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A host family refers to a family who invites a non-family member, typically from a different country or culture, to stay at no cost. Whether or not host families receive compensation for hosting an exchange visitor depends on the program in which they are enrolled.
Host families can participate in Au pair programs. In the case of an au pair, a host family should consist of at least one parent and one child under the age of 18 that invites an au pair from a foreign country for a specified period of time. The au pair lives “on equal terms” with the other members of the family and in return for food, board, and a salary cares for children and does simple domestic work. Hosting an au pair is considered a program of cultural exchange, by no means an employment contract. Placement of the au pair shall initially be for a period not exceeding one year, but may be extended to permit a maximum stay of two years.
In all programs, host families provide exchange students with the experience of being “of” the host country. Host families give exchange visitors a taste of the local culture by sharing holiday traditions, incorporating the exchange visitor in events and family gatherings, introducing the exchange visitor to community members, and exchanging ideas and perspectives.
The specific requirements of a host family will vary depending on the program in which they are enrolled.
“Au pair” is French for “on par”, reminding host families that their international visitor is to be treated like a member of the family and participate in their day-to-day family routines. The host family should help au pairs receive the benefits of an exchange experience. The family must also be willing to share its own culture to the au pair, reach out to her to help her understand new experiences, and support her in the adjustment and functioning in a new language and culture. In exchange for the host family’s hospitality, the au pair’s responsibility will be to provide child care assistance, including light household duties related to the children.
J-1 secondary school programs enable international high school students to live with volunteer host families for the purpose of cultural exchange. Host families participating in this type of program must provide international visitors with a room, a quiet place to study, three meals a day, and an introduction to local culture. In return, host families learn about a new culture and build relationships worldwide that positively affect international relations. 
Basic application criteria
A cultural exchange host family must:
- Consist of at least one adult
- Demonstrate curiosity towards different cultures and traditions
- Be welcoming, patient, and understanding
- Commit to their exchange student’s success and well-being
- Pass a safety check and abide by all program rules and regulations
An au pair host family must:
- Have at least one child under the age of 18
- Consist of at least one parent
- Be able to provide the au pair with her own room and three meals a day
- Be able to accept the au pair as a member of their own family
- Have healthy principles and a tendency towards social relations
Host family responsibilities
For Au Pair Host Families:
- Provide three meals a day, a private bedroom and, if possible, a private bathroom
- Provide weekly or monthly pocket money (an amount of salary depends on the host country)
- Provide time off – at least one day a week (depending on the country)
- Provide paid holiday - the length of the holiday depends on the agreement with the au pair and the specific country
- Provide adequate opportunities for the au pair to participate in a language course and - in some countries – to cover the costs of the course.
- Provide adequate health, accident, repatriation and liability insurance during the time the au pair and host family are sharing the cultural exchange
- Register the au pair with the appropriate authorities (if required) to ensure the au pair is legally registered at all times and/or apply for the required visa or residence permit
- Provide a good familiar environment and a healthy place of work for the au pair.
Cultural exchange host families do not need to provide insurance, pay medical expenses, or provide cash allowance to the exchange visitor they are hosting. Instead, the family provides a safe, welcoming environment for the exchange visitor to experience local culture. Additional requirements may be set by the visitor's sponsoring organization.
For cultural exchange host families:
- Provide three meals a day, a bedroom, and a quiet place to study
- Provide a gateway to experiencing local culture
- Abide by any rules set forth by the sponsoring agency regarding check-ins, orientations, and home visits