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Foreign Service Officers

Career summary

Foreign service officers represent the United States throughout the world. They help Americans who live or travel abroad and help promote American foreign policy. Some work to support American business interests.

Foreign service officers (FSOs) work in embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions in countries all over the world.

FSOs do many different types of jobs. Some FSOs are responsible for protecting Americans who live and work overseas. They also help to resolve:

When necessary, FSOs issue travel warnings and announcements regarding the country where they are working. Some FSOs manage meetings and plan VIP visits when the President, Secretary of State, or Senators visit the country.

FSOs also work with countries to develop trade agreements and foreign business opportunities by meeting people in the country, learning the laws, and promoting American businesses.

FSOs work in over 270 embassies, consulates, and missions around the world. Some countries are difficult and even dangerous to work in. Many FSOs are assigned to countries that are unfamiliar to them. Before leaving for the country, they learn about the country's politics, economics, and language.

Because FSOs interact daily with people from the country, they also receive training in local customs and holidays. For example, FSOs working in the Middle East learn the proper way to shake hands so they won't offend people when they greet them.

FSOs watch and listen for events and information that will help the government make decisions. They read local newspapers and attend social and political events. They are also expected to represent the United States and share knowledge of American history, society, values, and way of life.

Related careers

This career is part of the Government and Public Administration cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study to consider


To work as a foreign service officer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

A bachelor's degree is not required. However, most FSO candidates have a bachelor's degree. About 75 percent of those hired recently have a master's or doctoral degree. Many FSOs have an advanced degree in public administration, international relations, history, or law.

Work experience

Certain types of work experience can help you qualify for this occupation. The US Department of State is looking for people who have experience doing one or more of the following:

On-the-job training

New FSOs go through a training course at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Virginia before they start their job. This training introduces them to the Foreign Service. They learn about the mission and structure of the Department of State. They also learn about working and living in a foreign country. When they know which country they will work in, they get training in the language, culture, politics, and economics of that country. Overall, newly hired foreign service officers can expect to spend three months to one year in training before they move to their first overseas job. Once they begin work in a country, they are assigned a sponsor at work and a community sponsor to help them learn their new job and adjust to the country and lifestyle of a FSO.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link).

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community are here (PDF file).

Things to know

Foreign service officers must decide at the beginning of their career which career track they will take in the Foreign Service. The five tracks are:

Additional things to know:

Other resources

National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (external link)
1029 Vermont Avenue NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20005
United States Department of State (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

DOT occupation

Holland occupational cluster