This page provides an introduction to employment issues and options for international students in F-1 status at the University of Pennsylvania.
The most important employment issue to consider is "authorized" versus "unauthorized" employment. Make sure that any employment you plan to engage in is authorized in advance, since unauthorized employment poses a grave threat to your ability to remain in or return to the United States.
Even if you are not receiving any form of compensation for the services provided, the activity still may be considered unauthorized employment. For instance, active involvement in the creation of a company may be considered work, and therefore requiring proper work authorization. If you are interested in exploring a startup or self-employment opportunity, inquire with ISSS for proper work authorization in advance. Also volunteering for an organization simply to gain experience could be deemed unauthorized employment especially if duties are performed for which one would normally be paid. Immigration laws are complex. Violations, even if made innocently, may result in harsh consequences for individuals and their families if in dependent status. Thus, it is best to be cautious with respect to this particular issue.
If you have any questions concerning your eligibility or category of employment, please consult with ISSS before commencing employment.