Interning abroad has undeniable benefits. Work experience in an international setting stands out on your resume and gives you a definite boost in the job market. An internship abroad is also a great way to meet locals, immerse yourself in the culture, and can be an entry point for eventually working abroad.
Whether it's learning a new language, gaining skills in cross-cultural communication, or learning how to navigate office culture, there are a plethora of hard and soft skills you can take away from an international internship.
Additionally, you'll have the unique opportunity to interact with people who are not tourists or other students, get constant exposure to the local language in a professional environment, and contribute to the community. Ultimately, plenty of people can study abroad in Italy, but not everyone can say that had the opportunity to intern in an art gallery in Florence. So, how do you go about finding an internship abroad? What are your options? Read on for tips.
Where to Find and Look For Internships Abroad
Finding an internship abroad doesn’t have to be difficult, and there are several different ways you can approach the search:
Internship placement providers
This first option involves working with what we'd call a "program provider" or "internship placement provider".
There are definitely pros and cons of using a provider versus applying on your own. Some pros are that working with one will typically mean you get assistance with every aspect of interning abroad -- from housing to visas and social networking -- and open you up to a broader network. The biggest con, though, is that they cost money (and sometimes a lot).
Some of these programs offer internships in conjunction with a study abroad program, or they offer coursework combined with work experience. Other programs will place you in an internship for a period of time, during which you will exclusively work at the internship. These are often competitive to get into, but they will guarantee an internship placement once you are accepted, and often assist you with getting academic credit.
Below are a few internship placement providers to check out, but this list is just the beginning--there are hundreds of options so I'd recommend exploring our internships abroad section.
Your study abroad office
If you're already studying abroad, you might be able to talk to the advisers and teachers in your program who might have information about local organizations that have worked with international students in the past. Chances are, they have a strong network in your host country and might be able to connect you with someone who can point you in the right direction.
Often, study abroad programs will have pre-existing relationships with organizations in the community, so it's possible to tap into this network. This can involve speaking with both your host university and your home institution. Cast a wide net; the more people who know you're looking for an internship, the more people can send opportunities your way.
Look at global companies
This one is especially helpful if you're looking to get paid for your internship abroad -- though, paid internships will be even more competitive than your other options. Typically, large, international companies, like H&M, L'Oreal, and Goldman Sachs, will have established internship programs in other countries.
Competitive as they may be, they're a great place to start -- though we'd recommend applying much earlier than you would for a smaller company (for example, start looking at application deadlines in the fall for an internship the following summer).
It can also be worthwhile to look at US companies that have headquarters in other countries. Check out our guide on the best US companies to work for abroad to get some inspiration.
Go it alone
Finding your own internship requires a bit more independence and drive. You have to know what you want and how to go after it. On the down side, you risk coming up empty handed. On the plus side, however, you will not pay the hefty fees that can be associated with internship placement programs.
Some strategies for finding an internship abroad on your own include:
- Connect with your university's alumni network to see if there are any alums in your host city who might work in your field of interest
- Use your network--put a call out on social media, send an email to friends and family, let your favorite professors know you're looking
- Send out cold emails or messages on Linkedin to introduce yourself to people at companies that you're interested in and ask to set up informational interviews
If you do decide to go it on your own, you have to be prepared to hustle. Internships are often competitive so you'll want to connect with as many people as possible (informational interviews are a great networking tool) so that people know what you're looking for.
Search using internship job boards
Then of course, there are the job boards! Just like any job hunt, knowing someone at a company or getting a personal introduction will always be one of the most effective ways of landing an internship. This can be especially difficult if you're still a student and haven't built up your professional network yet.
For that reason, job boards that post international internships can be helpful. A few that are worth looking at:
- Ours of course! The Go Overseas's Internship Job Board is a great place to start your search, with new internships posted regularly.
- While we often think of Idealist as being a job search engine, they also list plenty of internships.
- Indeed is another job board that can also be used for the internships hunt.
- Your university's career services page is another important tool in your kit. Make sure to connect with career counselors at your school so that you learn how best to utilize their services.
Which Countries are Best for Internships Abroad?
Honestly, where in the world you apply for an internship will depend a lot on what your career goals are, language abilities, and whether or not you're already enrolled in a study abroad program.
However, the majority of students tend to look for internships in Europe, Australia, and China. It's also worth noting that even if you're applying for an internship in a non-English speaking country, you may not actually have to be fluent in a foreign language. Some (not all, some) internships abroad will be in English, regardless of the local language.
Another point to consider is the possibility of a virtual internship. While this may not sound as exciting as exploring a new city, a virtual internship could be a great option for anyone who may not be able to go overseas for a number of reasons, be that budget, passport or visas restrictions, time availability, etc. A virtual internship allows you to be truly global in your search.
How do I Apply for an Internship Abroad?
Of course, simply finding the internship opening is only the first step. Like an internship at home, you'll then have to submit your resume and cover letter and *hopefully* get the coveted interview before the internship is confirmed.
Unlike home, you may have to tailor your resume and cover letter to the standards of the country you're hoping to intern abroad in. For example, in other countries it's often perfectly acceptable to include personal information that we wouldn't dream of adding in the United States, or expanding beyond the one-page only rule.
Some Challenges to Consider Before Applying
- Visas: Because some, but certainly not all, student visas make you ineligible for paid employment, you probably should not expect to find a paid internship. Make sure you read up on visa requirements for your desired destination to double check if you are even eligible to be paid.
- Language: If your language abilities are shaky, interacting with people in a professional environment will not always be easy. If you want to up your game, check out our article on how to navigate the different stages of language learning.
- Workplace culture: On top of the language barrier, the culture and rules of a workplace abroad might be different than what you are used to and require some adjustment. Take this as an opportunity to listen and learn from your colleagues and peers who can help you adjust to a new workplace culture.
Hopefully, these challenges don't seem too daunting. There will of course be hurdles, but in the end they'll make your experience all the more rewarding. They key is to keep an open mind, take risks, and learn as much as you can.
Making the Most of Your Internship
Why should you spend your precious time abroad at an internship? On top of the immersion experience, the language exposure, and the new friends, your ability to market yourself after your internship is a great incentive. Employers are always looking for people who have distinguished themselves with international experience. An internship abroad will not only put you a step ahead on the job market, but it will also be a fun, fulfilling experience.
This post was originally published in May 2011, and it was updated in January 2016 and July 2020.