FSO: SOP 134A3



(This SOP replaces and supersedes SOP 104 dated 9/7/01, SOP 104A dated 1/29/03, SOP 134A dated 5/29/09, SOP 134A1 dated 4/30/12, and SOP 134A2 dated August 18, 2014)

SUBJECT: Salary Standards for Entry-Level Foreign Service Officer Career Candidates effective July 16, 2015

PURPOSE: To provide procedures for determining the entry-level salary for Foreign Service Officer Career Candidates in accordance with 3 FAM 3121.1-1.


The Office of the Registrar is responsible for determining the entry-level salary (grade and step) that the candidate is offered, based on the candidate’s qualifying experience, education, and current salary. Salary review/appeal procedures are covered by SOP 134D1, dated August 18, 2014.

Determination of Grade and Step

A candidate’s grade and step are based on the combination of their level of education and their years of qualifying experience (QE), as provided in the chart below:

Education Full Years of QE Grade/Step
No Bachelor’s Degree 0-5 FP-6/Step 5
6-11 FP-6/Step 6-11
12-17 FP-5/Step 8-13
18-26 FP-4/Step 6-14
>26 FP-4/Step 14
Bachelor’s Degree 0-5 FP-6/Step 5-10
6-11 FP-5/Step 7-12
12-21 FP-4/Step 5-14
>21 FP-4/Step 14  
Master’s or Juris Doctor (JD) 0-5 FP-5/Step 5-10
  6-15 FP-4/Step 5-14
>15 FP-4/Step 14
Doctorate or Master’s of Law (LLM)  0-9 FP-4/Step 5-14
  >9 FP-4/Step 14

For the relevant education level and range of qualifying experience, one step above the minimum is added for each year of qualifying experience above the minimum, up to the maximum within the range indicated above. For example, a bachelor’s degree plus nine years of qualifying experience receives FP-5, Step 10.

All degrees must be from accredited institutions. A bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree received from an accredited institution after the Registrar has sent an appointment offer but before the candidate has been sworn in as a Foreign Service Officer, will be credited for grade and salary determination upon submission of evidence of the degree to the Registrar. Education completed in foreign colleges or universities may be used to meet Federal job requirements if the candidate can show that the foreign education is comparable to education received in the United States.

Calculation of Qualifying Experience

Qualifying experience is calculated up to the date the Registrar sends the appointment offer to the candidate. In no case will more than 40 hours of qualifying experience be credited for any one-week period, regardless of the type of work performed, the number of jobs held, the hours worked or the employment status (self-employed or other). Qualifying experience that is part-time work will be prorated. When all of a candidate’s qualifying experience is totaled, no credit will be given for periods of less than a year, e.g., a total of four years and eleven months of qualifying experience is credited as four years.

For the purpose of this SOP, a candidate’s qualifying experience can be in any field, but does not include clerical or wage-grade work, or any other work not usually requiring a bachelor’s or higher degree. The employee’s primary duty must be, or must have been, the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment. Advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. Only volunteer work meeting these conditions will be credited. Acquisition of a foreign language is not in itself treated as advanced knowledge. Additionally, credit for supervisory oversight is awarded only where management or supervision is a part of an individual’s official job duties.

Military Service: Work performed by active duty U.S. military commissioned officers is considered qualifying experience; work performed by U.S. military personnel who are not commissioned officers is not considered qualifying experience unless it meets the above definition of qualifying experience.

Training: Credit towards salary calculation for periods of qualifying training can be included if the candidate received full salary during the training. The training cannot be part of any other calculation towards computing salary level, such as educational credit.

Internships: Credit towards salary calculation for an internship can be applied if the internship is:

  • Work that would be considered qualifying experience as defined above.
  • Not part of an academic requirement. The internship is neither required nor is it part of an advanced degree program.
  • Not given credit in any other form. The internship cannot be part of any other calculation towards computing the salary level.

Self-Employment: For contractors, self-employed, those receiving sales commissions or other than W-2 receiving workers, in determining entry-level salary, the basis for comparison shall be the previous twelve months’ earned income, based on income tax statements or equivalent documents and calculated from no more than 45 days prior to the date of appointment to the Foreign Service.

Matching Salary Consideration

Once the candidate’s grade and step are determined based on education and qualifying experience, the Registrar will review the candidate’s “current salary” to see if it is higher than the candidate’s projected salary as provided in the Foreign Service “Overseas” Salary Table. If so, the candidate’s starting salary will be raised to the step in the grade for which he/she is qualified that is closest to, but not less than, their current salary. If the current salary is too high to be matched in the Foreign Service grade for which the candidate is qualified, step 14 of that grade is the starting salary.

For purposes of this SOP, “current salary” means salary earned for at least 90 days prior to appointment as a Foreign Service Career Candidate. For candidates who are currently federal government civilian direct-hire employees, there also must not be a break in service of more than three calendar days between their current federal employment and appointment to the Foreign Service (in accordance with government-wide regulations). Locality pay for Washington D.C. will be considered part of “current salary” for those federal government civilian direct-hire employees currently receiving Washington D.C. locality pay. Federal government civilian direct-hire employees who do not receive Washington D.C. locality pay will not be allowed to include locality pay as part of their “current salary.” For all other candidates, there must not be a break in service of more than 45 calendar days between the candidate’s most recent employment and appointment as a Foreign Service Career Candidate for current salary matching considerations to apply.

Candidates must submit proof of their current salary, e.g. a copy of 90 days’ worth of earnings statements; an SF-50 Notification of Personnel Action (for federal civilian employees only); a signed statement on letterhead from the Human Resources Office of their most recent employer; and/or other appropriate documentation.

For candidates who are not entering the Foreign Service directly from other federal civilian employment but previously held a federal government civilian direct-hire position, their highest federal salary will be considered for purposes of salary matching. Candidates must submit a copy of an SF-50 Notification of Personnel Action for proof of their prior federal employment.