Interning Abroad: What You Need to Know (What I Wish I’d Known)

During my years interning in Europe, Canada and Asia, I’ve learned more than I did in a classroom – in my undergrad and graduate career combined. Without a doubt, living and working abroad truly teaches you how to survive in the real world.

After I secured my first overseas internship during my sophomore year, I was so overwhelmed and excited that I really didn’t stop to think about how to prepare for life in another country and culture. From obtaining short-term health insurance in Paris to finding a moving company in Vancouver, to  using apps the world around, there are many “tricks of the trade” to help with your transition.

Here are some of the best tools and tips I’ve found for an intern going abroad this summer!

Pack Right: Pack Light!

One of the big mistakes I made was packing virtually my whole closet into my suitcases. Keep in mind that you’re going for work – and that you really don’t need that suitcase full of party wear. Go for some nice mix and match separates for work and take along one or two outfits that are appropriate for more-formal occasions. Add your “cozy” wear and night-time attire and that will generally be enough in the clothing department. Remember, pack more easy-wear clothes like rayon blends, and avoid wrinkle-prone materials like linen as much as possible.

Consider Communication

Understanding the intricacies of a regular cell phone bill is difficult; an international cell phone bill can make anyone crazy=, as I learned the hard way. Talk to your cell phone service provider before you leave; be sure that you won’t get any nasty surprises from your phone calls back home.

Major phone companies have global service plans to help keep your cell phone communications to a reasonable cost while you’re out of the country (and keep you sane).

Know the Value of a US Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro…

I recommend exchanging your money for foreign currency when you arrive in your destination country. There will be plenty of currency exchange opportunities once you get there, and you’ll get the best rates that way. Also, you should know what your cash will be worth. Most people planning internships will prepare months in advance, and this is a great time to start keeping an eye on current currency conversion rates.

Knowing the current rates, and how much they fluctuate, will give you an idea of how far your money will go once you get there.

You Are What You Eat!

In your home country it might not be a major risk to eat at that little “hole in the wall” restaurant. When you’re living in a country with different food safety requirements (or complete lack thereof in some cases…), however, it is smart to play it safe. Stick to the restaurants and shops that are well populated and appear clean. I paid for my adventurous foodie streak with a raging bout of food poisoning – please learn from my mistake. (Perhaps it should have tipped me off that I was their only customer!)

Though your stomach may still need time to adjust, the locals know best: Follow their eating choices and you’ll generally do well.

Safety Courtesy of the State

I found a State Department website to be extremely helpful during my internships in foreign countries. Visit the travel alerts section of the State Department site to learn about current issues and potential concerns.

This site is also the first place you should check if you plan to do some traveling during your internship: A quick check is all you need to travel with confidence!

As I write this, I’m in law school in Chicago. This is an amazing city and I’m proud to work and live here. However, when I think back to my interning experiences, I am quite envious of my readers who plan to intern abroad. You are about to embark upon one of the most amazing experiences of your life.

Put these tips, and my experience, to good use. And above all, make the most of this special time in your life!



About the Author: Ashley Spade, in addition to being a social media ninja and alumna of several successful internships, is a law student in the Windy City. She lives, plays, and studies in Chicago with her ever-faithful sidekick, Sir Winston Pugsalot the First. Follow their adventures on Twitter or via




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