I’ve been there. And when I say there, I mean standing in an empty apartment, by myself, 2,500 miles away from home. But the real question is, how do you get there? How do you get to the point where you have an empty apartment to stand in if you don’t know anyone or anything in the place you are relocating to? How do you relocate for an internship?
It’s not as scary as you think. You just have to be proactive and do a little research prior to the big move. I’ve successfully done it twice. I relocated for an internship in a major city while in college and I did a major cross-country relocation for a job two days after I graduated.
Spending a few months in a new city for your internship can be very rewarding and fun. There is a lot of personal growth associated with living somewhere new and having to figure shit out. However, there are a number of serious considerations you should make before you decide to relocate for an internship. Let’s break it down and talk about what it takes.
Talk to your employer re: internship relocation advice and/or support
Larger companies will have formal internship relocation policies and procedures. If you’re interning with a big company, lucky you! Relocation policies vary. Some offer student housing, some offer housing stipends and others just give you housing recommendations based on places that they have pre-negotiated rates. Be sure to follow up with the company immediately after you land the internship to get this information from them and start planning ahead. Another bonus with larger companies is that many will have intern Facebook pages or distribution lists so you can connect with fellow interns and arrange for a roommate in advance.
Smaller companies likely won’t have much in terms of an internship relocation policy. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out to them and get some advice. Ask questions about the area — which neighborhoods they recommend, and more importantly, which neighborhoods to avoid. Unless they have already specified that they do not provide housing stipends, ask them. You never know until you ask, and you could be leaving money on the table. And finally, ask if there are any other fellow interns you can connect with as potential roommates to reduce your cost of living. Be sure to plan ahead and ask all your questions in one concise email or phone conversation. This is an opportunity to show how organized you are from the start and that you are respectful of your employer’s time.
Create a budget for your internship relocation expenses and cost of living during the internship
Once you determine how much (if anything) your employer is going to cover for your housing expenses, it’s time to create a budget. Whether your internship is paid or unpaid, you still have to carefully manage your expenses. After all, even the paid internships are taxable so you’re never taking home as much money as you think you are.
Look into cost of living in the area and estimate your monthly expenses for rent and food. Remember, your employer may already have some good guidance for you here. Or, you could ask to speak to a former intern and learn from their experiences. Large companies may provide meals throughout the day (that’s the way of life out in Silicon Valley where I live), so if you are interning with a company that provides meals you can easily save some money on food expenses.
Other expenses to take into consideration are the relocation expenses themselves. How are you getting there? Flying? Driving? Do your research and budget in the cost of plane tickets or gas. And if you are wondering if your relocation expenses are tax deductible, they likely are not. You have to meet the IRS time and distance test which means you are relocating over 50 miles away AND you are working for at least 39 consecutive weeks in the position.
Find a place to live for your short-term internship relocation
Securing short-term, fully-furnished rentals can be challenging. Especially when you’re on a tight budget. But there are options if you start early and spend the time to do your research.
If you are relocating to a major city for your internship, check to see if there are any dorms available for short-term rental during the summer months. Every major city has a few college campuses within it and they are accustomed to opening their dorms during the summer months for summer school, interns, camps, etc. Often times, this will be one of the more affordable options you find.
Then there is good ol’ Craigslist. Whether you are looking for a place by yourself, or with a roommate, I’ve found Craigslist to be a good resource. I used Craigslist to find my apartment in downtown Chicago for my summer internship at the sports agency, Priority Sports. The current tennant needed to be out of the apartment before her lease was up so I was lucky to land a short-term sublease at an apartment within walking distance of my internship. It helped that I started looking months before my internship, and that I consistently checked Craigslist to see if there were any new listings that met my criteria. Obviously, anytime you use a site like Craigslist you should do your research. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Rental scams are a real thing, so be diligent in your search.
Revisit your budget
So you’ve found a place to live during your internship – awesome! Now that you know your rent expenses, it’s important to revisit that budget you drafted.
With your housing confirmed, there are other details within your budget that you can now build out. For example, does your housing have a washer/dryer or are you going to need to pay for laundry at a local laundromat? If you are staying in dorms on a college campus, do they also require that you pay for one of their meal plans during your stay? And what about transportation — do you need to factor in subway or bus fares, or gas money for your commute to the office?
Scope out the area you are relocating to for your internship
This action may seem small compared to things like budget and actually finding a place to live, but believe me it’s an important one. The more you get to know your neighborhood before you arrive for your internship, the less stressed you will be once you are living it out.
You guys, I’m dating myself here, but I had a flip phone when I was an intern (as in no Google Maps at my fingertips). This meant that doing a little pre-planning was all the more important for me. Even though technology now has your back, I still want you to take the time to learn your new neighborhood (and greater city area). Why? Because you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t. Part of the fun when you relocate for an internship is getting to discover all the greatness your new city has to offer.
Some places I recommend scoping out in advance…
- Coffee shops – These become your go-to spot on the weekends to put in some extra work time and really impress your boss come Monday.
- Restaurants – Because food!
- Alumni bars – The atmosphere of these bars definitely depends a bit on the college sports season, but they are a great place to meet people from your school while in your new city.
- Laundromats – No laundry on site? You’ll want to know where your closest and cleanest laundromats are located.
- Church – If this is important to you, it is another great way to meet new people in your area.
Prepare for your first day at the internship
At this point, you’ve successfully relocated for your internship. Big win! Hopefully you have a few days in your new city before your first day so that you can get acclimated and prepare. I recommend practicing your commute, whether that means public transit or following directions by car. It’s also a good idea to do a grocery run and stock up on some frozen meals. Remember, you’re on a budget and cannot afford to eat out every day/night. And finally, plan out what you’re going to wear on your first day. It will take some of the nerves out of the equation if you feel like you’ve prepped a bit.
Speaking from experience, I think the logistical, financial and emotional challenges that present themselves when you relocate for an internship are worth it. Getting out of your comfort zone and getting to know yourself in a new city is a really good thing. Because guess what? Your college besties aren’t going to be with you forever. And of course, let’s not forget how good that internship experience is going to look on your resume!