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What is the Difference Between an Au Pair and a Nanny?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated May 17, 2024
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Both au pairs and nannies provide childcare in the home, but there are some big differences between the two positions. An au pair typically is a young woman, occasionally a young man, from another country who is seeking cultural exchange through the job in the host country. He or she might not have any experience caring for children. A nanny is often someone who performs childcare as a career, has experience and might be younger or older. These people usually are residents of the same country in which they work.

Au pairs normally work under the specific government regulations of the host country. In the United States, for example, foreign nationals between 18 and 26 years old can stay with a host family for up to 12 months and perform limited childcare, which is designated as no more than 10 hours per day. Other specific regulations are in place regarding things such as wages and amount of time off.

The idea of the au pair program is to make the person feel more like a part of the family than like an employee. These people live and often vacation with their host families. They receive lodging, meals and a small weekly or monthly allowance. In return, they perform basic household chores and help parents care for children. In the United States, au pairs cannot care for children younger than three months old without a parent present, and they cannot work in homes with children younger than two years old without undergoing training in infant care.

Nannies, on the other hand, care for children as a career and normally are paid a living wage. They often are highly experienced in working with children, and they are interviewed for the job and come with references. The child care professional might live in the home or travel to the home each day. He or she might work full time or part time, depending on the position, and can stay in the position for as long as needed or desired. A nanny might also perform household duties in addition to childcare.

Coming from another country, au pairs might not speak the language of the host country very well. As part of their cultural exchange program, they often will take classes to learn the language of their host country or gain academic credits. A nanny already knows how to speak the local language.

Other differences between the two are how they are recruited for jobs. The au pair typically is identified through an agency. The nanny might be hired through an agency, from an advertisement in the newspaper, through word-of-mouth from a friend, or in another way.

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Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Aug 18, 2012

@browncoat - Most nannies will come with excellent references and probably know more about raising kids than the parents they are helping out. It's actually not that easy to become a nanny, no matter what the TV shows say. Decent available positions are quite sought after by a lot of candidates and many of those have extremely solid resumes, including, in some cases, full child care degrees.

It's a real profession and personally I wouldn't feel any more qualms leaving my kid with a good nanny than with a family member. I wouldn't really like to do either, but sometimes you just don't have a choice.

By browncoat — On Aug 17, 2012

@umbra21 - For every bad au pair story, there are a hundred good ones. And you have to remember that the host family is taking a chance as well. They don't know what the au pair will be like. You just need to make sure you go through a good agency and try to be confident, but also open minded.

I'd be more worried about getting a nanny, to be honest. At least the agency would vet an au pair and they are generally just college kids who want something different.

A nanny is a much bigger investment and people trust their children to them far more than they do to au pairs.

By umbra21 — On Aug 16, 2012

You need to be careful to go through a reputable agency if you want to be an au pair. Pick one that will back you up and provide assistance if you need it.

My mother always told me she was too scared to be an au pair after a friend of hers had a bad experience. The friend was staying in the States, I think and she was forced to work very long hours with no time off. When she threatened to leave, they took her passport and tickets off her. In the end, her brother had to fly over to where she was staying in order to rescue her.

I'm sure there are still incidents like this happening. When you are visiting a foreign country you are at the mercy of the people who are hosting you and it can easily turn out badly.

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