Au Pair Definition and Meaning: What is an Au Pair?
Au Pair definition
a person, usually a young foreign visitor, employed to take care of children, do housework, etc., in exchange for room and board: We sent the children to the beach with the au pair.
of, pertaining to, or employed under such an arrangement: an au pair girl.
1965–70; < French, literally, equal, even ( au contraction of à le at the + pair equal (noun); cf. pair), referring to the equal exchange of work for room and board
Au Pair Meaning
A young foreigner who lives with a family in return for doing light housework
Nouns denoting people
Hypernyms ("au pair" is a kind of...):
alien; foreigner; noncitizen; outlander (a person who comes from a foreign country; someone who does not owe allegiance to your country)
Hyponyms (each of the following is a kind of "au pair"):
au pair girl (a foreign girl serving as an au pair)
Where does Au Pair come from?
The word "Au Pair" is a French term, which means "on par" or "equal to", denoting living on an equal basis in a reciprocal, caring relationship between the host family and the children. An au pair will typically be a young woman and sometimes a young man from a foreign country who chooses to help look after the children of a host family and provide light housekeeping. The au pair is given room and board and is typically paid a weekly "pocket-money" salary. Au pairs generally stay with their host family for one year.
In the US an au pair is usually between the ages of 18 and 26 years old, yet some countries allow younger and older au pairs. If you want to hire an international au pair, rather than someone from your home country, be sure to see all of the country-dependent program requirements in the Au Pair Visa section.
Au pairs are typically in search of a new cultural experience while also desiring to serve as an integral part of a parenting team. This experience usually draws au pairs to a new country and often times involves improving on their foreign language skills.
An au pair is not considered a domestic employee and therefore taxes need not be paid as such. An au pair is not a nanny. Please see Au Pair & Nanny Differences further down.
Typical Au Pair Duties & Responsibilities
While the specific duties and responsibilities of an au pair will vary depending on the age of the children and the family's requirements, below is a good starting point for most families and au pairs.
Wake children in the morning
Make sure the children are groomed and dressed
Make sure children's beds are made and their rooms are clean
Prepare breakfast for the children
Prepare lunches for the children
Clean up breakfast dishes
Make sure children have books and homework for school
Drive children to school (if needed)
Chores while children are at school:
Pick up children from school
Prepare a healthy afternoon snack
Assist the children with their homework
Bathe the children
Au Pair or Nanny - Explanation
An au pair or nanny is normally a single girl or boy, aged 17-30, who helps a host family with childcare and sometimes housework, whilst living as a guest in their home. Au pair programs were originally designed with the intent for people to come together and exchange cultures, thus an au pair usually lives with a family in a foreign country whilst learning their language and exploring their culture.
Whilst living with a family, an au pair participates not only in childcare but also in other related activities, ranging from light housework to babysitting, or even helps older children develop particular skills (such as learning a new language or sport).
Being an au pair for a family, and in turn, a guest in their home, the au pair tends to participate in many of the family activities and is treated as part of the family. Thus, participating in an au pair programme can, therefore, be a very exciting and interesting experience for both the au pair and the family.
In some countries, the terms "au pair" and "nanny" are used interchangeably. However, it is generally accepted that a nanny is more likely to have professional childcare qualifications and/or first aid training. This is often seen as being particularly important when there are very young children to be cared for. On this site we ask members if they have nanny qualifications, and this is then something that the family can ask about, if they make contact with a particular candidate.
What is an Au Pair?
An Au Pair is a young person, usually 18-27 years old, who lives with a family in another country for up to 1 year. The Au Pair Programme has existed for a few decades and is a Cultural Exchange scheme based around childcare. This means that the Au Pair/Au Pair Plus will live with the family as part of the family.
The family benefits because the Au Pair is live-in and flexible. She/he will help with the children and with light household chores for about 25 hours per week and also babysit for 2 evenings per week.
The Au Pair benefits from the exciting experience of living in a foreign country, learning the language and the culture of that country and is also provided with pocket money of about £70-£80 per week. Additionally, all Au Pairs love spending time with children!
An Au Pair must be treated and welcomed as one of the family - this is also the way that you will benefit most from your Au Pair.
Although usually female there are also many good male Au Pairs.
The Au Pair is expected to help with a degree of household chores which could include some of the following:
Putting the washing on
Folding & putting laundry away
Loading/Unloading the dishwasher
Helping to keep kitchen clean & tidy, including sweeping & mopping floors
Helping to keep bathrooms clean
Tidying children's rooms and communal areas of house
Preparing light meals for the children
Small grocery shopping
Ironing for children
They should NOT be given heavy duty tasks or asked to Spring Clean.
The Au Pair should not be the only one in the household to undertake these tasks. Chores should be shared between Au Pair and Family (or other domestic help).
The Au Pair should be supporting you in looking after the children more than looking after the house.
The Au Pair must be given enough time to attend a language course (normally a couple of hours a few mornings per week in term time).
Au Pairs should not be given on-going sole charge of children under 2 years old.
A basic outline of duties, hours and conditions should be agreed to before the Au Pair arrives (this should be set out in the initial Letter of Invitation – this is the means by which you offer your Au Pair the position).
Any subsequent changes to the agreed duties, hours and conditions must be agreed to by both parties.
An Au Pair should be given a minimum of 1 week's paid holiday in every 6 months. You can offer your Au Pair further holidays paid or unpaid. The Au Pair should be given sufficient time to be able to return home on visits.
An Au Pair should be paid a minimum weekly pocket money of £70 and £85 for an Au Pair Plus.
If an Au Pair is babysitting 2 nights per week, only 1 of these evenings should be at the weekend, the other ought to be during the week.
An Au Pair must be given a private room to themselves. This must be clean, comfortable and include a window (!). You should provide them with a good bed, chair & desk and somewhere for them to store their clothes and other belongings.
An Au Pair can work 1 day at the weekend (by prior agreement) but they must be compensated by being given a day off during the week. They should be given the occasional full weekend off, so that they may sometimes go away for the weekend if they choose.
If an Au Pair is keen on animals they might enjoy spending a little time caring for your pets; cat feeding, dog walking, exercising your horses (if they ride).
The Au Pair should be invited to join the family in some leisure activities.
The Au Pair should share meals with the family.
The Au Pair should be prepared to pay for their own travel costs (outward and return). Some families offer to help with the cost, or to pay for their travel back home again.
The host family should collect the Au Pair from the airport.
Although an Au Pair is enthusiastic & energetic, has usually at least helped in their own homes and has some experience with children, it is important to remember is that an Au Pair is neither a nanny nor a cleaner and they are young. Make sure your expectations are not too high.
An Average Au Pair day
The Au Pair will work the hours you agree with them, but in an average family, the Au Pair might work for 1 hour in the morning, helping to get the children ready for, and maybe taking them to, school/nursery. Then 4 hours in the afternoon.
Get children ready, take them to school.
9.30 – 11.30 Au Pair attends language school (they can usually attend different hours if it fits in better with your schedule).
11.30 – 3.30 Au Pair goes out with friends or spends time on homework, or on computer usually in her/his room.
3.30 – 7.30 Collects children from school, takes them to any activities, prepares light meal for children, supervises homework.
From 7.30 If not babysitting, will often go out with friends, do homework or just relax in their room or with the family.
(please note there are many variations, this is a very basic example)
Although you must ensure your Au Pair feels part of your family, do not be surprised and certainly not offended if they choose to spend much of their 'off duty' time in their own room or out with friends. This is very normal - they would be doing the same thing in their own homes. Just as long as they are happy – and you are too!
An Au Pair is always foreign, is usually under 28 years old, has experience but is most often unqualified in childcare. They live with you as part of the family. Whereas a Nanny is usually native, trained and qualified in childcare and is your Employee (with according rights and benefits).
An Au Pair works about 25 hours per week (over 5 days) and babysits up to 2 evenings, for £70-£80 pocket money per week.
An Au Pair Plus works about 30-35 hours per week, and babysits up to 2 evenings.
Both positions usually involve helping you with children and household.
A Mother's Help is a person with significant childcare experience who can work up to 10 hours per day. The Mother's Help is either a native English speaker or speaks English fluently. They may live in or out. A Mother's Help position is not suitable for most candidates coming from overseas, because the number of hours in the working day often leaves them too few hours to attend language courses.
A Nanny is someone who is specially trained and has childcare qualifications, or someone with a very significant amount of childcare experience. Nannies are employees of the family and often live out. Nannies look after your children, their washing and bedrooms and prepare their meals, but do not usually help generally in the household. They can look after children of any age sole charge and work either full or part time. They charge ca. £8 - £10 per hour. You will need to pay tax and NI contributions and adhere to employment law.
We are not specialists in this area and cannot advise, but many people ask about the Minimum Wage, Tax, NI contributions and Employment regulations relating to Au Pairs. Having talked to Acas and HMRC we understand that if you treat your Au Pair like an Au Pair as per our lengthy description 'what is an Au Pair' at the top of this page and fundamentally as a part of your family, who is here on a cultural exchange, and you do not pay them 'excessive' pocket money then they are exempt from the minimum wage, tax, NI contributions and employment regulations. Everyone's situation is slightly different however, so we advise you to satisfy yourself as to whether your 'Au Pair' is actually more of an Employee to you.