Foreign Service Careers for Transitioning Service Members

Even if you've served overseas in the military, you may be surprised at some of the lifestyle changes you'll experience in the Foreign Service. The more you know ahead of time, the more prepared you will be.

Life in the Foreign Service

  • Living abroad. Foreign Service Officers and Specialists can be assigned to embassies and consulates around the world -- sometimes in challenging areas with very basic amenities. If you have a family, the decision can be more complicated. Frequent post changes, school quality issues, and inadequate medical care can all affect your family.
  • Standard of living. In many Foreign Service posts, your standard of living will not be what you're accustomed to in the United States. Only basic services are available in some areas and shopping at a mall may seem like a luxury.
  • Education. If you have children, you'll want to consider their educational needs. At some posts, adequate schools aren't available. Foreign Service families sometimes home-school their children or send them to private boarding schools.
  • Health care. In some countries, you may have difficulty finding adequate health care. Foreign Service employees must be medically able to serve at any post throughout the world; however, if you have family members with special medical needs, they may not be able to accompany you to certain areas.
  • Benefits. Department of State employees are eligible for many of the same benefits as other federal employees, including health care, leave, and family support services. Foreign Service employees also have access to benefits such as child care subsidies, long-term care insurance, and an employee assistance program.

Training and Assistance

Extensive training, including professional development, distance learning, technical training, and foreign language courses are available through the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). The FSI also offers transition assistance for families transitioning between domestic and overseas assignments.

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) helps Foreign Service families with quality-of-life issues by providing resources for education as well as help for family members looking for employment. The FLO website will give you a good idea of what life is like for Foreign Service families.

Foreign Service careers

Career options within the Foreign Service include Foreign Service Specialists and Foreign Service Officers.

Foreign Service Specialists

Specialists provide technical and other support services at posts overseas and in Washington D.C. There are nineteen different jobs within seven categories, including:

  • administration
  • construction engineering
  • English language and information programs
  • information technology
  • medical services
  • office management
  • security

For a complete listing of job titles and requirements, visit the Department of State's website.

Foreign Service Officers

Foreign Service Officers help implement U.S. foreign policy abroad. They serve as frontline personnel in embassies and consulates around the world and in Washington D.C. Many Foreign Service Officers have bachelors or masters degrees in business or liberal arts. The Department of State provides foreign language training, so fluency in a second language is not a requirement. However, foreign language competency can give you an edge in the hiring process. During the application process, candidates choose from one of five career tracks: Management, Consular Affairs, Economic Affairs, Political Affairs, or Public Diplomacy.

Getting hired

Hiring procedures vary depending on the position, but you can expect an online application and, if you meet the initial qualifications, a structured interview. Candidates are also subject to a medical clearance and a background check to assess their ability to serve at posts throughout the world. Keep in mind that the application process can take several months.

Foreign Service Specialists

Candidates must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 21 and 59 (between 21 and 36 for Diplomatic Security Agent positions) and be available for worldwide assignment.

  • Submit an application. Online applications can be submitted on the Department of State's website. A panel reviews the applications against the requirements for the Foreign Specialist job.
  • Oral assessment. Those candidates meeting the job requirements are invited to participate in an oral assessment. Candidates are evaluated in twelve areas, including composure, cultural adaptability, judgment, written communication, and resourcefulness. The goal is to find good matches for the Foreign Service lifestyle.
  • Register of Cleared Candidates. Candidates who have successfully completed the medical and background clearances are placed on a register, which is ranked by their oral assessment scores. Preference-eligible veterans and candidates who pass a foreign language competency exam may receive additional points in their rankings. Job offers are made from the list as openings become available.

Foreign Service Officers

Candidates for Foreign Service Officer positions must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 20 and 59.

  • Registration. Potential candidates should register online for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). The computer-based application form gathers factual information about your academic background, work history, and other relevant data.
  • Select a career track. Registrants will be asked to select a career track when registering for the exam. You will find detailed information on the career tracks online.
  • Testing. Qualified applicants are notified by email with instructions for scheduling a seating for the FSOT. The test is given several times each year at commercial testing centers throughout the country. Dates and locations are listed online.
  • Oral Assessment. The results of the FSOT and the application are sent to a panel for review. The panel evaluates the files and invites the most qualified candidates for an oral assessment. The oral assessment is a series of exercises designed to help determine if candidates have the qualities suited to the needs of the Foreign Service.

Visit the Department of State's website for more information about the hiring process, including information on other Foreign Service opportunities.


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