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U.S. Department of State

The Foreign Service and Your Family


The Foreign Service experience is more than just a career; it is a distinct way of life for officers and their families. The Foreign Service requires frequent moves that require adjustments to new cultures, languages, and environments.

Moving from Washington to Ouagadougou to Islamabad is not the same as moving fromPeoria to Boston to Los Angeles. For this reason, potential Foreign Service Officers must carefully consider the effects that a Foreign Service career will have on their families. In particular, they must consider issues such as employment possibilities for their spouses, educational opportunities for their children, availability of adequate medical facilities, and physical security.

The Family Liaison Office in the Department of State  advocates with management on quality of   life issues and responds to the needs of Foreign Service employees and family members as they attempt to deal with the disruptions caused by a mobile lifestyle and service abroad.  FLO provides client services in three areas:

Employment of Spouses

Many spouses of Foreign Service Officers are well-educated, professionally qualified, and have high expectations of utilizing their skills throughout their lifetime. Spouses, however, often find it difficult to follow a traditional career pattern, as it is not always possible to find employment in some countries. Nevertheless, many spouses have challenging and satisfying careers while moving around the world.

In the area of employment for spouses, FLO assists spouses in the pursuit of employment both in the Washington area and abroad.  The Family Liaison Office provides the following employment services:

  • Career planning workshops;
  • Employment counseling;
  • Guidance on resume preparation;
  • Information on job opportunities;
  • Manages the bilateral work agreement portfolio which provides opportunities to work on the local economy abroad;
  • Manages the de facto work agreements which allow EFMs to work on the local economy subject to certain restrictions; 
  • Enrollment in functional training, on a space available basis, for courses at FSI.

In addition to the services presented above, the Family Liaison Office will soon launch the redesigned the automated skills bank, the Resume Connection, which will enable spouses to enroll on-line and will record the skills and experiences of spouses seeking employment either in the government or on the economy.  This resume is linked to the employee's record and will be sent to post 3 months prior to arrival, to alert the post of the skills and interests of the accompanying family member.


FLO provides information on Washington-area public and private schools, boarding school programs, college admissions, summer school programs, and correspondence courses.  The office provides counseling on appropriate overseas schooling, particularly in the special needs area, and helps parents interpret the Department's education allowances.

Crisis Management:

The Family Liaison Office assists whenever there is a crisis or emergency at post,  including personal crisis such as divorce and death of a loved one, or an emergency situation which includes post evacuations.  FLO assists families in understanding regulations and allowances during these times of crisis and assists families during their time in the USA on evacuation status.

The Family Liaison Office is also the functional office for the Community Liaison Office program at embassies.  FLO sets policy for and provides training and guidance to these approximate 170 offices.  This program provides welcoming and orientation services for employees and family members, programs which facilitate integration into the host community, information on the local community ( the community yellow pages), on security, education, spouse employment, and counseling and referral services to those who need a listening ear or referral to professional services. 

Tandem Couples

There are many Foreign Service Officers who are married to other Foreign Service employees.  Such couples are officially designated "tandem couples."  Every effort is made to assign both members of a tandem couple to the same post at the same time. There are times, however, when members of a tandem couple may be assigned to separate posts, or one member may opt to take leave without pay to avoid family separation.

Education of Dependents

The Foreign Service strives to assist parents to meet the educational needs of their children, both financially and with advice and information about schools and educational programs. The Department of State aids approximately 175 American-sponsored schools around the world. These schools compare favorably with most schools in the United States.

At posts without American-sponsored schools, local schools can often provide a good education for American children. The Department, through its Office of Overseas Schools, maintains detailed summaries of the quality of education provided at about 450 elementary and secondary schools overseas.

The Foreign Service defrays the costs of educating children overseas through education allowances. The education allowance enables children to receive a level of education comparable to that provided without charge by public schools in the United States. This allowance is designed to cover the costs of tuition at the least expensive adequate schools at post.

In some places, adequate educational facilities, particularly at the high school level, may be unavailable. At such posts, parents will have to determine whether their children's educational needs can be met through a correspondence course or whether their children should be enrolled in a school away from post. Adequate facilities do not exist at many posts for learning disabled children.

If adequate schools are not available at post, a separate "away from post" allowance is provided to cover the costs of tuition, room and board, and periodic transportation for children between post and school. Depending on the school chosen, the away-from-post allowance may not cover all of these costs.


The Foreign Service is dedicated to a policy of obtaining the best possible medical care for its employees and their families in all parts of the world. Nevertheless, local medical support is uneven and, in some posts, virtually nonexistent. In an effort to care for the special health needs of Foreign Service Officers and their families, the Office of Medical Services operates a special medical program to provide additional health services to officers and their families serving in overseas posts.

In brief, the Foreign Service will pay any medical expenses not covered by standard health insurance plans for health problems that require hospitalization and that occur while a Specialist and his or her family are overseas on government orders. The government provides similar coverage for medical difficulties that arise in the United States, but which are a result of an overseas assignment. This coverage does not include outpatient care, unless that outpatient care is a part of the treatment of a condition for which the patient was hospitalized.

If adequate medical care cannot be provided at post, the Department's Office of Medical Services can authorize a medical evacuation, either to the United States or to the nearest designated point where care can be provided.

Finally, the Office of Medical Services authorizes emergency visitation travel. This allows the Foreign Service Officer or his or her spouse to travel to the United States on a one-time basis to attend the funeral of an immediate relative, or to visit an immediate relative suffering from a life-threatening illness.


The State Department invests heavily in security for its employees, their families, and U.S. missions overseas. Unfortunately, terrorist acts and criminal activities do occur, and may affect a family's lifestyle. Thus, Foreign Service families occasionally have to live with certain restrictions at some posts.

The National Foreign Affairs Training Center offers cost-free seminars to Foreign Service Officers and their families regarding the preparations they should make and what precautions they should take in order to reduce security risks while overseas.


The Department of State is committed to equal opportunity and fair and equitable treatment for all without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, disabling condition, political affiliation, marital status, or prior statutory, constitutionally protected activity.

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