Fifth Tour Bidding: A Preview

Unbelievably enough, I have officially passed the halfway point of my fourth tour and that means it’s time to start thinking about bidding. Again.

It is strange and a little unsettling to think about bidding a fifth tour, while I feel like we just figured out where to store our linens. It took 11 months from the time we moved into our Virginia house for the new master bedroom furniture set we ordered to even arrive. I just joined a gym this month. Thinking of having to find another job and pack up every item we own all over again kind of makes me want to hide under the bed. And… it also kind of makes me think how exciting it is that every country is a possible new home.

Round-up of previous bidding and flag day posts:

First Tour Bidding ~

A-100: Week 1 in Review

A-100: Weeks 2 and 3 in Review

A-100: Weeks 4 and 5 in Review

Flag Day Announcement

Flag Day Recap

Second Tour Bidding ~

Second Tour Bidding

Flag Day Announcement… II

Third Tour Bidding ~

Third Tour Bidding, Part I

Third Tour Bidding, Part II

Third Tour Bidding, Part III

Flag Day Announcement… III

Fourth Tour Bidding ~

Fourth Tour Bidding, Part I

Fourth Tour Bidding, Part II

Flag Day Announcement… IV

Over the past few months, the questions from friends and family have started to pick up. Where are you going next? Do you know what your next tour will be? When do you bid for your next assignment?

The answers are: We don’t know, no, and later this year! In the fall, to be more accurate – in September or October, depending on what the cable instructions (that haven’t been written or released yet) say about Summer 2024 bidding.

This picture made me laugh because… I’m pretty sure we’re going somewhere ON Earth, at least! I don’t think Earth itself is the question, but it does feel this vague currently! I note the question mark is centered over North America, so this image may represent my actual angst.

But if prior precedent can be believed, we should have more information in a few months. It isn’t really time yet to start launching into all my preparations, but there are a few things I can start to do or am already doing.


(1) Start the process of renewing my Class 2 (post-specific) medical clearance. The truth is I actually started this step in late January. Why did I do that? Well, it’s now mid-April and big MED still hasn’t adjudicated my file, so you tell me. Unfortunately, it’s necessary before bidding or taking a new assignment to update your medical clearance and this can be a long and time-consuming process. But breaking a handshake because of a failed medical clearance (or spending a lot of time and energy bidding posts where you or your family cannot safely serve) would be heartbreaking and therefore is something to avoid.

(2) The Summer 2024 bid process occurs in late 2023 for officers whose current positions end with a transfer eligibility date (TED) in summer 2024. That’s because everything happens about a year out, allowing everyone to transition in sequence without leaving positions gapped. So I scoured the TalentMap (FSBid software successor) for an early view of projected vacancies in my bid cycle. This basically means a preview of what jobs the Department anticipates will come available around the window my current job ends (with pre-departure language training built in for language-designated jobs).

I’m aware that people encumbering current overseas positions, including those on the projected vacancies list, have until May 15 to put in their extension requests. The projected vacancies right now are just based on TEDs which may or may not be firm. Many mid-level officers will have locked in their extension approvals closer to the time they arrived at their posts a couple of years ago and realized they wanted to stay for a third or fourth year. (I initially did this on my third tour in Ciudad Juárez.) But for various reasons, some people will keep their options open until much later in the game or some extensions will be approved late, denied, or withdrawn. Projected vacancies will become a little bit more accurate as we move into June and on towards the official opening of the Summer 2024 bid cycle.

The reason I poked around in the projected vacancies was 50% curiosity and daydreaming, and 50% needing to have MED pre-clear posts so I don’t waste my time (or posts’ time) bidding on jobs where I’m unlikely to receive medical clearance to serve. I have a fairly good idea about where these are, but I would argue there is an awful lot of gray area to negotiate and make a case.

So I put together a list of 10 posts and asked MED through my Career Development Officer (CDO) to give me an initial thumbs-up or down based on my individual situation. Hopefully when MED goes to do this, they will see that my medical clearance is jammed up and they will break it free. This is why I started months ahead of time; pre-PCS is their busiest season and while it doesn’t all depend on me, I will be the one chiefly affected by delays.


(1) I will begin more actively tracking projected vacancies and putting together my usual spreadsheet of planned bids. The spreadsheet will catalogue assignment title, cone (as I again will likely bid both political and consular jobs), post, description, language requirements, incumbent name, TED, decision-makers’ names, and some stats I gather about the post: pet and housing info, rates of COLA and hardship/differential pay, DPO and R&R availability, and so on. I will also keep my ear to the ground in my network for intel about curtailments and NOW jobs and broken handshakes, who is great to work with and who isn’t, hidden gem posts, and all the other little behind-the-scenes details to give me a steer on where to look and how to bid.

(2) I will be thinking about how I’d like to spend the rest of my career in the Foreign Service and what types of jobs to pursue. I’m eligible to retire in 2028, and although I haven’t made a firm decision yet to do so, I’d like to keep my options open to transition into a different type of career in my early 50s. This means I’m probably not going to aggressively pursue assignments I think will propel me into the top echelons of Department leadership because I’m not super-enthused about the burnout factory those jobs often transform your life into. I will likely focus more on jobs I would like to do in places we would enjoy living.

(3) I will be considering my husband’s career and what the prospects for his employment are in the prospective host countries if at some point his current civil service job no longer carries the possibility to perform remote work.

(4) I will be thinking about how the projects and tasks I’ve been working on for the past year can put me in a good position to ask for bidding references.

(5) And of course, I will daydream massively about all the possible outcomes of bidding! As much as we complain about the bid process (and rightfully so from the perspectives of efficiency, equity, transparency, and workload), it is a lucky and exciting position to be in. Which embassy or consulate will I work in overseas? What new country will my family and I explore together? How will it open up our lives in new and unexpected ways?

I try not to get my hopes up, because I always feel like I make tactical errors that I only see in retrospect, or somehow don’t end up with the assignment I thought I wanted. But in the end, everything has either worked out for the best or taught me a lot about how to get out of professional situations that aren’t right for me. Maybe this fifth time bidding we will finally strike one of our most-sought after posts, which for now… will go unnamed.

And this is just the beginning! In a few more months bidding will become much busier and more complicated, but for the time being, I’m just keeping an eye on the horizon. As always in the Foreign Service lifestyle, once you hit the halfway tipping point of an assignment the hands of the clock seem to spin at a different speed and shake you out of your comfortable complacency that this might last awhile.

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Sarah W Gaer

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