Foreign Service Officer Salary: A Comprehensive Guide (2020 update)

The Foreign Service Officer salary is dynamic and ever-changing. Along with your promotion, each assignment can bring with it different danger pay, hardship pay, and cost-of-living adjustments that affect what you take home.

Depending on international geopolitics, the strength of domestic and national currencies, and the size of your family, to name a few, your salary can rise or decline between posts.

With this resource and the use of interactive maps, this FSO Salary Guide serves as a comprehensive introduction to how your income is determined, and the three primary modifiers that affect it between posts.

Updated January 2020

FSO Salary Ladder

Every organization has a system in place to track seniority, the Foreign Service is no different.

In order to understand this guide, you must first learn the foundation before adding layers to it. Let’s dive in…

You are a brand new Foreign Service Officer. After over a year of going through the application process (test, essays, orals, clearances, and the Register), you finally received an offer to join the State Department.


Among one of the many thoughts running through your mind, you may begin to think about salary. Just how much will I make?

The Foreign Service allocates salaries based on a ‘ladder’ system made up of grades and steps.

As an incoming entry-level FSO, you are eligible for one of three grades

  • FP-4
  • FP-5
  • FP-6

FP-4 is the highest (most senior) of the three grades.

Within each grade, there are 14 steps. Step 1 is the lowest step of each grade and step 14 is the highest.

In short, the lower the grade number the more senior you are. The higher the step number, the more senior you are within that grade. Your salary follows this progression as well: within a grade, the higher the step then the higher your salary.

In table form, it looks like this:

Grade and Step-FSO

As you progress in your career with the Foreign Service, your promotions will follow “up” this ladder.

Takeaway 1: FP-4 is the highest of three entry-level FSO grades (4, 5, or 6).

Takeaway 2: Within each grade, there are 14 steps. Step 1 is the lowest step of each grade and step 14 is the highest – the higher the step, the more senior within that grade.

Determining FSO entry grade and step

Now that you know the basics, let’s determine the grade and step you could enter as a brand new Foreign Service Officer.

This is the biggest and most important chapter, so pay extra close attention!

The Department of State’s Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment determines entry-level FSO’s grade and step in two parts. These parts take into account the level of education attained, your qualifying experience, and your salary prior to joining the Foreign Service.

PART 1: Education and "Qualifying Experience"

The first part is determined by combining the level of education you have achieved and the number of full years of Qualifying Experience (QE) you have attained. The image below, by the Department of State, shows how different combinations affect your grade and step.

Determining Base FSO Salary

The level of education achieved is straightforward, the degree you have in hand. But how is QE determined? The definition of QE is found at the Bureau of Human Resources, and the bulk of it follows:

The employee’s primary duty must be, or must have been, the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment. Advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

Each year of QE is equal to one additional step.

If you do not have a full year of professional experience, your QE rounds down. For example, 2.5 years of experience is considered 2 years of QE.

However, if the addition of QE would put you at a step higher than 14, your step is 14, you do not move to the next grade.

In order to best illustrate a salary from now on in this guide, we will need the help of Sarah, the newest member of the FSO family.

Sarah is in her early thirties, works as a consultant making $69,000, is single, has no children, earned her Master’s degree, and has two years of QE.

Let’s determine what her grade and step are!

First, education. With a Master’s Degree, Sarah will either enter as a grade 4 or 5.

Second, QE. With two years of QE, Sarah falls in the 0-5 ‘full years of QE’ row and column.

Putting it all together, Sarah attains the grade FP-5. To determine her step, we just need to add her two years of QE to the minimum step in the range (i.e. 5).

Sarah’s grade and step are thus FP-5/Step-7.

FSO Base Salary 2

Take a moment and look at the image above to get an idea of what your grade/step may be if you were to enter the Foreign Service today.

Takeaway 3: Entry-level FSO grade and step are determined by combining education achieved and years of QE attained.

Part 2: Attempt to match salary

Once grade and step are calculated, the Bureau of Human Resources’ next attempts to match your current salary.

Once the candidate’s grade and step are determined based on education and qualifying experience, the Registrar will review the candidate’s “current salary” to see if it is higher than the candidate’s projected salary as provided in the Foreign Service “Overseas” Salary Table. If so, the candidate’s starting salary will be raised to the step in the grade for which he/she is qualified that is closest to, but not less than, their current salary. If the current salary is too high to be matched in the Foreign Service grade for which the candidate is qualified, step 14 of that grade is the starting salary.

So what does this mean?

If your initial grade and step result in a loss of salary, you will advance within a grade until you reach a step that corresponds slightly higher than your current salary.

However, if your current salary is higher than the step 14 salary within the grade you were assigned, you will be assigned to step 14. One does not advance to the next highest grade.

If you think about it, that’s really cool on the State Department to make this adjustment.

To help explain this further, let’s take a look at Sarah once more, who currently makes $69,000, and determine how this may affect her salary.

For further illustration, below is the 2020 Foreign Service Salary Table Base Schedule, effective January 5, 2020.

table of Foreign Service base pay

From the steps we completed above, we know Sarah’s grade and step are FP-5/Step-7.

Knowing this, we can determine her base salary: $56,297. You can see this by looking at the below table (red highlighted box).

base pay table foreign service officer with example

But wait! Sarah’s current salary is $69,000. Working as an FSO would mean a loss of $13,000. Fortunately, DOS matches salary and her step should be raised to step 14 within FP-5…right?


Let’s review the above quote once more:

The Registrar will review the candidate’s “current salary” to see if it is higher than the candidate’s projected salary as provided in the Foreign Service “Overseas” Salary Table.

That’s right, we need to look at the “Overseas” table, which is below and has been highlighted at Sarah’s current step and grade.

overseas comparability pay foreign service with example

Taking into account Overseas Comparability Pay, at FP-5/Step-7, Sarah’s salary would be $67,737.

This is still lower than her current $69,000 salary. As such, we need to determine the next step within the grade that has the closest highest salary, which is…?

The very next step! Step 8 has a salary of $69,769.

This means that Sarah’s new entry-level grade and step are FP-5/Step-8.

Go ahead and determine how salary matching affects you!

Takeaway 4: The Bureau of Human Resources will attempt to match your current salary by increasing your step level, up to step 14, within your assigned grade.

PART 3: Promotions

Once you’re in the system, you may wonder about the general process of moving between grades and steps, a.k.a. being promoted.

First, promotions are considered once a year and are based on the needs of the State Department, your performance, and your potential.

There is an exception to this, and that is if you enter the Foreign Service as an FP-4/Step-14, you will not be eligible for a promotion (grade or step) until after you are tenured (the first tenure review is after 36 months). This does not mean you may not receive a salary increase within those three years.

Second, for promotion between grades, it is not a requirement to be at step 14 to advance to the next grade.

Third, when you are promoted between grades you are not promoted to the same step level you currently hold. For example, holding all other things equal, if Sarah is promoted a grade from FP-5/Step-8, she would not be promoted to FP-4/Step-8.

Instead, when you go up a grade your step level is found by finding the step that matches your current salary the closest and then going up two steps or 6%, whichever is greater (Promotion of Foreign Service Members in FAH).

For Sarah, within the next grade, the step that closely matches her current Grade/Step is FP-4/Step-1 (Base salary at FP-5/Step-8 is $57,986, base salary at FP-4/Step-1 is $58,186.

The following table helps illustrate this movement:

overseas pay foreign service promotion example

We must then compare our two options, and choose the greater of the two: (1) go up two steps or (2) 6%.

A 6% raise is $61,677.

A two Step increase (FP-4/Step 3) is $61,730.

The two Step increase is greater, and Sarah would be promoted to FP-4/Step 3.

Takeaway 5: Promotions are considered once a year.

Takeaway 6: If promoted to a new grade, the step you are assigned will first correlate with your former step salary, not the step number.

In the next three chapters, we will talk about the three most common allowances that affect all FSOs.

Foreign Service Officer Danger Pay Allowance

Unfortunately, not all assignments are safe and some carry extra danger.

I bet if you think really hard… you’ll figure out a few of them.

The State Department thanks you for taking on these dangerous assignments by bumping your pay.

Thanks, Uncle Sam!

PART 1: What is danger pay allowance?

Danger pay allowance may be the monetary supplement most of you have heard.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen… get sent to one of these countries, and the question of whether or not you will be paid more for it will definitely cross your mind.

And the answer is YES.

Which posts are considered dangerous, and not just difficult, is an important distinction. Additionally, the State Department defines danger pay with the understanding that this designation can change depending on the current state of affairs in that country.

For a post to be designated for danger pay allowance, it must be:

Established by the Secretary of State when, and only when, civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of a majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at a post or country/area in a foreign area.

Further, to earn danger pay, you must first spend 4 cumulative hours at that post. After the four-hour mark, you will receive a danger pay allowance for the full day.

This means if you fly into Yemen from Egypt, do three hours of work, and then are wheels up before the four-hour mark, you do not receive danger pay.

Danger pay designation, and the amount of allowance, is reviewed annually.

For more information, visit the online page on the rules and stipulations concerning danger pay.

PART 2: Danger pay allowance rates

Danger pay allowance is a taxable supplement that is designated at 15%, 25%, or 35% and is based on overseas comparability pay.

The more dangerous a post, the higher the allowance you receive.

Seventeen countries are currently allocated with danger pay allowances, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen.

Instead of just listing the countries and their allowances (boring), below you will find an interactive map you can play with.

Color-coded, you can visualize the different danger pay posts (the darker the shade of red, the higher the danger pay allocation), and see which countries share the same danger pay allowance.

Additionally, if you hover over Yemen, then Iraq will change to a light blue color to represent that it shares the same danger pay allowance (as will the others that share the same allocation).

Going back to our recent FSO employee, if Sarah were stationed in Nicaragua her danger pay allowance would be 15%. With overseas comparability pay of $69,769, a 15% allowance comes out to $10,465.

If you would like to see a complete listing you can view the Department of State Danger Pay Allowance Table.

Takeaway 7: Danger pay allowance, if given, is set at 15%, 25%, or 35% of overseas comparability pay and is initiated when a majority of employees stationed in a post are under conditions that threaten physical harm due to political upheaval.

Two disclaimers regardings the maps

1. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Bhutan, Iran, North Korea, and Syria. These countries are left “blank” (i.e., appear ‘off white’ on the maps).

2. The allowances allocated to the countries in all the maps on this page are the allowances allocated to where the U.S. Embassy, or the predominant U.S. diplomatic mission, is located. For example, Bamako, Mali has a danger pay allowance of 25% and this is what is attributed in the map above. However, if you are posted somewhere else in Mali, the danger pay may be higher.

Foreign Service Officer Hardship Post Allowance

Citizens in the U.S. are fortunate to live in a country with a higher standard of living compared to others, and her people have grown accustomed to a higher standard of living.

Posts that are designated with hardship allowance, are much more common. However, unlike danger pay, hardship doesn’t mean life-threatening.

For example, is the country’s pollution too toxic? If it is, then here is a bonus for you…

PART 1: What is hardship post allowance?

As defined by the Office of Allowances, a hardship differential is established:

For any place when, and only when, the place involves extraordinarily difficult living conditions, excessive physical hardship, or notably unhealthful conditions affecting the majority of employees officially stationed or detailed at that place. Living costs are not considered in the differential determination.

In order for hardship post differential to begin, an FSO must be stationed and living at a post for at least 42 continuous days. On the 43rd day, hardship post differential will begin and the FSO will also be paid the differential for the previous 42 days.

Hardship post allowance allocation is reviewed at least biennially.

PART 2: Hardship post allowance rates

Like danger pay, hardship post is a taxable allowance and ranges from 0-35% of overseas comparability pay.

If Sarah were stationed in China, her hardship post allowance would be 20%. With overseas comparability pay of $69,769, a 20% allowance is $13,954.

Take a look at the map and let me know your thoughts are on hardship allowance.

If you would like to see a complete list you can view the Department of State Hardship Post Allowance Table.

Takeaway 8: Hardship post allowance ranges from 0-35% of overseas comparability pay and is broadly based on unhealthy living conditions, which are measured at least biennially.

Foreign Service Officer Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA)

Compared to the rest of the world, many goods in the U.S. can be bought for cheap – again, she is a land of plenty.

Some countries though, especially once you take into consideration geographic location (think islands) or currency conversion, are quite expensive to make a living at.

Gas costs how much?! Oh my, here’s some extra $$$.

PART 1: What is a Cost-of-Living Allowance?

A cost-of-living allowance (COLA) differs from the previous two allowances by not being a percentage of your overseas comparability pay, and it is also not taxable.

Instead, COLA is a percentage of spendable income, which is the portion of salary used to purchase the goods and services in the cost of living “market basket”.

The market basket is an index of categories comprising of percentage weights comparing the costs of goods and services in foreign posts to the costs of goods and services in Washington, D.C.

COLA is granted to an FSO who is officially stationed at an overseas post where the cost of living, excluding housing and education, is “substantially higher than in Washington, D.C.” (at least 3% more).
More information on the rules and stipulations concerning COLA can be found here.

The “market basket” includes the following categories:

  • Recreation
  • Transportation
  • Food at Home
  • Food Away from Home
  • Household Furnishing and Operations
  • Medical Care
  • Auto Purchase
  • Clothing
  • Alcohol and Tobacco
  • Personal Care
  • Domestic Service

These weighted categories are then compared to those of foreign posts. The categories remain the same, but the weights may differ.

The quarterly reports by the U.S. Department of State go into the methods of how each figure was determined. For further detail, the following is from the U.S. Department of State’s Indexes of Living Costs Abroad January 2014 Report that helps explain the comparison further:

To compute the indexes, the average price of each item on the Retail Price Schedule for the foreign post is converted into U.S. dollars using the prevailing foreign currency exchange rate. The foreign price is then divided by the average price of the corresponding item on the Washington, D.C. schedule to obtain a ratio of the foreign price to the Washington, D.C. price… To obtain foreign post expenditure weights, the basic expenditure pattern weights for the Washington, D.C. area are adjusted to reflect necessary modifications in consumption made by Americans living abroad. For some posts, weights for major expenditure categories are increased… These weight adjustments increase the base expenditure weights so that they total more than 100 index points.

To determine these weights, foreign posts complete a Retail Price Schedule once every four years.

The greater the weight then the higher the COLA allocated to spendable income.

Not every post will have a COLA, but the majority of posts do.

Fun fact: the highest COLA is currently allocated to Zimbabwe at 70% of spendable income!

If you would like to see complete listings you can view the Department of State COLA Table.

PART 2: Spendable income

Now that you know how percentages are derived, and how COLA compares internationally, let’s take a look at how your spendable income is determined.

Annual spendable income is determined by your base pay and family size.

Let’s revisit Sarah once more. Sarah has a base pay of $57,986, is single, and has no children.

spendable income state department

Given the information we have on Sarah, her annual spendable income is $24,800.

PART 3: COLA Example

If Sarah were posted in Australia, her COLA would be 25% of spendable income ($24,800), which comes out to $6,200. This income is then added to her pay.

Takeaway 9: COLA is a percentage of your spendable income and is not taxable.

Takeaway 10: As your base pay increases and (possibly) the number of persons in your family, so too will your annual spendable income.

Hardship pay, danger pay, and COLA - putting it all together

Just like a puzzle, by putting together a little bit of information we now have a better understanding of what goes into the FSO salary.

Let’s see the image we are creating by combining everything we have learned into one final map.

We’ve now discussed the three major allowances that affect a Foreign Service Officer’s salary: Hardship pay, danger pay, and Cost-of-living.

Quite a bit of information!

From reading the sections above, you know how each allowance is allocated to each country and how each country stacks up against each other.

This information individually is already interesting, but viewing the entire picture at once makes for an exciting analysis.

The map below is a comparison of the diplomatic posts that takes the information above and adds it up.

One last time, to our new Foreign Service Officer Sarah:

Sarah has just completed the first part of her training in Washington, D.C., and on ‘Flag Day’ finds out she will be posted in Nairobi, Kenya.


Now let’s try and determine what her salary (at minimum) will be from the information we have learned above.

Base SalaryAmountExplanation
Base Salary:$57,986FP-5/Step-8
Overseas Pay:$69,769Overseas Comparability Pay
Danger Pay:$0No danger pay
Hardship Pay:$13,95420% of overseas pay
COLA:$2,48010% of spendable income: $23,700
Total$86,203Overseas Pay + allowances

The combined map below will help to visualize all this information.

When you scroll over a country you will see two outputs. The first is the annual salary Sarah would receive if she were stationed there. The second is the percentage increase in salary when compared to her overseas comparability pay.

I find this dynamic map to be very interesting and I hope you do too. There is just so much information! For instance, all four of these countries have the same salary, and yet are in different parts of the world: Algeria, Greenland, India, and Indonesia.

Also, just in case you are wondering, the nine posts with the highest percentage increases are:

RankCountrySalary% Inc.
1SOUTH SUDAN$125,53480%

The complete list

There is a lot of information found in salary comparisons. For complete review, I urge you to look at this spreadsheet I have made available for you:

A complete review of salary distribution.


Well, that does it. Phew…

There is still a lot that goes into salary, and we have not even gone into the benefits… and we won’t.

BUT, I do suggest reading the conclusion as there are some important bits of information in there concerning this guide and other details.

Thanks for reading!

This guide should be used as a launching pad to any other questions you have on the Foreign Service Officer’s salary. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can return for reference and click on the external links.

I put this resource together because I could not find one location discussing all the information above. Instead, there were many sources describing only separate parts. Now, a comprehensive guide exists.

For those who have not read the “about” page, it is important to note that I am not an employee of the State Department. However, the information and figures used are accurate as of the posting date.

I do my best to make sure the information is reliable, but please speak with the Office of Allowances for more detailed questions on salary and the factors the affect it.

Having read this guide, you should now understand how to determine your base salary, overseas comparability pay, and the three primary allowances that affect all FSO salaries.

However, there are other allowances that will alter your salary between posts.

Three examples not discussed in this guide are:

Again, for questions outside of the allowances discussed in this post, please contact the Office of Allowances. Otherwise, I am happy to have a go with any questions you have.

If you are not in the Foreign Service but interested in joining, I hope this information has been useful to you! If you are in the Foreign Service, I look forward to your insights.

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76 thoughts on “Foreign Service Officer Salary: A Comprehensive Guide (2020 update)”

  1. Hello! Great post and thanks for sharing. I wanted to ask what counts as qualifying experience? Is there a list? For example I work as an insurance agent at a company that only hires people with a bachelor’s degree. You are required to make judgements based on legal information fro
    each state you are licensed in. I’m licensed in 30 states. Would they count this as qualifying experience? Because you could probably get a job doing the same thing without a degree at another company. Do we have to prove the company only hires those with a degree?

  2. Is all the salary information the same for DS agents? Does law enforcement count as qualifying experience?
    Thanks for the guide

    1. It is slightly different for agents. We all start at FP6 (the steps vary wildly based on your experience and education). And then after a year you move to FP 5, and after 18 months you move to FP4. Those two moves are all but guaranteed unless you have put yourself on some sort of probation. After that, it is competitive. We also get an extra 25% LEAP (Law Enforcement Availability Pay).

  3. ok but what if you have two master degrees? one in international affairs and one in business? does it make a difference? or will they ony count the first master degree?

  4. Thank you. I did not see any explanation on the overseas comparability pay [OCP](when it is applied nor how it is calculated). My own (insufficient research) says that OCP = 20.xx% of your base pay. The rate (20.xx%) is 2/3 of the Washington DC locality rate (which is about 30.yy%). but really, I am not certain. Can anyone please correct me?

  5. It looks like the salary calculation excel sheet is broken. Any chance you could update the link? Thanks so much for these resources, Jack!

  6. Does Qualified Experience mean that you need to be working in the field that you got your degree in?

  7. Hello, I just started working for the VA Hospital near me (this week) as a Registered Nurse. Does this raise / pay increase apply to nurses working at VA? We are on a different pay scale vs non-nurses. Couldn’t get a straight answer today during oreintation.

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  9. Can you remove the protection on the spreadsheet, as some of the % in there are not accurate anymore for some countries, for proper calculations?

  10. The explanation of the education component is NOT entirely accurate. For example, not all masters degrees count towards the grade. Only applicable masters seem to count (I don’t really know how to precisely define “applicable”). For example, I have a Masters in Teaching (MAT), but that did not get me inserted into FP-5. I was still evaluated as an FP-6.

  11. I’m planning on taking the 2020 exam. Not sure where I would stand financially as I’m an oddball candidate.

    No college at all but I’ve been successful in the business world. I started 3 companies over the last 10 years and my current salary is 200K+ not including bonuses. I know I’ll never make that kind of money as an FSO, but where would I fall? I have ample experience managing large groups of diverse professionals, balancing large budgets, negotiations, and assembling effective group compositions to create efficient teams.

    I think my unique skill set and life experience would make me a valuable FSO, but with no college and just my life experience, how would I be viewed? Would someone like me even have a chance at getting in?

    1. You would be, as you say, an oddball, but it’s not impossible to get in. There are people without degrees currently serving in the FS; they got in and so could you. The last time I checked the stats most people had a Bachelor degree and the next largest group had a Master degree…very few had no degree or PhD.

  12. This post is wonderful! Thank you so much for laying it out like this. Fabulous rabbit hole to get lost in while waiting for Final Suitability Review and having fun planning out future possibilities 🙂

  13. Aside from annual inflation adjustment on the salaries, how can someone who comes in as a FP-04 step 14 get addition money each year during the 3 years before tenure?

    In the regular GS system, once a person hits Step 10 that’s it. Every annual bump is from inflation adjustments only if promotions or other higher grade opportunities aren’t available.

  14. Thanks for the update. I was just looking at the old post about a week ago, and I got the email today about the update. Thanks for your continued hard work.

    Jason P

  15. I am currently employed by the Legislative Branch and about to finish my 20th year of service. Would my current salary of $128,000 from the U.S. Senate carry over to the State Department as a new foreign service officer?

  16. 13+ years of experience in another USG agency. BSc, MBA, and almost done with my Doctorate. Interested in joining DOS as Generalist. Currently at a high GS-13, is there the possibility to be recruited as FS-2 at a mid-grade? Thanks.

    1. None. Welcome to Entry Level Officer if you manage to get through the hiring process. You will be maxed at EL which is a FS 4 step 14.

    2. Don’t take my word for it – but you have an MBA, so you could look into special roles GSO, HRO, FMO and possibly move into a generalist Mgmt cone role (in 10 years), without going all the way back down to FS-4.

  17. I’m considering joining the foreign service. I have a master’s degree and 8 years of experience — does that mean I would start at FP-4/Step 13? That seems quite high — is it realistic?

    1. Why would that seem high? These salaries, particularly at the lower end of the scale, are quite low for starting salaries for younger people with little work history and only a bachelor’s degree. Typical starting salaries for recent college graduates is now in the range of $45-50k nationally. For someone with advanced education and time in the workforce (especially on the coasts) the salary for FP-4/Step 13 is not terribly high unless compared to helping professions with lower pay structures.

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  20. Thank you so much for posting this guide! My dream is to become a Foreign Service Officer. Currently, I am a federal employee at the GS-7 level, but (by the end of this year) I will be converted to a GS-9. Does this give me step up in the pay grade scale? I obtained my bachelor’s degree in 2016, and I joined the government a couple of months ago—I plan to take the FSOT in October.

  21. marvin mohammed nii kwatei quartey

    I just join the FS. I actually got back to 70,002 plus 12% (8640.24) = 80,642.24.

    1. I work as a contractor for Forest Service, Can you assist me in finding something more permanent in foreign service and how hard is it to get this type of position?

  22. Just few quick comments, one was mentioned above, but I’ll confirm it. As Coralie Hynes mentioned, promotions are a 2 step increase (or 3% increase twice, if you’re step 13 or 14) in your -current- grade. Then you find the lowest step in the next grade that is above that amount. So in your example:

    Sara is promoted from 5.8, she looks at the step 5.10 (58,314) and then finds the lowest step in grade 4 that is still higher (4.3). That matches your example, but people promoted from grade 5 step 1-6 would only go to 4 step 1 (not 4 step 3). Step 5.14 promotes to 4.9.

    Also, you do not have to be tenured to be promoted. Generally you get tenured first, but it is not required. I know a GS Specialist who got denied tenure at his 2 year mark, promoted that same year, and then gained tenure this 3rd year.

    Finally, “base salary” for COLA calculations includes OCP. So in your example above, Sara would receive $26,900 in COLA, not $23,700.

  23. Chrysta Nightengale

    Do you have information on pay adjustments (if there are any) for converting from civil service to foreign service? I’m thinking of applying to the IMS position but am currently a GS-14. The IMS pay scale is considerably lower. Do you know where I can find information on what adjustments are available?

    1. Federal employees with no-gap-in-service are given pay matching within grade. A GS-14 would come in as a grade 5, step 14. You are also eligible for Skills Incentive Pay (SIP) after 6 months instead of the normal 12 months.

        1. At least 20 years old and no older than 59 years of age on the day the candidate submits the registration

          At least 21 years old and not yet 60 on the day the candidate is appointed as a Foreign Service Officer

  24. Fantastically helpful post. Thank you so much!
    I am curious, does military experience count towards QE? Also, do you know if the military retirement system is the same as the FSO retirement system?

  25. Hi, thank you so much for this wonderful guide! It’s been very helpful to me and others in the same boat.

    About the promotion-related salary increases…Have you confirmed the math with an FSO or with DOS? I just read the regs and it looks like the 6% and “two-step” calculations are done in the current grade (i.e., the one from which you are promoted, not the next one to which you were promoted). I don’t think it changes the result in your example, but the numbers are different. But, if you take the example of a person getting promoted from a 4-4…. Doing the calculation the way you explain, that person would end up with a 3-3 (a 19% raise). However, if you do the calculation according to the regs, that person gets a 3-1 (a 12.9% raise).

    I’m a first-timer, here, so maybe worth confirming with another party?

  26. Wow! This is the best resource I have seen on this topic. Thank you for creating a comprehensive guide that we can all rely on to clearly lay out the information we need. This site has been immensely beneficial for me and I look forward to seeing what you post next!

  27. Great Resource! Thanks for putting this together. I noticed most of the information is from 2014. Any chance for updates to current allowances? Also, I would be cool if there were a setting on the maps to manually enter current pay step/grade and COLA amounts to do personal research.

    1. I have this as one of my goals for this year and will definitely work on it. Also, I do like your idea for an input method for people, I will try and work on that for the next iteration of this post. Thanks!

        1. You need to allow the page to run the scripts for the maps. Depending on what browser you use the place where you do that will differ. In Chrome (what I use) a small shield icon will appear in the address/search bar that you can click on and tell the page to run the scripts. You may need to refresh after that in order for the maps to show up. But that’s what I did and the maps work just fine for me.

  28. Is this the same scale for consular officers? I have seen some conflicting information about the differences between the consular career track and the others. Thanks!

  29. Hi – Excellent and exceptional concept. I work with the Office of Allowances, and most of the info here is good, and it is especially nice that you provide links to the source material. I see just two problems with the information here – one is minor, the other is major.

    The minor issue is that you link to the DOD’s Retail Price Schedule info for COLA surveys. The State Department uses their own survey system, their own business rules, and establishes their own list of items. This is minor because the differences between the items in the DOD and DOS surveys are trivial, and at least the DOD link gives you an idea of how the data is gathered.

    The major issue has to do with how you have reported the allowance pay here. The maps are definitely super cool. However, most allowance pay is based on locations, not countries (not even Posts). For example, you have listed that the UK receives COLA of 80% of spendable income. That isn’t really true. As of the date of this comment, London (which is an official Post) receives 70%. But if your assignment is in Liverpool, then you’re getting 42%. If you’re in Bath, you receive 25%. You can see these rates by clicking your link to the Office of Allowances’ “Post (Cost of Living) Allowance” chart. This is true not only for COLA pay, but for all allowance pay. It all depends on the exact location to which you are assigned, not the country, and not even necessarily the Post (unless, of course, you are indeed assigned to the Post city).

    Again though, you’ve done a fantastic job with the presentation. The Department’s Foreign Service Institute should hire you to present this to all new Foreign Service Officers and Specialists!

    1. Thank you for the comment! I am happy to hear a positive review from the Office of Allowance!

      For the first problem you mention, that’s good to know! If you send me the link I will try and make the appropriate updates!

      As for the second, you are absolutely correct that allowances very by location within a country. In order to show the information the best way possible, I decided to only crunch the numbers for where the major diplomatic mission within the country is. A note is made in the second disclaimer, under the very first map, discussing this. Also, this post is over a year old and I am sure some of the percentages have changed by now.

      Thanks again for the note! I’m happy to help if you want to pass my name along! 🙂

  30. Regarding current professional salary that may need to be matched as a base entry salary as a FSO. Is this amount based on your gross monthly salary or you salary after taxes are taken out?

  31. Excellent guide! Thank you for writing it! I was finally able to understand how it works out there 😀

  32. Shauri Quinn Dewey

    I am the wife of an fso and have never understood how or what he gets paid–this is amazing. I wonder if you know what percentage you get as a special assistant in DC? I heard you get 15% extra–is that on top of the 22.4% for locality in DC? Thanks!

  33. Jason Previlon

    I’m a high school student’ by recently realized that I want to be an FSO. This guide was super helpful.

  34. Sarah, excellent job in laying out all the components of the ‘bigger picture’ of FSO compensation. Just a question – do you know if pension and the Thrift Savings match is computed on the base or on the base+allowances? If on the base, these allowances still serve as a good opportunity for folks to invest add’l retirement funds outside the TSP. Another perk is student loan repayment- that’s huge for anyone still paying these down.

  35. Hi Jack,
    I’ll echo everyone else and say great job! Also, “nextyearatFSI” alluded to this, but the table that State uses to match salaries isn’t the “base salary” table that you used, but rather the “overseas salary” table. The overseas increase is 16.52% so it’s a significant difference.

    This information is buried but you can find it here: http://careers.state.gov/work/benefits/fso#salary
    and here:

    Nevertheless, awesome job! Good luck with the whole crazy process.

  36. From my contact I spoke with in HR/REE, the final appointment salary for part two is presented based on the overseas pay chart not base schedule for matching and what grade/step you’d be

    1. This is super informative and detailed. Could you clarify if this same salary determination methodology for State FSOs applies to USAID FSOs? Again, very much appreciate your insights.

  37. This is excellent. I have one question, though. My understanding is that promotions from one grade to another (say, from grade 6 to grade 5) did carry an increase calculated by looking two steps higher than your current step in your current grade, then placing you in the closest step (rounded up) in the higher grade. Otherwise, full-grade promotions would carry a very small salary increase. Am I wrong in this? Did it used to be that way and has changed?

  38. I found this post via Shawn’s Foreign Service Test blog. I love the maps. This is a very good post and it looks like it took you a while to make it that comprehensive and clear.

    I was wondering though if the allowances were not added to the base salary rather than the full salary after locality pay. The calculation of the COLA seems to have one zero too many.

    Like Shawn mentioned, the salary is almost the tip of the iceberg. Some hardship places won’t be hardship for you and Europe is a hardship for a bigger portion of FSOs than you would think – for various reasons. Also promotions are VERY different depending on your cone and working conditions too, like after tenure overtime does not exist for generalists but does exist for some specialists …

    Catherine – Culture Shock at travelingcat22.wordpress.com

  39. Jack, this is very awesome. I’m on the Consular Register now and looking through this just made my day. You made this so easy to understand, thank you for putting this all together!

    1. Thanks Sarah and I’m happy to hear you found it useful! Feel free to pass it on to others. It would be great if you can let me know if the process diverges at all once you are offered a position from the Register! All the best and hope you hear soon from State.

  40. Great post. One topic of interest I didn’t see addressed is pay setting for current Federal employees choosing to enter the FS. Particularly, pay setting for DC vs non-DC workers.

    1. Hi RF, you’re right that wasn’t touched on and is something I can definitely add in the future. I do know different cities within the US have different locality pays. For instance DC is 24.22%, San Francisco I believe is around 35%, and Memphis is lower than DC, which all affect salary. Most likely you use the base schedule for federal employees ( http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/salary-tables/14Tables/html/GS.aspx ) and are either (1) your current base salary is matched to the FSO salary, or (2) you go through the same steps as above to determining FSO base salary for entry level FSOs, which I think is more likely. If you have an idea just let me know, I am happy to add a section on it.

  41. Did you make those dynamic maps yourself? They’re amazing. Is there any way to adjust them for different grades and steps? That would be amazing, too.

    1. Thanks Joe! The skin and bones of the map is by amcharts. They provide dynamic Javascript maps and graphs- customer service is also really helpful. Thankfully I have some background in Java, CSS, and HTML and was able to alter the details to suit the needs of this post. I am actually really excited with the way they turned out!

      As for changing them to show different grades and steps, I think that’s a great idea! It’s just a little out of my knowledge (at the moment) though. Definitely will keep it in mind as this blog grows.

  42. This is an incredible post. I found it through Shawn’s Foreign Service Test page. Good luck with getting into the FS. I’m still trying to get in there myself. Thanks for the comprehensive guide. I think you would make a stellar Management Officer (if that is your preferred track) because of the way you explained this detailed information.

    1. Thanks zzdiplomat! It continues to be a goal to get into the FS. I have to wait until June to take the test again and will hopefully move on to the next round. Perseverance my friend… I actually go back and forth on the management and political track. A lot of the work I do now is management, but my background is political science. Will have to think deeply about it before June. If there is any way I can help as we both work towards being FSOs, just let me know.

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