Many organisations advertise that they will help students to obtain overseas opportunities. Some promise that they will find you a work placement suited to your specific requirements. Others promise a holistic package including organising not only your placement, but also travel, accommodation, visas and other miscellaneous details. Virtually all of them require that you pay something in return and normally the amount you have to spend isn’t small!
There are a few things you need to ask yourself first:
Normally when you spend a lot of money you undertake research, so you know that you’re getting a good deal. Your approach to using third parties when looking at overseas work placements should be the same. If you are going to pay money for a service, you need to make certain before you spend anything that the service is reputable and recommended by reliable sources. Look for reviews.
What is this going to cost me?
Most organisations will be completely transparent with costs and tell you up-front what the overall cost will be. However, that isn’t always the case. If you have to pay a fee to an organisation, check:
- What is the overall cost? (A company might ask you to pay e.g. £200 initially to enter onto a programme – however, that might just be a first payment. Find out what you get for that and then what additional payments are required).
- Look at the small print – do the charges include VAT or any other tax that has to be levied, or is this something that you will need to pay on top?
- Are there any additional “administrative charges” on top of the organisational fees?
- Are there any deadlines involved? – If you have to pay in instalments, make certain that you know by when you need to make each payment. You don’t want to miss a payment deadline and end up forfeiting everything.
- Will I be paid? - Some countries do not permit, or strongly discourage the payment of overseas students when undertaking internships. You may wish to check the situation with any country you are considering; for example, internships in China tend to be unpaid.
Exactly what will I get if I do pay?
Once you’ve found out how much an organisation charges, find out everything that you will get in return. Remember that, when you travel overseas to undertake work experience, there can be many different costs involved – for example air flights, internal travel costs within the country, accommodation, visas, vaccinations… (for more information about the costs, check the what do you need to consider page on this site).
Make an itemised list of everything that you will get from the organisation. Next to each item, write the individual associated cost (e.g. if they source your accommodation or flights, write down the price of these). Leave space to record the costs of these if you were to source the individual items yourself…
Although the company or organisation that you pay may provide a lot, you need to make sure that you know what you may NOT get from them and how much those things will cost. You will need to factor-in those costs when you work out how much this opportunity might cost you in total.
The majority of providers won’t pay for your flights. As flights can often be one of the most expensive parts of your trip, do some research into how much they are likely to cost before you commit to the experience. Flying at certain times of the year may be more expensive than other times and flight prices are likely to rise the longer you wait to book them. Think about the airports you are flying in and out of; there may be cheaper, regional ones which may be worth considering.
If the price of a long-haul flight is putting you off, then look a little closer to home. You don’t necessarily have to fly to the other side of the world to have a worthwhile experience abroad. Think about why you want to go abroad and research a few countries to see which countries could offer you the experience you are looking for.
Why do I need to pay someone else to do this for me?
There can be some very good reasons for paying a third party organisation to arrange overseas work experience. Some of these may include:
- The organisation has a lot of experience in the industry in which you would like to undertake an opportunity (they may have experts in key areas who work for / with them)
- The organisation may host the exclusive opportunities themselves (for example they may have exclusive rights to coordinate biodiversity studies in certain locations)
- The organisation may provide services or opportunities that would not be available through alternative means
- The organisation is an official sponsor, recognised by the government or border control agency which allocates travel visas.
- You may live and work amongst other students similar to yourself, who have used the same organisation to source their placements
- The organisation may provide 24/7 support in the event of problems or emergencies
- The organisation may provide language courses / training and orientation within the country, upon your arrival
However, when you start to analyse the service you may receive from an organisation, you might also begin to think that you could make a lot of the arrangements yourself and save yourself some money. For example:
Visa and travel advice
If you need a visa to work in a country, you can find out a lot about the requirements by undertaking a simple internet search. There are a number of sites on the internet that are dedicated to providing visa and travel advice both to people wishing to undertake work placements and careers overseas. These include:
These sites can provide you with an initial source of information. However, you should be aware that they may require you to register with them to take advantage of their full services. Any decision to pay for a service will be at your own discretion.
Obviously you will need to ensure that the information you are looking at is up-to-date and are advised to cross-reference this with information from the appropriate government agency for the country to which you intend to travel. See our visa section for a link to the UK embassy websites for different countries.
Try to find some reviews of internships in the country to which you plan to go. See what placements the students undertook and what they say about accommodation – you may find some useful leads.
If you are planning on staying in a city with a University or other residential academic institutions, check their websites to see what student accommodation they may have available. During summer vacations many institutions may allocate student accommodation to conferences and other event attendees. However, additional rooms are often available. If the University’s own accommodation is not available, they may well be able to signpost you to reputable sources of other cheap, local accommodation.
STA Travel, run by the NUS, can provide you with advice and travel discounts. Most universities have a branch. Details of the University of Birmingham branch may be found at: www.statravel.co.uk/birminghamuni-branch.htm.
Once you have an idea of the country you want to go to, it’s advisable to create a travel itinerary. To do this effectively, you will need to consider the following:
- From where will you be travelling?
- Where are you going? (which country and whereabouts in that country).
If your final destination is in a different location to your point of entry into the country (e.g. the main international airport), work out the distance and how long it may take you to get between the two. Also make a note of the dates (and days of the week) on which you will be travelling – remember that availability of transport and accommodation may vary locally depending at weekends compared to weekdays.
- Will you need to cross any borders between countries when travelling by land?
- Repeat the exercise for your return journey
This should provide you with a detailed picture of your travel plans. You can then start to look at the individual components of your journey and by undertaking a simple Internet search you should be able to start identifying some guideline costs for the different stages. (Do remember that the further in advance you book travel, the cheaper it may be. If you won’t be booking your travel until close to the time that you intend to travel, take this into account and factor in additional charges.) If you would like more information about putting together a travel itinerary, there’s lots of information on the Internet. For example, try this site from Wired.com.
Note that the application paperwork for the University of Birmingham International Work Experience Bursary also provides you with a basic breakdown table which you can populate with details.
Again, STA Travel is also a good starting point when looking at your travel options, and they have a trip planner.
Many of the additional or “sundry” costs involved may not be covered by an umbrella organisation (for example, medical expenses, insurance…) – find out more about these considerations.
How much would it cost me if I did it myself?
In the previous section we’ve identified some of the types of expense involved, that you need to consider. Now it’s up to you – as soon as you can, go away and start thinking about what you’d like to do. You can then keep a record of the costs that might be involved with the trip.
Remember that there’s nothing to stop you planning more than one trip and comparing / contrasting the costs involved. You might even think of this as a contingency plan. If you want to apply for an opportunity in a specific industry, there may not be many available and there may be a lot of competition. If you have one (or more) back-up plans, you will maximise the chances of undertaking a placement opportunity.
Reviews of services
There are many sources of review information available on the Internet. As with any review, you are advised to consider when reading the information provided whether the author has an unbiased, non-partisan stance and is presenting factual information that reflects a genuine experience, or might they have an agenda which may influence their review? (For example, if a review has been written by an employee of the organisation that is being reviewed, the review may present the organisation differently from someone else).
Sources of reviews include:
- Rate My Placement: Rate My Placement advertises internship opportunities and also enables students from any organisation to provide a detailed review of their experience.
- The Student Room is an on-line student community that provides a forum to students from all institutions from secondary schools through to higher education. The topics for discussion are many and varied and include reviews of internships and work placements. You can search using key words to identify relevant discussions.