Yes, you’ll still be working, but there are people out there who never leave their home city, let alone get to zip around the globe and experience foreign cultures. Government employees who have to travel abroad for work shouldn’t be excluded from having a bit of fun on their trips. But there are differences when you are employed by the government, and it’s important to know them before booking any extracurricular activities.
Get authorized. If you work for the government, you’re probably used to bureaucracy affecting every part of your job, so it should come as no surprise that one of the things you’ll need to do before making any international plans is fill out Travel Authorization form, and get it signed by the right people. For most departments, you’ll have to complete a TA for each and every trip.
Learn about layover allowance. Did you know that the government actually details when layovers are allowed on international travel? Yes, that’s right, you may not be able to stop and change planes if you’re on a government-sponsored business trip. This probably won’t be an issue for most people, but it’s good to know going in – especially if you don’t deal well with long flights.
Seek Embassy approval. As a government employee on official business, you may need the permission of the U.S. Embassy before heading to foreign soil. Some departments and agencies will handle this process for their employees, but others want you to do it yourself. Make sure you know the rules for your office.
Determine what class of travel is approved. Different classes of travel are only permitted at certain times, to specific agencies and positions, and for particular types of trips.
Determine your per diem rates ahead of time. If you don’t want to pay for things out of pocket, it’s important that you know how much will be covered by your department. The rates vary depending on the country that you will be visiting, and are divided into two areas: lodging and meals & incidentals. You can view those rates as well as other rules regarding per diem on U.S. Department of State site here.
Use only U.S.-owned airlines. Hopefully your travel will be booked by your office and someone else will be handling all of the arrangements, but anyone working for the government should know that regulations say you have to travel on an airline owned in the United States. With the prices of airline tickets these days, this isn’t a mistake you want to make and have to pay for later – especially when talking about international travel!
Learn about nearby resources. Expect the unexpected. Don’t let lost luggage or a broken computer impact your ability to do your job. Learn about what resources are available at your hotel and nearby. Preference accommodations that offer a business center as a back-up, and be aware of where you can handle basic shopping needs nearby. Also, protect yourself from common business travel disasters by uploading important computer files to the cloud (if you can securely do so) and packing an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag.
Plan the fun ahead of time. Want to take advantage of your time outside the country? Think about it before you board the plane. You may be able to ask for permission to stay away for a few extra days or take advantage of holes in your itinerary. Whatever your situation, being proactive is key, or you could find yourself back home without having seen much more than the inside of your hotel room and the airport. One great way to get the most out of your time is to take a tour. You can go with the traditional tour by coach, or try something unique like a bicycling tour or a tour by train. After a hectic business trip, having the details taken for you is often an important benefit.
Above all, remember that, as a government employee, you are representing America in a unique way. Any actions you take will reflect on the country and your department.