How Much an Au Pair Costs
The all-in cost of an au pair averages out to about $18,500. As I mentioned, an au pair’s weekly stipend of $195.75 is set by the U.S. State Department. You pay that directly to her, and she’s responsible to pay taxes on that amount. Under those rules, she can work up to 45 hours a week, and not more than 10 hours per day. (So if you and your spouse travel frequently for work, you can’t have your au pair watch the kids for 24 hours while you’re gone.) You also need to afford at least one and a half days off per week, one full weekend off per month, and two weeks of paid vacation.
You also pay an upfront placement fee to the agency, which can vary but is generally in the $7,000 to $8,500 range. (Many will waive registration costs or give you a discount on your fee; hunt around on Google before signing up with any.) That upfront fee covers costs like travel to the U.S. and healthcare, so it is not fully refundable if you part ways with your au pair.
As part of the State Department program, au pairs are required to take at least 6 credits of classes from an accredited post-secondary school, and families are required to cover up to $500 of those educational costs. These classes can be in anything from linear algebra to French cooking or motorcycle repair.
There’s the cost of room and board, which – depending on your family and the au pair – can either be de minimus to you or a huge burden. One parent told me that their male au pair was eating what seemed like hundreds of dollars of groceries a week. There are also variable costs, like cell phone plans and car insurance premiums – not to mention the cost of car accidents. I heard from one family that if you’re going to hire an au pair for several years, you should factor in the cost of one totaled car.
The rules about hours and days worked may seem made to be broken, but there are costly implications to doing so (like forfeiting your placement fee). I heard about a family who ran into problems with an au pair who was seriously bulimic; she’d binge on gallons of ice cream, then throw up – and not clean it up. The host family reached out to the agency because they felt that this girl needed serious help and wasn’t in the right emotional state to care for children. When they sat down for an emergency mediation meeting with the agency and au pair, the au pair reacted by saying, “They’re making me work extra hours.” The family was fired from the program and lost their placement fee; the bulimia was never even addressed.