How to book your exam (non-US test takers)
The applications process & test scheduling
This part can be a nightmare. Whilst I appreciate the need for ECFMG to carefully scrutinise applicants (to weed out those that got their medical degree from eBay), quite why this is such a complex and slow a system is beyond me. LEAVE LOTS OF TIME TO PLAN YOUR EXAM. Do not expect to be able to take your exam a month after deciding to do it.
Essentially, you need to download lots of forms from the ECFMG website, fill them in and send some back to ECFMG (with photographs of yourself and copies of your medical degree if you have already completed it). Photographs have to be verified by an authorised person (usually your medical school's dean). ECFMG then process these, whilst you do the most important part - fill in the online exam booking form and pay lots of money. Once processed, ECFMG send you an orange exam booking permit, which enables you to call Prometric to schedule your test. When you apply online, you specify an 'eligibility period' (usually 2-3 month blocks) within which you would like to take your test.
Whilst ECFMG claim that they will process your application within 10 days, the overall time from posting to actually getting your orange permit can be months. Plan your exam timetable well in advance. It can be hugely dissapointing to have an approximate exam date planned, only to find that ECFMG have not yet processed your application; this can totally throw your revision schedule - not something you want to do if you are already working as a doctor and have limited spare time. Prometric are usually quite good, and, certainly in the UK, have plenty of exam slots (they usually offer 2-3 days every week at the London centre).
One final word of warning...
Despite being a developed country, the USA, has an postal service with mysterious vanishing powers that would put everyone from Paul Daniels to David Blaine to shame. A number of people (and I write from personal experience here too) have had their applications 'lost in the post'. What makes this even more frustrating is the poor assistance ECFMG sadly provided me with this - despite calling several times over a 2-month period to be told 'don't worry, we're processing your application', I was told by the latest telephone operator I spoke to that ECFMG had never actually received my application. When I questioned why ECFMG didn't tell me this the previous times I had called, he went on to tell me: 'it's your fault for not asking us a correctly worded question'. Hmmm. Apparently, it transpires that when ECFMG give the standard response of 'we're processing your application' it can mean anything from 'we have no idea who you are and we have never seen your application' to 'yes we have it and are working on it but be patient'. Not quite what I expect when I pay $850.
In any case, the moral of this story is SEND EVERYTHING BY SUPER-TRACKED EXTRA SPECIALLY SECURE POST. If the post-office offer 24-hour televised coverage of your letter throughout it's journey, then take it. Trust me, it's worth it. It was hugely frustrating to waste over a month's revision because a US mailman played hide-and-seek with my forms...