Foreign service officers make up the corps of diplomatic professionals that support the work of the U.S. Department of State. Foreign service personnel work in U.S. embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions throughout the world. Their duties include U.S. citizen services, drug control, passport assistance, trade and environmental diplomacy. In return for demanding service, foreign service officers have access to a comprehensive benefits package related to the costs and challenges of working abroad.
Members of the foreign service receive a salary depending on education and years of professional experience. For example, as of 2010 a new foreign service officer without professional work experience and with a bachelor’s degree starts earning $43,213 per year. In comparison, a foreign service officer with a law degree or master’s degree and five years of professional work experience starts earning $56,037 annually. In addition to salary, foreign service officers receive additional allowances depending on the nature and location of a particular assignment.
The State Department provides a series of allowances to help foreign service officers cover the cost of housing. These allowances include the Living Quarters Allowance, the Extraordinary Quarters Allowance and the Temporary Quarters Subsistence Allowance, all of which are tax-free. Housing allowances reimburse foreign service officers for most of cost of temporary or permanent housing arrangements during tours of duty overseas where the federal government does not provide housing.
The State Department pays allowances as an incentive for foreign service officers to assume the duties of a difficult or dangerous assignment. For example, the Danger Pay program compensates foreign service officers working in areas designated as danger pay posts. According to the State Department, the value of danger pay ranges from 15 to 35 percent of basic pay. Similarly, foreign service officers may also qualify for a Post Hardship Differential if the living conditions of a particular assignment are sufficiently different from U.S. living standards. Like danger pay, the hardship differential is a percentage of basic pay.
Cost of Living
The cost of living allowance, formally called the Post Allowance, is based on a percentage of basic pay spent on goods and services. The State Department bases the cost of living allowance on the prices of 11 categories of consumer products like personal care, public transportation, medical costs, furniture, recreation and domestic help. The prices in these categories in an overseas post are compared to prices in Washington, D.C. The foreign service officer is entitled to the cost of living allowance if prices in the overseas post are 3 percent higher than in Washington.
Standard Government Benefits
In addition to benefits specific to the foreign service, employees enjoy additional benefits available to all federal employees. For example, foreign service officers have the option to choose health insurance plans that share costs between the employee and the government. Life insurance options for foreign service officers are available through the federal employees’ Group life Insurance Plan. Premiums under this plan are low because a third of the cost of the insurance is paid by the federal government. In addition, foreign service officers accumulate a maximum of 30 days of annual leave if stationed in the U.S. and up to 45 days for those stationed abroad.