Overseas Military Spouse Career Options
Military spouses can have a tougher time getting employment when they accompany an active duty service member to an overseas assignment. The job pool is obviously smaller and more competitive on an overseas military base and spouses don’t always have the luxury of the multitude of job openings that might be offered in the local area stateside. But there are career opportunities to consider at overseas bases.
When you arrive at an overseas duty location for the first time, it’s easy to notice that a military installation is basically a city in a microcosm. Overseas, you may have access to a Post Exchange and Commissary; you may find there are individual vendors on base offering clothing alterations and dry cleaning, electronics, and even a liquor store and convenience stores depending on the location of the base and other variables.
All of those enterprises need staff. But lest you think the only jobs on base are in retail or are retail-adjacent, remember that a military base depends greatly on a civilian workforce that helps process the massive volumes of documents and records generated there.
There are people who work in public affairs, those who work in the base hospital and dental clinic, and there is a massive demand for jobs involving finance, budgeting, planning, and contracting. What follows is a guide to the different types of work you may find at an overseas base. Not specific types of careers, but different classifications of work you may be qualified to apply for.
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Overseas Military Spouse Career Options
There are several different types of employment you can find on a military base in general. They include:
- Nonappropriated fund job
- Civil Service positions
- Defense contracting
Nonappropriated Fund Jobs
Non-appropriated fund jobs, also known as NAF jobs, are labeled as such because the funds used to pay employee salaries and benefits are not taxpayer dollars--the money is “self-generated”. These jobs are typically service jobs and may include opportunities at the Base Exchange, Commissary, fitness centers, and recreation centers.
Pro Tip: Not all NAF jobs are service-related but there are plenty of entry-level positions that some use as a stopgap while exploring other options.
Appropriated Fund Jobs/Civil Service Jobs
Appropriated fund jobs are paid for by taxpayer dollars and are more career-oriented. You may find Civil Service jobs at overseas bases that include opportunities in contracting, skilled labor, public affairs, office admin, and support staff.
Civil Service jobs are said to be more “portable” and you may find spouse hiring preference options with these positions in the form of points toward your Civil Service exam score. Such preference may not be available for all positions but where it is available, it’s a definite advantage for many applicants.
Pro Tip: Civil Service exams, depending on the subject, may have test prep documents. Check the job description to see if one exists for the jobs you want.
Defense contractors may operate on or in cooperation with an overseas military base, and these enterprises need civilian employees. If an arrangement exists with a base and a contractor or group of contractors, job opportunities will be posted on that base’s official site in the appropriate place, but you can also make an appointment with a base employment readiness specialist where available.
Pro Tip: If you are interested in defense contracting jobs, get familiar with the official sites for known defense contractors like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, etc. Pay close attention to the careers sections of these sites as the positions advertised may hit those sites first before they are sent out to military job sites and other job boards.
Virtual employment–being able to work from home with no need for office visits– may or may not be offered by the base you’re assigned to. But many stateside (and overseas) companies do allow telecommuting, virtual work, and variations of these practices. You may not need to apply for on-base employment or use spouse hiring preference if you can find work that you can do at home.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know your military installation’s rules about running a home business using internet services offered on base or on-post. You may discover some bases have rules about acceptable use of internet services provided on base; it may be necessary to pay for host nation internet service in order to run your business according to base regulations. That said, it’s important to ALSO know whether working from home constitutes a business or not where those rules are concerned. If you are an employee, but not a sole proprietor, that may make a difference depending on the base.
Work In The Local Community
There are options, depending on the host nation, to work in the local economy. Businesses close to overseas military bases may be more amenable to hiring Americans, especially if you have any grasp of the local language. Working in the local community can be challenging where tax laws and employment guidelines are concerned. You’ll want to discuss working off base with someone from the base legal office if you aren’t sure what your rights and responsibilities are with off-post employment.
What to Know About Applying for Military Spouse Jobs Overseas
There are options to claim military spouse hiring preference at an overseas base in a similar way you can apply for it stateside; military spouse preference policies at overseas bases let you claim preference on a one-time basis to land appropriated fund (Civil Service) jobs or non-appropriated fund jobs up to a certain pay grade.
To qualify for this preference, you must be the legal spouse of an active duty service member and you must be listed on the service member’s Permanent Change of Station orders. When applying, you are permitted to use military spouse preference until you are offered a permanent NAF or Civil Service job. You may accept or decline the position but you are not offered hiring preference a second time. You do not lose your preference when accepting or declining a temporary job.
To get started, contact the Human Resources office at your new assignment and ask how to start the application process.
If you decide to explore your job opportunities off base, remember that scams and con games are everywhere; trying to avoid them in a culture you aren’t familiar with can be tricky. Get the advice of people who have been assigned to the base for a while and ask them if there’s anything to beware of when looking for work in the local area.
Some establishments may have a reputation you don’t know about yet, there may be a local scam artist “everyone” knows about except new arrivals, and some employment opportunities aren’t always what they are advertised to be.
You’ll want to vet any potential employer as best you can before you decide whether or not to take a job somewhere. Beware any employer who asks you to surrender your passport or other official documents; report such requests to installation law enforcement immediately.
The same rules for finding stateside jobs can apply overseas; it is generally a bad idea to pay someone money for the “privilege” of working for them, you should not be required to invest any of your own money upfront to accept a job, and you should always consider bringing an escort with you when traveling to areas you aren’t familiar with in an overseas location.
Do not sign documents you don’t understand or cannot read and remember that some businesses or employers in the local area may be banned from doing business with the base if they have run afoul of certain laws or regulations. It’s never a good idea to accept work from a company in bad standing with the local command.
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About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.