Jobs and Internships Abroad for Students and Recent Graduates
How to Find Work as a Student
The best time to seek work overseas and to prepare for an international career is while you are a student or soon after graduation.
You may be considering an overseas work experience for many reasons: an adventure, a chance to gain in-depth knowledge of another culture and of yourself, an inexpensive way to improve foreign language proficiency, or as preparation for an international career.
Keep in mind what you want from working abroad: Will an unpaid internship working with Americans in a U.S. embassy do as much for your French as working in an ice cream shop in Paris? Or would the State Department internship be the best choice if your long-term goal is an international career?
Also, keep in mind how extraordinarily difficult it is to be hired into a career position abroad unless you have a scarce skill and professional experience.
Visas and Work Permits
One major obstacle to working abroad is the law. All countries require special permission for foreigners to either work or reside for long periods of time. Whereas short-term tourists sometimes do not need a visa and student visas are granted relatively easily, work permit visas are normally available only through application by an employer who has offered you a job. The employer must show that you have unique skills and abilities not possessed by local citizens.
This is expensive and time-consuming to prove, so most employers, who are subject to heavy fines if they hire illegally, will not offer a job to a foreigner who does not possess a work permit. Work exchange programs are one of the few legal ways around this. Note: it is also possible to work illegally; i.e., without a work permit. Such jobs may turn up in restaurants and agriculture as well as in teaching English. We cannot recommend working illegally because it puts you at risk of immediate deportation and potentially subsequent prevention from entering a given country, possible fines, lower wages (or no wages at all), and a lack of legal protection or insurance in case of injury or illness.
Study, Work, and the Cost of Living Abroad
Study abroad programs provide logistical assistance and a structured learning environment, which can be especially valuable if you are going abroad for the first time. They provide the quickest way to achieve fluency in a foreign language, a prerequisite for many international careers. For those interested in working abroad, a study abroad program can also provide a secure base from which to explore job possibilities and make contacts with potential employers. Credit towards your degree is available as long as you check with the proper offices before going.
Cost ranges from about the same to considerably more than the cost of study at home. If you don’t need the academic credit towards a degree, study abroad might simply be impractical. Scholarships for undergraduate study abroad are fairly rare. Even fewer scholarships support work abroad (except for graduate students), and students report more success with fundraising through family, friends, and hometown associations (such as Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.).
Work abroad can be combined with study (before, during, or after), helping you to defray the cost and gain experience in a very different environment from academia. But two caveats:
1. Do not expect to finance study with part-time work. At best, it can provide extra spending money. Savings can usually be accumulated more quickly by working in the U.S.
2. You must carefully investigate whether and under what circumstances work is allowed for American students in a particular country. Most countries do not allow students to work and may deport those who work without a work permit. However, student work-permit programs for some popular European destinations allow work in combination with study. You have to enter the country with a special work permit provided by the work exchange program, which can only be obtained by applying in advance. Finally, a few countries (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Canada) permit part-time work for students who are directly enrolled in local universities. Other countries (e.g., France) will generally not allow students to work unless they participate in a special student work exchange program or go through the often-complex work permit process.
Study and Work Abroad After Graduation
Fulbright, Rotary, and other scholarships are available to support a year of overseas study (not necessarily for a degree) after graduation. These prestigious awards and the contacts they open up are often stepping-stones to international careers.
Direct enrollment in a foreign university is another postgraduate possibility. Tuitions for direct enrollment are low in some countries but relatively high in Britain, Ireland, and Australia. Student status may allow you to work part-time or during vacations in some countries. However, the main disadvantage of attempting to “work your way” through an overseas university is that you may find yourself marking time, neither making headway towards a degree nor progress in a career. You also want to be sure that a degree earned from an overseas university would be recognized as well in the U.S. as one from a U.S. university.
Types of Work Abroad Programs
Numerous special programs offer placements in specific jobs (paid or unpaid) along with a work permit or assist you in procuring a short-term work permit and help with a job search once overseas. Work abroad programs are limited in duration, lasting from two weeks for short-term volunteer programs, to summer or six months, or as long as one or two years for programs for teaching abroad or long-term volunteering such as the Peace Corps. There are four types of work abroad programs.
1. International Internships. Internships offer the most direct connection to international careers. Available in a wide range of locations and disciplines, internships are equaled in this respect only by volunteer options. Internships for academic credit are plentiful (they charge tuition); paid internships are rare. “International” internships may be located abroad or in the U.S. with international organizations. Typical duration is a summer or semester. (See our Internships Abroad section for more.)
2. Short-Term Paid Work Abroad. Typical types of short-term paid work abroad include restaurant work, temping, childcare (au pair) and farm work, though enterprising students do find work of a professional nature. (For a list of employers for short-term jobs and au pair placements, see the Short-Term Jobs section for more.) Short-term paid work abroad programs for students or recent graduates offer the best chance for you to earn your way abroad; however, there are up-front costs for program fees, airfare, and initial spending money. These programs are located primarily in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, with a small number of programs offering other locations. The typical duration is up to six months.
3. Volunteering Abroad. Volunteers usually work and live together with ordinary local citizens. Types of work range from archaeology digs to social services in locations worldwide. Volunteering is excellent career preparation for those interested in work in developing countries or careers with non-governmental organizations. (See the Volunteer Work Abroad section for more.)
4. Teaching Abroad. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL or ESL) is one of the most accessible options for long-term (one to two years) work abroad. (See our Teaching English Abroad section for more.) Most programs require a college degree. Jobs are typically in Asia or Eastern Europe (few such jobs are available in Western Europe for Americans, with the notable exceptions of Austria, Finland, and France). Experience in tutoring or teaching is recommended. Additional teaching abroad options are available for those with teaching qualifications at the K-12 or university level. (See the Teaching Work Abroad section for more.)
Work Abroad Calendar: When to Apply
Of course, always visit the websites for the programs below for changes in deadlines and dates, which sometimes occur.
Study Abroad Internships usually have Fall Term deadlines in April-May, Spring deadlines usually are October-December, Summer deadlines are generally March-April. Check the IAESTE, Cultural Vistas, American-Scandinavian Foundation (engineering and sciences) for dates. This is also the best time to contact organizations if you are lining up your own internships.
Check the for Summer U.S. State Department internships website for deadlines.
Short-Term Paid Work Abroad or Work & Travel Programs.
Apply several months in advance for InterExchange and other organizations.
Apply at least nine months in advance for Peace Corps and other long-term volunteer programs; apply in March-May for the broadest choice in short-term “work camps” such as Volunteers for Peace.
Teaching English Abroad
Apply in October for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship positions; November for major TESL programs in Asia, including the JET Programme in Japan, Princeton-in-Asia in countries in Asia. It always helps to apply early. Graduates generally need a TEFL certificate, available through programs worldwide and online or offered by placement programs, to find work abroad.
William Nolting worked for many years at the University of Michigan Overseas Opportunities Office and was the International Educational and former Work Abroad editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine.