Everything You Need to Know About Paid International Internships

by Laura Jelich

If it seems like one question after another suddenly surfaces when you first start looking into paid internships abroad, but fear not. With such a large pool of international internship prospects, in which paid ones seem so few and far between, it can quickly become exasperating and even tempting to re-think one’s agenda altogether. So, in an effort to answer all the uncertainties that may arise while sorting through the massive amounts of information, opportunities, and steps to take, we have compiled and summarized everything you need to know about paid internships abroad.

Fifty Euro notes
You want to roll in the Benjamins during your international internship.

WHY should I intern abroad in the first place? The benefits of international internships.

While it undoubtedly requires more effort, there are many reasons people choose to intern abroad instead of in their own country. Honestly, there are many benefits of interning abroad you simply don’t get on the same level by staying put.

Personal Growth

It requires some serious motivation and badassery to take the initiative and put in the effort of interning abroad. So, not only does it provide you with a sense of accomplishment and confidence that not much else can, but it allows you to walk a new walk, talk a new talk, view the world through new lenses, and intimately interact with people from other cultures. Living and interning abroad also allows you to become more intensely immersed in the local culture than generic touring alone can provide. Big investment, even bigger reward.

Professional Development

International internships yield so much resume-boosting, we literally can’t even. Workforces are becoming more diverse, global connectivity is valued more than ever, and international interaction among businesses and between diverse clientele is increasing. Companies want employees with some level of international experience. Not to mention the experience you will gain, which may include, but is not limited to:

  • Foreign-language abilities
  • Hands-on skills
  • Fresh perspectives and insights
People sitting at a table talking
Expand your network

Network Expansion

By participating in an international internship, your circle of connections will automatically and significantly expand. Having someone who can personally vouch for you is a tremendous benefit, both in finding and obtaining a job, upon entering the professional workforce. Some opportunities are not even available to those without a personally linked reference, so interning abroad actually broadens your job prospect horizons.

DO paid international internships even exist? Types of paid international internships.

While they are definitely not the norm, paid international internships do, in fact, exist. But, they can be more elusive than two perfectly-even cat-eye lined eyes.  If you can get all the benefits of international internships, PLUS get paid for it, you just hit the internship jackpot. 

However, generally speaking, paid international internships will not necessarily be a large money-making venture and should not be viewed as such. Receiving financial compensation more often just offsets the economic expense of interning abroad or allows one to come away with a slightly positive gross budget.

So what what do paid international internships look like anyway? They can generally be split into one of two types.

Exchange Programs

There are internship program providers that exist for the primary purpose of connecting internship seekers with available placements. These organizations generally take care of directly contacting companies, arranging the placement and housing details, obtaining work permits, etc. These types of internships abroad are convenient and can save you a significant amount of time you’d otherwise spend searching for and organizing a placement, but the vast majority of them are not paid as a result. Paid exchange programs can be found, nevertheless, and are therefore included as a paid international internship option. However, one should still expect to pay some sort of placement fee.

Company Internships

The second type of paid international internship that exists is more often actually paid, but still not always. Some international organizations offer internships that individuals can apply to directly without having to go through a third-party program provider. It is also possible to directly contact an international organization you would like to intern for and formally request or create your own internship with them.

Entrance to a Brazilian embassy
Your embassy is a great place to look for paid internships abroad.

How do I FIND a paid international internship? Where to find an international internship.

Finding the glittery unicorn that is a paid internship requires a combination of savvy searching and a bit of good luck. The field you chose to intern in, when you apply, and how you orient your search efforts will all play a role in how successful you are in finding an international internship.

Fields to Look Into

While paid internship opportunities abroad can be found in any field if you just look hard enough, the broad spectrum of business emphases definitely take the cake in this popularity contest. Therefore, marketing, finance, international relations, and engineering interns will likely find it relatively easy to hunt down a few paid opportunities after simply searching a few of the big wig corporations in their field. 

Don’t let your arts or humanities degree deflate your paid international internship sails, however, just accept that it may just take bit more effort or involve a roundabout strategy to obtain. Also, don’t forget that if a large international organization you wish to intern for doesn’t currently offer any fellowships or study grant programs at all, you can always present your own proposal!

Strategies for Searching

Depending upon which route your prefer to take and what is even available to you, you may opt for either an exchange program or a direct internship. If you avoid research, paperwork, and logistics like the plague, hopefully, you are not looking to find an internship in law, politics, or science. But also, you are most likely to find exchange program providers extremely helpful in aiding your search. So to jumpstart your efforts, here are a few great organizations that exist to connect applicants with internship placement openings:

Class of 2015 cap and tassel
You can be compensated in other ways, like in academic credit.

By far your best bet for finding a paid international internship, if you don’t find one that sparks your interest through placement providers, is going to be directly researching international companies with global internship programs.

What if I CAN’T find a paid international internship? Other types of compensation.

If you simply cannot find a paid internship abroad in your field that works for you, there are other perks that may prove just as beneficial.

Academic Credit

Students especially may find that receiving academic credit comes in extremely handy in killing two birds with one stone, so to speak, as interning through their school may allow them to get real life work experience (not an unusual requirement for graduation or job applications) while earning class credits. In fact, many unpaid internships only accept full-time students in a relevant field.

A bonus benefit of interning unpaid in a learning-focused position is that you may have access to higher information and instruction that what you could obtain in the type of paid internship that your relatively low (most likely) level of experience would warrant. Plus, when interning directly through one’s school, scholarships and financial aid can likewise apply to expenses incurred while interning abroad.

Living Stipend

Other times, organizations or companies that can’t afford the monetary/permit/paperwork required to actually pay interns will offer some other type of living stipend or provide and/or cover the cost of living and food expenses while abroad.

Experience Alone

Even if nothing else seems to compensate the international internship costs, the learning experience, chance to travel, and career networking you receive during your time interning abroad should carry significant weight in the “pro” column of your decision making data sheet.

Person typing on a Macbook
Be proactive in your search to snag an elusive paid internship

Is it weird to have to PAY to intern abroad? What you are actually paying for.

It is definitely not weird (or uncommon) to have to pay to intern abroad. It may seem strange to have to pay to work, but, it’s not quite as (comparably) simple to arrange as your typical local internship. If you think about it, it does cost those organizing the international internship time, effort, and money to do so. By connecting you with a placement across the globe, accommodating your time abroad, and assisting you with your travels, it makes sense that part of what you pay for is paperwork and convenience.

Especially if you are, in fact, utilizing some sort of exchange program, part of the price may even go toward covering permits, rent payments, etc. that would otherwise be coming out of your own pocket anyway. Not to mention, it saves yourself a lot of the extra work that an international internships requires by tapping into the expertise of those whose job it is to arrange these types of things smoothly and efficiently. However, at the end of the day, there are ways to make interning abroad seem free.

So, now you know!

Hopefully you now are able to orient your senses in deciding the best course of action to pursue for your own paid internship abroad. Definitely expect to put for time and energy into your searching. After all, nothing worth having generally comes easy. Just know that the right international internship for you is out there, and that you can find a paid internship abroad if you just search wisely and boldly!