International internships: your options explained

Seeking a summer internship abroad – or how about a placement year? Whether you want to be two metres from a beach or at the centre of global commerce, there will be something for you.

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The fact that your internship is abroad may help you to develop further skills and personal qualities.

This article was written before the Covid-19 pandemic. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic. Please see the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK for advice on travelling to specific countries.

We explore how to find an overseas internship or another type of work experience abroad. Internships in the business, engineering, law and finance fields are probably the most commonly available, but there are opportunities in other sectors such as the media. Bear in mind that not all opportunities will be paid, however.

1. Pay for an internship abroad

Here are some organisations that will arrange placements for you in different countries:

NB: this isn’t an exhaustive list.

If you are set on doing an internship abroad, this is probably the easiest way to go about it, as most of the practicalities are sorted for you – although it’s not affordable for everyone. You pay a fee and for this you usually receive an internship in your preferred discipline and location, and the visa application process is taken care of for you. However, it is important to look very carefully at what is included in your package; for example, some providers arrange accommodation and airport pick-ups, but others don’t – or only if you pay a higher fee. It is also worth making sure you know exactly what is expected of you while on your internship; make sure you are not just paying for a very expensive holiday.

Do some detailed and extensive research before signing up with any placement providers expecting a fee; try to get in touch with students who have previously been on the scheme, for example.

2. Find opportunities through the British Council…

… and with other public sector bodies.

The British Council website lists internship opportunities in other countries – as well as studying and volunteering options – and so is a good port of call in your search. We’ve even seen it offer funding to help with the fees for some of the international placement organisations listed above.

It’s also worth looking at opportunities with governmental organisations or non-profit organisations, such as the United Nations and IAESTE (although you could be pointed back towards the British Council website).

As above, however, do your own research and check that you meet any eligibility criteria and are aware of any hidden costs.

3. Apply directly to an individual global office

If you have the appropriate citizenship/residency rights and language fluency (which we know isn’t everyone), you can apply directly for a work experience vacancy with a company operating in your desired country. Some international organisations, including banks and law firms, offer placements to students from any country who meet the eligibility criteria. For example:

  • Law firm Baker McKenzie has previously offered a legal internship in St Petersburg for third-year students who are studying Russian legislation and have fluent drafting skills in English and Russian.
  • The Royal Bank of Scotland has offered a markets internship in Frankfurt for students fluent in German and English.
  • Investment firm Fidelity International has offered internships in Italy and Germany, for those who can speak the required languages.
  • L’Oréal offers internships in a range of locations, including Paris, for which fluent English is required.
  • Automotive and aerospace company Saab typically offers a variety of ‘summer jobs’ in Sweden for students studying technical or business-related degrees who can speak Swedish and English.

Opportunities with large employers are usually paid and many offer support with relocation costs.

Most international employers divide their early career opportunities into geographic regions, such as EMEA, so take a look at the opportunities in the region that interests you – and check whether they offer visa sponsorship (if required).

An alternative is to apply speculatively to an employer in your target country (following that country’s recruitment conventions). Architectural student Georgina Naish told a previous edition of the UK 300 that she got a summer placement with construction company Wates in Abu Dhabi via a speculative application; she received the contact details of the relevant team through personal contacts, got in touch and asked whether they could take her on.

Whether this type of informal work experience arrangement is paid usually depends on what you negotiate with the employer and the employment laws in the country in which you want to work.

4. Apply for a placement in your home country that has international rotations or work

If you apply to an employer that works internationally, it is possible that your placement or internship may include some international travel or some time spent abroad. This usually comes about in two ways.

The first way is through a structured formal scheme offered by the employer. For example:

  • Global consulting firm A.T. Kearney offers a six-month European internship, in which interns work for two months each in three different countries.
  • Law firm Clifford Chance offers Middle East vacation schemes (the name solicitors’ firms give to internships), which include two rotations in London and two in Dubai; Arabic language skills are an advantage, but not essential. The firm’s SPARK work experience scheme for first years also includes a day at an international office (previously Amsterdam and Paris).
  • Big 4 firm KPMG has traditionally offered an international internship. If candidates have been offered an internship in their home country, they have the option of applying to work in another country.
  • Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills offers candidates who are accepted on to their London training contract the opportunity to do a placement in Brussels, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore or Tokyo.

Most employers will list such formal schemes on jobs boards such as TARGETjobs and on their UK early careers recruitment websites.

The second way you can gain international experience on an internship is largely through chance: it could happen naturally through the project or tasks allocated to you. For example, you could be working on an international project and a visit to the client or project is deemed necessary by the business. This is perhaps more likely to happen if you are undertaking a placement year rather than a short summer internship. However, in most cases employers will expect you to communicate with international colleagues and clients by video conference rather than visiting them in person.

5. Enter the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards

The TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards is a competition that aims to discover the most talented undergraduates. Prizes for the award winners include paid internships with top employers – and many of these internships are either based abroad or have international elements, such as a visit to the employer’s global HQ or spending a week or so in one of its offices abroad. The competition typically opens in October and closes at the start of February each year.

Will an international internship improve my CV?

Any work experience will enhance your CV, no matter what or where it is, as long as you gain all you can from it (see our feature on making the most of work experience ). So, you do not have to gain an international internship to impress recruiters.

However, the fact that your internship is abroad may give you the chance to develop further skills and personal qualities that you may not be able to otherwise. For example, undertaking an international internship away from your usual network of support could:

Some recruiters might be more impressed by international internships you’ve applied for competitively rather than paid for, but in general employers don’t mind how you’ve gained skills, as long as you have them.

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