How to Get an Internship in the United States

by Denisse Romero

Internships are practical experiences that bridge the gap between the educational world and the real world allowing students to understand what is really like to work in the industry of their choice. International internships offer much more than the usual internship you would conduct in your country. These types of internships will open your eyes to new ways and new personal and professional relationships, will provide you with new settings and a new culture and expand your opportunities. Here is a small summary on how to get internships in the United States.

Washington, DC: Internship Central

Washington, DC is probably the most popular place for internships in this country. Hundreds of students from every corner of the world congregate in this city during the summer months to pursue internships in almost every field. Of course, the most popular field is political science, but tons of students also pursue internships in science, technology, economics, business, art, etc. In fact, Washington, DC is much more than politics. It’s a beautiful city surrounded by monuments and museums that are free to the general public. The Smithsonian museums offer all kinds of internships and fellowships year-round in subjects such as art, public relations, science, public policy, and other fields. International students are eligible to apply to certain internships provided by the Smithsonian free-of-charge. Other entities that attract tons of international students are the international organizations located in this city such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Interamerican Development Bank. International and national students are encouraged to research and apply with plenty of time before the deadline to any of these internships that usually carry a nice stipend or a monthly wage. It’s important to understand that many internships are unpaid, however the professional expertise and personal connections you will acquire more than make up for the lack of payment.
Some internships offer stipends that usually cover food and/or transportation. Other internships provide nice monthly wages that allow students to pay for housing, food, transportation and other personal expenses. There are also internship programs such as the Washington Internship Program, the Washington Internship Institute, or the Washington Center that provide internships to international and domestic students. These programs usually charge fees that average $3500 for internship placement services, academic courses, housing placement, and group activities. For those students already studying in US universities and colleges, the university career center is a great source for internship opportunities. Finally, newspaper and online job ads may also provide you with a good list of potential internships.

The Work Permit Process for F-1 Students

F-1 visa students (students currently enrolled in US universities and colleges) are eligible to work as interns 9 months after being admitted in the country as F-1 students. The process varies from college to college, but the following steps are recommended:

1. Talk to your international students counselor to see if you are eligible for curricular practical training (CPT). Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an employment option available to F-1 students where the practical training employment is considered to be an integral part of the curriculum or academic program and where you are awarded college credit.

2. Talk to your college counselor, internship director or career counselor to see if you qualify for internships at this point in your college life.

3. Look for internships everywhere: newspapers, online job banks, internship centers, companies, organizations, etc. Submit your resume to your internships director or college professor in charge of co-op and internship programs.

4. Once you have been hired as an intern, go to the international students office and fill out the CPT form. Once this is approved, your I-20 will specify permission to engage in CPT. Your employer and dates will also be recorded on your I-20.

The Visa Process for Other Students

Students or recent graduates from other countries who wish to pursue an internship in the United States will usually need to be sponsored for a J-1 visa. J-1 visas are provided to exchange students and trainees. Your internship program will usually sponsor you for this type of visa. It’s important that you understand that students who come on a J-1 visa will be required to leave the country within 30 days after the internship ends. Also, J-1 visa holders will not be able to return to the US for 2 years following their internship experience. The reasoning for this is that students must take back and apply in their native countries the skills and expertise they acquired while working in the USA. For more information about J-1 visas, please visit this site:

Students who wish to work as temporary workers – usually in the hospitality industry as front desk agents, waiters, housekeepers, ski instructors and more are eligible for H-2 visas. The H-2 visa is a visa for unskilled workers and is the visa most often used for workers in hospitality and entertainment during the summer months. Work abroad programs usually sponsor you for this type of visa. Here is a directory of work abroad agencies. Note that international organizations such as the World Bank, IMF and IDB may sponsor their interns for a G-4 visa instead of other types of visas. The website has comprehensive information about H-2 and G-4 visas.

The following steps are recommended:

1. Find an internship or work abroad program that meets your criteria. Make sure it is a reputable and certified organization.

2. Apply for the internship or work abroad program.

3. Once you have been admitted, request a detailed explanation of the steps and documents necessary for your visa.

4. Gather all the required documents for your visa interview and visit the US consulate or embassy in your area.

Final Words

Although this article has focused on internship opportunities available in the Washington, DC area, internships are available in all cities throughout the United States. It is important to select internships that provide you with valuable skills and unique experiences. Avoid at all costs internships where making copies and serving coffee will be your major responsibilities. Also, if you have decided to enroll in an internship program, make sure that it is a reputable and certified organization capable of sponsoring foreign students. An internship in the United States and in other parts of the world is a beautiful experience that combines new experiences, new cultures, new perspectives and your personal and professional growth.


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3 comments to How to Get an Internship in the United States

  • Lizi801

    Hi there,

    How do internships / placements work in the US? I am from a very successful website in the UK that promotes undergraduate placements (year in industry as part of a university course – normally third year before returning to uni in the fourth year) or internships (1-4 months during the Summer or Easter break).

    How does the system work over there and do unis offer work experience placements as part of their courses?


  • You can visit for various internship opportunities offered in Washington, DC. All offered internships are updated daily.

    • Sara

      I’d say we’re one of those small agencies that have a faliry unstructured internship program, but it’s unstructured with a purpose. A summer or two ago we started our first formal, structured internship program. We wanted students to learn how creative works, how search works, how social works and how everything integrates into one beautifully kept mix. What we found were the interns still didn’t know the basics about how to hand out a business card, or that taking notes in a meeting is a good thing. Mind you the interns we hired all had excellent people skills, work ethics, GPA’s etc but they just didn’t get it.So our internship programs are now more unstructured At the NC State Business fair we handed out scenario’s to what students would do, and asked them to come back to us with how they’d handle that scenario. It gave them insight into what the internship was about, and once hired, we then have them do basic tasks within that category. This gives us the flexibility to teach them every-day-business lessons as well.The unstructured part of it comes to what many of you already addressed Go-getters should get bored at internships. We are not going to put an intern in charge of Microsoft’s account. So if you’re an intern and you’re bored great. But the point is, you’re supposed to be learning what you like and how you can contribute. The great interns do things like Erica pointed out they ask for more, they show interest, they are eager to learn. They’re not contributing to our immediate bottom line but they’re showing they’re smart enough and eager enough and those are the ones we hire on full time. When you have an office full of smart, eager-to-learn employee’s, you create opportunities not just for yourself, but for your team and your clients. Although we have our share of old people here, we also have our share of 20-something’s that ARE the lead contact at Microsoft, and ARE on our management team, and ARE driving Media Two to be a better company. But it all has to start with that internal drive and if you’re lucky enough to get an internship then you have to make the most out of it with any company.

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