Although most federal jobs are located in the United States, upwards of 30,000 Americans are working as civilian employees for the federal government overseas. Some of the top agencies for overseas hiring include the Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of State, Peace Corps, and the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Civilian jobs include all of the same positions you’d find stateside—from administrative to technical to supervisory. If you’re interested in pursuing a career with the feds overseas, here are some basics you should know:
Overseas federal jobs are difficult to get: This is truly an instance where the best-qualified person gets the position (especially if that person is already fluent in an in-demand language). It’s even more difficult to get hired into an overseas job if it’s your first federal position. The government more frequently gives open overseas jobs to career federal workers or Americans already living in the country with an open position.
Some positions require a test or knowledge of a foreign language: If there is not a career employee or American abroad available to take on a foreign position, when the application is opened, it might come with the caveat of a test—this could be a skills/knowledge-based assessment, or, depending on the job, could be physical in nature. You’ll also be expected to pass a background check, which can be very lengthy, so look at your personal and financial situation to ensure that you are able to wait through this process. And sometimes, there are language requirements, and no, two years of high school Spanish probably won’t cut it here. Agencies like USAID and the Peace Corps will often help train you in the local language (mainly through immersion), so they are great places to start if you’d like to move to a specific federal agency that has a language requirement.
The pay structure is slightly different: You will have a base salary overseas commiserate to what you would receive if you were working in the United States. You might also receive something known as post differential, essentially a cost of living allowance. And you’ll get a Living Quarters Allowance, or LQA, if you are not in a post with government-provided housing. LQAs are non-taxable and cover your rent, utilities, and certain home expenses. These are allocated based on family size and pay grade.
Be certain you get the specifics up front: Find out whether your move will be covered (it usually is). And be sure to clarify whether the government will pay for your moving expenses both at the beginning and at the end of your tour. Also find out whether you’ll be receiving an LQA or will be provided with government housing. This might make a difference in what you’ll bring with you to an overseas post. Find out if your family can join you. In most overseas posts, family members are invited, however there are some located in conflict zones that may have restrictions.
You have a lot to gain: With the government covering your housing expenses, you have more money to save for later or to spend traveling throughout the area in which you are posted. You might also learn a new language, receive high demand job skills, and gain a network of colleagues and employers you would not have otherwise had.
But there are many things to think about before making your decision: It might sound fun to live abroad and represent the United States. But it is important to take time to think about your current situation and how that would change overseas. Would your family be able to come with you (are they allowed? Would they want to)? Do you have other important obligations to attend to (a pet or sick relatives)? Emotionally, can you handle living away from family and friends for two years or more? Consider looking for other feds who have worked abroad and find out what challenges they faced, but also how they benefited the experience. This can help you make the most informed decision possible.
Photo by Moyan Brenn on Flickr