What Does a Diplomatic Courier Do?

In service to their country, diplomatic couriers protect and secure classified information, carry it from one place to another and make sure that it gets where it needs to be by when it needs to be there. You spend most of your time traveling and often live in small or remote countries with harsh climates, hazardous conditions and few, if any, amenities. Expect to take on many -- if any -- impossible missions as a diplomatic courier and you'll likely be disappointed.

Duties and Responsibilities

    Diplomatic couriers transport classified government material across international borders. Your diplomatic pouch may include papers and files or may include thousands of pounds of equipment. You may need to draw on different skills, such as those of a logistician, to keep your pouch materials secure. Diplomatic couriers operate under and follow Vienna Convention guidelines, which spell out what you can and can't do while working as a diplomatic courier in a foreign country. You must also follow Department of State policies, regulations and procedures.

Diplomatic Missions

    Diplomatic couriers are ad hoc ambassadors. While transmitting or carrying classified and other sensitive materials, you develop and foster relationships between the U.S. and other countries and represent the U.S. and its interests. You also may need to negotiate with the head of state in the country where you go on behalf of the U.S. Department of State or other state agency. The Vienna Convention protects your right to fulfill your mission objectives and any travel you must undertake to do so. It also bars a country from arresting or in other ways detaining you during a diplomatic mission.


    After completing a 12- to 14-week training in Washington, D.C., the Department of State will deploy you to one of its national or international diplomatic courier offices, such as those in Seoul, Republic of Korea; Frankfurt, Germany; or Miami, Florida. At any time, the U.S. Department of State or another state agency may order you to carry classified or other sensitive materials across international borders. Delivery takes place worldwide, not only to U.S.-operated outposts and stations but also to foreign country bases of government. The country where you need to go must allow you to cross its borders before you can enter as a diplomatic courier.

Management and Oversight

    As a diplomatic courier, you help develop and refine pouch security protocols, which can include training and overseeing pouch escorts and other staff members. The Department of State also tasks you to develop and adhere to a budget and prevent waste, fraud or other type of asset mismanagement.

Foreign Service Appointment

    To become a diplomatic courier, you must have a Foreign Service appointment. U.S. citizens between the ages of 20 and 59 can apply to the Foreign Service, though you must be between 21 and 59 on the day your appointment begins. You also must be available to work anywhere in the world. Male candidates born after Dec. 31, 1959 also must register with the Selective Service. Being cleared to work in the Foreign Service can take as long as a year.

Qualifications and Requirements

    After being appointed to the Foreign Service, you must meet written and in-person requirements, pass a background check and a doctor must medically clear you to work. After meeting all of these requirements, you will receive your Top Secret security clearance. Failing to meet standards at any point along the way will end the application process.

Education and Experience

    To become a diplomatic courier, you must hold an associate degree or have earned at least 60 credit hours from an accredited college or university and have at least three years of experience that demonstrates your problem-solving, information-gathering and communication skills. The more education you have, the less experience the Department of State requires you to have. For example, it equates having an associate degree and earning at least 18 hours toward a bachelor’s degree as one year of experience and holding a bachelor’s degree as two years of experience. The Department of State also recommends fluency in at least one foreign language.

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