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Indian Foreign Service – One Of The Best 3 Preferred Indian Civil Services

The Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is a coveted service like the IAS in India. The Indian Foreign Service is one of the Central civil services under Group A and is a part of the executive branch of the Government of India.

The candidates are selected for the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) through the Civil Service Examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) every year.


The IFS is one of the smallest cadres in the country. In recent years, the intake into the Indian Foreign Service has averaged between 30-35 persons annually. The present cadre strength of the service stands at approximately 850 officers manning around 193 Indian missions and posts abroad and the various posts in the Ministry at home.


Established on October 9, 1946, the Indian Foreign Service completed 75 years of its existence. Over these seven decades, the service has seen India, the largest democracy in the world, emerging as the modern nation. IFS has produced President and Vice President of India, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Ministers, Parliamentarians, noted authors, scholars, historians, and international public servants from its ranks. They work towards serving the nation and furthering National interests globally.


IFS officers worked 24*7 as foot soldiers of the country by representing India globally. It is evidently fighting multiple challenges from Covid19 to repatriation from war zones to hard bargaining to promoting business interests. Around the world, Service remains a Call Away for Indians, leading from the front in times of distress.


The on-going pandemic led to unprecedented disruptions in international travel, with hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals stranded overseas. A quick response by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Service promptly rose to the occasion, created a 24×7 Special COVID Cell in March 2020 to help stranded Indians abroad, and then took up the massive evacuation operation called Vande Bharat Mission in May 2020. The Indian Foreign Service was at the front lines of managing the crisis as first responders.


Under the Vande Bharat Mission, more than 17 lakh Indians have been brought back by air, sea, and land across multiple borders. IFS Officers and their teams worked with other government agencies and the private sector and their work in this regard is commendable.



The origin of the Indian Foreign Service can be traced back to the British rule when the Foreign Department was created to conduct business with the “Foreign European Powers”. In1946, on the eve of India’s independence, the Government of India decided to create a service called the Indian Foreign Service for India’s diplomatic, consular and commercial representation overseas.


Notable IFS officers include- Syed Akbaruddin: A 1985 batch IFS officer, The Man who changed the face and role of Government Spokesperson forever. He is India’s permanent representative at United Nations. A 1973 batch IFS officer, Nirupama Rao became the second woman to be the Foreign Secretary of India (2009 – 2011) is one of the notable personality.


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UPSC Civil Services exam is a common entrance for recruitment of Civil Servants at all India Level and central levels. Those who clear all the stages of examination become an officer in IAS, IPS, or IFoS, and other Central Services which includes IFS and IRS mainly and other group B services.


Lakhs of aspirants from all over India attempt the exam and very few manage to get through it. It is one of the top three services in India along with the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service.


The exam is conducted in three different stages and the Preliminary exam is the first stage. The preliminary exam comprises two compulsory papers namely General Studies Paper I and General Studies Paper-II, popularly known as CSAT.


Each paper is for 200 marks. UPSC Preliminary exam being the first stage, the marks obtained in it shall not be counted to determine a candidate’s final order of merit. The Mains Examination consisting 9 papers in which two papers are qualifying. Only the marks obtained in 7 papers are counted to determine the merit along with the score in the personality test. The personality test is the final stage.



  • An officer appointed to the Junior Scale of the Service shall be on probation for a period of two years, during which he shall be required to undergo such training and pass such examinations as may be prescribed by the Central Government from time to time.
  • The probationers commence their training, together with their colleagues from the other All India Services, at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussourie. The training period here ranges between 3 to 4 months.
  • After completing their training in LBSNAA, the probationers join the Sushma Swaraj Foreign Service Institute, India in New Delhi for more intensive training in the various disciplines that a career diplomat needs to familiarise himself with.
  • During this period, the new entrants undergo a multi-faceted and comprehensive training program intended to give them a thorough grounding in diplomatic knowledge, diplomatic qualities, and diplomatic skills. 
  • At the conclusion of their training program, an officer is assigned a compulsory foreign language (CFL). After a brief period of desk attachment in the Ministry of External Affairs, the officer is posted to an Indian Mission abroad in a country where his CFL is the native language and enrolled in a language course.
  • An officer promoted to the senior scale of the service shall also be on probation for a period of two years from the date on which he is so promoted.

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  • A Foreign Service Officer begins his career abroad as a Third Secretary which is an entry-level post. He/She is promoted to Second Secretary as soon as he is confirmed in service. Subsequent promotions are to the levels of First Secretary, Counsellor, Minister, and Ambassador/High Commissioner/Permanent Representative. 
  • Officers can also be posted to Indian Consulates abroad where the hierarchy is Vice-Consul, Consul, and Consul General.
  • The hierarchy at the Ministry of External Affairs includes 6 stages: Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Director, Joint Secretary, Additional Secretary, and Secretary.
Career and rank structure of IFS officers in ascending order of rank
At an embassyAt the Ministry of External Affairs:
  • Third Secretary (entry level)
  • Second Secretary (promotion upon being confirmed in service)
  • First Secretary
  • CounsellorMinister
  • Deputy Chief of Mission/Deputy High Commissioner/Deputy Permanent Representative
  • Ambassador/High Commissioner/Permanent Representative
  • Assistant Secretary/Under Secretary
  • Deputy Secretary
  • Director
  • Joint Secretary
  • Additional Secretary
  • Secretary
  • Foreign Secretary of India

The Functions of an Indian Diplomat May Be Summarized as:

  • Representing India in its Embassies, High Commissions, Consulates, and Permanent Missions to multilateral organizations like UN;
  • Protecting India’s national interests in the country of his/her posting;
  • Promoting friendly relations with the receiving state as also its people, including NRI / PIOs;
  • Reporting accurately on developments in the country of posting which are likely to influence the formulation of India’s policies;
  • Negotiating agreements on various issues with the authorities of the receiving state; and
  • Extending consular facilities to foreigners and Indian nationals abroad.
  • At home, the Ministry of External Affairs is responsible for all aspects of external relations.

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The salary of an Indian Foreign Service Officer is comparable with that of the salary of an Indian Administrative Service officer. It can even be higher than an IAS officer. The salary and perks are quite attractive. The overall IFS salary is around 60,000 per month including all the benefits and allowances. But this salary varies based on their posting.


If an officer got his/her posting in foreign countries then he/she may receive a salary around 2.40 lakhs under the special foreign allowance.


Hence, it is a service that not only gives great opportunities for personal development, but a greater pride and satisfaction one can get by representing one’s country in a significant manner. The responsibilities are huge, but at the same time it is a very rewarding career.  Thus it remains as one of the best preferred Indian Civil Services.

December 2023