Maestro Magurno's

Practical guide to



Before we start

Pro tip
If your course of studies offers multiple internships, check with your school if you can combine them into a single, longer one.

General assumptions

The information contained on this page should be only used for reference purposes. Always check with the competent immigration agencies and an immigration lawyer before submitting any paperwork.

The idea behind a J-1 visa is to offer on-the-job training to students or professionals who are looking for skills that are not to be found in their home country.

Writing this article, I’m assuming that:

  1. You are a Hyper Island student (or a student of a comparable education which program includes an industry placement around the world, like Hétic, Gobelins, Ecal or others).
  2. You are of legal age to be working in the country you will be interning in.
  3. You have a valid passport (an electronic passport will be required to travel to the US).
  4. You are a citizen of a European country.
  5. You have found an internship placement in a country which is different from your country of residence.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's dive right in!



A first look

Pro tip
While an internship visa lasts up to 12 months, a trainee visa can last up to 18 months.

Europeans working within the EEA

To begin with, there is a very simple discrimination that needs to be made: if you are a European citizen and you’re looking to work in any country within the EEA (European Economic Area), you most likely won’t need a visa to do so.
I encourage you to check with the company you will be interning for to make sure there aren’t any other complications, but the process should be pretty straightforward and expedited if you fall within this category.

Europeans working in the US

If you are a national of one of the EEA countries 1 and you’re looking to intern in the US, things get a bit more complex.
The first distinction that needs to be made is whether your school and internship placement are both in the US or not. Their locaton will determine whether you will need a J of F visa 2.

The difference between J and F visas is that the first assumes that your school is outside of the US (e.g.: you're studying in Europe and want to intern in the US), while F visas are for foreign students who are already studying in the US and want to have an internship in the same country. We won't go into F visas in this article, as those are required to actually pursue an academic course in the US and therefore don't strickly fall into the category of trainee visas .

A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows you to work as an intern/trainee for a period of time. The idea behind a J-1 visa is to offer on-the-job training to students or professionals who are looking for skills that are not to be found in their home country.
Another important factor is that a J-1 assumes that you will be returning to your home country after the internship period has ended and you will put the skills you’ve learned abroad into practice there.

Those two assumptions of the J-1 visa are important as they will affect your internship plan (which is to be compiled in collaboration with your internship workplace) and your interview at the US embassy in your home country.
A J-1 visa has a maximum duration of 12 months (but you will be granted a 30 days “grace period” before and after the start and end date of your J-1 visa. This means that if your internship starts on March 1st, you will be able to enter the US up to 30 days prior to that date.
Now that you know what a J-1 is and understand its purpose, let's go through the steps required to get one.

Assuming that you qualify for a J-1 3, before you can head to the US Embassy in your home country (the place where your visa will be issued), there a few entities that you will need to juggle with in order to get a J-1.

  1. Your workplace in the US
  2. A sponsor association:
    • A sponsor association will be needed for you to apply for a J-1 visa. Depending on your nationality, you will be required to seek a particular sponsor association. From experience, Scandinavians normally use AMSCAN and Italians use AILF. Please check with your school counselor to find out which sponsor association will be able to handle your case.
  3. Visa application paperwork:
    • Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, Form DS 2019
    • A Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002
    • An application, Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156
    • A Supplemental Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157
    • A Contact Information and Work History, Form DS-158
    • One 5×5 cm photograph
  4. SEVIS fee 4 (will be paid through your sponsor association)
  5. Visa issuance fee — this is a fee which you'll pay during your interview at the US embassy in your home country (payment modalities and cost differ from place to place)


Other things to consider

Pro tip
Make sure you consider the cost of living of the city you'll be interning in before applying for a position.

Estimating time

If your internship starts in March, it's good practice to lock a placement around January.
Depending on the responsiveness of the company you will be interning at and the speed of the US embassy in your home country, this process could take up to two months to complete — also consider that you will probably need to Fed-Ex documents back and forth with your company and/or their immigration lawyers before filling in all the required documentation, which might eat up additiona time.

Petition expenses

The sole expense of the SEVIS ($180 for a J-1) plus the Visa issuance fee (which varies) is roughly $350 5 . In addition to this, the majority of the cost goes to immigration lawyers which are often recruited by your employer to check on the accuracy of the paperwork before you file it to the US Embassy in your country.

You shouldn’t really worry about those costs as they should be covered by your employer. There might be additional costs related to your sponsor association so be sure to investigate that for yourself.
⤷ Maestro Magurno —  Head of Design in San Francisco


If your internship is retributed (and if it's not, I strongly advise you to that you ask for it to be retributed), keep in mind that you will be exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes for the duration of your J-1 6. Social Security and Medicare taxes (respectively 6.2% and 1.45% of your stipend) 7 are to be paid only by individuals on a visa with a resident status.

This means you will only be paying Federal (25% of your income 8) and State taxes.
Please note that generally both Federal and State taxes will vary depending on your income bracket and based on the state you’ll be working in within the US. As a reference, the State taxes for California are 9.30% 9 for the single or married individual, earning $50,000 yearly, for the taxable year of 2015.

This should help you figure out your post-tax income and be able to understand your quality of life during your internship.

Sample case

You are a single (as in marital status 10) employee working in California, earning $50.000 a year (this is your taxable income), let's calculate your taxation for the current year (2015). Considering the tax brackets indicated above, the math will be as follows:

  • Federal taxes: $500 x 25 = $12,500
  • State taxes: $500 x 9.30 = $4,650
  • Total taxes: $12,500 + $4,650 = $17,150
  • Total income: $50,000 – $17,150 = $32,850
  • Monthly income: $32,850 / 12 = $2,737



Finding a placement

Pro tip
Help your classmates find an internship by asking if the company is interested in multiple interns.

Figure it out

Make sure you're clear on what you're looking for. What kind of work do you want to do? What type of challenges do you want to face? What type of people do you want to surround yourself with?

Understand that bringing in a foreign intern comes at an additional cost and that you'll have to prove to be able to provide enough value to the company you'll work for to offset that cost.
⤷ Maestro Magurno —  Head of Design in San Francisco

Start asking yourself these questions as early as you can and you'll be on your way to figuring out which kind of company you'd want to work for.

Do your reasearch

Once you've figured out your ideal scenario, one way to move forward is to narrow your search down to an industry vertical and start looking for companies that work in that area. Do your research, because not every company offers an internship program.
The size of the company can be a pretty good indicator of whether they are able to accept interns or not (a smaller company tends to have a leaner structure, and therefore might not necessarily have the infrastructure to support an internship program). Of course this is not an absolute rule, so always ask if they are taking on any interns (even if they don't have an internship program in place yet) you could be the first one.

Another great way to get a sense of a company is to talk to people who have either worked or interned there. Ask your classmates, or spend some time on LikedIn to figure out if you know someone who works there.

Start bright and early

Don't wait until the last minute to email companies regarding your internship: there are not only technical times for your visa application you'll need to consider, but it's not unusual for their HR department to take a while to get back to you. Seek contacts early and keep in touch with them, but most importantly, have a portfolio up and running as soon as possible.

Understand that bringing in a foreign intern comes at an additional cost and that you'll have to prove to be able to provide enough value to the company you'll work for to offset that cost. You shouldn't feel limited by this, but be aware that smaller companies are going to most likely be more cost-conscious than larger ones.

Know the territory

As simple as it sounds, you need to know who's who of the industry you want to work in. Learn their work and also their location: is your commute going to be 15 minutes or an hour? Are you going to be close to civilization or completely isolated?
To help you get started, below you'll find a map of advertising agencies, design shops and tech/startup companies in San Francisco.