A U.S. Embassy staffer checks in with his passport at the airport.
Article

How to Become an Ambassador and Work for a U.S. Embassy


International Relations

Every day around the world, U.S. ambassadors work to build relationships and conduct foreign diplomacy. In addition to those assigned to foreign countries, some ambassadors represent the U.S. in international organizations, such as the United Nations, European Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Professionals fluent in a foreign language, experienced in humanitarian work and holding a graduate degree, such as a Master of Arts in International Relations, are likely to have the skill sets needed to represent the U.S. government abroad.

What Does a U.S. Ambassador Do?

Those interested in learning more about how to become an ambassador should know that job roles vary based on their location. According to the U.S. Department of State, the primary role of an ambassador is serving as a representative of other U.S. agencies within a stationed country and coordinating the activities of the Foreign Service officers and support staff serving under them. In the strictest sense, those serving in an ambassador capacity are representatives of the president.

Yet, they have other responsibilities to their country. For example, if U.S. citizens living in or visiting a foreign country get into legal trouble, the ambassador ensures they’re treated fairly and have access to an attorney. Ambassadors also represent the president in immigration discussions, treaty negotiations, humanitarian aid programs, and foreign aid projects.

Steps for Becoming an Ambassador in a U.S. Embassy

Although no standard career path exists to becoming an ambassador, U.S. foreign diplomats do share some commonalities, such as extensive leadership and management expertise.

Educational and Foreign Language Requirements

Individuals interested in getting a job at a U.S. embassy must start by obtaining an advanced education. Although completion of a postsecondary degree program isn’t an official requirement, someone with an advanced degree and fluent in one or more foreign languages has a greater chance to progress in this field.

For example, the current ambassador to Guatemala, Luis E. Arreaga, possesses a BA, an MS, and a Ph.D in addition to speaking Spanish, French, and basic Icelandic, while the current ambassador to Liberia, Christine Elder, holds a BA and an MA degree and is fluent in German and Portuguese.

Obtain an Official Nomination

As of 2017, approximately 70% of ambassadors were appointed from within the U.S. State Department; the remaining 30% were political appointees. Political appointments are made at the discretion of the president and often reserved for major campaign donors or political allies.

Get Vetted

U.S. intelligence agencies vet all candidates securing a nomination. He or she must complete financial disclosure and security forms along with questionnaires from various senators. If the nominee’s finances don’t indicate a conflict of interest and intelligence agencies are satisfied with the results of the security check, the candidate proceeds to the confirmation process.

Receive Senate Confirmation 

The final step to becoming an ambassador culminates with a Senate confirmation hearing, although the candidate needs an affirmative vote from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before a hearing is scheduled. If the nomination moves out of committee, it goes to the Senate floor for a vote, and, if a majority of senators approve the nominee, he or she is sworn in by the president and becomes an ambassador.

Salaries of a U.S. Ambassador

Data from the U.S. government indicates that in 2017, the salary range for ambassadors ranged from $124,406 to $187,000 per year, depending on background and experience. That’s not to say that annual earnings cannot exceed that threshold.

Under the U.S. State Department’s certified performance appraisal system, if ambassadors exhibit extraordinary merits, such as having one or more advanced degrees and proficiency in several foreign languages, or if they’re viewed as bringing exceptional value to their mission, their salary could increase. The maximum salary for an ambassador may not exceed that of the vice president, which, as of 2017, was $240,100 per year.

Ambassadors also may receive a cost of living allowance, danger pay if assigned to a dangerous region, and a hardship allowance if standard amenities within their station fall below standards in the United States. They also receive free housing, government-subsidized health insurance, and five weeks paid vacation each year.

Future Growth of U.S. Ambassador Jobs

Although it’s unlikely that the U.S. will add new ambassador positions in the future, the nation maintains close to 200 positions worldwide. Those who worked in this capacity are likely well-positioned to enter the private sector once their ambassadorship ends. Several nonprofit and for-profit organizations staff positions in international affairs. The job growth and earnings potential for these positions vary greatly depending on the job requirements and duties.

Your Path Toward Becoming a U.S. Ambassador Starts Today

Professionals wanting to learn more about how to get a job at a U.S. embassy or how to become an ambassador will find that earning a relevant advanced degree, such as Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in International Relations, provides an educational background to succeed in a foreign relations role.

This dynamic online program helps students to develop and augment several critical skills, including leadership, organizational, and communication capabilities. Students also learn how to analyze and apply data and gain an understanding of international theories and laws as well as political, economic, and cultural issues impacting international relations. Your path toward a career as a U.S. ambassador starts at Norwich University.

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Sources
Discover Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State 
What Are the General Duties of an Ambassador?, Houston Chronicle
Arreaga, Luis E., Republic of Guatemala, July 2017, U.S. Department of State
U.S. Embassy in Liberia, Ambassador Christine Elder, U.S. Embassy
How Much Do U.S. Ambassadors Get Paid?, Houston Chronicle
Master of Arts in International Relations, Norwich University