Foreign Service Officer  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotForeign service officers are diplomats who perform many important duties. Their specific responsibilities depend on the branch of the foreign service in which they serve. They may inform their home country of political and economic developments in their host country, help fellow citizens who are traveling abroad, evacuate refugees, or explain and defend their homeland's foreign policy.

There are just over 12,000 American foreign service officers. Of those, 7,000 are generalists and 5,000 are specialists, says Sara Rosenberry. She's a senior foreign service officer and is responsible for assessing foreign service applicants.

The specific duties of U.S. foreign service officers depend on which career track they choose. They can be generalists or specialists. For generalists, there are consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy tracks.

dotHere's how the State Department describes the five tracks:

  • Consular: Consular officers protect Americans abroad and strengthen U.S. border security.
  • Economic: Economic officers work on economic partnerships and development, support U.S. businesses abroad, and cover environmental, science, technology and health issues.
  • Management: Management officers run our embassies and make American diplomacy work.
  • Political: Political officers analyze political events.
  • Public Diplomacy: Public diplomacy officers explain American values and policies.

Specialists have various job titles. These could include diplomatic security officer, information specialist, regional medical officer, construction engineer and many more.

dotU.S. foreign service officers may work in one of 269 missions around the world or in Washington, D.C. They must go where they are most needed, which is often in developing countries.

While the traveling may sound glamorous, you should carefully consider if it's for you. Culture shock can be tough to deal with. Travel experience and knowledge of a foreign language can help a lot.

"If they have basic [foreign language] ability, that's a big advantage," says Thomas Switzer with the American Foreign Service Association. "That means people can parachute into a crisis and... go to work on day one and not suffer that natural culture shock."

dot The typical workday for a foreign service officer varies. Sometimes it's a 9-to-5 job, and sometimes special circumstances require more time.

For those yearning to see the world while serving their country, a career in the foreign service can be a dream come true.

"Some days you have to pinch yourself when you think of how exceptional a life we end up living," says Rosenberry.

At a Glance

Represent your country abroad

  • Foreign service officers represent the United States in over 150 different countries
  • You'll have to live in another country
  • No specific degree is required, but most candidates do have an advanced degree