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RQ: Tandem Couples

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A reader asks,

What advice would you give a would-be tandem couple?

Disclaimer, I am not part of a tandem.

Tandem couples refer to couples in which both husband and wife are employed as direct hires in one of the Foreign Services (State, Agriculture, Commercial, or USAID).  Same-sex couples whose marriage is not recognized in the States also qualify as tandems, but situations in which one is a direct hire and the other is employed as an EFM at post does not qualify as a tandem.

The most obvious benefit from being a tandem couple is to have both adults bringing in an income and building on their careers.  You also get some preference for assignments if there is a good fit for both of you at a post.  The downside of being a tandem is that there aren’t many places that have open spots, so tandem couples wind up in Washington a lot more than their non-tandem counterparts or one half does an out-of-cone or out-of-specialty tour more frequently than they might like.   Since both parents work it is difficult to care for small children as a tandem, but this situation can be alleviated somewhat with a nanny or leave without pay.  Tandem couples face similar challenges that families with two working parents do with respect to “family logistics” at post.

My advice to a tandem couple would be to keep an open mind.  While this goes for any FS employee, tandems especially need to look at Washington DC as an opportunity and not a sentence.  Tandems should also start the bidding/lobbying process extra early, 2 years in advance (1 year before you actually bid) is not unheard of.  Pull every connection you have during the lobbying process and make it obvious to the assignments panel that the assignments you and your spouse want are obviously the assignments you are going to get.

Finally, if you both are brand-new to the Foreign Service you must be married before A-100/Specialist orientation to be given consideration as a tandem couple.  There are no exceptions to this rule.

Since this post is more of an “outside looking in” perspective, I’d love to hear some perspectives from actual tandem couples.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

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