When it comes to our children, no matter our parenting style, we all want the best for them. As expatriates, without close family to turn to for support, the question of childcare, for those days you must go out, or for when you return to work outside the home, invariably comes up. So, what’s the best option?
Like for everything with regards to parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. And, what works for your firstborn might not be the best for your second or subsequent. And what works at one time might not work later. Not only that, situations change, our parenting matures. But what ARE the options?
Essentially help can divided into two categories: At Home or Outside the Home. And for these two categories there are sub-divisions! For “At Home” there are Nannies (live-in or live-out), Au pairs, and/or babysitters (and for immediately after birth, maternity nurses or postpartum doulas, the latter however takes care of you, not your baby). For outside the home there are even more options: A day mother (maman de jour), a creche (daycare), a jardin d’enfants (nursery), a preschool, and for school-aged children there are also programmes for before school, at lunch hour, and after school (programmes d’accueil)!
Where is someone to start?! And what about the Swiss context? Let’s start with Au pairs and Nannies. Put it simply:
Au pairs are ideal if your children are school age or in regular childcare and you need help either in the morning, at lunch hour, and/or after school. Nannies, on the other hand, are likely a more appropriate in-home option if you work full time or irregular hours and/or if you need additional domestic assistance (cleaning/ironing) while you are out.
Legal Implications of Hiring an Au pair:
As with EVERYTHING in Switzerland, the laws vary from canton to canton. And the situation in neighbouring France is different again. For Switzerland the essentials are:
- You must obtain a work permit and a residence permit for your au pair. Note that residence permits are most easily given to European citizens, specifically the 25 EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein (European Economic Area). Citizens from Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand may also be admitted (but this varies canton-to-canton, it’s not usually possible in Canton Vaud, for example)
- The primary language of the host family and the language of the region where the host family lives must be different from the language of the au pair (in other words, in Geneva and Vaud, the au pair cannot be a native French speaker, nor can his/her first language be the same as the family-language).
- You generally can only employ an au pair for 12 months or less, with one possible prolongation (up to a max of 18-24 months, varies canton-to-canton)
- The au pair must between 17 and 30 years of age
- You must write up a contract outlining the rights and responsibilities of both the au pair AND the host family
- You must pay the au pair’s health insurance
- You must pay the au pair a salary and provide the au pair with lodging (either in-house or out). Whether it’s in your home or a separate premises, the au pair must have her own independent space (preferably with a lockable door).
- Generally the au pair should work only 25-30 hours per week, or 5 hours per day (so as mentioned above, if you work an 8-hour day, and your kids are not yet in school, an au pair likely isn’t the right solution). Au pairs are not domestic employees, but they are expected to participate in regular household duties.
- The au pair needs to be allocated time to pursue language courses, which are to be paid by the employer. The host family must ensure that the au pair’s schedule allows for these courses
There is a lot of paperwork, which you can do it yourself, hire someone to help you (e.g. a tax advisor or notary), or use the agency chèque-emploi, which specialises in handling the taxes, AVS and accident insurance of cleaners, nannies, gardeners, etc. (there is a membership fee and a processing fee though).
Legal Implications of Hiring a Nanny/Child Minder:
- If the nanny does not already have work & residence permits, you must obtain these for her. Like with au pairs, residence permits are most easily given to European citizens. Before you hire a non-documented nanny, talk to your Contrôle des Habitants to see which country nationals are accepted.
- There are no language restrictions.
- You must write up a contract. The contract must include the names of the employer and employee; the date when the contract takes effect; the function of the employee, the salary and any benefits; and the length of the working week.
- There is no maximum contract length and in Vaud there is no minimum wage. Paid Leave and a notice period apply. See Employees on Vaud International.
Like with an au pair, hiring someone to work for you means that there is a lot of paperwork. The same options apply: you can do it yourself, hire someone to help you (e.g. a tax advisor), or use the agency chèque-emploi.
AVS Brochure – Domestic Help (French).
Have a story to share about the choice between an au pair and a nanny? Comment below.