Getting ready to go abroad begins almost as soon as you decide you want to go. As well as some more formal preparation requirements of the Global Internship Programme that will take place during the spring and summer term, there are also a number of general things to consider before you book your flight and head off on your experience.
- Find out where the relevant visa services operate in the country you will apply in and check the processing times well in advance. Note that some countries prohibit applications made too far in advance of travel.
- Sometimes you will need to make a visit to the visa service during the application procedure. Most services are based in London, but some may also have offices in other large cities in the UK. If there are no appointments available or a long wait time for the closest service to you, it may be worth checking availability in other offices.
- You may need to provide evidence of the address where you will be staying or return travel documents when applying for a visa.
- In certain countries, you are required to apply for a residence permit once in the country. The embassy and/or your host organisation should be able to advise you on the requirements.
To work abroad, you must have a valid passport that will not be in need of renewal whilst you are abroad. For some countries, your passport should still have at least 6 months validity when you return to the UK; you can check with the relevant embassy for up to date advice on this. If you do need to renew your passport, allow sufficient time as it may cost more to do it last minute.
The information below is not a comprehensive guide to visas and the Global Internships team are not visa advisors, therefore the responsibility of applying for the correct visa will lie with you. You must do your own research into obtaining the correct visa.
Your host organisation should be able to offer some guidance - please check the vacancy description in the first instance, and contact the relevant listed contact if it is not clear. You should also review the visa guidelines on the government website of your host country, which you can find using the List of Foreign Embassies in the UK on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. Below are links to the government sites for popular destinations:
- Canada: Canadian government website
- USA: Department of State website, maintained by the US government
- China: Chinese Embassy in the UK website
- Hong Kong: Hong Kong government website
- Singapore: Ministry of Manpower website, maintained by the Singapore government
- Australia: Ministry of Home Affairs website, maintained by the Australian government
UCL also subscribes to GoinGlobal, an online resource with country-specific information, including visa requirements. You can access this via the Work Outside of the UK page.
It is your responsibility to liaise with your host organisation about what visa you will require, how you will obtain it and how long the application process will take. In some countries, this can take up to 10 weeks, meaning you will need to factor in plenty of time.
- Convention de Stage
Some countries, particularly in Europe, may require an agreement signed by the student, university and host organisation, such as the Convention de Stage in France. To obtain this, you must contact the UCL Study Abroad team. Full details are available on their Convention de Stage page.
Finding accommodation is an important factor to consider when preparing for an internship. Finding a spacious, reasonably priced apartment in the centre of a metropolitan area may be ideal, but it may not always be realistic. Do your research well in advance, find out all of your options, prioritise amenities (with your budget in mind!) and be prepared to compromise. By arranging accommodation early, you can also often save money and ensure availability. If you are planning to move prior to securing accommodation, arrive early to begin your search and consider arranging your first week in a hotel or hostel.
Things to think about when considering your accommodation for an overseas internship include:
Where exactly will you be based? How will you get to work? Check with your employer that you won't be moved to different locations during the course of your internship. What is your budget? Consider that it can be standard practice in some countries to pay an agent fee or deposit if you are considering renting and that you may need to pay more than one month's rent at a time. If you are planning to stay in an Airbnb, make sure it is legal in the country you are staying in and you know who to contact if any problems arise. Can your employer help you? Some employers may be able to offer local advice, particularly if they have hosted interns in the past. Do you have any contacts who live in the area? Check with friends, family and your wider network. What resources do expatriates and locals use to find accommodation? If you are not local to the city you are travelling to, look online for what other expatriates use to arrange accommodation.
Whilst all opportunities as part of the programme should meet the labour legislation of the country they are undertaken in, there are some industries or labour markets where unpaid internships are common, or where the employer may only support minimal costs (e.g. transport, daily living expense etc.).
It is the student's responsibility to ensure that they are satisfied that the internship is financially viable for their own situation and as a result, ensure that you budget well by creating a budget plan to ensure that you are able to make suitable arrangements. Consider your financial situation as early as possible in the application process.What are your expected costs for an internship overseas?
Things to think about covering when you are undertaking an international internship include:
- Visa (sometimes covered by the company but you'll need to check)
- Accommodation deposit
- Travel insurance (some students will be able to receive insurance through UCL - you will be informed about this if you are eligible)
While you are away:
- Bills, such as phone contract, internet, heating
- Leisure, entertainment and tourism
This list is by no means exhaustive and you will need to think about your own situation when making your budget. Use Numbeo's cost of living tool to help you budget for the country that you are going to.What are some of the unexpected costs you might encounter? There are many unexpected fees that you should anticipate when travelling and working abroad; try and think of your daily behaviour at home and account for each element. For example, how much will it cost to get to work? What will a SIM card and internet cost? Will you need new business attire? If you lose your passport or other personal items of value, are you able to cover the cost of a new one?
UCL Careers manages a limited amount of funding for students undertaking internships overseas, in the form of the Erasmus+ Traineeship Grant and Global Internships Bursary. Visit the Funding section of the Global Internships webpage for more information.
- Have you factored in smaller costs that add up? Don't underestimate the small expenses that accumulate; from your lunch budget to laundry, you should make sure you have the means to live safely and comfortably.
- What financial compensation will you be receiving from your host organisation, if any? Make sure you are clear on what the employer will offer you in the form of financial compensation before you go, whether it is a salary, stipend or support with accommodation, visa, flights etc. so that you can factor this into your budget.
- Have you ordered local currency for your immediate arrival?Make sure you don't get caught short if you're unable to take out money when you land.
- Have you informed your bank that you will be leaving the country?Alternatively, consider whether you are able to and would want to set up a local account for the duration of your stay, or investing in a travel card that allows you to take out local currency free of charge. There is some useful information about travel cards on the MoneySuperMarket website.
- Health & Insurance
In addition to making sure you have adequate healthcare cover, you should make other practical preparations with regard to your health. We recommend that you visit your GP or practice nurse to get advice about travel vaccinations and travel health in the country you are travelling to before you leave. Note that some vaccinations may not be covered on the NHS. You can find out more information on the NHS Fit for Travel website.
If you have been diagnosed with any long-term condition, particularly those requiring medication, it is also essential that you discuss with your medical practitioner anything which may affect the management of your condition while you are away, particularly whether your prescription medication will be available in your host country and if not, how you will handle this.
Making sure you are covered for personal mishaps whilst abroad is a key part of your preparation.
Having fully comprehensive travel insurance to cover all eventualities is a prerequisite for working abroad and you should purchase insurance that covers you for the whole period of being away. In general, travel insurance will include cover for medical injury or illness (including repatriation), personal liability, lost or stolen possessions and disruptions to travel. However, details can differ between insurers and you should always check the policy wording to be certain of what you are covered for. It is often worth spending slightly more to get better cover, and be aware that insurance often cannot be purchased once you have left the country.
Some of our UCL students going abroad for a summer internship may be eligible for the UCL Travel Insurance. You will receive an invitation email to register for the UCL Travel Insurance if you are eligible.
Healthcare provision is very different from country to country. Conducting your research to make sure that you have access to a doctor if you need one is vital. You should check whether travel insurance covers you in the event of a medical emergency, or whether you will need to take out separate medical cover.
EU Nationals or other UK residents in an EU Country undertaking an internship in a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, should apply for a European Health Insurance Card, which provides reduced-cost or free state-provided medical treatment. More information about what is covered by the EHIC card and which EU hospitals accept it can be found on the NHS website.
- Cultural Difference
New food, unfamiliar road signs, different weather - all seemingly small things, but which can often cause big emotions. Culture shock is defined as feelings of disorientation and homesickness when familiar surroundings change, and it can affect anyone spending any length of time in unfamiliar surroundings. Whilst working abroad, these feelings may be magnified by the impact of a long journey on your own. You may feel anxious about being separated from friends and family for extended periods, or worried about the added challenge of your new work environment.
Here are some tips that should help you along the way:Organise yourself for the journey- the fewer surprises, the more in control you will feel and the more confident you will be. Don't worry about making mistakes, and don't expect to get everything right or love it straight away. You are bound to get lost, forget things - it's all part of exploring your new country.
Learn more about culture shock and tips for getting through it on the NHS Fit for Travel website.
- Make sure you can connect to people, whether via Skype, WhatsApp, email or social media.
- Speak to people who have travelled to the country you are going to for reliable first-hand accounts.
- Look after your health and speak to others about any worries at an early stage, whether it is the university, your host organisation or families and friends. People can only help you when you disclose that you are struggling.
- Ensure that you are familiar with emergency numbers within the country you are going to.
- Diversity Abroad
When researching the country you are preparing to travel to, it is important to consider both the ways in which you identify and the ways in which you may be perceived in another country and culture. The Foreign Office has some great resources, including advice for women, LGBT, people with mental health needs and people with disabilities.
The Hofstede Insights cultural comparison tool can be a useful starting point if you're looking to read up about potential similarities and differences between your own culture and the one you are travelling to.