Everyone needs to gain work experience, and an internship is often the perfect way to do it. Whether you’re wondering what to do after graduation or looking for internships for first-year students, you won’t be alone in being drawn towards the idea of interning abroad. And if you’re tempted to head to the USA, you’ll be in good company there, too.
This article will tell you what you need to know if you’re a British citizen considering a US undergraduate or graduate internship, with a few tips on how to get one. We’ll also introduce how you can manage your money while you’re abroad with Wise.
An internship is a limited period of work experience. You’ll do a variety of entry-level tasks for a particular company, while learning about how the organisation operates and what it takes to work in that sector.
In the US as elsewhere, internships can last for anything from a few weeks or so – maybe one summer during your university degree – to about a year.
There’s a lot of overlap between terms like work experience, internship, and placement. A placement generally means a limited-term job that’s a part of a university study course: you might need to do the placement so that you can graduate. An internship, by contrast, is something you do more for the experience it gives you than for a specific qualification or credit.
In practice, internships and placements may involve many of the same tasks – as they’re both entry-level positions. A placement is more likely to offer you formal training and progress reports.
There’s no single, fail-safe method, of course. But here are some useful tips.
- Research companies: Narrow down the area you want to work in, and make a list of your ideal companies.
- Research what they offer: For each of your ideal companies, find out what sorts of internships they actually offer. Do your research before contacting them – you don’t want to look un-informed.
- Research opportunities from your university: Does your university have any schemes or exchange programmes? These could help you considerably.
- Tailor your CV: Make sure your CV – resume, as they’ll call it over there – is as up-to-date as possible, filled with superb and relevant information, and formatted in the standard American way for your particular field.
- When you get in touch, be bold: Don’t be pushy, but approach your potential employer with confidence.
- Network! The most general advice, but potentially also the best. Make as many contacts as you can: go to events, talk to new people. You never know where your best lead is going to come from.
Paid internships abroad may be the dream, but the reality is that it varies – in the US just like in the UK, and indeed elsewhere, some internships are unfortunately not paid. If it is paid, it likely will not be as much as regular job opportunity in the same field.
Whether or not you’re earning, you’ll still have plenty of expenses to cover, from rent to groceries, plus a US phone plan - even if you are able to save on calls with a free international calls app. Also, don’t forget about health insurance. The list goes on.
Paying for things while you’re abroad can easily add up - with high fees hidden in marked-up exchange rates. So, you’ll need a way to spend like a local while you’re there, in order to make your money go further.
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Receiving financial help from a funding body, or your parents - receive payments with zero fees to a multi-currency account with Wise. And, if your internship is paid - then you can also receive your earnings in USD direct to your US local account details.
This is because you’ll get local account details for the UK, US, Eurozone, Australia and New Zealand. So, you can manage all of your money in one account - what could be easier.
Avoid excessive fees when you pay by card or withdraw cash from an ATM with a debit MasterCard to spend with low conversion fees, and zero transaction fees.
All currency conversions are done at the real mid-market rate - the one you’ll see on Google, with simple, low fees. Oh, and it’s up to 8x cheaper than UK high street debit and credit cards.
The US is strict about internships being for students or (very) recent graduates. They stipulate that you need to have graduated less than a year before you start your internship: otherwise, you won’t be eligible for the visa you’ll need. Gap year internships aren’t an option, unless you’re already enrolled at university.¹
If you’re a UK citizen, then you’ll need to apply for a visa. Specifically, you need a J-1 Visa on what they call the “Exchange Visitor Program”.²
You should get help with your visa application from a sponsor – an official organisation that specialises in placing interns. There’s a full list of designated sponsor organizations on the US Department of State site.³
This article does not provide official advice or guidance relating to US visa applications - for full information see: US Embassy & Consulates site for UK citizens.
If you’re thinking of interning in the US, you can choose from the following categories:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing.
- Arts and culture.
- Construction and building.
- Education, social sciences, library science, counseling and social services.
- Hospitality and tourism.
- Information media and communications.
- Management, business, commerce and finance.
- Public administration and law.
- The sciences, engineering, architecture, mathematics and industrial occupations.
If you want to work in finance, some time spent working in the US is unlikely to be wasted. Get an internship somewhere like JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs and, if you do well, you may well find doors opening for you after. There are more than just the big companies, though, so make sure to do your research.
Practical experience is pretty vital if you’re studying engineering, as you’ll know already. The US is at the forefront of all sorts of engineering, whether you’re a software engineer, a civil engineer or anything else.
A marketing internship isn’t formally required for most marketing jobs, but without one you may struggle to convince potential employers that you have the necessary skills. A marketing internship in the US could further convince potential hirers back home that you have a valuable international perspective to add to the team.
Web development is one of the most in-demand fields of work at the moment. With so many leading tech companies in the US, the advantages of having a US web development internship under your belt are clear.
The best place for you to go depends on what you’ll be doing. Tech-focussed interns may well want to get themselves to Silicon Valley, while financiers will be understandably tempted by Wall Street. But on the other hand, there are enough large cities in the country – and enough major companies – that there are opportunities in all manner of career sectors, all over the US.
Here are some great places to do your internship, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You might have more luck going for somewhere less in demand, while gaining just as much great experience.
Well, obviously. Not just for the financial district, though. New York is also the place to go for a lot of what’s hot in culture and fashion. It’s big enough, in fact, that you can likely find more or less any internship there. Plus, you know, it’s New York.
The downside, of course, is that it’ll be extra competitive to get an internship in such an in-demand city. That, and the cost of living there is likely to be on the higher side.
San Francisco has everything from beautiful parks, to a thriving art community, to a historic downtown. Its also a great choice if you're considering an internship in areas such as marketing - with a bustling industry established in the city.
Explore the steep streets of San Francisco, taking in the views from the Golden Gate Overlook or Coit Tower after a long day at your internship, or taking a trolley ride across Union Square.
A less obvious choice, but still home to some world-leading companies. Coca-Cola and CNN are among them. It’s a great city to live in, and boasts a cheaper cost of living than some others.
Tech isn’t all about California, of course: head further up the West Coast and you’ll find some more fantastic internship opportunities, which may be somewhat less expensive. Amazon and* Microsoft* are both there. So are Starbucks and T-Mobile USA, so there’s a pretty wide range of options.
Interning should be an exciting time, as you get to explore your potential new career path for the first time. Doing it in the US, of course, is more exciting still, as you get to experience a whole different culture on top of everything else.
Don't forget to check out how Wise can save you from rip-off fees hidden behind exchange rates. So, you can focus on your internship - knoqwing that you're getting the real exchange rate every time.
- US Government information on Interns
2.US Exchange Visitor Program Factsheet
3.US Government: How to apply for internships
Sources checked 21-October 2019.
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