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How to Find Internships at Startups Abroad

Interning at a startup overseas is a great way to hone your professional skills while immersing yourself in an exciting, new city. As we all know, in today’s post-recession world, a Bachelor’s degree no longer guarantees solid employment. But here’s the silver lining: Just as important as the piece of paper you receive upon graduation is your real-world experience, and international exposure can really set you apart.

That’s why interning with a startup abroad might be your best move. With digital innovation sweeping the globe, more and more people are turning to entrepreneurship as a viable career path. From Santiago to Tel Aviv, startup companies are on the rise and are changing the way people shape their careers. Many international cities are becoming more and more tech savvy, perfect for forward-minded and ambitious folks like yourself.

While startups are naturally website-focused, you don’t have to be a TechCrunch news junkie or be able to code PHP in your sleep to intern at one. Whether you’re interested in communications, business operations, or social media, startups need interns for a variety of positions.

If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, here are our tips to get your foot in the door with a new company abroad.

Benefits of Interning at a Startup in Another Country

You might be wondering why you would intern with a startup over a more established company - that's like tackling two unfamiliar environments at once. If you're up for navigating a foreign culture in and outside the workplace, you will be rewarded. Here are some perks to interning at a startup.

Gaining practical, hands-on experience.

This is one of the most rewarding parts of working at a startup. While interning at a corporate, name-brand company is impressive on paper, big companies may not provide you with the same chance to put your skills into action. A startup can. “The great stuff about being an intern in a startup is that you can directly contribute to the product and see live on the web the work you have done, which will be used by thousands of people,” said Alban Denoyel, the Co-Founder of Sketchfab, a Paris and New York City-based startup that hires interns from abroad.

Think of it like this: at a big company, you may be proofreading a memo, but at a startup, you will get to write the whole article! Startups have smaller teams and less resources, meaning you will be able to dive into projects alongside the entire team and directly impact the company’s progress. By the end of your internship, you’ll likely have many tangible accomplishments.

Exposure to many unique skills.

At a startup, everyone from the CEO to the intern must wear multiple hats in order to keep the ship running smoothly. “There is no doubt that you will do more things [at a startup] than in an established company,” said Eric Bounyavath, Founder and CEO of Startup4Me, a job board that lists startup internships throughout Europe.

This “all hands on deck” mindset means that you will get to experience many factors that go into running a company, from PR strategy to business operations. This exposure to different skills will help you become a more well-rounded professional, and you may even discover a new area of interest.

Growing an international network.

All around the world, many governments and cities are making big efforts to attract foreign entrepreneurs. If you intern abroad with a startup, you will no doubt be a part of this larger network of dedicated people. To make the most out of your experience, mingle with your new team at local events to learn as much as you can from the many others who are a part of your city's growing startup culture.

How to Find an Internship at a Startup Abroad

There are tons of opportunities to intern around the world, but these can be difficult to find. Use a variety of resources to explore the options and search for an opportunity that suits you well.

  • Reach out directly to international friends. Referrals and word-of-mouth remain one of the strongest ways to find opportunities. If you’re already studying or living abroad, you’re in luck! Ask around at the local university, especially if they have an entrepreneur department. If you’re not abroad, you can still make connections with companies and local accelerators through social media and good old fashioned emailing.
  • Zero in on Accelerators/Incubators All around the world, many governments and cities are making big efforts to attract foreign entrepreneurs. Startup "accelerators", or programs that support early-stage companies, are on the rise- from Europe's mentor-focused StartupBootcamp, to South America's ambitious StartupChile. Reaching out to foreign accelerators is a great way to find out about internship opportunities.
  • Become social media savvy. Connecting online is a golden key for finding the latest and greatest leads. Create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t already have one and follow local accelerators and startup associations on Twitter - they often tweet about new jobs and internships. Check out this guide for more information about using social media to find an internship abroad. #Goodluck!
  • Browse niche websites. Startups tend to prefer recruiting from smaller, specialized networks. To get on their radar, browse sites like Enternships.com and Startup4me, and get in contact with foreign accelerators or startup associations to ask about possible internship opportunities.
  • Apply through a recruitment organization. If you prefer more support and stability, consider searching for internships through an exchange organization. Many will have pre-established relationships with companies in your destination of choice, and you can tap into their local expertise. Excellent companies offer programs with local, established startups.

Suggested Internship Programs Abroad:

Read reviews of internships abroad to better decide which direction is best for you!

Questions to Ask Before Your Startup Internship Abroad

As you get to planning and narrow down an awesome internship opportunity, make sure to cover these bases. Just like any program or job abroad, some good reflection and well-placed questions can steer you in a great direction.

Does the company hire interns from abroad?

This is the first thing to find out. While the vast majority of internships are unpaid, some companies will offer stipends. (It’s rare, but it does happen!) For paid internships, a work visa may be required, so be sure to ask the company if they will sponsor your work visa. Unfortunately, many countries won’t sponsor you if you’re not a citizen. (We’re looking at you, European Union.)

Do I enjoy working in collaborative environments?

Startups are small teams, so your role as an intern won’t be confined to one project or area. If you enjoy creative brainstorming and problem-solving, then you will probably thrive in this kind of team.

“The startup world is for doers, people who get things done and are creative about what needs to be done,” Denoyel said, explaining that his team in Paris looks for interns who are "autonomous, organized, mature, detail-oriented, and creative.” He said that people who thrive in startups are more proactive, and they get out of their experience what they put in it.That’s not to say you won’t have any guidance from your team, but be prepared to jump in, make suggestions, and own your projects from day one.

What is the company culture like?

Like any internship or job, it’s important to get a sense for what makes the team tick. To get a better sense of their mission and values, check out the company’s social media profiles and search for them in the news. During the interview, be sure to ask thoughtful questions to learn more about their future goals. Just as they are looking for the right intern, you are looking for a good match, too.

The World's Most Popular Startup Cities

These days, you can find startups pretty much anywhere in the world. But where are the hotspots? Research company StartUp Genome looked at over 50,000 startups and produced a comprehensive 2012 report on the world’s “Top 20 Startup Ecosystems.” Based on talent, funding, and performance, here are some of the best countries for entrepreneurs (and best spots to start your search).

  • Israel: With the highest startup-to-population ration in the world, Israel is one of the world’s leading startup nations. The Israeli Startup Map is great place to find jobs and more information about getting involved in this country’s exciting entrepreneurial scene.
  • The United Kingdom: London is Europe’s entrepreneurial hotspot, and StartUp Britain is fueling the momentum with the goal of making London the digital innovation capital of Europe. If you’re looking for a world-class city at the forefront of new ideas, head over to London.
  • France: The City of Light’s entrepreneurial spirit has sparked in the last few years. If commuting to work on the metro and brainstorming marketing strategies at Parisian cafes piques your interest, keep your eye on the internship job board of Le Camping, the country’s most popular startup accelerator.
  • Germany: With a thriving music and cultural scene, Berlin is bustling with activity and is home to a quickly growing startup scene. With cheap rent and a strong creative culture, Germany’s capital is drawing young people from around the country. The city is also hatching plans to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to set up shop. Keep your eyes on Berlin Startup Jobs for the latest opportunities.
  • Chile: Santiago, Chile’s modern capital, is home to StartUp Chile, one of the most ambitious and successful startup programs in the world. The program is turning heads and placing the country on the path to becoming South America’s “Chilecon Valley.” Santiago also has one of the highest percentages of female entrepreneurs of any city in the world. If you decide to intern in this friendly nation, you will find a passionate and inspiring community of innovators from all over the world.
  • Brazil: With endless beaches, world-class events (Summer Olympics, anyone?), and a booming economy, Brazil is South America’s powerhouse. São Paulo, the country’s financial and international center, is the best place to find internships with new companies. The vibrant beach metropolis Rio de Janeiro is also worth a look.
  • Singapore: Asia is not generally known for its entrepreneurial spirit, but Singapore has risen above the rest as a prime spot for innovation. As one of the smallest countries in the world, this city-state has a stronghold on global business. Check out Start Up Jobs for open positions in Singapore and other Asian countries.
  • Canada: The birthplace of Hootesuite and other famous startups, Canada has some of the best startup cities in the world. From Vancouver’s breathtaking mountains to Toronto’s sophisticated style, Canada is an excellent place to intern abroad. Startup Canada offers a wealth of information about the Canadian startup movement and how to get involved.

Interning with a startup abroad might be your best move. With digital innovation sweeping the globe, more and more people are turning to entrepreneurship as a viable career path.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or just looking to change career fields, interning overseas with a startup company can help you quickly develop new skills while making a direct impact on a company’s growth. Whether you want to help a humanitarian mission or a technology venture, the internship opportunities are as diverse as the companies themselves.

Photo Credits: Shayan.
Andrea Moran

After studying abroad in France, the Netherlands, and Denmark, Andrea decided to combine her love of education and other cultures by teaching English in Chile. She has previously coached diverse Bay Area students in English writing, and is recently TEFL-certified. Keep up with her on Twitter @andream_m and Google+.