Getting yourself organized for an internship can suck. Getting yourself organized for an internship abroad can sometimes feel like you’re a penguin in Texas. We’ve been in your shoes — left hanging, hopeless, and confused. So we created this guide to help you prepare for working abroad in the U.S.
Searching for a place to live is often the most time-consuming and frustrating part of working abroad. That’s why we started Kopa — to make it easier to find housing for your upcoming internship. The site has a growing number of verified listings, which means renters on Kopa confirmed that the host and space are legitimate.
Other options to find housing include Craigslist and Facebook groups. On Craigslist, make sure the listing is real. If the smallest thing sounds fishy (host can’t meet you, you’re told you can’t visit in-person, the place seems way too nice), it might be a scam. Facebook is more trustworthy, but also mainly sublets instead of direct posts from hosts.
Regardless of which service you use to find housing, it’s normal for renters to pay a holding fee (security deposit, first month’s rent, and/or last month’s rent). A security deposit is common since it gives hosts something to hold onto in case a tenant damages the property. If you have a reasonable host and leave the place as you found it (no punching holes in walls), it will be returned to you at the end of your rental period.
Bring travel documents and cash
While you’re securing housing, you’ll need to get some boring stuff out of the way. Step #1 of the boring stuff: get a valid entry Visa (a Worker Visa, not the credit card) so you’re eligible to work in the U.S.
Most interns working abroad obtain a J-1 Visa. A J-1 Visa is a non-immigrant Visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors. The exchange visitors must be participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, especially to obtain medical or business training within the U.S. Be sure to talk to your employer before applying for the Visa; in most cases, your employer will sponsor you and the cost of the Visa.
Pro tip: The J-1 Visa is meant for “training in the U.S.,” so make sure you inform customs you are training as an intern and not working.
Additionally, you must apply online for the I-94 admission number, which is proof of legal visitor status. You can wait to apply until you arrive in the U.S., but since you’ll have plenty to do once you land, you can apply for the I-94 online before leaving.
Before entering the United States, make sure you have the original and a copy of the following:
- DS-2019: Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status
- Signed offer letter from your employer
- Résumé (sometimes customs asks for it)
Lastly, make sure you bring enough U.S. cash to last you two weeks or as long as it takes to set up your bank account.
Sign up for a phone plan
There are two routes you could go with a phone plan: family or individual.
In most cases, you can save about $10-$20/month if you can find fellow interns to get a family plan with. The question then becomes: which company? Some of the best savings can come from Walmart, T-Mobile, and Cricket. A kind Redditor made a chart to help with your decision.
T-Mobile is still a great option since they’re quite flexible and relatively inexpensive. Their 10GB $40/month pre-paid plan is their cheapest individual plan with enough data for you to stream Odesza for days. StraightTalk is also at this price-point with its 25GB $45/month pre-paid plan.
Although Google Fi is pricier, it’s a flexible plan that allows you to pay only for the data you use. It’s $20/month + $10/1GB, so you can pay $30/month and will automatically be charged an extra $10 for every GB you use. It also transitions between data and WiFi more seamlessly.
Overall, T-Mobile’s downside is that they don’t have as good of coverage as Verizon and AT&T, while Google Fi is currently only available for certain phones. If you’re looking for better coverage, Cricket uses the AT&T network and is relatively cheap. You can look into their family plan or individual plans, including 2GB for $30/month.
Complete more paperwork after you land
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) registration is not only a mouthful but is required for all J-1 Visa holders. As soon as you land in the U.S., register for SEVIS. (You have 20 days after the start date on your DS-2019 to complete registration). Ask your school for help with this, especially if they use a service like Cultural Vistas.
Pro tip: Set up your phone plan before registering for SEVIS since a phone number is required on the form. Plus, internet in your pocket is a necessity.
Once SEVIS registration is complete, the next step is to get a Social Security number (SSN). Apply for your SSN after you’ve been in the U.S. for at least 10 days. This allows enough time for your SEVIS to sync up with the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) database of people eligible to apply for an SSN.
How to apply for an SSN:
Visit your local Social Security office to fill out an application for an SSN. Here’s a handy tool to locate the Social Security office closest to you. Save time by downloading and filling out the SS-5 Application Form online, and bring it with you to the Social Security office.
Bring the following items with you to the Social Security office:
- Passport and J-1 Visa
- I-94 Number
- Filled out SS-5 Application Form (optional)
Pro tip: Make an appointment or go early; the lines are usually the shortest as soon as the office opens.
After you apply for an SSN, you’ll receive a receipt. This is an important document that proves you’re eligible to participate in your internship. So don’t treat it like a grocery store receipt and immediately throw it away. If you’re asked for an SSN when you open a bank account or rent an apartment, show that receipt.
Set up a bank account
Soon after arriving in the U.S., you should open a U.S. checking account with your current bank (if they have locations in the States) or a new bank. You’ll need a bank account to deposit your paychecks from your internship. You can also benefit from signing up for a credit card for several reasons, but beware that initially, options are limited.
Four of the largest banks in the U.S. are:
- Bank of America
- Chase Bank
- TD Bank
- Wells Fargo
A good rule of thumb is to sign up with the bank that has the most branches and ATMs near your home and work. For the west coast, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are the most popular, while the east coast hosts many Chase and TD Bank branches.
Other factors to consider when selecting a U.S. bank include credit card rewards/air miles, convenience, support, and fees. Keep an eye out for promotional student accounts with lower fees, as there is money out there to be saved!
Apparently, smiles aren’t an accepted currency, so you’re going to need some money. Out of the number of online resources available to exchange currency, we recommend TransferWise. Alternatively, you could use XE. Be careful; if you decide to cancel a currency purchase order and the exchange rate has increased, they may require you to pay the difference.
Pro tip: Exchanging currency online takes a few days, so don’t expect the money right away.
When exchanging money back to your country, in most cases, you’ll need the following information about your bank account:
File your taxes
If you work in the U.S., you will be required to pay U.S. taxes. In most cases, these taxes will be deducted from your paycheck. (If not, save ~30% of your paycheck so you’ll be able to pay them later.)
In April of each year, you must file a U.S. tax return. It’s best to consult a tax professional, but if you feel comfortable with the paperwork, you can file your own taxes on sites such as TurboTax, TaxAct, CreditKarma, or other free programs available online. Doing your taxes yourself can save you a few hundred dollars compared to hiring someone to do them for you.
Helpful resources while interning
- Prime Student from Amazon is too good to pass up. Their student promotion gives you six months of free Amazon Prime. GoT, Mr. Robot, and Silicon Valley, anyone? All on Prime Video. Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping is especially nice to get household necessities shipped right to your door.
- While Amazon is great for most items, other services make getting food easy and fun (if you like cooking). Blue Apron and Green Chef deliver perfectly proportioned ingredients for meals that you can cook. The market for these services is still competitive, so they offer lots of promotions. Other forms of food delivery include grocery delivery from InstaCart, and restaurant food delivery from DoorDash, Postmates, GrubHub, Caviar, and UberEats. (Did we mention this is a competitive space?)
- Meet-ups are a great way to meet new people and learn new things. Meetup.com is an excellent way to play your favorite pickup sport, join likeminded people doing something you enjoy, or try something new.
- Ridesharing (Uber or Lyft) is an excellent way to get around your new city. While they’re less prevalent in some countries, they’re quite cheap and abundant in most parts of the U.S.
Pro tip: Ridesharing a lot? Check out flat fares in certain cities.
- You’ll need to learn the imperial system so you can understand the weather (Fahrenheit), understand quantities at the grocery store (ounces), drive under the speed limit (miles), etc.
So, did you get all of that?
If you’re trying to remember everything from this article, we’ve got you covered.
Before leaving, make sure you have:
- A place to live
- Visa (likely a J-1)
- I-94 number
- Signed offer letter from your employer
- Résumé (sometimes customs asks for it)
After arriving, you can get a:
- Phone plan
- SEVIS form
- Bank account
And don’t forget about those taxes!
We know that prepping to come to the U.S. for an internship is scary and involves a ton of paperwork. Soon after arriving, it can feel like a scramble to get everything situated and set up. Do not fear, you’ll soon settle into your new home and have an awesome work experience with fun weekend adventures.