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Before Departure

It is a long-standing custom to write to the chief of mission at your new post when you find out about your assignment. This letter should express your interest in the new assignment and offer your services before your departure. Writing to your new supervisor is a thoughtful, although not required, gesture. If writing to a new supervisor, a letter is the traditional form, but using technology such as e-mail messages is often acceptable as well. The once-common practice of newly assigned spouses writing to the principal officer's spouse is now rather unusual and generally not expected. The administrative staff will need to know about the details of your arrival. Administrative staff members will help you with specific arrangements for housing, shipping belongings and any other logistical matters. The person you will be replacing is also a valuable resource and you should consider contacting him/her for advice.

You should make the post aware of your travel plans so arrangements can be made to meet you, help you through customs, and provide transportation to a hotel, temporary or assigned housing. Many posts assign a sponsor to meet newcomers at the airport, look after their immediate needs and introduce them to the mission community. As a general rule, you will meet with an administrative or personnel officer at post soon after arrival. Most newly arrived officers are expected to advise the mission upon arrival either by phone or in person. However, the next business day is also acceptable at many posts.


Each post has its own traditional way of greeting newcomers and introducing them to other members of the mission. A personnel officer or an orientation packet will explain this process. Usually, the employee will be introduced to senior officers and colleagues at the office, but family members may meet members of the mission community in a variety of ways. Individuals or couples may call on you (the employee), you may call on them, parties may be planned, or the post may sponsor periodic receptions for arriving and departing families. These events are designed to help ease your family's transition. The employee and the family will benefit from participation in these customary welcoming procedures.

Making Calls

The purpose of making calls is to introduce yourself at post. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to be comfortable and successful in a new assignment. There are two different kinds of calls: office (also known as official) calls and social calls. Office calls are actually face-to-face meetings, not telephonic contacts, and take place in the office or residence of the person being called upon. Office calls continue to be the primary way of meeting the individuals with whom the employee will be working. Social calls, or personal visits to another's home, are still made at some posts but informal introductory social functions, phone calls, and invitations are used more often as a way of getting acquainted. In the past, both types of calls involved the exchange of social calling cards but this gesture has mostly been replaced in business settings with the exchange of business cards and almost entirely eliminated in social settings. Be sure that you are following your mission's customs. If the post has a protocol officer, check with him/her for details. If not, consult your sponsor or supervisor for guidance.

Office Calls

New members of the staff should call upon the Ambassador or principal officer within two working days. Usually, new employees are taken around the mission to see the facility and meet colleagues on the first day. This introductory tour often serves the purpose of the "call on colleagues"; another may not be necessary. If, for some reason, you are not introduced to others, ask whether it would be appropriate for you to make appointments to introduce yourself. You will not need to use calling cards for the calls you make within the US mission.

If your new position requires that you deal with the host country government or with its citizens, you should make appointments to meet them in their offices. Often, chiefs of mission are expected to make office calls upon all other foreign chiefs of mission in order of diplomatic precedence. Other officers are not expected to call on their counterparts at other missions, although they may decide to do so. If you do make such calls, you may ask a co-worker who is already acquainted with the other person to accompany you as a means of formal introduction. Official calling cards may or may not be used depending on local customs, but business cards will probably be exchanged. Colleagues at post can usually suggest the names and positions of the individuals to be called upon.

A third-person diplomatic note to the host country generated in the post's personnel office may announce the arrival of new officers, usually high ranking officials. Others are announced when the mission issues its biannual diplomatic list. However, officers serving at smaller posts often find that their pending arrival is widely known and/or eagerly anticipated, so do not assume anonymity based on rank.

Social Calls

A social call is a visit to the home of the person being called upon. Although becoming less common, some countries. customs may continue to require formal social calls as the employee's primary method of meeting both business and social associates. Since the custom has been virtually abandoned in the United States, you may not be familiar with how it is done. A few guidelines for practicing the art of making a social call follow. One call, either official or social, may satisfy the requisite need to make a call in both instances. Although spouses have no obligation to make either official or social calls, it is acceptable for them to accompany the employee on social calls. If the spouse chooses, he or she may make a social call alone upon the spouses of the employee's colleagues, either within or outside the mission environment. In some cultures, social calls for the employee and/or spouse are considered obligatory. Check with post for local practices.

When making an appointment for a social call, indicate if a colleague or spouse will accompany you. Children are generally not included unless specifically invited. Stay no longer than approximately 20 minutes unless urged to do so by the host/hostess.

According to strict protocol rules, social calls which foreign colleagues make on the employee and/or spouse are returned within a week or two. However, depending upon local custom, social calls may or may not require return calls. Check with post for guidance. Acknowledging calls from people within the US mission is less formal and often as simple as inviting the person who called to your next social function.

Check with the protocol officer or Community Liaison Officer at post about possibilities for informally meeting other US families. Generally, established families introduce themselves to newcomers and include them in planned activities rather than engaging in formal social calls or exchanging calling cards.

Adapted from material published by the Overseas Briefing Center of the U.S. Department of State.
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