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Foreign Service Officer Benefits

by Aurelio Locsin, studioD

Foreign Service officers are the diplomats that represent the U.S. and its interests in foreign locales. They may process paperwork in Paris, write reports in Rarotonga or define diplomatic decorum in Dakar. As employees of the U.S. State Department, they are entitled to all the benefits of federal government workers.


Foreign Service officers receive ten paid federal holidays per year, which include Christmas, New Year’s, Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Officers in foreign countries also receive some local holidays off. They accrue sick leave at the rate of four hours per pay period of two weeks, or 13 days per year, and may take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year for family medical purposes, such as the birth of a child, or the care of a spouse, child or parent. Officers also receive from 13 to 26 days of vacation per year, depending on the number of years served.


Insurance to cover in the medical, vision and dental needs of both officers and their families is available through plans that include health maintenance organizations and fee-for-service options. The government picks up part of the cost with the employee contribution deducted from payroll. Voluntary life insurance comes at group rates from the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance plan, with the government paying for a third of the expense. Finally, officers can obtain long-term care insurance that carries over into retirement.


Because living abroad can incur more expenses than living stateside, the State Department offers several allowance for its employees. Officers receive a per diem allowance to cover lodging, meals and incidentals when on temporary international duty. If they live overseas and government housing is not available, they also receive reimbursement for housing costs. A foreign-transfer allowance takes care of expenses for moving to a new area. In locations where the average cost of goods and services is greater than in Washington, D.C., officers earn cost-of-living additions to their salaries.


As with many government employees, Foreign Service officers receive retirement income from three sources. The first is from Social Security, a contributory plan in which all U.S. workers participate. The second is an annuity to which government employees pay a percentage of their basic pay. The third is a Thrift Savings Plan, which is similar to a 401(k) plan, where the government matches employee contributions. Officers may retire as early as age 50, after 20 years of service. However, they may add to their service credit all the time served in other government posts or in the military, if they received honorable discharges.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.

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