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How Much Do Diplomats Make?

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Bringing Home a U.S. Salary While Working Abroad

Just having diplomacy skills won’t get you into a job as a diplomat in the foreign service. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of State, it’s harder to become a diplomat in the United States than it is to get into Harvard, which makes it difficult for those hoping to spend regular time with their kids. But many people rank it as a dream job, since it can mean a foreign posting, lots of prestige and a decent salary.

Job Description

“Diplomat” is the job title of an officer in the United States Foreign Service. A diplomat can be posted to any of the country’s 270 embassies and consulates around the world. Her duties include working with host countries to promote American interests abroad. The broader job responsibilities are upholding peace and freedom and protecting U.S. citizens.

Specifically, a diplomat’s work is focused on the issues to which she is assigned, which might be world problems such as human trafficking, climate change or fair trade challenges. Diplomats also provide American visas to foreigners and assist United States citizens living or traveling abroad with passports and other consular issues.

The focus of a diplomat’s attention depends in part on which of the five Foreign Service career tracks chosen: consular, economic, management, political or public diplomacy. Consular officers focus on visas and helping Americas abroad. Economic officers work to further United States commercial interests. Management officers work on budget and administrative issues, while public diplomacy officers are charged with setting up cultural programs to communicate U.S. values to the host country residents.

Education Requirements

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree or higher to get into this career, but that alone won’t open all the requisite doors. However, an undergraduate or master’s degree in a relevant field like international relations or political science is a good first step. A degree in a specialized field such as computer science may help you get the job you want.

Keep in mind as you select your major that you’ll have to pass the foreign service exam to stand a chance at a career in foreign service. This is a difficult exam that includes a written exam, an oral interview and negotiation activity. You’ll also have to pass a medical test and an exhaustive background check.

Assuming you get that far, you then must attend an intense 10-week training program at the Department of State’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center. Here, you will learn about diplomacy protocols, study foreign languages and learn the history and culture of different countries.

The mean salary for a diplomat is $85,906, which means that half of all diplomats earn less than this amount, while half earn more. Generally, base salaries run from $48,936 to $157,092. You may get a bonus of up to $24,511 and profit-sharing up to $6,500. While an advanced degree may help your chances of getting selected for this highly competitive job, it isn’t likely to earn you a higher starting salary.

About the Industry

American diplomats work for the U.S. State Department. They are prevented by ethical rules and conflict of interest rules from holding concurrent employment with another industry or company.

Years of Experience

The nationwide average salary for a diplomat is about $93,000, with those just starting out (with five years or less experience) earning 31 percent less and those in mid-career (five to 10 years’ experience) earning 24 percent less. Later in their career, diplomats (10 to 20 years) earn 7 percent more, while those with even more experience (over 20 years) can earn 11 percent more.

Job Growth Trend

Competition is expected to remain stiff for these jobs. However, experts believe available jobs will increase by some 10 percent over the next decade.