General Question

Buttonstc's avatar

What is the difference between a US embassy vs. consulate and what determines which foreign nations get one or the other?

Asked by Buttonstc (24546 points ) August 6th, 2013 from iPhone

I was listening to an interview with Col. Bill Cowen this morning and he pointed out that it was a consulate rather than an embassy in Benghazi. And that an embassy is better staffed and hardened security-wise than a consulate thus making Benghazi more vulnerable.

I’m assuming his info is correct so that has me wondering my two questions above.

It just seems to me that the US presence in a dangerous area should warrant the full protection and security provided by an embassy while more peaceful countries (Scandinavian countries, Ireland, etc.) could get by with less defensive protections in place so a consulate could get the job done quite adequately.

But what do I know about defensive necessities in hostile nations? Hence my Qs.

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3 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

There is only one Embassy in a foreign country. For instance, Mexico or the UK has only one Embassy each in America. But, they may have several Consulates that are like branches of the Embassy. The Embassy is usually in the Capitol city (maybe always?) so, in America the Embassies are in Washington DC, but there are consulates in other places around the country. Since the US is so large it is not unusual that we have a large number of consulates here from foreign countries. In smaller countries they might only have Embassies and no Consulates. The Embassies are usually much larger than a consulate office, much larger staff, and the Ambassador to the country usually works from the Embassy.

gailcalled's avatar

From the horse’s mouth; Source.

The embassy is responsible for representing the home country abroad and handling major diplomatic issues, such as preserving the rights of citizens abroad. The ambassador is the highest official in the embassy and acting as the chief diplomat and spokesperson for the home government. Ambassadors are typically appointed by the highest level of the home government. In the United States, ambassadors are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Usually, if a country recognizes another as being sovereign, an embassy is established to maintain foreign relations and provide assistance to traveling citizens.

By contrast, a consulate is a smaller version of an embassy and is generally located in the larger tourist cities of a country but not the capital. In Germany for instance, the U.S. consulates are in cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich, but not in the capital city of Berlin (because the embassy is located in Berlin).

Consulates (and their chief diplomat, the consul) handle minor diplomatic issues like issuing visas, aiding in trade relationships, and taking care of migrants, tourists, and expatriates.

Buttonstc's avatar

Thanks guys. That makes sense. For some odd reason my brain was thinking that it was an either/or situation. But it was early in the morning, not the most productive time for a night owl brain :)

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