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RQ: Overseas Housing

with 4 comments

A reader recently asked ,

 What is FSO housing like overseas?  Does it vary with family size or rank?

Someone posted a similar question on the State Careers Forum, which, while having a sizable peanut gallery offering sometimes terrible answers/advice, does OK sometimes (as long as you put more weight on the green checked-users).

Housing overseas, first of all, is free.  You’d be surprised how many things people find in their housing units to complain about when they effectively pay $0 in rent and $0 in major repairs (plumbing, electricity, structural issues if there are any).  Post’s Housing section, usually a General Services Office function, normally does a good job maintaining the residences and making them habitable.  Now, “habitable” varies greatly from country to country.  European apartments tend to be small, especially if you have a large family.  Housing assignments do take family size into account, but it’s also important to remember that your housing also depends on the rank of the position you’re serving in.  Funny how FSOs have rank in person, but housing goes by rank in position!Anyways, more on “habitable” – while in London you’re going to have a small flat, in Africa you might get a 5-bedroom house with a yard, gate, and property walls.  The nicer countries will have all the trimmings of first-world life like stable electricity and potable water, while other countries will have filters, distillers, and (if you’re lucky) a generator.  Almost every post is furnished, meaning you’re given a standard set of furniture from the embassy pool and can switch out pieces depending on availability.  The furniture is usually pretty nice – the dark cherry tables and cabinets the Department buys makes you feel at home everywhere in the world!  Posts try to get a parking space along with each residence, but occasionally this means parking on the street.  Housing units also need to meet certain standards for physical security, and the Regional Security Office vets all new additions to post’s housing pool.

Finally, if you arrive at post and your housing assignment is just awful, there is an appeals process to move you to another location.  This involves approval from your supervisor in writing to take your request to the housing board.  Supporting evidence is also important – photos of damage or adverse conditions helps your case.  It’s not a guarantee, as sometimes the Housing board will prioritize repairs instead of moving you, but it is an option.

In summary, overseas housing is usually pretty good – at or above the local standard of living in terms of cleanliness, amenities, utilities, and service.  Whether or not it meets “American standards” (whatever that is) in response to the Careers Forum question would probably depend on what your standard of living in the US is as well as the country you’re in.

Current FS employees – housing stories are welcome in the comments.  I’ve had some great residences in my career, but also some horror stories.  I’m sure you have some as well :)

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


Written by OSB

21/04/2013 at 09:32

4 Responses

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  1. I’m on my first post, as the Political Officer in a tiny African country. We have amazing housing here. Beautiful, 4 bedroom house, all tile. Electricity in this country is bad, but we have a generator. Embassy takes care of filling the generator and providing cooking cooking gas. The fact that we don’t pay electricity, gas, water, rent, or anything else is pretty amazing. We have a small yard, but we’re not outdoor people anyway.

    Seriously, this is easily the nicest place I’ve ever lived, and not paying for it means that student loans are getting paid down like crazy.

    • That’s awesome! I had a similar experience in an AF post. The generator in particular was a godsend.


      21/04/2013 at 11:20

  2. In our first post–Egypt–our apartment was larger than the townhouse we’d rented in the DC area. We thought it was great! Then, we moved to Cambodia–and our villa was amazing; it put that Cairo apartment to shame. It was huge, with a small garden, a huge generator, a wall, and 24-hour guards on duty. Then, we moved to Kosovo. The housing here varies greatly, but ours is a great townhouse–much smaller than our Cambodian villa, larger than our Egyptian apartment, and probably a bit bigger and nicer than what we could afford back in DC. We’ve been very happy with our housing. On the other hand, housing at the same post can vary considerably–in Egypt, there was one apartment no one wanted; it was awful. In Cambodia, most of the housing was very nice, but if you got an apartment instead of a villa, it was tiny. Here, there are two housing areas: one has mostly weird houses, some American style apartments, and is within walking distance of work; the other has American-style townhouses in an American-style suburban gated community. The one thing we’ve noticed consistently is that the Housing Board tries really hard to (1) have nice housing available and (2) take our preferences into consideration when assigning housing, though we know that sometimes it’ll just come down to what’s available rather than what we want.


    04/06/2013 at 09:06

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve had similar ones – lots of variation between posts and even within the same post’s housing pool.


      20/07/2013 at 06:13

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