like your nanny to have. And be sure to outline the main responsibilities your childcare person will have. Do you expect her to do some housekeeping? Clearly define your expectations of the role, both to help vet the candidate yourself and ensure that it’s a good fit for the people you’re interviewing.

Finally, of course, a professional agency can be extremely helpful in screening these candidates—especially when in the international waters of au pairs. At Cultural Care Au Pair, we provide a type of matchmaking service, ensure the necessary paperwork is filed, give the au pair basic training before their arrival at your home and guide you throughout the year. This type of agency resource can be very helpful in navigating childcare options, especially for parents doing so for the first time.

Related: Boston’s Best Cheap Activities To Do With Kids

Shelly Barclay is a professional freelance writer and amateur author. She writes on a variety of topics from food to mysteries. She loves to share the culture and rich history of her birthplace and home, Boston, with the rest of the world. Her work can be found at