Applying for an internship program can be a long and difficult process, so when you receive an internship offer, it can be very exciting! In your excitement, you may be tempted to accept the offer immediately. However, it's important that you understand the terms of your offer before you accept the position so that there are no surprises once you arrive in the U.S.
Prepare yourself and understand what to expect; this will help you better manage your experience in the U.S. and determine whether you will be comfortable with the terms of the offer. Companies that host international interns vary greatly in terms of the benefits, compensation, and working conditions. Your U.S. host company may be very different from other employers your friends or family may have told you about when they interned in the U.S. It is important that you familiarize yourself with your employer's policies before you accept an offer and make arrangements to come to the U.S.
Tasks and Responsibilities
It is extremely important that you know what you will be doing during your internship program to ensure that you meet your own learning objectives. Make sure that your actual duties and projects match your expectations and what you have discussed with your employer. You should be familiar with your DS-7002 Training/Internship Placement Plan, which outlines exactly what you will be doing. Be aware that host employers for the J-1 Visa program are required to follow this training plan in order to be in compliance with program regulations. Make sure you understand what type of tasks will be expected of you during the training, and don't hesitate to contact InterExchange if you have any questions throughout the program. If you do accept the offer and your training plan is not being followed, or you have other concerns about your internship tasks and responsibilities, please contact us right away.
Make sure you clearly understand whether you will be compensated for your internship time in the U.S. If you are being compensated, find out the details. Compensation is arranged between you and your host employer. While there are no standard salary requirements for the J-1 Intern Program, we require all unpaid programs meet the U.S. Department of Labor's six criteria for unpaid internships. The amount you will be paid will be indicated on your DS-7002. You must receive at least that amount for your entire program, and you should contact InterExchange if you ever receive less than what is promised on your training plan. With regard to compensation, be sure to understand the following:
When you will be paid (once a month or once every two weeks, on the first of the month or at the end of the month, etc.) How much you will be paid (the actual amount and the frequency, such as hourly, daily, monthly, or annually) If you are doing an unpaid program, estimate your cost of living so that you can better manage your finances throughout your stay. Do not accept an unpaid internship program in the U.S. if you will not have finances to support yourself for your entire program.
Different companies offer different perks and benefits beyond monetary compensation. You should not assume that you will have the same benefits as a friend who works for a different company. Companies are not required to offer benefits, but if they do, understand which benefits are included in your offer so that you are not surprised when you arrive. Before arriving, discuss with your employer whether any of the following items apply to you. Request a written agreement that outlines all benefits that you should expect to receive:
- PTO—paid time off, vacation, and sick days. Know how many days you have and plan accordingly. If you are being paid hourly, it is possible that you may not receive paid time off and will instead only be paid for the time you actually intern with the company.
- Overtime pay (usually for interning for more than 40 hours/week)
- Free or discounted housing
- Transportation or meal vouchers
- Any other benefits your particular host employer may be willing to offer
Hours & Transportation
Different companies operate on different schedules; sometimes employees within the same company maintain different schedules from each other. You should ask your employer what the standard working hours are and take note of whether hours are flexible or if they fluctuate based on company need. You should always be interning a minimum of 32 hours per week. There is no maximum number of hours, but since this is not ordinary employment, you should not be asked to perform your intern functions for more than 40-45 hours per week. If your employer suggests that you may need to intern more than 45 hours/week, please contact InterExchange immediately.
It is helpful to prepare for your arrival by having some understanding of the company culture before you start. Ask your supervisor if there is anything you should know about the office environment. Some companies are more casual, while other companies may be very structured and strict about office behavior. Understanding the culture of the work environment will help prepare you for how you should behave and how to dress–whether you will need casual, business casual or formal business attire. Check out our blog post on Workplace Professionalism to ensure you're prepared to integrate into American business culture.
When making the big decision to intern in the U.S., consider all aspects of your offer before accepting. To ensure you have the necessary information, request an offer letter that outlines the terms of your employment at the company and includes basic compensation information as well as any benefits the employer has offered to you.
Having all these details confirmed before you arrive will minimize any miscommunications and make your experience that much more successful!