Au Pairs and Income Tax

by cv harquail on March 9, 2013

Every year around this time I feel a creeping dread.

Anytime now, my DH is going to ask me for receipts from my charitable contributions, any random pay stubs from freelance work, and those so called ‘records’ that I keep of medical copayments ‘n stuff. Because it’s time to file our income tax statement.

Uck. As much as I appreciate all the things that my taxes pay for for my family and my community, the basic act of paying these taxes feels like a lot of work.

When it comes to income taxes, I feel sorry for au pairs, too.

Au pairs not only have to figure out what amount of tax to pay, they also have to figure out whether or not they actually owe any taxes! When you’re doing this in a second language, without much cultural understanding of how it works, and without the help of a host mom who’s a tax accountant, it’s hard.

Au pairs do have to pay income tax. 

The IRS Guidelines for Au Pairs “explains” (ironic quotation marks) how income taxes work for au pairs. 
Start here for details. Then, take some ibuprofen.

Host Parents’ decisions establish which of two paths an au pair must take to file & pay income taxes.

For most au pairs, what they need to do depends on what their host parents have already done.

Path 1:  Some host parents deliberately take charge. They set up a system where they withhold the estimated income tax from their au pair’s weekly stipend. In this situation, “all” the au pair has to do is file her/his statement and maybe– maybe– receive an income tax refund.

Path 2: Other host parents choose (either deliberately or because it’s too freaking complicated) not to withhold income tax on their au pair’s behalf, and so their au pairs have to file an income tax statement and sometimes actually pay $$ to the IRS.

As I understand it — and I’m not a lawyer — every au pair needs to file the form stating how much s/he earned in the USA in 2012.

Whether an au pair actually has to PAY taxes depends on how much s/he has earned in 2012.  If an au pair works in the US for less than a full calendar year, it’s possible that he/she won’t earn enough IN THAT CALENDAR YEAR to have to pay any taxes out of pocket.  For example, if an au pair arrived in September of 2012, s/he would have earned maybe $2,600 — way less that the minumum amount you have to earn in order to owe taxes.

First Thing? Check Your Au Pair Agency’s Resources

For all au pairs who worked here in 2012, your first step is to check your au pair agency’s site for information.

Most of the Au Pair Agencies have some information on their websites to help au pairs (and families) understand exactly what the au pair is obligated to do. They ALL remind readers, as I must too, that if you want completely reliable information that is appropriate to your situation, you should contact a tax professional.  (fyi, I’m not a tax professional.)

In my quick search, I noticed that not every agency has updated their information yet to incorporate exact numbers for the 2012 tax year, but the basic information about what to do and why is easy to find. For example,

Au Pair in America has a downloadable Au Pair Income Tax information sheet (.pdf) that includes a print-out-able form, plus lots of links.

I found this download from Cultural Care, with similar Au Pair Income Tax information, but it was out of date!   (if anyone sends me info about an updated version, I’ll be happy to post it here!!).

Interexchange/Au Pair USA published this guide, which has not only step-by-step explanations and hot links to all the important documents:   2013 Tax Resources and Information for Au Pairs

EurAuPair offers this advice, which includes some helpful examples and addresses where au pairs can get more information.

There’s a great business opportunity in helping Au Pairs with Income Taxes

If any host parent or LCC is already a trained tax advisor (and/or works for H&RBlock or similar) you could set up an online consulting service just for Au Pairs. There can’t be that many permutations of the au pair’s tax situation, and once you helped about 10 au pairs you’d have learned all you need to know to do it swiftly. Even a small fee ($50? $25) would be a bargain for the au pair and an opportuntity for the part-time entrepreneur.

Similarly, if anyone wants to write a E-Book (!!) explaining all the tax stuff, with some examples for each type of challenge, I’d be happy to post it here for others to download. Let me know if you feel like tacling* this.

In the meantime, if you’ve got any motivational advice, or if you know where that receipt is for that Girl Scout fundraiser, let us know. 


*that’s an inside joke, yo.


AuPair123 March 9, 2013 at 9:23 pm

If an au pair has worked for a full calender year the amount we owe is $643 dollars. We can earn up to $3800 before tax. When I convert this to my home currency it isn’t that much and equates to what I used to roughly pay per month but now that I earn $196.75 per week this is ALOT of money. Also kind of annoying since Au Pairs get paid a “stripend” or “pocket money” and not a salary.

AuPair123 March 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Just to add…. if your Aupair came during or after September 2012 then they most likely dont owe any taxes since they wont yet have earned $3800.

Multitasking Host Mom March 9, 2013 at 11:06 pm

This is such a timely post for us right now.
Our au pair is from a country that does not pay annual taxes like the USA, but instead most of their tax base comes from what could be best compared as sales tax.

At the end of January I told our AP, she has to fill out the needed tax form. She said ok. A few weeks later, she still hadn’t done anything, so I found a link through our agency that gave a little more info. Still just an OK, and no more movement towards filing. Just a few days ago, I realized she was not understanding the importance of this especially since she never had to pay taxes like this before. I sat her down a few days ago and explained to her that you do not mess with the IRS, and they do know she has been working here especially since we claim payment through our child care flex spending account using her social security number. I also told her that if she ever applied for a visa to return to the US, not paying taxes could effect that process. (Honestly don’t know if that is completely true, so if anyone else knows please correct me, but it does sound resonable to me). Anyway, I think she finally understood why this was something she needed to do. She is finishing her year with us in two weeks, so I hope she can get this taken care of before she returns to her country and it becomes even more of a non-issue.

I think the suggestion of someone who caters tax preparation to au pairs is a great idea. Taxes is definitely not my area, so it would be nice to be able to direct her to someone who could help her.

Au pair March 9, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Yes it is true. If she does not pay tax, she will have a huge problem to get a visa of any kind for the US ever again. She might even have problems to re-enter the US. A friend of mine did not pay tax, and wanted to return a year after she finished her au pair year. At costumes, they told her she did not pay her tax and that she has to pay right away, or take the next flight home. So it is a serious issue of you don’t pay!

Au pair March 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm

*if you don’t pay!

cv harquail March 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

MtHM- It’s smart– and helpful– to see this resistance as based in cultural differences, not only differences in expectations but also differences in practices.

Former AP March 10, 2013 at 6:06 am

The Au Pair in America link doesn’t work. I have a PDF version that I could email you if it is not possible to fix the link. It’s the 2012 information.

And thank you for this topic! I know so many APs that seem to not care since the consequences are pretty much unknown right now since the AP Tax Law is rather knew.

cv harquail March 10, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Thanks FormerAP– I fixed the link. >^=^<

Kelly Hand March 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm

It is not at all a new law that au pairs have to pay taxes (as Former AP suggested). This was certainly the case when I started working as a counselor in 2004. However, I think agencies are doing a better job of reminding au pairs of their obligation. I think the form to use is the NR (non-resident) EZ form, and I don’t think au pairs need professional help to do this. Any host parent could help them figure it out. Ideally, the host family would set up an informal withholding arrangement (if the au pair wants to), and if they have a tax professional they use, that person could tell them how much to set aside. It is a drag to have to pay all at once out of pocket, but it’s not such a big deal when it’s on a weekly basis. Other people with stipends–including academic scholarships–also have to pay taxes on them, so this is not specific to au pairs. It is true that this does come back to haunt people who want to get visas later, so that is a good incentive for complying with the law.

HRHM March 10, 2013 at 7:17 pm

“It is a drag to have to pay all at once …”

For Aps who come in the summer, it’s less than 100 dollars. Our current AP came July 8 and her was $71

HRHM March 10, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Easy quick way to calculate = weeks here times 200 dollars for total pay. Now subtract $3800. Take ten percent of that amount and you have the rough tax owed.

So an AP that came on Jan 1 would owe around $650, every one else, less.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Our LCC, when new APs arrive, urges them to set aside $50 a week. She points out all the obvious fees they will have in the course of the year: taxes, education (that $500 stipend for HF no longer covers all the credits like it did from 2001-2005), travel, and, of course, expenses they don’t predict – like the $500 deductible if they are in a car accident and it’s their fault. $50 for 51 weeks is $2,550, which covers a lot of expenses. (My most parsimonious AP only spent $50 a week – and had a lovely Hawaiian vacation during her travel month. Other parsimonious APs sent considerable sums of money home monthly.)

Busy Mom March 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Our LCC dedicates her March meetings to helping her cluster APs fill out their tax forms. She provides the forms. I think it’s a great idea. I take a laissez faire approach with taxes. I provide our APs with a list of all checks and amounts, inform them that they’re supposed to pay their taxes, tell them that if they want to return to the US to work at any point in their lives they should pay their taxes. But, at the end of the day, they are adults and they make their own choices. This particular choice doesn’t affect us or our children, so it’s really up to them.

cv harquail March 11, 2013 at 8:08 am

This is a wonderful way for LCCs to help au pairs– and to make it into a cultural learning and group activity at the same time!

Momma Gadget March 12, 2013 at 4:38 pm


Sleepytime March 10, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Ours must have misfiled last year- she was here a full year, didnt pay any tax when she filed and got a refund of 80 dollars – I think the earned income tax credit. I’m surprised there wasn’t a trigger as non resident alien when the social security number went through.
Our local LCc arranged for free income tax help with a host family, but she didnt take it.

EastCoast HM March 10, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Busy Mom- I agree. We do exactly the same with our APs.

Former AP in NY March 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I was in the US for about 4 months in 2010 (didn’t file at all – didn’t earn enough to owe any taxes and was told it wasn’t necessary, taxes for au pairs was a new thing back then), the whole year of 2011 and nearly 3 months in 2012. I did file a tax return in 2012 for the year of 2011 and enlosed payment via money order, it was about $500. However, I never received any kind of confirmation from the IRS saying that they had received the money or my tax return – does anyone now if they’re supposed to confirm that in some way? Any AP’s or HP’s who know something about this? If nobody else has received a confirmation then I guess I’m good!

Also, seeing this post on the blog reminded me that it’s time to file a tax return for 2012, but I read in APIA’a information sheet for 2012 that if you earned less than $3800 last year, you don’t even need to file a return? Anyone who knows if this is correct? I only earned about $2000 so if that information is correct, I guess I won’t need to do anything from overseas (I’m in Sweden)?

Thanks! (PS. I’ve read this blog for about 3 yrs but this is the first time I’ve commented, just want to say thank you to CV and everyone who comments for a terrific blog!)

Lisa(Ex)AuPair March 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

I was wondering the same thing. If I don’t owe anything do I still need to file a tax return?
And do you have to pay even if it is like 10 dollars? At home you don’t have to pay if it is less than 30 dollars and that works both ways, so you won’t get a tax return if it is less than 30 dollars.

As Kelly said, paying taxes is not a new thing. But when au pairs were earning 139 dollars a week, it wasn’t really an issue. So I think that when they raised the stipend with 60 dollars (from July 2007 to July 2009) it became clear that most au pairs would now earn enough to have to pay taxes.

I was an au pair during the time they raised the stipend and the tax information we got then was not good. Basically the agency said: “you have to pay taxes, but we can’t help you with anything”. I ended up not filing because the information was not clear. This time around (I am a repeat au pair) they are a lot better at providing information and there is really no reason not to file your tax return.

To all the au pairs who are back in their home countries, but are afraid they are not going to be able to come back to the US because they didn’t file: don’t freak out. I know that some posters over said that they know about people who have been told they have to pay if they want to come back in the country. I did not file the first time I was here and I have been back in the US five times as a tourist (since I left the first time almost four years ago) and I am now an au pair again (legally on a J-1 visa), and I did not have a probably getting another visa. No one at the embassy or at the airport asked me about taxes. My host dad even used my SSN on their tax return for the last year I was here (but I had been out of the country for over 6 months by that time), so they must know I was here. I don’t really understand how they can know at the airport that you didn’t pay, unless the IRS sends out something? I’m not saying that it will not happen to some, but in the worst case you have to pay there and then you should be fine.

Dorsi March 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm

You do not need to file
Form 1040NR-EZ (or Form 1040NR) if:
Your only U.S. trade or business
was the performance of personal
services; and
Instructions for Form 1040NR-EZ (2012)
Page 3 of 33
Fileid: Instructions/I1040NR-EZ/2012/A/XML/Cycle11/source
10:54 – 13-Dec-2012
The type and rule above prints on all proofs including departmental reproduction proofs. MUST be removed before printing.
From the 1040EZ NR instructions:

You do not need to file if:
a. Your wages were less than
$3,800; and
b. You have no other need to file a
return to claim a refund of overwithheld
taxes, to satisfy additional withholding at
source, or to claim income exempt or
partly exempt by treaty.

So, you should not need to file a return for 2012.

Dorsi March 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm

ACK! Mistakes with cut and paste! What that should have looked like:

From the 1040EZ NR instructions:

You do not need to file if:
a. Your wages were less than
$3,800; and
b. You have no other need to file a
return to claim a refund of overwithheld
taxes, to satisfy additional withholding at
source, or to claim income exempt or
partly exempt by treaty.

So, you should not need to file a return for 2012

Lisa(Ex)AuPair March 13, 2013 at 11:20 am

Good to know, thanks:)

AuPairVa March 14, 2013 at 12:00 am

Is there any place that says that you can actually get in trouble or have any issues if you don’t pay taxes?

I come to the US like every 2 or 3 months and my tourist visa doesn’t expire till 2021 (since I already have it I don’t think it can show out something). I don’t have any plans to study here or anything but you never know..

I know it is my responsability to pay taxes, but is not fair that I’ve to pay arround $500 and some other friends are going to pay $60 just because we came in different months but at the end we have or will work the same time and earn the same amount of money.

None of the AP before me payed taxes, so my HF have no idea if there’s an issue since none of them had come back… My LCC is helpless so as CC.
I really don’t know what to do.

Momma Gadget March 14, 2013 at 9:43 am

Taxes are based on the amount of income earned in a particular Calendar year, not your AP year. So if some of your friends only have 60$ in taxes due for 2012, it means that they may have more taxes due this time next year for 2013, for the year that they earned it.
Anyone earning income in the USA, (depending on the amount) is legally bound to report and pay taxes.
If your HF’s previous APs CHOSE to not pay their taxes, it was their choice not to live up to their legal responsibilities.
Taxes pay for the roads that you have been driving on, the police that have kept you safe, the mail service, and the firemen that would risk their life to save yours ( god forbid it were necessary!)… among many other things.
I realize it is a big amount of money. It is a pain. I’m sure most every law abiding US citizen feels the same ‘squeeze’ this time of year also. I could buy myself some nice new shoes, get a fancier car, or redo the kitchen if I didn’t need to pay my taxes every year.
I am sorry that your agency didn’t give you advance warning on this. I wish the agencies would focus on this a little more in orientation so that AP’s would consider putting some money away each week. 2 less fancy Starbucks drinks a week is a lot more palatable than having to suddenly cough up 500$.

Do any HF withhold money for taxes for their AP?

HRHM March 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

We don’t withhold but we do tell them in our HHHB roughly what they are going to owe when the time comes, so they have 9 months to save the $70! LOL

HRHM March 14, 2013 at 10:26 am

I’m confused – are you on a tourist visa or an Au Pair (j-1) visa?

If you are here on a tourist Visa that does not allow you to leagally work in the US AT ALL. If you are an Au Pair, our tax system is based on the assumption that it evens out over the years. While this is not comforting to someone who is only here one year, it should make you feel better to know that you will likely pay WAY MORE in taxes when you return to your home country. And also, consider how much tax you aren’t paying since the SD and the IRS don’t consider your room, board, cell phone, and other benefits in your income. If you were a US citizen, they would and you’d be paying taxes on those as well!

Emerald City HM March 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

So we tell au pairs it’s as easy as filling out the 1040NR-EZ. My husband has been doing some research on this and it appears au pairs should also be submitting form 8843.

I’m curious if any host parents have looked into this form. APC doesn’t seem to know anything about it and it bue we think we need their information.

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