So, you’ve decided to intern abroad — that’s amazing! This is a huge step that will help you stand out from your peers and broaden your perspective. It can be a transformative experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — but it’s also a huge commitment. You’ll want to make sure you choose an internship program provider that is the best fit for you, your needs, and your career goals.
Here are some essential questions to ask when comparing one internship program provider with another.
1. How long has the provider been offering international internships?
A good indication of a quality, trustworthy internship program provider is longevity. If an organization or company has been placing interns for a long amount of time, that usually means they’ve been successful at troubleshooting any kinks in programming or logistics — making your experience as smooth as possible. Many companies offer other different types of programs in addition to international internships, so be sure to check with them about how long they’ve been helping young professionals intern abroad specifically.
Since 1964, AIFS Abroad has offered students a wide range of experiential options, placing over 10,000 individuals in internships abroad. Learn more.
2. How many interns have they placed?
While it’s a great success to place one or two interns here and there, an organization who has placed hundreds, if not thousands, of young professionals in international internships means they know a thing or two about a thing or two. Finding the right match between an intern and a prospective employer abroad can be tricky business, so you’ll want to choose a program provider who successfully creates these matches on a regular basis — and at scale.
3. Can you earn academic credit by doing an internship through them?
There are a lot of people who pursue an internship abroad simply for the experience alone, but a good amount are college students who are hoping to gain academic credit in the process. This can be a huge benefit — not only because it can help you work toward your degree, but because it may give you access to utilizing financial aid toward your program fees. A huge win!
You’ll need to assess how important earning academic credit for an internship program is for you. If you’re currently in college, talk to your home university’s global education/study abroad office or your Academic Advisor to find out if your school will allow credit for an internship based on your current academic track. Then, if they do, assess whether the internship program provider you’re considering can meet the requirements your school has to do so. Factors they may consider include the number of hours, supervisor qualifications, special projects, or more.
4. Does the internship program provider prioritize health and safety?
While this isn’t the most exhilarating thing to think about when you’re planning a future adventure abroad, it’s beyond important. You need to ensure that the internship program provider you choose has comprehensive health and safety protocols, and communicates them clearly. Your safety abroad should be their #1 priority.
5. Will an internship placement in your approved career field be guaranteed?
Make sure you don’t put yourself at risk of choosing an internship provider who matches you with an opportunity that won’t align with your career goals! If they can’t give you assurance that your placement will be in your chosen field, it may not be a wise decision to commit to their program. A pertinent follow-up question to ask them is, if they are able to guarantee it, how? The answer they give should be rooted in their proven track record of successfully placing interns in relevant positions.
6. Are there program fees and, if so, what do they cover?
Internship providers may ask you to pay program fees to help coordinate the logistics of your experience abroad. It’s important to remember, though, that just because two program options cost the same, doesn’t mean they’re equal. Be sure to compare and contrast what’s covered in the fees you’re paying. For example, here at AIFS Abroad, our internship programs cover a guaranteed placement, housing, excursions and day trips, social and cultural activities, comprehensive insurance, 24/7 emergency support, pre- and post-departure services, on-site staff, a career readiness program, and more. Another internship program provider’s fees may not.
7. Will you receive your internship placement before or after you arrive on-site?
Not all internship providers or program options are created equal when it comes to matching you with an employer pre-departure, so make sure to get this information up-front! Some are able to set up your interview and confirm your placement well before you jet off, while with others you may have to wait until you arrive. Sometimes this has to do with requirements for certain client-facing industries, or because of language proficiency evaluations determined during in-person interviews. All that said, when choosing an internship program provider, be sure to inquire what their process is.
8. What’s the provider’s process of placing you in an internship?
It’s important to choose an internship program provider who has a thorough vetting process, both on the intern and employer side. Some organizations don’t require you to interview with the potential employer abroad, and some do. Regardless, be sure to ask for information about the company you’re being placed in before committing. What’s the culture like? What will your role in the organization be like? An interview with your potential supervisor is an ideal way to confirm it’ll be a good fit for you. If you are matched with a company without that ability to confirm a good match, you may encounter issues or differing expectations when you arrive.
You can learn more about how our internship placement process works here.
9. Are you able to interview or chat with your potential supervisor?
Don’t sleep on this question. There are internship program providers who use third-party agencies in cities around the world that have local connections to companies or organizations who are looking for interns. While working with these overseas agencies can help a program provider to widen the network of opportunities they can provide to you, it also means the possibility of inconsistent placements and the potential for lack of accountability. It is most helpful to talk directly with your host employer abroad rather than a middleman, so it’s helpful to find out from an internship program provider if they have you interview directly or if you’ll be set up with a one-on-one with that third-party agency. The goal is to make sure that the internship and experience you sign up is what you receive, and that nothing gets lost in translation.
10. Does the internship program provider have direct relationships with host companies abroad?
When you choose an organization that works closely and directly with the companies they place interns with, you can count on a high-quality match, consistent standards regardless of placement, and direct accountability in the event any issues pop up.
11. Is on-site staff available?
When international internship program providers have staff on the ground in their host cities, it means interns will have support and guidance whenever they need it. Having someone in program location who works directly for the internship program provider you’ve chosen means they’ll likely be a local (be sure to ask!) and can provide tips, tricks, and recommendations. There’s nothing quite like the inside scoop!
Did you know? Every AIFS Abroad program has on-site staff to support our participants, as well as lead activities and excursions.
12. Is housing included? What are the specifics on set-up and location?
One important element of interning abroad is actually living there, which means you’ll need somewhere to rest your head. Internship housing can be tough to come by. Be sure to ask the providers you’re considering if you’ll be required to secure your own housing or if it will be coordinated for you. You should also ask questions about location, whether it’s close to public transportation (hello, commute!), is in a safe neighborhood, and has all the essentials. Don’t forget that there are different cultural norms in different countries when it comes to things like Wi-Fi, air conditioning, certain appliances, and more. Ask the provider you’re researching for details so your expectations are set in advance, and met upon arrival.
13. Will there be a dedicated team member for you to contact if you have questions?
It’s more than likely that questions will arise as you prepare to jet off to your internship abroad. Will the internship program provider you’ve chosen connect you with a dedicated team member or members who can answer all your questions? Communication is key, and having someone specific to talk to can help alleviate having to repeat yourself to multiple people.
14. Does the internship program provider help you with any required visa processes?
Visas can be an incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive process, especially when it comes to anything work-related. Visa requirements will likely vary by program location and length, but be sure to ask the internship program providers you’re considering if they provide assistance with applying if you’ll need one. Utilizing a provider’s visa services can be a really good idea — the last thing you want to do is to delay the process because you made a mistake on your paperwork or submitted too late to get your visa on time. You’ll feel relief knowing you have support in navigating the complex process step-by-step.
15. Will they provide any pre-departure preparation?
Pursuing an internship abroad requires collaboration, communication, and responsibility from all parties involved — especially when it comes to pre-departure preparation. Ask the providers you’re considering how they plan to communicate with you or send you the information you need. Will it be via email, regular mail, in a portal, or through another channel? An experience abroad can be a huge professional catalyst – if you’re prepared for it.
16. Is there an alumni network you can talk to, either before or after your program?
Long-standing and high-quality international internship program providers typically have a network of alumni who are happy to talk with future participants about their experience! While it’s not always needed, you may find it useful to take advantage of that sort of opportunity to get a better idea of what the experience is like — from someone who actually did it.
It’s also worth asking if you’ll have access to the alumni network after your internship program has wrapped up. It’s wonderful to be able to connect with other alumni who are now working in their fields in the US or overseas. They can relate to your experience or any challenges you’re having with reverse culture shock. It’s also a fantastic networking opportunity, as they may be able to give you a connection during future job hunts.
17. Do they have a social media presence?
Social media is a great way to get a feel for the experience you’ll get as an intern abroad. Be sure to look at each internship program provider’s accounts — a quality program will be posting tons of photos, videos, and other content to give you a visual representation of what you might expect your experience to look like. Be sure to check out popular platforms like Instagram and TikTok!
18. Is there a career development facet to the program?
A quality international internship program provider will be invested in your career development and trajectory! Many will offer professional development and career readiness opportunities that include things like workshops, cover letter and resume review, networking events, cultural events, and more.
19. Are you provided with post-program support?
Doing an international internship is a unique experience that can impact your life in so many ways. After it’s over, you may want to stay connected to your experience or find support for common things like reverse culture shock. You should also be provided with the opportunity to evaluate your internship experience, provide feedback to the organization, and give a general reflection. Asking whether these sorts of services or opportunities are provided will be useful when choosing an international internship program provider.
20. Does the internship program provider partner with universities?
If a program provider is affiliated with or has relationships built with colleges and universities, it can be a good indication that they are established, are high-quality, and have longevity. Approval in the realm of higher education is not an easy thing to come by — universities often spent months or even years reviewing and vetting third-party program providers. It often requires much collaboration on programming, legalities, and risk assessment — so if the program provider you’re considering has been approved or endorsed by your school, that’s a great sign.
21. Do they give back to society and the world at large?
If you’re passionate about making the world a better place, odds are you want to align yourself with organizations who do, too. Do some research on whether the internship program providers you’re considering are involved efforts at home and abroad that matter to you. For example, here at AIFS Abroad we are passionate about sustainability. We have a formal Green Initiative that focuses on internal business practices, educational opportunities abroad, and carbon offsetting (among other things!) to ensure that we’re doing our part to combat climate change.
22. How are they rated by previous program participants?
In addition to speaking directly with alumni, it can be helpful to peruse reviews on reputable third-party platforms like TrustPilot, GoAbroad, and GoOverseas. You’ll be able to read reviews from past participants.
23. Have they received recognition from reputable third-party organizations?
Choosing an internship program provider with credibility is important. Do your research or ask directly if they’ve received awards, accolades, or high ranking from reputable third-party organizations. A provider who has never been recognized publicly for things like quality or innovative programming, providing excellent customer service or support, commitment to diversity and inclusion, etc. may not be one to keep on your list of contenders.
Feeling overwhelmed by choosing an international internship program provider? Let’s make it easy: Choose AIFS Abroad!
Interning abroad is your chance to do something different, learn outside of the classroom, gain work experience, earn academic credit, make lifelong friendships, and explore the world. With AIFS Abroad international internship programs, you can choose from more than 15 exciting international cities and internships in over 40 career fields. Build your resume while having the experience of a lifetime!