Preparing for an international internship is a lot like preparing for a vacation: you must think about packing, money, passports, visas and all kinds of logistics. But unlike a vacation, it doesn’t stop once you’ve arrived. Starting a new job can be stressful and exciting, add to that the excitement of being in a foreign country and the whole process can seem overwhelming. Many internship programs may include many of these preparations (visas, airfare, lodging, etc.) as part of the program cost, but it is important to be aware of the process in case you will be called upon to offer information, fill out forms or give preferences.
That’s why preparation is truly the key to success. If you follow these steps you’ll be sure to get there in one piece, make a great first impression and make sure you’re internship is a success.
For many undergraduate and even graduate students, an internship abroad might be the first time they’ve traveled beyond their countries borders, and thus do not yet have a passport. While getting a passport is a fairly simple process, it can take time, so it is important to start early.
The United States Department of State issues passports via the US Postal Service and most major post offices accept passport applications; smaller satellite offices may not however, or may only do so at certain times of day, or between limited hours. Using the acceptance facility locator on the State Department website, you can search for a passport-ready post office, as well as view available hours. While on the website, you should download the application at https://www.usps.com/international/passports.htm which will expedite the process once you are at the post office.
Other things you will need to get your passport: a birth certificate, $100 for fees, passport sized photos (some post offices will take the photos for you, for an extra fee). Typically, the entire process takes about one month, but you can pay more for expedited services, which will get your passport to you in two weeks. If you’ve waited until the last minute, or lose your passport right before your trip, you might be able to get an emergency passport in as little as 48 hours, for a much higher fee (regular fee plus $60).
Once you’ve been placed in a program, you must start the application process for your visa. Because the process can be lengthy, starting early is the best way to avoid calling the consulate at the last minute and stressing yourself out.
Because you’ll be an intern, you can’t travel on a simple tourist visa (even if you aren’t getting paid) without running the risk of getting in trouble with local governments. Each country has a different visa requirement, and many will require sponsorship from your internship company to issue a long term visa. This means that the absolute first step in the visa process is to speak with your employer or program placement agency, who will guide you to the appropriate consulate, and perhaps assist you with filling out and filing your application. If for any reason you cannot speak with them, do a web search for the consulate of the country to which you are traveling and set up and appointment.
It is important to note that the visa process can be expensive. In addition to whatever fees the government will charge, many will also require medical tests which may or may not be covered by your insurance. These can include HIV, Hepatitis, TB, etc. Travel to some countries may also require immunizations for malaria, yellow fever and other diseases. If for any reason your insurance will not foot the bill for these tests, local clinics will likely charge you less that a private doctor’s office and the department of health in your area may even have an immunizations program, free of charge.