Updated January 15th, 2016.
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.
As Terry Cumes, managing director of Intrax explains, “international internships provide valuable professional, cultural, linguistic, and social skills that help students succeed in any work environment.”
Interning abroad gives you 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 differnt 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 (the big one being cost), but 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, but they cost money.
Some of these programs offer internships in conjunction with a study abroad program, or they offer coursework combined with work experience. For example, Boston University’s well-established internship program offers international internships along with classes for academic credit.
Other programs will place you in an internship for a period of time, during which you will exclusively work at the internship. They will often help you get class credit for your internship. AIFS, Dream Careers, Intrax, and CDS International are some examples of these types of program providers. They 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 for your internship.
Note: There are hundreds of internship placement providers out there, so don't limit yourself just to those we mentioned here. For a full list, along with ratings and reviews from students like you, I'd recommend exploring our internships abroad section.
Benefits of using a program provider
Once you are accepted into the program, you will be guaranteed a placement in an internship. By making the connections with employers for you, the program providers eliminate the difficult task of reaching out to people on your own. They will also frequently help you navigate visa regulations and make an effort to help you get course credit for your internship.
Terry Cumes explains of this process, “Intrax works closely with university students and host companies to personally match each person with their ideal internship, based on the student’s past work experience and career goals for the future. Every company we work with has been carefully vetted by Intrax to ensure that the internship is a professional learning experience.”
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 towards the right direction.
For example, when I studied abroad in Córdoba, Spain, my advisers helped me find an internship at the World Fair Trade Organization Europe, a world-wide organization that promoted the principles of fair trade. WFTO Europe is very receptive to international volunteers and has taken on many in the past.
One American volunteer, Elizabeth Dean, said of her experience, “I have been thrilled to work for a cause that I so strongly believe in and have learned a great deal about the inner workings of a respected and influential non-profit organization in the process."
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).
Benefits of going 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.
Llanos Gomez of WFTO Europe explains that WFTO Europe looks for, “people interested in creating a better world for everyone,” regardless of their country of origin. “The team wants [interns] to be part of the work and their motivation is essential for us. Ideas, working plans and willingness to learn and improve our current world are basic,” she notes. Organizations such as WFTO Europe abound, and all it takes is a little motivation to find them.
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, but it 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:
Which Countries Are The Best for an Internship?
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.
Applying for the 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 job interview before the job 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. For full details on how to master the art of a resume for a job abroad, read our full guide to writing a resume for anywhere in the world.
Some Challenges to Consider Before Applying
Because some, but certainly not all, student visas make you ineligible for paid employment, you probably should not expect to find a paid internship. Additionally, if your language abilities are shaky, interacting with people in a professional environment will not be easy. 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.
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. As Terry Cumes explains:
"In today’s global economy, it’s increasingly important for students to have international work experience. As the job market becomes more competitive, having a unique professional experience overseas is a great way to stand out from crowd."