Living and working in Europe may be your dream, and it can also be your reality. Maybe you studied abroad in London, Paris, or Rome and fell in love with the city, and you want to land a paid internship there during one of your last summers before college graduation.
Or maybe, you earned your business degree and you see working in Europe as your next career step. Landing a paid internship in Europe is definitely possible, and it's a great way to get solid international work experience and live a European lifestyle for a few months, a year, or longer.
Before you get ready to pack your bags for an exciting adventure abroad, you'll have to do some research about internship programs, the best cities for your chosen industry, budgeting, and visas. With a little planning, you'll be well on your way to your first day at a paid internship in Europe. It’s never too early to start thinking about when and where you might want to intern, and here are some tips as you start that process.
Step 1. Research the Best European Cities for Your Industry
Unless you have your heart set on landing an internship in a particular European city or country, you'll want to research where your background and skills may be best used. Talking to people in your industry about where in Europe may have the most opportunities is a good place to start.
Are you looking to intern at a large company, or an NGO, or a museum, or with a fashion designer, or at a newspaper? Some European cities are better known for certain industries, and researching those areas in advance can help you find your ideal internship. For example, if banking and business is your field, you might want to consider an internship in London -- a financial hub. If fashion is your passion, Milan may be the place for you to find your ideal placement. Do you love art history and museums? Paris, Rome, or Amsterdam may be worth considering.
Step 2. Assess Your language Skills
If you speak more than one language -- especially if it’s a language that’s spoken in a country where you want to work -- you are likely to be more desirable to potential employers. While being an English speaker is sure to be useful for any internship, having a professional proficiency in a second language will give you more options.
Be realistic about your language skills and research if your industry is likely to require a second language before you start planning your time abroad. If you know that you want to work in a particular country, you can even begin learning that country's language one or two years in advance, to help you land the internship of your dreams.
If you don't speak a second language, don't worry. Not all internships will require you to speak a second language. Limiting your search to countries where English is the primary language spoken can also help you focus your search.
Step 3. Plan & Know Your Budget
No one likes to talk about finances, but creating a budget is a reality that needs to be considered when planning your paid internship in Europe. Creating a rough budget can help you have realistic expectations about where you can work and how much you might need to earn to pay for rent, food, travel, and other extras while you are abroad.
Keep in mind that while you will receive a stipend, you may want to supplement that -- particularly if you choose to work in a more expensive city like Paris, London, or Milan. If you do find a dream internship that doesn't align with your budget, a part-time job teaching or tutoring English can be an ideal way to make extra cash while working at a paid internship in Europe.
Step 4. Consider a Paid Internship in Europe for Credit
Do you want to intern while you are still in school, or will you have graduated? When you want to work abroad will determine whether you should consider searching for a paid internship that will count for course credit at your home university.
If you will still be pursuing your degree while working as an intern, then earning course credit will give you the added benefit of contributing to your graduation requirements while gaining work experience and earning money. If you do decide to look for an internship for credit, your first step may be to check with your college or university's career or study abroad center to see if they have agreements with companies or organizations where you may like to work.
Another option is to combine a study abroad language program with a part-time internship -- that way you will be improving your language skills while getting on-the-job experience in an industry that is related to your Job.
Step 5. Find a Paid Internship in Europe
So far, you've just been doing prep work. Now it's time to research and shortlist the internships you want to apply for.
Contacting companies or organizations that you are interested in is one way to find an internship, and there are also websites, and fee-based services that aggregate opportunities for paid internships across Europe:
- Erasmus+: An organization of the European Union that includes traineeships, work placements, internships, and more. The opportunities on Erasmus+ are available to students and recent graduates.
- Go Overseas Internships Abroad page: Here on Go Overseas you can search among hundreds of internship opportunities by time period, country, and industry -- from accounting to wildlife conservation.
- Idealist.org: This site is specifically for opportunities at NGOs and other organizations across the globe that are focused on doing good.
- Internship placement providers: There are companies that will match you with an internship for a fee. This could be an option if you want to eliminate some of the research time that it takes to find a placement.
Step 6. Customize Your C.V. & Covers Letters
Now that you've found a few paid internships in Europe that might be a great fit for you, it's time to start applying to them.
You'll want to update your C.V. (the same as résumé in the U.S.) so that it includes language skills, experiences abroad, and any university coursework related to international studies. It's optimal to start with a base C.V. and then update it with relevant skills for every internship that you are applying for.
A customized cover letter for every application is also essential, explaining how your experience is an ideal fit for who the employer might be looking for.
Step 7. Figure Out Your Visa Options
How long you want to intern will determine whether or not you will need a visa if you do not have a European passport. It's important to research and understand your visa options so you can answer questions if your possible intern employer asks about them.
For internships that are 90 days or less, you likely will not need a visa if you are a citizen of the United States or Canada. However, if your internship will go beyond 90 days, you will need a visa. You’ll need to work with your potential employer to complete the necessary paperwork at the consulate in your home country before you can leave for your internship, and be prepared that you may need to start this process several months in advance of your projected start date.
Step 8. Be Optimistic & Open-Minded
The number one tip for landing a paid internship in Europe is to keep an open mind. If you are fluent in a second language, targeting a specific country can help you find your ideal internship. Knowing the industry that you’d like to work in can also narrow down your choices. However, if your main goal is to score a paid internship in Europe, then being open to various locations and types of companies and organizations can ensure that you are more likely to find a placement.
Start your search early and stay optimistic and you will be well on your way to an unforgettable experience!
This post was originally published in March 2013, and was updated in October 2018.