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ESTA Is Not for Unpaid Internships!
ESTA Is Not for Unpaid Internships!

ESTA Is Not for Unpaid Internships!

April 24, 2024

2 -min read

Ready to intern in the U.S., but not sure which visa you need? InterExchange can help!

If you have been offered an internship in the U.S., you’ll need to apply for a J-1 Intern Visa through a U.S.-based J-1 Visa sponsor. The J-1 Intern Visa is a legal requirement for any individual who intends to intern in the U.S., regardless of whether you will be paid by your host employer. 

Can I intern on a tourist visa or ESTA?

Unfortunately, no. While it may seem easier to travel to the U.S. on an ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is for visitors who are traveling to the U.S. for tourism purposes only under the Visa Waiver Program. Per the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, “ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required.”

Even if your internship is unpaid and/or short-term, such as under 90 days, you will always need to apply for a J-1 Intern Visa with a designated U.S. sponsor organization. You may be denied entry at the border if you attempt to enter the U.S. on ESTA in order to do an internship. 

The good news is that InterExchange is a designated J-1 Intern Visa sponsor and we can help you get your visa quickly and easily!

Your J-1 Intern Visa will allow you to:

How do I get a J-1 Intern Visa?

Once you have an internship offer in the U.S., apply through InterExchange for J-1 Visa sponsorship. You and your host employer will complete the application online, and once we have a complete application, InterExchange will conduct our application review process in just 10 days! After you’ve received approval from InterExchange, you’ll visit a U.S. embassy abroad to interview for your J-1 Visa.

Review our video on How to Intern in the U.S. for more details.

Aside from being a legal requirement, applying for the J-1 Intern Visa with a visa sponsor like InterExchange offers several other advantages.

Your J-1 Visa sponsor can:

  • Advise and assist you throughout the J-1 Visa application process
  • Answer your questions about the program and eligibility, including your employer’s questions
  • Support you and advocate for you throughout your time in the U.S.
  • Provide accident and sickness insurance for the duration of your program
  • Help you in an emergency, 24/7
  • Facilitate your cultural exchange experience by providing access to and information on events and activities
  • Serve as an important resource for living in the U.S.

You can’t use an ESTA to intern in the U.S., but applying for the J-1 Intern Visa doesn’t have to be complicated. Apply to InterExchange for J-1 Visa sponsorship! 

If you’re no longer in school and still want to experience a short-term program in the U.S., ask us about the J-1 Trainee Visa. You can train with a U.S. business and experience life in the USA for up to 18 months!

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Abigail is currently the Participant Services Coordinator working in the Career Training USA department at InterExchange. Abigail has been with InterExchange for almost 5 years and lives in Portland, Maine.

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