A diplomatic mission usually refers to an embassy and/or a consulate. A diplomatic mission aims to represent their country in another foreign country to strengthen international relations and facilitate diplomatic services between their citizens and the receiving country.
Often these two terms are used interchangeably, but there are some notable differences between the two:
|An established diplomatic mission operating on a large scale to create positive, cultural, scientific or economic relations between two countries.||A branch office of an embassy that is smaller and works in a more limited capacity.|
|Headed by an ambassador||Headed by a consul|
|Only one embassy per country||More than one consulate per country|
An embassy is always established in the capital city of the receiving country. On the other hand, consular offices are usually located in large, populated cities that are mostly tourist attractions and economically developed. So, if you need an embassy, always check the capital city of the country you are visiting, and for a consulate search the popular cities.
Embassies work by having a well-equipped staff that is usually in charge of managing important diplomatic issues, such as negotiations and immigration issues. To fully understand how embassies work you need to know four things:
- The head of the embassy. As mentioned previously, an embassy is headed by the ambassador who acts as a spokesperson for the representative country. Each country has different ways to appoint ambassadors, for example in the U.S., ambassadors are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. An ambassador can hold their position for up to four years depending on how long their country has appointed them.
- The delegation. The embassy functions as a whole with a group of people that work together with the ambassador to carry out their mission. The staff at embassies can be mixed, with locals who work there or staff members that travelled from their own country. In an embassy, you will find an economic officer, a political officer, media manager, secretarial staff, housekeeping staff and so on.
- The building. Every embassy has its designated building that is used as an office space in the receiving country. At times the ambassador might be able to use the embassy as their living quarters, but in other cases, the building is typically a shared office space. Usually, the word “embassy” is used to refer to the building with the staff as a whole, but the correct term for the physical building would be chancery.
- The services. When a consulate is non-existent, the embassy provides consular services such as visa and passport services, financial grants, cultural exchange programs, business opportunities in both countries, etc. these services are offered on top of the main purpose of the embassy; promoting international relations.
A consulate offers specific services to help their citizens that include:
- Improving business transactions. A consulate assists local companies and businesses from their country to establish their business, invest, or exchange goods or services to promote trade between the two countries.
- Issuing visas. Consulates are usually in charge of reviewing visa applications and issuing visas to locals so they can visit their representing country. For example, if you are an Indian citizen and you want to visit the U.S., you should apply for a visa at your nearest U.S. consulate.
- Notarizing documents. Consulates offer notary services for their citizens or locals who are applying for a visa. Sometimes, you may be able to notarize the documents at a third party, but you must have them authenticated by the consulate.
- Providing travel documents. In case you damage your passport or lose your passport during your travels, your consulate may be able to issue a new passport or provide you with temporary travel documents so you can return to your home country.
- Assisting expats. Expats who are permanent residents in a foreign country can contact their nearest consulate to get help if they need to access records from their country of origin. Consulates may also help expats by providing information about business opportunities or language classes.
- Providing legal information. In case you have a legal issue while you are visiting a foreign country, the consulate will help you by providing a list of attorneys that can assist you. Please note that a consulate cannot interfere in legal proceedings.
- Providing a list of interpreters (if needed). If you need a translator, the consulate can provide you with a list of available interpreters, including legal translators.
- Contacting your family members in your home country (if necessary). If during your travels, you fell ill or were involved in a crime, or anything similar, the consulate is in charge of contacting your family in your home country and provide information regarding your wellbeing and your status.
You can apply for a visa at an embassy if there isn’t a consulate of the country you want to visit in your own country. If there is a consular office that is close to you, then you have to apply for a visa there since a consulate processes visa applications.
In cases where some countries only accept online visa applications, the consulate may still be able to help you by serving as a point of contact between you and the other country. At times you may also be required to pay the visa fee at the consulate or submit your fingerprints.
Not all countries have an embassy or consulate that meets the traditional definition of a diplomatic mission. Additionally, the presence of a consulate or embassy in another country is usually affected by the political situation in that specific country or by a strained relationship between two specific countries.
Here are a few notable mentions of unusual embassies or consulates:
- The Commonwealth. Former British Empire territories don’t have embassies but have high commissions. High commissions are usually headed by the high commissioner and serve a similar function as an embassy between the territories of the Commonwealth.
- Kosovo. Because not every country recognizes Kosovo as an independent country, the majority of countries don’t have established embassies or consulates in Kosovo.
- North Korea. Currently, North Korea has 24 embassies that are all located in the same compound in Pyongyang. There is no U.S. embassy in North Korea.
- Iran. There is currently no U.S. embassy in Iran, due to a hostage situation in 1979-1981, where the embassy staff and civilians were held hostage, after which the U.S. withdrew the embassy and closed it off.
- Taiwan. Taiwan is usually regarded as a part of the People’s Republic of China, and so there are no official consulates or embassies, only unofficial representative offices that handle visa and passport issues.
Diplomatic missions and their staff do not usually have full diplomatic immunity. However, embassies and consulates enjoy some special privileges during their stay in a foreign country. Embassy properties are protected by law and local authorities cannot enter the building without permission even if there is an active fire in the building.
Usually, an attack on the embassy is seen as a direct attack on the country itself, and some countries withdraw their embassy as a sign of discontent.