FAQ: Foreign Service

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What is the difference between a Foreign Service Specialist and a Foreign Service Officer Generalist?

Both Foreign Service Specialists and Generalists are direct hire career employees of the Department of State.

Foreign Service Specialists provide important technical, support or administrative services in 19 career categories, including Doctors and Physician Assistants, Office Management Specialists, Information Management Specialists, Diplomatic Security Agents, Human Resource Specialists. Each category has specific requirements regarding education and experience. Details are available at: http://careers.state.gov/specialist.

Foreign Service Officers, also referred to as Foreign Service Generalists, enter in one of five career tracks – Consular, Economic, Management, Political, or Public Diplomacy. There is no specific requirement for education or experience. More information is available at:http://careers.state.gov/officer.

Are there employment opportunities for spouses and declared same-sex domestic partners overseas?

Yes. Employment opportunities for spouses and declared same sex domestic partners vary by country of assignment. The Department’s Family Liaison Office maintains a listing of job opportunities at most posts and may be contacted directly once an assignment is known. The Department also has a growing number of “tandem couples” in which both spouses and declared same-sex domestic partners work for a foreign affairs agency of the U.S. government.

Will my family get to travel and live overseas with me?

Spouses, declared same-sex domestic partners, and children under age 21, and, in rare cases, dependent parents may accompany Foreign Service employees abroad at Government expense. However, even though family members are not required to be medically cleared before an offer of employment is extended, family members must be medically cleared before traveling overseas at U.S. Government expense to accompany Foreign Service Officers on assignment. This means employees could be assigned overseas unaccompanied by those family members who do not have clearances.

Further, the rules for claiming your parent or parent -in-law as a dependent are strict, and involve showing proof that they have been more than 51% dependent on you for an extended period of time. Security concerns and lack of adequate educational or health facilities at certain posts may dictate against eligible family members accompanying the officer to such posts.

Do many FSOs bring their own vehicles on assignment?

Yes, certainly. They might opt to bring their own car, or they might buy one from a departing colleague when they arrive at post. There are a number of possibilities. Just keep in mind though that you are limited sometimes by certain restrictions – right-hand drive cars, sometimes limitations on retractable headlights, emissions, etc. All of this information about a particular country is readily available to you as part of the assignment bidding process so you can be well informed.

Are there programs that help JOs (Junior Officers) adjust to their new duty station?

Yes – each overseas post and American Embassy has an Orientation Program for all new arrivals at post. You are also assigned a “sponsor,” an official sponsor at work, as well as a community sponsor who matches your interests and family composition.

What household items do you recommend a JO store and which do you recommend they bring to their new duty station?

Good question. Of course it depends on your state of life, i.e., married or in a declared same-sex domestic partnership, single with kids, etc. It also depends on whether the post is a limited or full shipment post. You should always bring things that will make your home overseas your personal home. Contact the Family Liaison Office prior to departure.

Does the Department of State consider lesbians and gays for employment? What if I have a live-in partner?

It is the policy of the Department of State to provide equal opportunity and fair and equitable treatment in employment to all persons without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, political affiliation, marital status, or sexual orientation. There are many new provisions for declared same-sex domestic partners of eligible employees serving overseas: diplomatic passports (for US citizens), inclusion on employee travel orders to and from posts abroad, shipment of household effects, inclusion in family size calculations for the purpose of making housing allocations, family member preference for employment at posts abroad, use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, emergency travel for partners to visit gravely ill or injured employees and relatives, inclusion as family members for emergency evacuation from posts abroad, subsistence payments related to emergency evacuation from posts abroad, inclusion in calculations of payments of overseas allowances (e.g., payment for quarters, cost of living, and other allowances), representation expenses, and training at the Foreign Service Institute.

How much exposure/experience in the local culture do you have an opportunity to enjoy?

You have lots of opportunity to enjoy the local culture – compare it to the time you have available right now when you go home after work. The host country is your home – after work every day and on weekends. You are a U.S. government representative at all times – but you are also a resident, a tourist, a member of society, much as you would be in the U.S.

Does every one start at the same grade regardless of their age and experience?


Entry Level Officers (ELO) enter at one of three Entry Level (EL) grades: FP-06 thru FP-04. Which grade you get upon entry is a function of your educational and professional work experience. See this link for the explanation on the state site:


I'm curious about where FSOs proficient in Farsi might be stationed, since we don't have official ties with Iran except for the US interests section in the Swiss embassy?

Without going into details, let me state simply that as part of the Department’s consular function, we interview Farsi-speaking visa applicants at several overseas posts.

I’d like to also think that the Department is engaging in some longer-term thought and planning by giving credit to those proficient in Farsi. At some point in time, it will become even more important that the U.S. government in general (and the Department of State in particular) have trusted and experienced officers proficient in Farsi already on staff. It’s not a qualification one can simply drum up out of thin air, after all.

Can I get my Master's Degree while in the Foreign Service?

There is something about an MBA program at http://careers.state.gov/general/training.html.  In addition to the National War College program (which is not mentioned on that site), there is an MS in Strategic Intelligence program run by the National Defense Intelligence College in Wash DC.  Many FSO’s take distance learning courses from both the FSI and other online programs while on post, but it should be mentioned that some posts do not have the best connections to the internet so you should take that into consideration.

How can you buy a car and take it with you while on post? I would assume a bank would have issues with taking a car with a lien on it overseas.

Foreign Service Officers can obtain automobile financing by becoming members of the State Department Federal Credit Union.  They have a very good reputation of providing FSO’s with top notch banking services while abroad.

There are numerous online resources for buying and selling “diplomat”vehicles.  This has many benefits, one of which is there will be no duty fee’s on the purchase.  You can also contact car manufacturers directly, many have special pricing for diplomats and members of international organizations.  BMW has a very good IDS (International Direct Sales) reputation.

Can I bring my pets with me on assignment?

Yes, you are allowed to bring pets with you on assignment, but it is post-dependent.

Where do I take the FSOT?

FSOT testing facilities are located across the globe.

To find an ACT testing facility in the United States, click here.

International testing facilities are available in the following countries and are typically located at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate w/in the country:

Accra Chengdu Kabul Naha Seoul
Algiers Chennai Kathmandu Nairobi Shanghai
Amman Colombo Kigali Naples Skopje
Ankara Copenhagen Kingston Nassau Sofia
Ashgabat Cotonou Kinshasa N’Djamena Stockholm
Asmara Dakar Krakow New Delhi Suva
Astana Damascus Kuala Lumpur Niamey Taipei
Asuncion Dar Es Salaam Kyiv Nicosia Tashkent
Baghdad Dhaka La Paz Nouakchott Tbilisi
Bamako Dili Lahore Osaka Tegucigalpa
Bangkok Doha Lilongwe Ottawa The Hague
Banjul Dublin Lima Ouagadougou Toronto
Beijing Frankfurt London Paris Tripoli
Belgrade Freetown Madrid Perth Tunis
Berlin Guangzhou Majuro Prague Ulaanbaatar
Bishkek Guatemala City Manama Pretoria Vienna
Bogota Guayaquil Manila Quito Vientiane
Bridgetown Havana Maputo Riyadh Vilnius
Brussels Helsinki Melbourne San Jose Vladivostok
Buenos Aires Ho Chi Minh City Mexico City San Salvador Warsaw
Cairo Hong Kong Monterrey Santiago Willemstad
Calgary Islamabad Montevideo Santo Domingo Windhoek
Canberra Istanbul Mumbai Sao Paulo Yaounde
Jakarta Nagoya Sarajevo Zagreb

Can a JO or FSO pick the language they prefer to learn or does that depend on place of assignment?

The language training you receive is dependent on your assignment.  Upon determination of your post, you will receive language training for the Foreign Service Institute in addition to training specific to your post location.

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