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U.S. Department of State Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Each federal agency is responsible for meeting its FOIA responsibilities for its own records. This site is designed to familiarize you with the specific procedures for making a request for records controlled by the U.S. Department of State. Click Here for a list of Other Federal Agencies’ FOIA Web Sites.

Availability of Department of State Records and Information to the Public

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the U.S. Government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request, except those records that are protected from disclosure pursuant to nine exemptions and three exclusions. The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not create a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies. Any requests for state or local government records should be directed to the appropriate state or local government agency. 22 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 171 codifies the access procedures and guidelines for the availability of Department of State records and information to the public.

Copies of the FOIA and 22CFR, part 171 can be accessed through the FOIA/Privacy Act Reference Guide.

The Department of State maintains records dealing with:

  • The formulation and execution of U.S. Foreign Policy
  • The administration and operations of the Department of State and
    U.S. missions abroad
  • Applications from U.S. citizens for U.S. passports
  • Visa requests from non-citizens to enter the U.S.
  • Consular assistance given to U.S. citizens abroad
  • Current and former employees of the Department

Generally permanent records 25 years and older, pre-1925 passport and pre-1940 visa records are property of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For a description of Department of State records held by NARA, go to the Electronic Reading Room.

Records Available Without Having to File a FOIA Request

Electronic Reading Room - provides access to the Department of State's FOIA Annual Reports, frequently requested documents released under the FOIA, and special document collections of continuing public interest. There is also a link to the Organizational List of Bureaus and Offices page; most of the bureaus and offices within the Department post various fact sheets, press releases, and reports online.

Publications - provides access to various publications including reports, background notes, and policy statements (see also the Subject Index ).

Regulations - provides access to the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and the Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH), as well as the Code of Federal Regulations.

Declassified/Released Document Collections – frequently requested documents released under the FOIA and special document collections of continuing public interest.

Office of the Historian – for historical records of U.S. Foreign Policy, including the Foreign Relations of the United States series, the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.

Forms - provides access to official Department of State forms, including Visa and Passport forms.

Making a Request

Requesters are encouraged to consult the Department of State Information Access Guide/Manual prior to submitting a request. Mail or fax your request for Department of State records to the following:

Office of Information Programs and Services
A/GIS/IPS/RL
U. S. Department of State
Washington, D. C. 20522-8100

Facsimile: 202-261-8579

Please write "Freedom of Information Act" on the envelope or the subject line of your fax.

There are no special forms needed for making a FOIA request, but your request should include the following information:

  • Your name, address, and daytime telephone number.
  • As much information as you can provide so that the Department can locate the requested material, including the subject, timeframe, any individuals involved, and reasons why the Department is believed to have records on the subject.
  • The maximum amount of fees that you are willing to pay. By making a FOIA request, you shall be considered to have agreed to pay all applicable fees up to $25, unless otherwise noted. Advance payment may be required when fees are likely to exceed $250.
  • If you are seeking a copy of a contract, please provide the contract number and an agreement to pay up to $300 per contract.

Requests for personal information

If you are requesting personal information on yourself or on behalf of someone else, please refer to Validation Checklist to ensure proper filing of your FOIA or Privacy Act request.

Electronic FOIA Request

If you are not seeking personal information about yourself or personal information on behalf of someone else, you may file a request online by using the FOIA Request Letter Generator on the Electronic FOIA Request page.

Please note: Requests for personal records require an original signature and cannot be accepted via internet or by fax. For further guidance, you should consult the "Department of State Information Access Guide/Manual" page found in the FOIA/Privacy Act Reference Guide.

If you need assistance with processing a request or if you have any questions regarding the status of a request, you may contact the FOIA Requester Service Center (FRSC) at 202-261-8484. If you are not satisfied with the service you received from the FRSC, you may contact the FOIA Public Liaison:

Patrick D. Scholl, at 202-261-8484.