Internships Abroad

The Complete Guide to Internships Abroad in the United States

Whether you want to learn about the visa process or finding your dream internship, here's the complete guide to internships abroad in the United States!

New York skyline

Ah, the USA – the land of opportunity! Whether you want to gain experience in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, get up-close to fashion in New York City, or break into the tech world of Silicon Valley, there are a plethora of internships in the United States to apply for.

However, navigating the visa process, applying for competitive internships, and understanding America’s unique work culture can be tough for a foreigner. Before you jet off to the US, take a look at our complete guide to internships in the United States for international students!

Can international students do internships in the USA?

Yes! International students can do internships in the US. In fact, Forbes reported that 1,057,188 international students headed to the US from 2022 to 2023, an increase from the previous year. There’s no reason that you can’t be among this number.

While you don’t have to be a student to intern in the US (there are still internships available for postgraduates and non-students) being a current student often makes the application easier. Your current or former university may have partners in the US, and you may apply directly to existing internship programs. Also many companies in the US host internship programs specifically for students, in exchange for university credit.

Benefits of doing an internship in the United States

Californian streets

Studying is essential for success in many industries, however, studying theory without the practice won’t take you very far.

Here are just a few benefits of doing an internship in the US:

  • You’ll gain hands-on work experience: An internship in the US is a great way to develop specialized and practical skills that will be applicable to your field of interest.
  • The US is a global leader in many industries: The US excels in many fields allowing you to find internships in a wide range of industries, from innovation and technology, aerospace, finance, healthcare, and even entertainment. It’s also home to many thriving, reputable companies that are well-known around the world.
  • Plenty of networking opportunities: You’ll form valuable connections with mentors, co-workers, and other people you meet while interning in the US, opening new opportunities and a global career path.
  • You’ll develop problem-solving and adaptability skills: Working in a different country will expose you to different ways of thinking. You’ll be exposed to American workplace culture and customs, which will help you adapt to different work environments and encourage cross-cultural understanding.
  • Chance to gain credits towards your degree: If you’re a student partaking in a degree-related internship, your employer may grant you credit towards your degree, advancing you closer to graduation!

Visa for international students

New York City

Getting the right visa for internships in the US is often the most tedious yet intimidating aspect of interning in the US. To do an internship in the US, you’ll likely need an F1 visa or a J-1 visa.

International students already studying in the US will need an F1 visa to intern in the US. Those coming to the US solely for an internship will likely need to enter on a J-1 visa.

We'll further breakdown the differences between the visas required for international students interning in the US.

Internships on F1 visa

International students already studying in the US can undergo an F1 visa internship. This is typically easier because the paperwork is already filled out for their F1 student visa and study abroad purposes.

Students can look on-campus or further afield with independent internships. They can choose between Curricular Practical Training (CPT), a degree-related internship, or Optional Practical Training (OPT) - which can be unrelated to your degree.

CPT can be paid or unpaid, but students must have completed their first year at university. They must also apply for authorization on their student visa and receive an updated I-20 form before beginning their internship.

Approval for OPT internships must be gained from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Internships can be up to 12 months, full time or even longer depending on the field of study, and this can be done throughout (pre-completion OPT) or after their degree (post-completion OPT).

Internships on J-1 visa

Foreign nationals who want to intern in the US can enter the country on a J-1 intern visa or J-1 trainee visa.

The J-1 intern visa allows students and recent graduates to undergo an internship in the US. Students and graduates must be currently enrolled in a foreign college or university, or have graduated within the past 12 months. This visa is valid for up to 12 months.

Students seeking the J-1 intern visa must receive written approval from their J-1 Responsible Officer at their sponsoring institutions, and the internship must be directly related to the student’s field of study.

The J-1 trainee visa is for those who have a degree or professional certificate from an academic institution and at least one year of professional work experience. This visa can be valid for up to 18 months.

Where to find internships in the US

It can be difficult to know where to look for internships as an international student. You can choose to search for internships independently or with the assistance of an internship provider.

Internships in the US through a program provider

An internship placement provider will organize most of the internship logistics for you. They will help you prepare your internship application, find a placement, support your visa application, and provide in-country support.

They also have strong connections with established companies, making it much easier for you to get your foot in the door with much less effort required on your part.

You’re typically required to pay for these internship placement programs. However, when considering the immense benefits such as guaranteed placement, visa support, accommodation (or assistance), in-country support, and more, this is a strong investment.

Read more: Why Should I Use an Internship Placement Provider?

Internships in the US through independent research

Otherwise, you may want to look for internships independently. While this will not require you to pay anything, it’ll take much more time and effort researching.

You can search online forums, apply to companies directly, or even reach out to your university or advisor in order to see what links your university has with other institutions.

Additionally, you can use Go Overseas’ internship job search to find internships in the US!

How to apply for internships in the US as an international student

Researching carefully and planning ahead is key to making the most out of your time interning in the United States.

Here are some tips on how to apply for internships in the US as an international student.

  1. Choose an industry: First and foremost, you’ll need to choose an industry which will benefit your unique career goals. The US is home to many thriving industries, whether it be entertainment, engineering, fashion, business, and more.
  2. Choose a location: The US is a big country and having endless options can make it harder to decide. Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco are major hubs for interns, but there are still plenty of other locations to consider! Try narrowing down the climate and work environment that appeals to you in order to decide the ideal location for your internship
  3. Find an internship: You can search job forums, apply for positions directly on company websites, or make use of a program provider who’ll pair you up with the perfect internship for your and your goals.
  4. Prepare your application: Start your application in advance to avoid any hiccups down the line. Be sure to prepare documents such as your resume, cover letter, referrals, academic transcripts, and more in advance. Giving yourself plenty of time and room to maneuver in the event of application issues or approaching deadlines will benefit you greatly.
  5. Ace the interview: Research the company ethos and take part in some mock interviews in order to ace your interview. Asking questions will not only help you understand the position, it’ll highlight your interest and proactive nature. Remember, if it doesn’t go well, it's still a valuable experience for the next one!
  6. Follow-up after your interview: Once you nail that coveted interview, make sure to send a follow-up or thank you email to your interviewer. With only 25% of applicants taking this step, you'll be sure to stand out among your peers.
  7. Apply for your visa! Congratulations, you’ve obtained your dream internship! At this point, you should consider applying for your F1 visa or J1 visa with plenty of time in advance, depending on your unique circumstance. Be sure to remain proactive and reach out for help throughout this stage. The company will assist you, or, if you’re with an internship provider, they may complete this part for you!

What to expect when interning in the United States

An American flag beneath skyscrapers

As someone looking for an internship abroad in the US, you’re likely to have questions about what it’s like to work in this unique country. Here are some of the things you can expect on your internship in the US.

  • Work culture: American culture can be individualistic, with workers expected to be independent and proactive. However, the work culture will differ between a tech startup in San Francisco and a financial firm in New York City, for example. You can research their unique work environment and ethos on their website and on pages like Glass Door.
  • Dress code: This will vary from one industry and company to another. A company may believe in the unity of uniform, whereas another couldn’t care less. Your best bet is to start out dressing smartly, loosening up as you get to know the workplace. No one will criticize you for looking smart in a relaxed workplace, however, the same can’t be said if it were the other way around.
  • Punctuality: As an intern, you should be eager to demonstrate your value for the company. Aim to be at least 10 minutes early as a precaution for unexpected delays.
  • Culture shock: Culture shock can happen, especially if you’re not a native English speaker or if it’s your first time in the US. It can be difficult to balance work while adjusting to life in a new country. Be sure to contact friends and family to ease your transition, reach out to mentors, program alumni members, or co-workers for support, and remember - culture shock isn’t forever! It can take time to transition into a new location and you’ll come out stronger on the other side.

Make your internship in the United States a reality!

Now you know how to get an internship in the US! Internships in the United States provide an amazing opportunity for you to gain real insight and practical work experience into competitive industries. Not only will this experience elevate your resume, you’ll become more skilled, confident, and self-assured as a result of your time abroad in the US.

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