Childcare providers wear many hats and come in many forms, but it’s important to remember the differences between each. Specific titles indicate much of their expected workload and experience level, which can be very helpful when placing ads or putting out feelers. Here are ten of the ways that au pairs are different from traditional babysitters.
- Au Pairs Are Visiting Foreign Students – To be considered an au pair, young adults must be visiting their host country with the intention of returning to the country of their citizenship at the end of a specified period. Some families create arrangements similar to those that govern a host family/au pair relationship with a young person who is a citizen of their country, but they aren’t technically considered au pairs.
- Au Pairs Live In – Babysitters almost always live outside of the family home; domestically-born caregivers that live in usually fall under the heading of “nanny.” However, au pairs always live in their host family’s home, as this is the foundation of the au pair model.
- Au Pairs Have Education Requirements – Almost all host countries with au pair programs recognized by their government have education and language class requirements for visiting au pairs. The number of coursework hours may vary from country to country, but there are very few without secondary education guidelines and regulations.
- Au Pairs Are Part of a Cultural Exchange Program – Au pairs live with a foreign family and provide light childcare in exchange for the opportunity to immerse themselves in that nation’s culture while also sharing their own. One of the basic tenets of the au pair working model is that families and their au pairs share cultures and customs with one another during their time together.
- Au Pairs Have Special Visa Requirements – Babysitters usually live in your neighborhood or are locally based, and as such don’t require a visa. Au pairs, however, must arrange for a special visa before arriving in their host country in order to legally remain on foreign soil.
- Au Pairs Receive Pocket Money, Not Paid Wages – Instead of paying a babysitter’s wages, host families provide an au pair with pocket money. This money is similar to an allowance, and is designed to facilitate exploration and provide au pairs with an authentic cultural experience during their off hours.
- Au Pairs Have Regular Schedules – While babysitters are on-call workers that parents arrange to hire for a special outing, au pairs live with their host families and can expect to have a reasonably regular childcare schedule.
- Au Pairs Are Limited in the Number of Hours They Can Work Each Week – In addition to the education requirements, host governments usually dictate the number of hours than an au pair is legally expected to work in order to protect them from being overworked or isolated within the home instead of experiencing the local culture.
- Au Pairs Accompany Host Families on Vacations and Outings – Families that would consider inviting the babysitter along on vacations and day trips are very rare, indeed. However, host families are expected to bring au pairs along on any outings or vacations, as they’re expected to be treated as a part of the extended family.
- Au Pairs Are Not Employees – It’s important for prospective host families to note that au pairs are not to be considered employees; rather, they should be treated as an honored guest or part of the extended family unit.
Because international au pair culture dictates that host families are not to treat au pairs as domestic servants or employees, they might not be the best fit for a family who’s simply seeking in-home childcare. Host families should be prepared to offer guidance and assistance in navigating local culture and helping their au pair to have a fulfilling foreign travel experience, rather than focusing on the childcare and household aspects of the arrangement.