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Bilateral Work Agreements

Foreign Service family members seeking employment on the local economy overseas, whether interested in international business, teaching at a local school, or freelancing, need to be aware of the work permit regulations in their host country. For family members of USG employees assigned to a U.S. Mission overseas, working on the local economy presents opportunities, with associated challenges. One of the challenges is understanding the process for obtaining a work permit.

To increase opportunities for employment in foreign countries for family members of USG employees assigned to an embassy or consulate overseas, bilateral work agreements are established through a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and an individual country. Such agreements help expedite the work permit process for our family members in the host country. Due to the nature of these agreements being reciprocal, family members of diplomats from that country currently on assignment in the United States can obtain work permits for employment on American soil.

Note: For the purposes of bilateral work agreements, “family members” refer to those individuals included on the orders of the respective USG employee. Please review the bilateral agreement with a specific country to see who is eligible to obtain a work permit.


Currently, over 125 bilateral work agreements exist between the U.S. and foreign countries. The process of establishing a bilateral work agreement begins with some recommended text that both countries must agree upon. The text of each bilateral is negotiated, and therefore, no two are alike. Whatever the final language, both countries must abide by the text. In addition to requirements of the agreement, each country establishes a procedure for submitting an application for a work permit. The Administrative or HR Officer at post should be able to explain the process.

How do bilateral work agreements differ from country to country?

While the Global Community Liaison Office recommends using standardized language, each bilateral is unique. A bilateral might place restrictions on the type of work one of our family members can perform in the host country. This is referred to as “restricted employment fields.” A bilateral might limit the number of family members who can apply for a work permit. A bilateral might specify age restrictions for dependents under the age of 21. A bilateral might also require that the family member have an offer of employment before applying for a work permit. For these reasons, it is important to understand the language of the bilateral agreement in the host country.

The Office of Treaty Affairs maintains copies of treaties and other international acts. Bilateral Work Agreements available in the “Treaties and Other International Acts Series” are linked on GCLO’s Bilateral Work Agreements and De Facto Work Arrangements webpage.

De Facto Work Arrangements

In countries where bilateral work agreements do not exist, family members may still be able to obtain work permits. If a host country issues a work permit to a family member of a USG employee assigned to that mission overseas, then the precedent is established, and the country is added to the list of de facto work arrangements. Then, on the basis of reciprocity and established by precedent, diplomatic family members of that host country may apply for work permits in the United States. De facto arrangements are constantly monitored by post and the status is reported in the Family Member Employment Report (FAMER).

Further Information

In summary, the United States has bilateral work agreements with over 125 countries and de facto arrangements with an additional 32. In the case of both formal bilateral agreements and de facto reciprocity, the following three conditions must be met:

  1. Working family members give up only civil and administrative immunity and only for actions arising out of such employment and none other. This is in accordance with the standards of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
  2. The foreign state must afford official U.S. family members a reasonable opportunity to seek employment on the local economy of that state.
  3. The time for processing and approval of request to work must not exceed a reasonable limit, bearing in mind that family members normally reside in a foreign state for only two to three years.

The Global Community Liaison Office monitors the success of bilateral work agreements and the status of de facto work arrangements, as well as works with U.S. embassies that are in the process of negotiating new agreements.

Contact a member of the GCLO Employment team for general questions about bilateral work agreements and de facto work arrangements via email at

U.S. Department of State

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