F-1 Work Options: Paid, Unpaid, and Volunteer Work

Some organizations do not pay college students to work since students are gaining experience and/or academic credit for your employment. It is important that international students understand the difference between paid, unpaid, and volunteer work so you can understand whether you will need work authorization.

Paid Employment

Employment where you receive pay or some kind of compensation. This pay/compensation could include an hourly wage, biweekly or monthly salary, stipend, bonus, tuition, and/or room and board (being allowed to live somewhere without paying rent). If you have paid off-campus employment, you need to get CPT authorization before you start working.

Unpaid Employment

Employment where you do not receive any form of compensation.

ISSS recommends F-1 students who find a job off campus get CPT authorization before they start working, even if the job appears to be unpaid. Some employers offer a bonus or stipend for unpaid employment, and international students cannot accept this pay if they have not obtained CPT authorization.

Volunteer Roles

Someone who performs a service without pay. Usually, the service is altruistic and the goal is to promote quality of life (for example, packaging food for the homeless, tutoring children in a school, or picking up garbage in a public park). While you receive no pay, you may develop useful career skills such as leadership, teamwork, working with people from different cultures, and more.

The Department of Labor provides helpful information to determine if it is an appropriate form of volunteer role. Please carefully review their factsheets.

WARNING: Some students think they are “volunteering” if they offer to work for a company through a class opportunity. The U.S. government does not consider employment to be “volunteering” any time you are paid.

The International Student Guide to Volunteering from the UMN's Center for Community-Engaged Learning is a great resource for any international student who is interested in volunteering.

Last updated: December 5, 2023