An au pair is defined as a domestic assistant living and working in a host household, performing child care and housework in exchange for food, shelter, and usually a personal allowance. The au pair became popular when students began to travel to different countries to pursue higher education.
Many an au pair has served in households in the U.S. while receiving an education and the system has worked well for both the American household and the au pair.

There are some striking differences between an au pair and a nanny, and these may influence the decision for choosing one or the other.  Let’s look at some of the advantages to having a live-in au pair instead of a nanny.

1. Monetarily, the au pair costs less than a nanny.  Although some arrangements have to be made to subsidize the au pair for helping out, the boarding and meals the au pair receives constitutes a large portion of their pay.
2. Unlike a nanny, an au pair doesn’t become a substitute for the parents because most of the child upbringing is still handled by the parents and not the au pair.
3. Generally, an au pair does not have preconceived notions of how to handle children and is more willing to follow the lead of the parents than a nanny is.  An au pair takes direction much better for this reason.
4. An au pair, especially those from foreign countries, helps young children become familiar with foreign languages.  The au pair can even teach the language to the children in some cases.  Not only language, but also cultural differences, can be learned from an au pair. Exposing the family to these cultural and language differences broadens their perspective and provides cultural enrichment.
5. An au pair usually helps with household chores and is more of a family member than a nanny is. The term itself, au pair, is actually French for “equal to” or “on a par,” meaning the au pair is more of a family member than a domestic servant.
6. The au pair does not look for long-term commitments the way a nanny does.  If the au pair is only needed for a summer or during a school term, the situation is usually agreeable.
7. Some nannies only work certain hours and live somewhere else, but the au pair lives in the home with the family.  This means that the au pair is available almost any time of day if an emergency comes up that requires the parents to leave suddenly.  For this reason, the au pair can work more hours when necessary.

Even though it might sound as though the au pair is the only choice to make as far as in home child care, there are many advantages to having a nanny instead of an au pair.  Some of the reasons people choose the nanny instead of the au pair are:

1. A nanny has been trained in the basics of child upbringing whereas an au pair may not have been.  Even though the parents have more influence over the au pair than they do over a trained nanny, the nanny is typically more educated and experienced regarding child care.
2. There is more continuity in a child’s education and upbringing with the nanny because the au pair is usually only around for a year or a limited term.  Just when the children become accustomed to one au pair, another might come into the home.
3. Unlike the au pair, a nanny can live outside the home allowing more privacy for the family than comes with the live-in au pair.
4. Nannies are usually of the same nationality as the family so there are no cultural differences that may cause a problem in relationships with the children or family members.
5. Experienced nannies come with references so there is not as much reason to be concerned about qualifications or conduct as you might be with an au pair.
6. Nannies are familiar with bedtimes, naptimes, and most of the normal processes of young children.
7. Nannies are typically older and more experienced than an au pair who might have no child care experience.
8. The nanny has one job, which is caring for the children, so she/he does not focus on other interests while caring for the children as the au pair typically does.
As you can see, there are many differences between the au pair and the nanny.  Each has some advantages over the other.  The choice is more about the specific needs of the children and the family than which one is better than the other.