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Guidance for Letter to Principal Officer


This letter fulfills courtesy requirements, lets the principal officer at post know when you will be arriving, and informs him/her that you are in contact with the Management Counselor. Most importantly, it reveals something of who you are. In most cases, it will be your introduction. A workable length is three paragraphs.

The official State Department font for letters to principal officers is Times New Roman 14 point. For information on formatting, see the sample letter format (PDF) from 5 FAH-1 EXHIBIT H-424.  Also see How to Address Officers at U.S. Missions Overseas.

Paragraph 1:

  • Introduce yourself and express pleasure at your assignment.

Paragraph 2:

  • Relate some relevant details about your background and experience. Be highly selective here. For example, if you are fluent in the language of the country, you may want to mention that fact.  If you need to improve your language skills, this is not necesary to mention.  If you are bringing a family to post, mention the name of your spouse/partner, the names of any children and their ages / school grades.  Write anything you feel might be of interest or useful to the person reading your letter.  "My husband, Greg, is a freelance writer. We met while serving in the Peace Corps and are both fluent in Spanish.  Greg is also qualified to teach ESL."

Paragraph 3:

  • Let the Principal Officer know when you expect to arrive.  Express something of your intention to serve. Close with a pleasantry. (You may choose to place the closing in a fourth paragraph).

Some cautionary notes:

  • Your letter should not exceed one page in length. Be selective about what you write.
  •  Do not lobby for a job other than the one you have been assigned. "As an unconed junior officer on a consular tour, I am hoping to do a lot of economic reporting as well."
  •  Do not drop names; "I went to college with your son Kenneth." Reveal these personal connections only in person.
  •  Do not say what you expect the job to do for you. 
  • Bear in mind that your letter is likely to be read by several people.  Do not write anything that you do not want to be public knowledge.
  • Be mindful of the tone. Do not be too informal.
  • Make sure your letter is well written and check format, grammar, and spelling.  Have someone proof read the letter before you send it.

If you are in the Washington, DC area, the Overseas Briefing Center staff will provide you with letterhead and an envelope.  You are responsible for mailing the letter.

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