Getting relevant work experience early on in your career, whether as a student or a young professional, is one of the smartest things you can do to set yourself up for success.
At 28, I now have over five years of experience working internationally -- and I owe it all to the first internship I landed in marketing at a non-profit organization in Egypt nearly ten years ago while I was still a student in university. Since then, I’ve worked in dozens of countries, including Ethiopia, South Africa, and even Mongolia, but probably wouldn’t have gotten hired without demonstrated experience in emerging market countries.
By starting to accumulate professional work experience early on, I got ahead of the job market. By choosing to accumulate that experience internationally, I set myself apart from the crowd for the rest of my career.
Where to Go for an International Internship
The most important decision to make about doing an international internship is simply where to go. This is an experience that will begin to shape your professional skill set, global network, and region of focus, so it’s a critical investment of your time and energy.
You want to select somewhere that is accessible to foreigners, especially ones with relatively little work experience. You don’t want to get your heart set on doing an internship in Tehran if even getting a visa as an American is a challenge. You also don’t want to narrow your internship search to picturesque Laos or another country that may not have a wide enough assortment of economy activity or companies to potentially host you.
You also want to make sure the place you choose compliments your professional field. If you want to land an international internship in finance, you better be looking at London or Hong Kong, not Lilongwe. But if you want to gain experience in non-profit management, then Malawi is a great starting point.
What Makes These Cities the Best
To help you decide where to spend your valuable time and energy searching for internship overseas, we've put together a top 10 list of the best cities for international internships. But what do we mean by "best?"
As travel experts, our top 10 list is based on our awareness of how many internships programs are available in a given location, how well-reviewed they are, and what cities are most commonly searched for on Google. You can go to the city page for each listing to explore our in-depth analysis on each location.
We’ve also taken into consideration the size of the cities, assuming that larger size destinations are more diverse, friendlier to visitors, and more economically productive. They also have a wider array of industries and provide the most vibrant backdrops for an international internship experience that’s as personally rewarding as it is professionally advancing.
10 Best Cities for International Internships
Here are 10 global cities that are fertile grounds for finding and successfully completing internships that will expand your cross-cultural skill set, enhance your language skills, provide relevant regional exposure, and bolster your resume.
#1. Paris, France
- Population: 12.2 million
- Official language: French
- Popular Industries: Commerce, Fashion, Art
Paris has been one of Europe’s leading centers of fashion, the arts, and science since the 17th century and still makes up 31% of the GDP of France. Its economy is principally driven by commerce and services, but its heart is driven by the arts and fashion. Ideally, for students of French and lovers of culture, Paris is not only an economic powerhouse but a romantic backdrop for personal exploration and creative expansion.
Internship Opportunities in Paris:
- Intern in Paris with CEA
- Internships in Paris with Global Experiences
- Summer Internships in Paris with IES
#2. London, England
- Population: 8.8 million
- Official language: English
- Popular Industries: Finance, Transport (Air, Rail), Retail, Tourism
Founded by the Romans, London is ancient, historical, and powerful. It’s a leading global city in arts, education, entertainment, finance, professional services, media, tourism, and transportation. Basically, name an industry and its market leader will be found in London.
London is also the world’s most visited city in terms of international arrivals and it’s also the most highly concentrated destination for higher education in Europe.
One of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet (it’s estimated that over 300 languages are spoken in London), London is a perfect destination for the intern with wanderlust. Although you’ll be based in England, you’ll readily make friends from around the world and work in a truly global setting, bolstering your multicultural skill set.
Internship Opportunities in London:
- Internships in London with The Intern Group
- Full-Time Semester Internships with IES Abroad
- Intern in London with Absolute Internship
#3. Madrid, Spain
- Population: 3.2 million
- Official language: Spanish
- Popular Industries: Government, Research, Finance, Education
Madrid is home to expansive boulevards, elegant architecture, and masterful works of art. It’s one of the finance and education centers of Europe, home to 17 universities and 30 research centers. For prospective interns who are also learning Spanish, the relatively low prevalence of English across Spain makes it a great destination if you want to be required to work in your second language (although there are plenty of opportunities for English speakers). Do note that there’s been an economic recession taking place in Spain since 2007, but recovery is underway.
Barcelona, which was #4 on our previous list, is also a popular internship destination, if Madrid isn't the right city in Spain for you.
Internship Opportunities in Madrid:
- Summer Internships in Madrid with Cultural Vistas
- Healthcare & Nursing Internships in Madrid with Adelante Abroad
- Madrid Coding & Web Development Bootcamp with Ironhack
#4. Shanghai, China
- Population: 24.15 million
- Official language: Mandarin Chinese
- Popular Industries: Finance, Commodities, Manufacturing
While Beijing was on our original list of top internship cities, it has been replaced by its southern sibling, Shanghai.
One of the fastest developing cities in the world and China’s largest city, Shanghai is ideal for prospective interns who want to fling themselves into the modern heart of one of the richest cultures in the world. It’s a top finance destination, with the Shanghai Stock Exchange ranking third among worldwide stock exchanges for trading volume and sixth for capitalization.
Beware, Shanghai is the most expensive city in Mainland China and one of the more expensive destinations in Asia. There’s also a lot of activity in the commodities, energy, and manufacturing sectors.
Internship Opportunities in Shanghai:
- Internships in Shanghai with Connect-123
- Internships with Fortune 500 Companies with Go Abroad China
- Internships in Shanghai with CRCC Asia
#5. Cape Town, South Africa
- Population: 3.75 million
- Official language(s): There are 11 official languages of South Africa! Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, SiSwati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
- Popular Industries: Design, Manufacturing, Tourism
Cape Town is actually the second most populated city in South Africa after Johannesburg, but its picturesque setting on the west coast of the country makes it a much more attractive destination for foreign visitors. Cape Town is incredibly diverse, attracting visitors from all over the world and all over Africa.
For interns interested in the design space, Cape Town has consistently been named the design capital of the world and also plays a huge role in the African tourism space. It’s also recently garnered attention for being one of the most entrepreneurial cities in Africa.
Internship Opportunities in Cape Town:
- Cape Town Internships with VACorps
- NGO Internships with African Impact
- Business Internships in Cape Town with GVI
#6. Hong Kong
- Population: 7.3 million
- Official language(s): Chinese, English
- Popular Industries: Finance, Trade, Shipping
Hong Kong is a critical global center of finance and trade and has one of the highest concretions of corporate headquarters in the region, making it a destination with plentiful internship offerings. The city itself is the world’s seventh largest trading port in terms of both exports and imports and is obviously an indispensable transport center for Asia-Pacific.
Students of Chinese, both Cantonese and Mandarin, will find it welcoming for language practice and a great jumping-off point for an initial exposure to Asian culture and
Internship Opportunities in Hong Kong:
- International Internships in Hong Kong with The Intern Group
- Multi-city & Multi-industry Internships (including Hong Kong) with Global Explorer
- Future Leaders Internship Program in Hong Kong with Next Step Connections
#7. Bangkok, Thailand
- Population: 8.2 million
- Official language: Thai
- Popular Industries: Healthcare, Entrepreneurship, Energy
Bangkok is the home to plenty of regional headquarters of multinational corporations and is the seat of business activity across Southeast Asia. Very friendly to English speakers, Thailand has a massive industrial manufacturing sector, as well as strengths in healthcare, energy, and tourism. The country is also a marvelous tourist destination in and of itself, so adventurous interns won’t tire of Thailand’s trekking, nature, and entertainment options.
Internship Opportunities in Bangkok:
- Internships in Bangkok (& other Thai cities) with AIP
- Intern in Bangkok for College Credit with Omprakash EdGE
- Paid Tourism & Hospitality Internships in Bangkok with Greenheart Travel
#8. Tokyo, Japan
- Population: ~13 million
- Official language: Japanese
- Popular Industries: Electronics, Automobiles, Manufacturing, Robotics
For those unafraid of plunging headfirst into one of the most complex cultures known to mankind, Tokyo is akin to doing an internship on another planet. Japan is one of the most important global economic forces, especially in the automobile manufacturing, electronic goods, and high tech industries.
This is one destination where knowing the local language is a huge benefit for internship seekers, although you may be able to find some opportunities for English-only speakers. Expect to be immersed, frustrated, delighted, and challenged while interning in Tokyo.
Internship Opportunities in Tokyo:
- Paid & Unpaid Internships in Tokyo with Internship in Japan
- Engineering, Architecture & Other Internships in Japan with Zentern
- Global Internships in Tokyo with Intrax
#9. Toronto, Canada
- Population: 2,731,571
- Official language(s): English and French
- Popular Industries: Manufacturing, Finance, Energy
We swear, we didn't just pick cities with oddly pointy buildngs to create this list; it just happens that many great international cities for business have them!
Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America, and like London and Cape Town, is a truly multicultural city -- combining the comforts of home with a vibrant global pulse. If you’re interest in energy in particular, Toronto has a robust hydroelectric industry and Canada as a whole plays a big role in the mining and renewable energy sectors. Toronto’s greater metropolitan area also produces more than 50% of all of Canada’s manufactured goods and plays an important role in the Canadian finance industry.
Internship Opportunities in Toronto:
- Ski & Snowboard Instructor Internship with Educating Adventures
- Intern & Work in Canada with International Exchange of North America
- Internships in Toronto with Stepwest
#10. Edinburgh, Scotland
- Population: 495,360
- Official language: English
- Popular Industries: Finance, Technology and Software, Retail, Tourism
If interning overseas in some of the biggest metropolises on the planet like Tokyo or Shanghai is a little extreme for you, the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, offers a smaller and more familiar setting while still being one of the chief contributors to the economy of the UK. With diverse industries and notoriously friendly locals, Scotland's capital is great launching pad into gaining experience in the European market.
Internship Opportunities in Edinburgh:
- Observation & Research Placements in Scotland with Adelante Abroad
- Scottish Parliamentary Program with Arcadia University
- Intern or Research in Edinburgh with Panrimo
Smart Internship Searching
Regardless of whether or not you pursue an overseas internship in any of our top recommended cities, it's important that your search takes into consideration the match between a location's particular industries and your professional goals, your practical language abilities, and your desired region of focus. You also want to make sure the places you have your heart set on interning are both accessible for young professionals and provide a stimulating personal travel experience.
This post was originally published in March 2013, and was updated in April 2018.