From the French expression meaning “equal to” or “at the par,” au pair is a term used globally to refer to someone who lives with another family or household. But in the U.S., the phrase has a much more limited definition; it refers to an exchange visitor who comes to the U.S. via a program managed by the Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). For the most part, au pairs are students who take part in the ECA's program so they can receive a stipend for their domestic work while studying at an American university.
Having an au pair join your household is a great way to receive childcare services while exposing your family to a different culture and gaining a new perspective on the world. At any one time there are about 12,000 au pairs in the United States, the IRS reports. If you’re considering hosting an au pair of your own, make sure you do it legitimately and follow all the laws. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure you hire an au pair legally.
The most important thing you can do when hiring an au pair is verify that the agency that’s setting you up with one follows the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 22, Section 62.31, which details the guidelines for au pairs. According to the regulations, any foreign national between the ages 18 and 26 is eligible to be placed with an American host family as long as they pass a background check and receive a J-1 visa. If you’d like more information, visit this ECA site for all the details.
This is a critical detail, because hiring an au pair in the U.S. without an authorized agency is illegal. The $5,000-$7,000 agency fee might seem high, but when you consider that they take care of all the background checks, recruitment and interview, travel arrangements and medical insurance, this is money well-spent. It's an investment that ensures everyone follows the proper procedures and has the best au pair experience possible.
You’ll be providing a weekly stipend to your au pair, and the U.S. Department of Labor classifies this money as wages because an employer-employee relationship exists between the au pair and the host family. This means taxes will have to be paid on the money your au pair earns. For more information on the “nanny tax,” read this blog post from SurePayroll, an online payroll provider.
The easiest way to keep track of these finances is to have simple payroll system in place so that every paycheck is kept on record and every penny can be traced. If you don’t properly track all of your transactions the repercussions could be costly, so make sure you do your homework and have the right payroll system in place before committing to an au pair.