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Affordable Language Immersion with Au Pair Child Care Post #1: What is an Au Pair?

Affordable Language Immersion with Au Pair Child Care Post #1: What is an Au Pair?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from our current Au Pair Agency, Au Pair Care, reminding me that it is time to start looking for a new au pair (pronounced "oh pear"). Our family has relied on an au pair to care for our children and speak to them exclusively in Mandarin for 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, since my youngest was 7 months old.

This will be the 5th time I have gone through the process of interviewing and selecting an au pair, and each time has been slightly different but, in general, easier. When I think back to when my eldest son was an infant, I had no idea what the au pair program was or what it entailed. I have learned so much as a "host mom" over the past few years that I wanted to write a series of posts, called "Affordable Chinese Immersion with Au Pair Child Care", dedicated to the topic.

These posts are primarily intended for two groups of our readers: 1) those of you who may be unfamiliar with the au pair program but are interested in in-home language immersion child care, and 2) existing "host parents" who are interested in learning additional tips about how best to partner with your au pair to cultivate an engaging immersion environment for your child(ren). This particular post will be more applicable for those of you in the first category. 

Getting started: What is an au pair?

For those who are completely unfamiliar, the au pair program is an international exchange program authorized by the U.S. Department of State which allows 18-26 year old young people to come from their home countries to live with host families in the United States. Au pairs should have experience caring for kids. They can live with a U.S. host family for 1-2 years to help care for children on a J-1 visa while learning more about American culture, sharing their own country's culture, and taking some courses in American colleges and universities. 

Au pairs live in your home with you and care for your children for up to 45 hours per week (no more than 10 hours per day).  

There are 15 designated au pair program sponsors (commonly referred to as agencies) that are approved by the Department of State to facilitate placing au pairs with host families and ensuring that all parties comply with Department of State regulations. I have worked with the two biggest agencies, Cultural Care Au Pair and AuPairCare Inc., and I  have met several au pairs who are sponsored by other agencies. 

How much does it cost?

Because "au pair" is a French word and because, in the U.S., French words are most often associated with luxury goods and services, I think most Americans assume that au pair child care is a luxury and is out of their price range; however, depending on your family's situation, an au pair may be one of the more reasonable childcare options available to you. 

A traditional au pair costs about $21,000* per year to host. (For comparison, I just looked up our local Spanish Language immersion daycare (in Atlanta) and the cost is $21,000 for infants and $18,000 for Pre-K.)  Because we have two children, if both of them were enrolled in this day care program, our child care expenses would be close to double what they are. Additionally, we don't have to worry about sick days, summer break, or holiday breaks nearly as much as parents who do have children in daycare or aftercare programs. 

Here is a breakdown of the costs for a traditional au pair**: 

Traditional Au Pair (45 hours a week)

Program Fees  $8,500
Education Reimbursement  $500
Weekly Stipend for one year  $10,179
(Variable) Food $1000
(Optional) Car Insurance $400
(Optional) Driving Lessons  $340
(Optional) Cell Phone/ Phone Allowance $200
Total $21,119*

What are the program requirements?

In order to host an au pair, you need to be able to provide your au pair with a spare private bedroom and access to a bathroom (it can be a shared bathroom). You also need to go through an interview and screening process where the agency will inspect your prospective au pair's room, and interview you and your references about your suitability to participate in the program. Au pairs need to complete a background check, basic interviews in English, have an international driver's license, pass a physical, and demonstrate that they have completed a certain number of hours caring for children.

Is an au pair right for your family?

Au pair child care is not for everyone. If you like your privacy and can't imagine someone seeing you in your pajamas at breakfast, or, if you are so busy that you are away from home more than 9 or 10 hours a day, an Au Pair is probably not the best childcare solution for you. However, if you want flexible live-in childcare and you want your child to learn a language in an immersion environment at home, an au pair might be just right for you! Look out for future posts on how to find, interview, select, retain, and partner with the right au pair for your family's language learning journey!

Do you have questions about hosting au pairs that I did not answer here? Are you a host parent who has additional input about the au pair program? 

Please post questions and comments below to let us know what's on your mind. 

Raising kids who speak Chinese in a predominately English-speaking country can feel daunting and lonely. If you enjoyed this post or found anything about it helpful, please share the learning with others by liking, commenting, or posting to your social media feeds using the buttons below. 

Thanks for reading!

Happy learning,


*As you can see in the breakdown above, some of these numbers will vary depending on whether or not you will need your au pair to drive, what and how much your au pair eats, the cost of living in your area, and the arrangement that you make with your au pair about cell phone payments, etc. 

**Besides "Traditional" au pairs, some agencies also sponsor "EduCare" Au Pairs for certain regions. I have never hosted an EduCare Au Pair, but the basic gist of that program is that Au Pairs attend twice as much school as traditional au pairs (12 credit hour requirement vs. 6), work a maximum of 30 hours a week, and usually cost host families about $16,000/ year. If you would like to learn more about EduCare Au Pairs, you can learn more on the State Department website here under the section titled "More Information".

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