What Does an Au Pair Really Cost?

One of the biggest benefits of an Au Pair Program is the cost, especially if you have more than one child. Out here in the Bay Area, a traditional nanny will set you back $50-90K per year. You read that right. Nanny-shares (1 child from each family) will cost each participating family unit roughly half that, depending on the arrangement. 

So, daycare you say? We thought so too. But when we started looking into daycare for our first child (who never made it off any waiting lists even though we signed up for five waitlists when I was only four months pregnant), we realized daycares around here aren’t that cheap either. Depending on the program – they ranged generally from $18,000-23,000 per year. A second child with a sibling discount? Total bill for the family ranged from $26,000-45,000 per year. Ugh! 

With prices like that, it is no wonder most families have to either choose for one parent to stay home, or to enlist the help of close-by family members. By no means do I think childcare providers are raking it in at these rates either, a nanny making $50,000 or $60,000 before taxes in the Bay Area is rough in a place where one bedroom apartments cost upwards of $2,000+utilities a month and sandwich at the local deli is an easy $12.50 off the bat. Don’t get me started on taxes, gas prices and other hard costs around here. 

Once our second child was on the way we had to come up with something more creative for our childcare needs or I was going to have to leave my job. I started talking to other experienced moms about their au pairs and realized it could be a great fit for our family. We are lucky enough that our tiny house actually has a bonus room of an in-law suite (or rather an au pair-suite!) – a set-up that has proved invaluable to us. 

So, what does an au pair cost after all?

Well – au pairs come from federally regulated programs. The programs cost a host family around $8,000-$10,000 depending on their details. You usually have to pay this big chunk of change up front, but there might be some options for payment plans if you inquire. Why do you have to pay for a program? The programs sponsor the au pair visas, they do interviews, background checks, arrange the au pairs flights and training, and are the support system when they get here  (au pair meetings, events, help with transitions and questions for both the family and the au pair, etc.). They also give the au pair their health insurance. You cannot legally get around the program participation, and frankly you don’t want to. They handle all the dirty work and build a good network and support system for your au pair and family.

Each participating family pays their au pair a minimum stipend of $195.75 each week, though you can choose to pay more than that. A host family is also responsible for feeding and housing your au pair, which could cost you about ~$50-150 extra per week depending on your own family (cost of food, including her in meals out of the house, extra cost of household products and utilities for another adult, etc.). 

The host family is also responsible for your au pair participating in an educational component to the program, and must contribute $500 towards that course/class. You can choose to contribute more if you’d like them to take additional classes or want to encourage them towards a specific credited course that might cost more. You are also responsible for getting them to and from such classes (whether they are weekends, nights or when you kids are at school). You can offer uber/lyft credits, a car, or drive them yourself. Either way, you are somehow paying for them to get to and from class. 

  • Program: $8,000-10,000 / year
  • Au Pair Stipend: $10,179 / year (52 weeks, they get 2 weeks paid vacation)
  • Room & Board Costs: $2,500-7,500 / year
  • Education: $500 
  • Transportation Costs: $1200 / year 
  • Mobile Phone: $850 / year 
  • Gift / Bonus: $1,000 / year

Total based on just the assumptions above: $23,729-$30,729

Both these low and high end numbers are influenced by the region you live and the perks/benefits you offer. Above I noted transportation costs to be $1,000 per year because that is roughly what we ended up giving out in Uber credits for our au pair to get to and from classes (required), au pair program events/meetings (required), a local bus/train pass (perk), and some extra she needed to get around to help support our family when we all traveled together. If you are adding your au pair to your car insurance, paying for their gas, and actually calculating the cost of giving them a car to use – that cost will be higher. Some families I have known also sponsor a driving instructor for a few weeks if you require the au pair to drive your children. 

If you plan to have your au pair travel with you, costs will also be higher in total  when you calculate in flights, hotel rooms, and food while traveling. Other costs that might hit home, your au pair getting sick or taking vacation and your cost to cover her duties with another babysitter or drop-in daycare during that time, paying her more than the weekly stipend, covering her household expenses like particular toiletries, a cable box in her room, etc. 

Although it is easy to tell friends that Au Pair Programs are the most affordable childcare option in the Bay Area (or many other very expensive places), the truth is, it may not be depending on your family. For one child, it sure isn’t the most affordable option. Getting into a daycare center for $22,000 or less is much more fiscally reasonable than the $25,000-$35,000 a year you will end up shelling out to participate in the au pair program and the cash that goes to paying and supporting your au pair. However, once you get to two children (nonetheless three or more), an au pair is definitely one of the most affordable options on the table.

However, it goes without saying that people participate in Au Pair programs for things far beyond just the cost. 

  • Au Pairs schedules are flexible. Although they cannot work more than 45 hours a week, 10 hours a day, and are required to have specific time off (1.5 days a week and at least 1 weekend a month), they can start very early in the morning or end late in the day, depending on your work schedule. People with odd or varying schedules are best suited with an au pair based on the flexibility alone! I have a friend who works in finance. Both her and her husband have to be at work at 4:30am everyday. They slip into their au pairs room before they leave, drop off the baby monitors and head out. The au pairs working clock begins then – but it also ends 9 hours later when most people are still at work. Daycare or a traditional nanny would have never worked for them! 
  • Au Pairs can travel with your family. We spent the last three years (with kids) balancing family in Chicago and Rhode Island – with our work and home lives in the Bay Area. Each year we were spending 10-12 weeks away from home, and really needed childcare with us. Our Au Pair could come with us, see new places, have new experiences, and we could enjoy the help we needed taking care of the kids while we worked remotely at the Grandparents houses, or wherever we were! 
  • Au Pairs become part of the family. If you have a good au pair and a good relationship with your au pair – it becomes one more important person in your children’s life who loves them, and they love. I adore this part of the concept. Although kids who go to daycares can get great care – learn, grow and thrive – having someone in your home who cares for them in a unique way and has a close relationship with them day-in and day-out can be really, really special. Our kids adore our au pair and always include her as a member of the family. 
  • Au Pairs share their culture and language. If this is something you want for your kids – it’s built-in by having someone from another country (and potentially with another language skill set) live with you. We have loved this aspect of having an au pair. 
  • Having in-home childcare gives you a lot more control. Although I have absolutely nothing against daycares or other childcare arrangements, it is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am kind of a control freak in certain ways. Ok, a lot of ways. There is a specific way I want my children raised, and by no means is it perfect or the right now way – but day-by-day there are generally things I want done or things I want said a certain way (for example: we don’t yell at our kids, use time out – yet, give them sugary treats on a regular basis, and encourage reading books an excessive amount of times a day…). Nothing I choose to do or not do here with my kids is right for everyone, it is also not right for us forever per say, but I like to be the one making the decisions alongside my husband. With au pairs, you can set the ground rules and make the schedule for them to follow. They won’t be perfect, but you can shoot for the moon… 
  • You get more bang for your buck than a daycare. You have someone in your home that is responsible for all things kids. Kid’s laundry, putting away kids toys, cleaning up after kids, helping with kids homework or special projects, and even preparing meals for kids (of course, only when they are on-duty and as part of the job description upfront!). It is so helpful to have another set of hands at home, this is a huge benefit!

Ps. I know A LOT of folks fall on one side or another about au pair programs being positive, negative, unfair or fair. This article is NOT about that, though if you start working out fiscal and intangible perks and benefits as well as cash compensation you would likely land on the fair side… For more on that issue, I’ll be posting soon! Continue to follow my blog the latest!

To read more about au pairs, visit my posts here:

Childcare: Everything You Asked About Au Pairs

How to Pick the Right Childcare Option: Daycares, Nannies, Au Pairs and More

Childcare: How to Find the Right Au Pair