Foreign Service officers live large.
According to any number of spy films, diplomats are always going to cocktail parties in luxurious settings, where men are decked out in tuxedos and women in stunning evening wear.
Working dinners and receptions have always been parts of a Foreign Service workweek. But today’s diplomats enter the job with the expectation that they will frequently serve in hardship posts and war zones. Out of 170 countries with authorized Foreign Service posts, officers serving in 27 of them (almost 16 percent) are eligible to receive “danger pay” because of active hostilities, civil conflict, high levels of criminal violence or the real possibility of targeted kidnappings, often aimed at U.S. diplomats.
Since 1950, eight U.S. ambassadors have died in the line of duty overseas. Six were killed by militants and two in plane crashes. The most recent example was Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, and let’s not forget communications specialist Sean Smith, who died with Stevens, and public affairs officer Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2013. And recall the 52 Foreign Service officers and other embassy workers held in Tehran for 444 days from 1979 to 1981.
Apart from the more severe dangers inherent in Foreign Service life, those serving at no less than 67 percent of U.S. posts are also eligible for hardship differential, which can be based on challenging health conditions, extreme climates, physical isolation, difficulties in maintaining a healthy diet, and other conditions that the State Department monitors and documents regularly.