After Foreign Service life became a reality for us, I spent a lot (I mean, A LOT) of time looking through blogs of current foreign service officers and family members – usually wives. It was pretty frustrating, because many of them didn’t talk about the things that I really wanted to know: What is it like being a member of household (MOH – read: not married) vs. an Eligible Family Member (EFM – married)? How does the bid list work? When do you find out where you’re going? What is the whole process once you do find out where you’re going? How long does it take your stuff to get to post? What are the job opportunities? And so on.
In addition to being as descriptive about those topics as I can, I also hope to be able to be a resource for those out there who are not married with kids. Not to say that those blogs are not useful – they are – but it’s helpful to read from someone whose point of view is somewhat similar to yours. Just one example of the differences – many of those foreign service wives with children are not necessarily on the hunt for jobs in whatever foreign locale they’re in.
When this all started, we were not married and had to grapple with that decision – to marry or not to marry – that was the question. There are many many other FSOs who struggle with this as well. In M’s A-100 class, there were at least 3 other couples that ended up getting married or engaged during the course of those 6 weeks of A-100. So let’s start with that topic: EFM vs. MOH.
An eligible family member is anyone who is the spouse or unmarried child (usually max age of 21, but can be up to age 23 with certain criteria) of a FSO. If you are engaged, you are not an EFM. That is huge. Basically, EFMs get the same privileges that the officer does: your flights out to post, for R&R (Rest & Recuperation – some officers are entitled to this during a tour, but it depends on your location) and home leave are paid for, you are covered insurance wise, and if there is an emergency evac at post – you get evacuated too (phew). In addition to that, you have priority access to embassy jobs that are specifically available to family members, you’ll get access to the CLO (Community Liaison Office) and FLO (Family Liaison Office) – who can do things like help you fix your resume to suit the local market and just help with the overall job search – and you have more priority to get training (language or otherwise) at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), where all of the magic happens. The main point is, you are on the foreign service officer’s travel orders, which are his official documents that allow him to go to a post.
A member of household is unfortunately much more limited, benefits wise. This includes fiancés, partners, relatives of the employee, etc.. The qualifications for either MOH or EFM are very detailed, so if you are looking for specifics for your situation, check the State website. MOHs are not on travel orders, do not receive insurance, will not be evacuated, and have to cover their own flights. You do have access to the CLO and FLO for job help, but you are not entitled to a work visa that will allow you to work outside of the embassy, as EFMs are (this is if there is a bilateral work agreement between the U.S. and the country where you are posted). This page on the State website actually breaks it down pretty well. But the moral is: your benefits as a MOH are very limited.
In the end, you should do whatever works best for both of you. In our situation, marriage was in our future (albeit a little more distant than what actually happened!), so taking the plunge worked for us. What we’ve learned in a few short months is that the key to foreign service life is being flexible, and knowing that things won’t be perfect or easy. We got married in the basement office of a lawyer in Virginia who looked like he belonged on an episode of Hoarders. The lawyer took the wedding pictures for us, while simultaneously reciting the vows, and M had to go into work that afternoon, wedding suit and all. Not exactly what we’d dreamed of, but so funny to look back on, and at the time, it was right! And if you’re stressed or upset about the thought of not having a dream wedding, remember that there’s always the option to plan a big wedding celebration for the next year (speaking from experience – you guessed it. Now back to planning.).