Hi, I'm Anthony.

The Meticulous US Intern's Guide

May 12, 2017

This guide is a relatively complete to-do list for a happy, well-organized internship abroad. It contains 220+ tasks about everything that needs to be done, from the moment you have an offer to when you’re filing your taxes the year after.

The excellent Unofficial Waterloo USA Intern Guide offers a lot of general advice for students making future plans. Targeting a narrower audience, this guide complements it by giving more specific, in-depth information. Additionally, every task is actionable and has clearly defined completion/failure conditions.

I started writing this in June 2016, originally as a section of my to-do list. It quickly grew unwieldy after the first hundred tasks, so now it’s a separate document. The checklist is organized chronologically, so at any point, you can see at a glance what the next step will be.

Have suggestions, questions, or thrown vegetables? I’d be happy to hear it - contact information is available on my website, or simply email me at azhang9@gmail.com.

If you have Javascript enabled and a modern browser, this document will save its state. When you return to this page, your progress through the checklist will be restored at where you left off.

Does this apply to me?

This guide assumes that all of the following are true:

This guide is intended for informational use only - use the information within at your own risk, and be sure to ask people or consult other sources if anything seems unclear. I take no responsibility if this advice causes harm or rends the fabric of spacetime apart.

Who to ask for help

In general, who you should ask for help depends on what the question is about:


This guide owes its existance to:

Step 1: Setup

Complete all tasks before starting the paperwork.

Whenever you scan something or receive an electronic document, save it in a safe place that is also accessible offline.

As a Canadian interning in the US, you will need a J-1 visa, so you will be under the “Intern” category of the US State Department cultural exchange program, working with a visa sponsor and the host company to obtain training authorization. Here are some important but non-obvious details about J-1 visas for training:

This list isn’t exhaustive, but covers the most important features of the J-1 visa. If you have questions that this doesn’t cover, email Cultural Vistas or a CECA International Employment Specialist.

Note that you must keep your DS-2019 forms safe indefinitely. It will be needed every time you apply for any US visa in the future, and Cultural Vistas may not be able to replace it after a certain number of years. If you do lose it, however, contact Cultural Vistas immediately and explain the situation.

Step 2: Mountains of Paperwork

This section starts when you receive your job offer letter. I recommend going through all the threads in parallel, since each piece of paperwork will block for at least a few days each. All steps requiring you to physically go anywhere are labelled ERRAND. Complete all tasks before preparing for your flight.

Thread 1: Internship Offer, Health Insurance, Applying for Eligibility for a J-1 Visa, and Flight Tickets

Thread 2: Background Check

Many US-based companies will ask you to undergo a background check. Often, this will be done through a third-party company that specializes in this.

Skip this section if you do not have to undergo a background check.

Thread 3: Housing

This depends very heavily on the location and what your personal preferences are. Since each housing agreement is different, this section is mostly advice rather than step-by-step instructions.

You should always do the following, however:

Thread 4: Random loose ends

Thread 5: School and scholarships

Step 3: Preparing to leave Canada

Complete all tasks before your flight.

Step 4: Flying to the US

Step 5: The first few days in the US

I recommend going through all the threads in parallel, since there are quite a few tasks that will block. All steps requiring you to physically go anywhere are labelled ERRAND. Complete all tasks before continuing.

Thread 2: Set up Social Security

Skip this section if you already have a US social security number.

Step 6: During your stay in the US

Continue to the next section when you have reached the last few weeks of your internship.

Thread 1: Job stuff

Thread 2: Recreation and travel

There are far too many possibilities here, so I won’t attempt to list them all. The Unofficial Waterloo USA Intern Guide, however, has a lot to say on activities and attractions. There’s also a lot of general advice in there for specific locations in the US.

Thread 3: Loose ends

Thread 4: Event handling

Step 7: The end is near

These items do not need to be done in order. Complete all tasks before your flight.

Step 8: Flying back to Canada

Step 9: Cleanup

These items do not need to be done in order, and are not particularly time-sensitive.

Step 10: US Tax Returns

I’m not a tax professional, and the following is provided for information purposes only. Something something I’m not liable if this information turns out to be wrong, outdated, etc. Get an accountant with experience with US tax law if you’re unsure about this stuff.

US taxes are due on April 15 of the year after each year you were on your internship. Just like with Canadian taxes, they’re usually automatically deducted from every paycheque as an employee, and then the next year you file a return to get a refund if you paid too much income tax, or pay the missing amount if you paid too little income tax. Usually you get a refund since the amount deducted from your paycheque is calculated assuming you’re working the whole year, whereas most interns are only working for part of the year.

Since you were in the US as an intern, you should only require a W-2 form from your employer, and I will continue under that assumption.

Step 11: Canadian Tax Returns

Again, I’m not a tax professional, and the following is provided for information purposes only. Something something I’m not liable if this information turns out to be wrong, outdated, etc. Really, get an accountant having experience with Canadian tax law if you’re unsure about this stuff.

I’m still assuming that your only source of income in the US was from your employer.

Canadian tax returns are due on first business day on or after April 30 of each year, for the preceding year. Since you’re a Canadian citizen, you probably need to file this every year anyways.

Your Canadian tax return must report all income, inside and outside of Canada. This includes the income received for your internship in the US. Since Canada has a tax treaty with the US as of this writing, you can report the US income taxes you paid as a Canadian income tax deduction.

This is done by filing a T2209 form with your return. Some notes on filling out the form:

In SimpleTax, just add a “Other Foreign Income & Foreign Tax Credits” entry to your return, enter “Employment (Not reported elsewhere)” for the income type, “W-2” for the description, the total income from your W-2 for foreign income, the sum of US federal and state taxes you paid for foreign tax paid, and the correct currency exchange rate for the FX rate field.

Other things to consider:

Make sure to keep an electronic copy of all the relevant documents (including things like donation receipts) for at least 5 years, in case the CRA requires more proof or clarification during this time. After filing, in just two weeks or so, you’ll receive your completed notice of assessment - download the PDF from the CRA website and keep it safe as well. Around the same time, you should receive your refund either directly in your bank account if you have direct deposit set up, or as a cheque mailed to your address on file.

Questions or comments? Drop me a line at azhang9@gmail.com.
Creative Commons License This work by Anthony Zhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Copyright 2013-2017 Anthony Zhang.