As remote work options grow within national security, most clearance-holders have their eye on flexibility and avoiding traffic. However, some are hoping to live life abroad, but still support U.S. national security remotely. If you’re given the chance to move to a different state or even a different country while still supporting national security, many would jump at that chance. After a relaxing time in Bora Bora, it could be tempting to simply want to fire up the laptop with a beautiful view out the window. But with more than just locality pay at stake, clearance-holders need to be sure their remote work location is approved before trying to live their best cleared, vacation-style life.

One Reddit user recently asked this very question about life overseas and classified work.

I just got hired with a federal contractor that requires a Secret Security Clearance. I already have one from a previous job so that should not be a problem. However, I just asked if I am permitted to work from abroad (the job is remote) and my Lead was unsure that this could be the case. I was wondering if anyone had any info on the rules regarding this or knew where to find them. Thanks!

Clearance Considerations and Remote Work Overseas

Of course, without a personal SCIF, it will be impossible to access classified information at a remote location, unless the clearance-holder is near a U.S. military installation or government facility. However, even if the work remains on the unclassified side, information accessed on a computer outside the U.S. still has some restrictions. And of course, moves or travels with FOCI considerations fall into the self-reporting category, so expect some pushback on the remote work idea.

Security clearance attorney, Sean Bigley, says, “Working overseas with a security clearance isn’t new.  After all, we have thousands of government employees and contractors stationed abroad – some of whom are in hostile foreign countries. But those folks have historically worked on U.S. military bases, at embassies, or at other U.S. government outposts, all of which are outfitted with extensive safeguards to prevent eavesdropping by the host country’s government. Cleared remote work in a foreign country that isn’t at a U.S. government facility is a whole other ball of wax. Presumably, the individual would not be working with classified information, since that is generally prohibited for even stateside remote work. But accessing sensitive albeit unclassified U.S. government or contractor data from abroad could still pose significant national security risks. If this was done without pre-approval of the cognizant U.S. government security officials, the offending employee would likely be in hot water when inevitably discovered. ”

Personal Advantages and National Security

It may not be advantageous to even push the remote envelope this far – at least in the cleared world. While the pandemic has ushered in an increase in remote work options, the reality is that not everyone has warm and fuzzy feelings about no longer having all employees on site together. Although many are advocating for change and reform to policies, others are quietly showing up at the offices five days a week like they never worked from home in 2020. Peer pressure still has a way of shaping norms and ultimately, policy. But regardless of promotions and advantages, the bottom line is that information needs to be protected in national security, so that might mean enjoying an overseas vacation instead of setting up a permanent OCONUS address change. Or you can find an organization with open cleared positions outside the U.S. and start to fulfill your OCONUS dreams.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.