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Work Visas for Internships or Co-Ops Overseas

Imagine being able to travel to other countries and gain work experience. That’s what I did! I did an internship at an amazing pub right outside of London way back in 1999. All facilitated by the team at BUNAC, that you can learn more about below. I was in the hospitality program at Penn State at the time and was on track to graduate on time, but needed additional work experience. Spent most of the semester working in the kitchen at the pub during the day and pouring pints for my mates at night! The pub was staffed by workers from around the world (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, etc.) A phenomenal experience and opportunity to interact with people from around the globe that are still friends to this day. I saved up my money and then backpacked Europe for two months. Learned a lot about myself, and the unique cultures in the different countries I visited. And so, my passion for travel was born!

College students might be excited to find out that working or interning in another country is an option. Internships and co-ops allow students to build on their academic courses with experiential learning experiences. Participating in an internship or co-op overseas requires some additional planning and cost considerations.  

Internship vs Co-Op

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “internship” as “a period of time during which someone works for a company or organization in order to get experience of a particular type of work.” Internships can be paid or unpaid depending on the company. Internships are usually unpaid and of shorter duration over a summer break for example.

A “co-op” (short for “cooperative education”) is also a way to gain valuable work experience during college. It is often a paid position and part of a more structured college program. Co-ops often last a whole semester or longer when the student is not taking college courses.

Both internships and co-ops are important pieces of today’s college education. Employers are looking for those students who have more than just a degree. Internships and co-ops provide valuable material for your client’s student’s resume and make them stand out from other applicants.

Potential Costs

To find a work experience overseas, your clients will probably use the services of a placement company like BUNAC or Go Overseas. The cost can run up to thousands of dollars. In addition, they will have travel and living expenses to cover. Some international destinations can have very high costs of living so make sure they pay attention when considering their destination.

Remember, not every internship or co-op is paid so be sure they keep that in mind. Have them check with their college to see if they can qualify for a research grant for their work overseas or if they can obtain academic credit. It is possible to find a program on their own, they just need to be prepared to do the research and get everything in writing.

Travel Particulars

In order to travel overseas, even just to Canada, a student will need a passport. Beyond that, a visa may also be necessary. According to, a “visa” is “an endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country.” Visas are issued by the embassy or consulate of the country your client’s student wishes to visit.

Your clients can visit the Country Information webpage of the US Department of State as the starting place. This site can direct them to the specific consulates for the country they are looking for. They can visit that country’s page for specific visa requirements. Let’s look at a couple of examples, but remember, these rules can change quickly.

European Union

Let’s use Germany as an example. A visa to visit Germany for a period of less than 90 days for tourist or business purposes is not required. Germany is a member of the Schengen Agreement which currently includes 26 European countries which share travel policies and open borders. The United States is exempt from applying for a Schengen Visa.

A Residence or Long Stay Visa is required if the visit will last more than 90 days and includes studying or working in Germany. US citizens may apply for their Residence Visa after entering Germany without a visa; however, having a prior application on file prior to arriving is a better idea as visa appointments can be hard to get. Applications can take one to three months to be processed. The passport must have at least two empty pages and have been issued within the past 10 years.

Among the application materials, students may have to provide proof they can pay for their studies whether via scholarship or self-funding by opening a German bank account. In addition to the Residence Visa application, students must submit additional forms depending on the type of visit. Students interning, studying in Germany, researching, and taking German language courses should consult the PDF documents on this page for a list of required documentation.

If the student will be gainfully employed while in Germany, a work permit is required. Note that the Internship Residence Visa includes the work permit.

Non-European Countries

As an example of a non-European Country let’s look at Costa Rica. Remember countries can have very different visa requirements so visit their consulate page.

Costa Rica also has no visa requirement if a tourist stay is less than 90 days. You must have proof of a return travel ticket and evidence of financial solvency equal to $100 per month up to three months. Costa Rica has a special Provisional Visa for students, researchers, teachers, and volunteers. (Click here for all the visa types in English.)

Want to get paid in Costa Rica? Well, you might find that to be a problem. (We chose this country as an example of things to think about.) In order for an employer to apply for a work permit on your behalf, you have to have a skill that local employees do not have. If gaining work experience in Costa Rica is your dream, you will have to look at an unpaid internship rather than a paid co-op.

A Great Adventure

Interning or co-oping abroad can be an amazing adventure. Your client’s student can gain valuable work experiences to enhance their college education, and they get to live in the culture of a foreign country. Living as part of a culture different than their own gives them an awareness of the variety of life in our world. Be sure your clients familiarize themselves with the particular details and costs required, and they’ll be ready to go.


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