Internships in the United States

Internships in the United States


The United States has the world’s largest economy and internship opportunities in almost every industry. Interning in the U.S. will not only provide you with a business network and look great on your CV (or resume), but it's also a fantastic place to live for a few months, the summer, or for a whole year!

Whether you are situated in busy New York, vibrant Chicago, the friendly Midwest, or anywhere else, America caters to every personality and interest. It is the perfect internship destination for anyone--whether you are just starting out in your career or want to gain experience in a particular field.

An internship in the U.S. will provide you the opportunity to work on your English language skills, build an international network, and expand on transferable skills. Some of the top sectors include government, entertainment, technology, and healthcare.

Top Industries

Industries in America, and therefore popular internships, vary massively. Since the United States is so big, the top industries also vary from city to city -- Washington D.C. has the best internships in government and politics, while Los Angeles has the most internship opportunities in entertainment and media. Yet, whatever your area of expertise or background, there will be an internship program out there somewhere that suits you.

Network and Communications:

Mobile phone and technology companies are employing a lot of skilled graduates due to the fact that the industry is growing so fast. They employ people from all different backgrounds, from engineers through to marketing and business interns. They are looking for people with technical skills that also have the marketing and communication experience to be able to talk about and sell products. These internships can be found across the country but particularly in bigger cities.

Tech & Internet Services:

Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft have the most sought after jobs in the world and are headquartered in America. Companies in the internet industry are so highly valued because they are always growing and bringing out the latest technology. Internships in these U.S. companies can range from machine learning to product design to software engineering. Plus, this can give you an excuse to live in the famed 'Silicon Valley' and explore San Francisco, all while gaining valuable career skills.

Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare:

The pharmaceutical industry is always been a prominent industry in America and continues to grow. Pharmaceutical companies are constantly on the Fortune 500 list, making it one of the most profitable industries. You can intern in positions such as medical sales, R&D, market analysis, or science technician.

Renewable Energy:

More and more companies are going green and are employing industry professionals as issues of dependence on foreign oil and global warming are at the forefront of business policies. These companies focus on energy through wind, solar, geothermal, and water. During an internship in renewable energy, you can shadow and learn the inner workings of companies on the forefront of sustainability in the U.S.A.

Planning Your Trip

When and Where to Look for an Internship in the U.S.:

Any big to medium-sized cities in America will offer internships in a variety of fields; you just have to know how to find them. The easiest way to find internships abroad is through an internship company or a connection you already have in the U.S. Without using a third party company, it will be very hard to find an internship in the U.S.A. as there are so many qualified American students looking at all the same places as you. You will need to find companies that are particularly looking to take international students! Don’t be disheartened by this though, these placements do exist--companies look for international students as they have different qualifications and skills to contribute.

Most international internships in the U.S. will take place in the summer and last somewhere between 2-3 months long. This is one of the best times for students to find practicums in between university or college semesters.

If you decide to look for an internship in the U.S. without using a third party, you’re most likely to be successful by applying to large corporations. This is because they will be the ones who have the resources for obtaining your visa and permits to work in the U.S. unlike smaller companies who may not have these finances or facilities in place.

Visas for Interning in the U.S.A.:

If you get your internship through a program, they will likely help you with your visa application process. This will be extremely helpful as the process of getting a visa to enter America can be a complicated one, no matter what country you are coming from. It requires a lot of paperwork, a trip to the closest embassy, and a lot of documents when you arrive at immigration control in the U.S. Also, keep in mind, it can cost a bit of money to obtain a visa, so keep some of your internship money aside for this cost!

The type of visa most commonly used to intern in the U.S.A. is a J1 Visa that can be requested for up to a 12 month period.

To obtain a J1 visa you must start the process by filling out a form called the IAP-66 which you can request from the U.S. government. However, an easier way to go about the visa process is by using a company that deals with the American authorities on your behalf like CIEE. These companies do charge, but it is most often worth it, as they help you with getting your visa every step of the way.

No matter how you go about getting your visa, the main factor the immigration office is looking for is the reason you have to return to your home country. Whether it is to finish university, family, or career aspirations, you need to be able to prove that at the end of your internship you will return to your home country.

Also, depending on what country you are coming from, the U.S. government has different restrictions, so make sure you research for your specific country before applying. Finally, some interns may attempt to work on a tourist visa--this is extremely illegal and will result in you being jailed if caught, so make sure you get the correct paperwork before you start your internship in the U.S.A!

Cost of Living in the United States:

The cost of living is approximately $200 a week for food and fuel and $1,000-$2,500 for housing. The cost of living in the U.S. can vary greatly depending on what city your internship is in. For example, the cost of living in a smaller city in the Mid-West will be significantly cheaper than if you are living in a bigger city like Chicago or New York.

Remember that the way of life in the States is different than other regions, especially Europe. Unless you are living in a big city like Chicago or New York, you will need a car to get to and from your internship in the U.S.A. Also, if you are under 25, you cannot technically rent a car, so make sure you let your host company and see if they can make special arrangements for you.

Also, keep in mind that tax is not included in the marked price on any items you buy (food, clothes, etc) and that it will be added to your bill when you pay. The tax on items also varies on the state that you live in America. The average sales tax is about 7.25 %; it does add a considerable amount to your bill so watch out! Here's a full list of the sales tax rate in various states.

Furthermore, in restaurants all across America it is expected you tip somewhere between 15-20% for every meal. It is a common misconception that eating out in America is cheap; this isn’t always true, once you have factored in the tax and a tip. However, eating out can be cheap depending on where you go, and because the portion sizes are so big you can often get more than one meal out of a dining experience or split a meal with a friend or fellow intern!

American Work Culture:

Etiquette: American offices are very friendly places to work. Emails are sent very casually and people are happy to stop and have a chat in the staff room. Americans are very hard workers and use all the time they have in the workday. It's common to have back to back meetings all day. They won't leave until they have everything complete and stay overtime. Quite often, interns in the U.S. are given a lot of freedom about the hours they work, but it is expected that you get all your work done before leaving for the night and are fully prepared for your next day's meetings.

Dress code varies across the country and industry. In smaller towns and cities, the dress code for your internship may be more casual than in cities. Most often dressing smart or business-casual is expected, and suits are most often not necessary unless you're interning in the pharma to business industries. Casual Fridays are also very common in companies across America. Furthermore, ‘summer hours’ are common in America; meaning that as long as you have everything complete, taking a half-day is common on a Friday.

In most offices and situations, it is acceptable to start using first names as soon as you meet someone. Also, being on time is extremely important in American offices. Even if you are going to be five minutes late, make sure you inform people otherwise they will see you as being rude or inconsiderate. However, keep in mind that all companies and experiences will be different, so get in contact with past interns, and make sure you research your company thoroughly before you arrive. Another thing to note is that Americans like discussing politics; especially in election years so make sure you brush up on your American politics before you arrive.

Language: English is the official language in the United States. If you're from an English-speaking country, certain slang words may be different in your country than America. There may be more nuanced differences in the way things are phrased than you expect, which at points can make it surprisingly hard to communicate.

Networking: Companies in U.S. are very friendly places to work and get your feet wet as an intern. It is expected for you to email to set up a time to meet, or knock on the door of anyone you are interested in having a conversation with. You will find, more often than not, people are happy to arrange a lunch, meeting, or have a chat with you and tell you about themselves and their careers.

Also, if you attend any talks or outside of work networking events, don’t be shy to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. They are most likely curious about where you are from and what you do. This is also a great way to meet people that are not directly in your line of work but are also great international contacts to have.

Work and Labor Laws in the U.S.A:

Once in America, on the J1 Visa, it is illegal to work in any other company aside from the one you are sponsored to work at. It is recommended you don’t try to get around this by doing any work on the side, as America has very strict visa laws.

On your first day of work, make sure you have all your visa, passport and paperwork with you as you will most likely have to fill out forms once you’re at the HR office. If you are sponsored by a company like CIEE, you will get emails with requests to fill in forms and update your address. Also, make sure to have all your paperwork with you at all times, especially if you decide to travel and take a domestic flight during your internship.

Contributed by Linda Newman
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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I find an internship in the USA?

    Due to the size of the USA, the top industries vary by city. However, generally, the U.S. is known for its network and communication companies, technology companies, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, and renewable energy.

  • What visa do I need for an internship in the USA?

    Generally, you can intern in the USA on an F1 or J1 visa. If you are an international student, you are probably already on an F1 visa which allows you to work up to 20 hours per week. For a J1 visa, you will need to be sponsored by your company to intern in the States.

  • Are internships paid in the USA?

    Many internships are unpaid in the USA with payment in the form of academic credit. However, it's possible to find paid internships at large companies and corporations. The average minimum wage in the USA is about $7.25 per hour.

  • Can I do an internships in the USA?

    Yes, domestic and international students can definitely do an internship in the USA. As one of the largest economies with opportunities across every industry, it's one of the best places to learn new skills and build a network.

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