Funding an Unpaid Internship

Congratulations! You’ve just landed an internship with your ideal employer. It’s relevant to your career choice and you know you just won’t be making the tea for a month. So what’s the problem? It’s unpaid and in a city you don’t live in… how are you going to fund yourself? Uh-oh.

Accommodation Options

Problem number one: the unpaid internship is based in a city you don’t live in… how are you going to afford to live or rent accommodation?

Solutions to problem number one involve exhausting all your contacts (and by this we mean friends and family) who are prepared to lend you their sofa or bedroom floor for a month or so. It’s not ideal, but it’s free and you can repay their generosity by cooking for them and keeping the place tidy by cleaning once a week.

Alternatively, you could consider staying in a youth hostel. These are cheaper than hotels and sometimes provide free breakfast in the form of toast – nothing fancy but it will keep you fuelled throughout the morning. Obviously, hostels cost a bit of money, but your parents may be willing to help out, or you could dip into your student loan overdraft with a plan to work part-time at weekends to pay this back.

If these two options aren’t realistic, commuting is another option, which brings us on nicely to…

Travel Options

Commuting! Lots of people do it, so why not join them? The price of a National Rail season ticket varies on where you live but can be worked out using this handy calculator. This price can be quite high, so it’s best to have a plan in place for how you’re going to pay for it.

If you manage to nab a space on your mates sofa and want to really drive down the costs of your internship by not spending money on buses or tube fares, walking, jogging and cycling to work is another option. Not only is this free, it’ll keep you healthy too… win-win!


Given that unpaid internships are illegal and you’ve decided to give the company the benefit of the doubt for whatever reason (a tidy job may be waiting for you at the end of it) it’s not unreasonable for you to negotiate the terms of your internship. After all, the company can’t expect you to give everything up for an unpaid position.

Perhaps ask for more flexible working hours with Friday off. This isn’t so you can relax or feel sorry for yourself because you’re doing an unpaid internship, it’s so you can get yourself a part-time job! There’s no harm in asking for an arrangement like this and it shows the company you’re committed to making the internship work, regardless of how much part-time work you have to do to keep yourself going.

If flexible hours aren’t an option, ask if the company would consider paying your travel and/or lunch expenses. If you’re commuting this will save heaps of money and if you’ve got lunch expenses too, the combination of meal deals you’ll explore is out of this world! Oh boy!

Unpaid internships aren’t ideal but most students are likely to encounter them. There’s no denying that they’re beneficial either; they could lead to a job or simply enhance your CV, giving you a greater chance of landing a job straight after university. However, funding them can be difficult. It’s best to look for internships in a location where you know you can live cheaply so that you aren’t caught up river without a paddle.

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