Top 3 Tips on How to Intern Abroad (for Free!) 

by Jake Hanrahan

There is no denying the incredible educational opportunity represented by an internship abroad, but far too often the cost deters potential interns from ever even applying. Still, considering the not-so-sky-high salaries that most interns are paid in the U.S. (hint: it’s usually nothing), international internships often don’t represent nearly as large of a financial burden as many would think.

Cow piggy bank with money

Bring the money from your piggy bank for a weekend excursion during your internship abroad!

Disclaimer: Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start with a reality check:

  • In today’s day and age, the word “free” should probably come with a permanent asterisk attached. For starters, unless you are a total rock star in your chosen field, there are very, very few internships on earth that will provide great pay AND travel/employee benefits for students
  • The latter positions are called “jobs,” not internships, and are reserved for people who already have the degree the position requires. Also, the unpaid nature of many internships abroad today means your internship will always cost something, be it travel costs, on site living expenses, or even lost opportunity to gain an income. When it comes to international internships, there are sometimes program fees associated with the position, on top of the obvious travel expenses. But you will be paying for the coordination, customization to your skills/experience, and on-site support (which are far better than winging it on your own) involved in interning abroad successfully.
  • The benefits of interning abroad go beyond monetary compensation, the internship will give you experience, mentorship, a kickstart to your professional network, and the chance to try on your potential career for size. Not to mention, if you take a look at nearly any job opening, you’ll see that experience is required for almost any job. How can you get experience if you no one will hire you? This is where internships come in.
  • Still, while it may not be possible to simply avoid paying the costs of your international internship upfront, it is certainly possible to break even by saving or earning money in other areas, something that your friends interning in the U.S. will likely struggle to do. Which leads us to our first main point…

There is absolutely no reason why students should limit themselves to interning only in their home country, when there are available internships all over the world. What follows is a collection of tips for keeping the cost of an international internship to its bare minimum, opening the door for a fantastic, educational adventure abroad!

1.  Foreign countries can often be much cheaper to live in than the United States.

Have you ever had a friend who is almost inexplicably successful? You know, the kind of person that seemed to barely have to try and still managed to land his or her dream internship in New York City, Los Angeles, or any one of the other posh urban centers attracting the nation’s best and brightest? Meanwhile, you were left saddled with the notion of spending the summer waiting tables just to earn rent money. Instead of applying at the local diner, apply for an internship abroad in a country with a lower cost of living.

A square in Madrid, Spain

Interns strolling through a square in Madrid, Spain - for FREE!

Internships in almost every field are available literally all over the world, and more often than not the price of everything from rent to groceries will be cheaper than at home. This concept obviously won’t hold true in the center of major world cities, but it is more than possible to complete an internship abroad while living cheaply in more affordable locations.

For example, let’s take a look at what is typically the largest expense on a monthly budget sheet: rent. The average price of a single bedroom apartment in the U.S. is nearly $800 per month. If interning in Thailand, along with its beautiful tropical climate and gorgeous beaches, interns will find a similar style apartment will average just $200 per month. Even in a first world nation like Spain, the average price is still over $300 LESS per month than in the United States. Even if your internship abroad is unpaid (as will likely be the case at home as well) you can save a substantial chunk of money by simply living somewhere that isn’t the U.S. and gain incredible work experience at the same time

2.  Sublet your room at home. 

While it’s definitely possible to save cash by living somewhere cheaper, many college students still have to deal with the burden of an apartment or house lease back at home. Continuing to pay for an apartment in the U.S. while interning abroad can be a huge financial issue, but there are many ways around this.

With the constant flow of students in and out of university towns, most landlords aren’t overly picky about exactly who pays the rent, so long as it is paid. Talk to your property owner about subletting your bedroom while you are interning abroad. This will lift a huge financial burden off your shoulders, and with the aid of sites like Craigslist and AirBnB, finding someone willing to move in is usually very simple.

3.  Earn college credit for your internship abroad.

Internships are meant to be learning experiences, and as such internships are usually applicable for academic credit. International internships are even more likely to fall into this category, and many include foreign language study credits too, especially if your work environment involves some level of communication that is not in English. Completing an independent research project while interning abroad is another option that often nets some form of university credit. In the long run, saving potentially several thousand dollars in future tuition money over future semesters can essentially allow for the internship to pay for itself! 

Students working in an art studio in Italy

Get academic credit during your internship abroad by pairing it with a general education requirement - try an art class abroad!

On a related note, if your school is willing to consider your internship abroad for credit, ask about scholarships as well. Scholarships are available for those who plan to intern abroad both through universities and through private sources, which cover the costs of things like travel and living expenses for international internships. Check your financial aid status as well, and your student loans could also fit the bill.

An internship requires sacrifices regardless of its location. Money, time, and (sometimes extreme) effort are all expected from interns nowadays. However, the educational and professional rewards for all of your hard work will be even greater when interning abroad, which is what internships are all about.

That being said, finances are going to be a factor no matter where you complete an internship, so looking for internship opportunities available in other countries is a great way to expand your options and potentially save a lot of money relative to your peers (and you’ll having bragging rights too).

So if you are willing to think outside the box and consider interning abroad, and follow the tips above, you will be well on your way to making your internship a memorable and affordable experience!