What's the difference between an embassy and a consulate?

Every time I go to school I pass the honorary consulate of Ethiopia. I’m sure it’s a worthwhile institution, but what do they do there? What is the difference between an embassy, a consulate, an honorary consulate and a general consulate? Are there honorary embassies?

An embassy is presided over by an ambassador or minister and represents the country directly with the government of the host country. They are only in capital cities, so that, say, the British ambassador can meet with the US Secretary of State over urgent matters.

A consulate handles the more routine business of a country: giving out visas, helping their citizens, etc. They are located in cities other than the capital. (One exception is that New York City has embassies to the United Nations, so there may be embassies there. They’re set up to handle business between the country and the UN, but probably will handle some of the consular duties).

Sometimes a country will designate a citizen who lives in a smaller city to act a a consul (I seem to recall a couple in Albany). These aren’t full time, but handle the visa and tourism information on a part-time basis.

I’m not sure what an honorary consulate, but it might be my second example: a part-timer who handles counsel duties in an area where they aren’t a full-time job. The general consulate would be a full-time office.

I doubt there are honorary embassies. The closest thing would be when a country doesn’t recognize another. The US doesn’t recognize Castro’s Cuba, so there’s no Cuban embassy in Washington, but Cuba has designated a country (IIRC, Canada) to handle contacts between the US and them.

An embassy is a full-fledged representation of one country in another. There is an ambassador there, with certain powers under his country’s laws, and the embassy grounds are, with restrictions, foreign soil.

A consulate is a minor office where certain routine work can be done; the consul has relatively little power compared to an ambassador, and the consulate is often just an office with none of the “foreign soil” privileges of an embassy. A country with an embassy in New York or Washington may also have consulates in smaller cities, which may even be run by U.S. citizens. Most of the time, a consulate provides services for visitors from the home country who are lost, stranded, hold the wrong visa, etc. OTOH, There’s a guy I read about whose office is the consulate for several countries, and who does nothing but stock some visa applications and tourist information. He does this for money.

I believe “honorary consulate” refers to those run by local citizens, rather than career foreign service people. Such people are usually businessmen with ties to the appointing country. I don’t think there are honorary embassies.

Also, IIRC, a consulate building is not considered to be on foreign soil.

Embassy staff may be deeply involved in a country’s politics and economics. American embassies overseas have many divisions and normally have a Consular section that handles visas and the like.

Departments in embassies may (and usually do) include intelligence gathering agency members, whether declared or covert. In addition, embassies are generally much larger than consulates and have correspondingly larger support staff.

A Consul General may not be the senior American official in a foreign country, but an Ambassador always is, as he is the direct representative of the head of his/her country.

Technically, in New York countries don’t have embassies to the United Nations but Permanent Missions. I believe under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, the members of a permanent mission have diplomatic status virtually identical to that of diplomats appointed to an embassy.

In New York, most countries have both a Permanent Mission to the U.N. and a Consulate. I believe that there is a requirement that they be separate offices, with exceptions made for very small countries. (Oddly enough, the other day I passed the U.S. Embassy of Tonga while walking on East 51st Street. I guess that’s a small enough country that they don’t have a Washington embassy and they’ve combined the U.S. Embassy and the UN Mission. I don’t know if there are other countries like that.)

As to Honorary Consuls, the U.S. State Department explains: “As a matter of U.S. policy, honorary consular officers recognized by the U.S. Government are American citizens or permanent resident aliens who perform consular services on a part-time basis.” There’s more on that page on the privileges and immunities of consular officers.

RealityChuck pretty much has it.

Ambassadors handle the government-to-government diplomatic dealings, consulates handle the service-to-citizens business. The Ambassador is foremost a political appointee of the Head of State, and may or may not be a Foreign Service professional or even a career public servant.

Consul-Generals are in charge of a full-time, full-service office in a location that does not rate an embassy but has a large enough presence of your citizens and/or your business/political interests that you’ll have a significant workload and will want a full-time professional staff handling things.

Honorary Consuls, as stated, are citizens of the local country, who handle light consular duties in locations where the Foreign Ministry figures it’s not worth paying salary, room and board of an actual government official and staff. The “honorary consulate” is most often owned/rented by the HConsul as part of his own regular business.

“Honorary Ambassador” is an honour granted to individuals, with no diplomatic functions: but there are no honorary embassies. Nations not on speaking terms will have “interest sections” in a neutral third country’s embassy.

Christ in a cartoon, you guys are quick. Thanks a lot.

The CIA is your friend (well, you know what I mean):

So what’s a High Commission then? In Ottawa we have a British High Commission instead of a British Embassy. I always thought that the difference was due to the fact that Britain and Canada are both in the Commonwealth, but that’s just a guess.

Australia has “High Commissions” too.

I met the honorary Consul of Tanzania in Perth, omce: a middle aged lawyer who is involved in the mining industry there.

A High Commission is the equavalent of an Embassy between countries, like most of the Commonwealth, that share a head of state.

For instance, Queen Elizabeth is the head of state of both Australia and Canada. It would be sort of illogical for her in her role as Queen of Canada to send an ambassador to herself in her role as Queen of Australia. Instead, Canada sends a High Commissioner to Australia.

Okay, that makes sense. :slight_smile:

The US does recognize Cuba. We simply don’t have full norma diplomatic relations with them. Our Chief of Mission is James C. Cason and our Consul General is Richard Beer. Both work in our US Interests office in Havana in the Swiss (not Canadian) Embassy building - a large 7-story office building that hosts offical offices from many nations, including some smaller nations with full diplomatic relations [e.g. Cuba has strong ties to many poor African nations which prefer to avoid the cost of a full embassy building]

A Consulate has a menthol filter, an Embassy doesn’t.