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How Long to Become a Foreign Service Special Agent?

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The Foreign Service is made up of officers who represent the United States abroad in its embassies and consulates. The five areas these officers work in are consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy. Foreign Service Special agents fall under another category called diplomatic security. They are law enforcement officers charged with the protection of Foreign Service personnel on duty.


Foreign Service Special Agent openings are announced on a need basis. There are a limited number of positions available and the U.S. State Department requests applications as more candidates are required due to retirement or other reasons. There is no way to know when a recruitment period will begin or end and thus the wait for a chance to apply can be the greatest factor in your wait to join the Foreign Service.

Online Screening

The first step in joining the diplomatic security force as a Special Agent is to complete the mandatory online screening process. This process can be completed in just over one hour but is only available to applicants during a designated recruitment period. To pass the screening you must be a U.S. citizen, have a bachelor's degree, be between the ages of 17 and 37, be able to obtain top-level clearance, gain medical clearance for service and available for a global posting.


If you successfully pass the online screening you must then submit a full application for consideration. The application may take some time to complete since it must include your resume, checklist of all requirements for the job, a two-page autobiography and statement of intent and your official college transcripts. Once received your application is assessed and a decision on your suitability is made. If accepted, you will be invited to an oral exam session.

Oral Exams

A three-hour oral exam is required, which consists of a 20-minute written test, 25-minute oral test, 50-minute case study written test and a 50-minute oral assessment. If you pass all aspects of the exam, you will be placed on to a list of accepted candidates to receive assignment when an opening arises. Oral exams are held in cities throughout the country, and there may be as much as a nine-month wait for your oral exam.

Time Period

It may take as long as several months to over one year to become a Foreign Service Special Agent. Once accepted and appointed to the service you must undergo a six-month training period after which you will be considered a Special Agent. If you fail any part of the online or oral exams, or come up short on any of the requirements for the position, you must wait at least one year before applying again.


Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.

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