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The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released online from January 1, 1997 to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for current material from the Department of State. Or visit http://2001-2009.state.gov for information from that period. Archive sites are not updated, so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
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 specialists and their families. Foreign Service Specialists and their families move frequently, and many of the moves will require adjustments to new cultures, languages, and environments.

Moving from Washington to Ouagadougou to Islamabad is not the same as moving from Peoria to Boston to Los Angeles. For this reason, potential Foreign Service Specialists 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.

Spousal Employment

Spouses of Foreign Service Specialists may be 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 hard or even impossible to find employment in some countries. Nevertheless, many spouses are able to lead challenging and satisfying careers while moving around the world.

The Department of State operates the Family Liaison Office in Washington, D.C., to help spouses identify employment overseas. The Family Liaison Office provides spouses with the employment services listed below:

- Career planning workshops;
- Employment counseling;
- Guidance on resume preparation;
- Information on job opportunities; and
- Job referrals

In addition to the services presented above, the Family Liaison Office operates an automated skills bank to record the skills and experiences of spouses seeking employment overseas or in the Washington area. By utilizing the skills bank, the Family Liaison Office is able to inform potential employers at the post to which the spouse will be going prior to his or her arrival at post.

Finally, the Family Liaison Office has negotiated bilateral work agreements with more than 77 countries. These agreements allow dependents of U.S. employees stationed abroad to seek employment on the local economy. In addition to the bilateral work agreements that have been formally concluded, the Family Liaison Office has negotiated de facto agreements with many additional countries. These agreements allow dependents to work on the local economy, subject to certain restrictions.

Tandem Couples

Foreign Service Specialists frequently marry 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. At times, however, members of a tandem couple may be assigned to separate posts.

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, which 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 Department of State 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 school 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 though a correspondence course or whether their children should be enrolled in a school away from post.

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.


The Foreign Service is dedicated to a policy of providing 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 more isolated locations, families must depend on their own resourcefulness to handle minor ailments.

In an effort to care for the special health needs of Foreign Service personnel and their families, the Office of Medical Services operates a medical program to provide additional health protection to personnel 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 Office of Medical Services can authorize medical evacuations, either to the United States or to the nearest designated point where care can be provided.

The Office of Medical Services also authorizes emergency visitation travel. Emergency visitation travel is designed to allow one person to travel to the United States 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 to provide 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 Specialists and their families regarding what 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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