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Embassy vs. Consulate vs. Mission: What’s the Difference?


Embassy vs consulate vs diplomatic mission vs resident mission; this article explains the differences and various functions of these entities of diplomacy.

Updated: 2017-12-03.
embassy vs consulate vs diplomatic mission vs resident mission vs non-resident missionI love clearing confusion for myself, and if I happen to clear the fuzziness for someone else while I’m at it, great! So, this installment of  difference-acknowledgement will explain the differences between various diplomatic missions, such as embassy vs consulate and resident mission vs non-resident mission.

I live in New York City, and here we have diplomatic missions to well over 100 countries. In the past, I’ve called these – incorrectly – “embassies,” but in all reality, they are usually “consulates,” what I’m referring to. Most embassies are located in capitals of nations, and so Washington, D.C. has all the literal embassies, save for a few, such as the ones for the countries of Andorra, Maldives, and Nauru.

Diplomatic Missions

Consulate-General of Germany in New York
Consulate-General of Germany, located at 871 United Nations Plaza in New York City, near the UN headquarters. Taken by Wikimedia Commons user Jim.henderson. [CC BY-SA 2.0].
In our globalized world today, countries tend to host residents of other countries – whether for trade or for relocation or some other reason. One of the most important tasks that a diplomatic mission carries out is to see to the safety and wellbeing of its country’s citizens, their diaspora.

diplomatic mission is essentially any of the terms that we are trying to clear up in this article, like embassies or consulates, which sets up shop in one country, state, or governing body to represent the citizens and interests of another. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a treaty accepted by 189 nations (as of June, 2013), sums it up as follows:

“The functions of a diplomatic mission consist, inter alia, in representing the sending State in the receiving State; protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State; ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.”

– Resident Mission vs. Non-Resident Mission

A resident mission is what one normally considers when thinking of various diplomatic outposts. A resident mission is one where the state or nation that plays host to the diplomatic mission recognizes the sovereignty and existence of the state that it represents. It has a permanent representative office in its host state.

On the other end, you may find an organization seeking to represent the people and interests of its state in another, though its host does not fully-recognize the sovereignty or existence of that state which it represents – this is a non-resident mission. An example of a non-resident mission might be Somaliland’s Representative Offices, which has outposts in cities such as London and Rome; Somaliland is recognized by most of the international community as a part of the country of Somalia, though it functions as a sovereign state, self-declared.


French embassy in Vienna, Austria
French embassy in Vienna, Austria. Taken by Wikimedia Commons user MrPanyGoff. [CC BY-SA 2.0].
An embassy is sometimes referred to as a permanent (diplomatic) mission. Often confused with consulates, like in my case, embassies are the more important representative body. Embassies represent their country or state abroad in diplomatic interests, as well as the interests of its citizens that may be living, working, or visiting the host country.

To be completely technical though, embassy is defined as the diplomatic delegation itself, though most people harmlessly call their physical building such; the name for the building is actually a chancery. Its head is called the ambassador.

Functions of embassies include:

  • Consular services – Services that a diplomatic mission provides for its citizens abroad; most of the time in cities other than where the embassy is established, these are handled by the embassy’s satellite offices, called consulates.
  • Representing political positions – An embassy will its diplomatic delegation will officially represent its country’s political positions and interests.
  • Messaging capacity – The embassy plays a role as an official messenger between its country’s government to its host country’s government; likewise, the embassy may, from time to time, take up the same function between its citizens abroad and their families or government back home. It also informs its own government to the conditions and states of affairs in its host country.
  • Commercial interests – Just like it represents the health, wellbeing, and interests of its citizens abroad, it does so with businesses and their assets abroad.
  • Promoting its country’s traditions, culture, and education of its history. 


A consulate is essentially a satellite office of the embassy, but its roles are limited in scope, usually pertaining to and prioritizing the interests and concerns of its people and businesses abroad. The head of a consulate is called a consul. If a country hosts both an embassy and one or more consulates, the consulates will take over those consular duties, which include:

  • Emergency assistance – If a citizen who is abroad has an emergency, the consulate is there to support them; these could include missing persons, medical emergencies, etc. Also, if the host country begins to get dangerous, the consulate will help with evacuation of its citizens abroad.
  • Passport services – A consulate will help their citizens renew or replace lost, stolen, or damaged passports and various other official documents.
  • Citizen liaison – A citizen of the consulate’s home country may seek consular assistance in communicating between themselves and family back home, and vice versa.
  • Legal help – The consulate will also look after any of their detained or imprisoned citizens, making sure that they are fairly represented and justly tried.

– Consulate-General

A consulate-general is something of a mix between a regular consulate and a full-fledged embassy. Located in most of the major cities where the embassy isn’t, a consulate-general may handle consular duties for its region, as well as additional items, such as promoting its country’s cultural events and activities in the host city.

The head diplomat of the consulate-general is called the consul-general, and this diplomat may be in control of other, smaller consulates in the same host state.

Well, what’d you think? Think you can tell the difference between a resident mission and non-resident mission? Embassy vs consulate? We’ve also got many other terms related to diplomacy and other aspects of travel in our great travel glossary.

So, what did you think? This is part of our ongoing series, “Versus: ‘What’s the Difference?'” For more like this, check out these articles:

Ethnicity vs Race | Great Britain vs UK | Arab vs Persian | Hispanic vs Latino | Saint Martin vs Sint Maarten | Oriental vs Asian

Updated: 2017-12-03
Reason: Migration of site from the old, long URL (www.dauntlessjaunter.com) to this long-overdue shorter one 🙂 (we may have updated some typos or metadata while we were at it)

Christian Eilers
Written by
Christian Eilers
Join the discussion

  • One question, of the three, are they all considered foreign soil, and can refuse entry to non-citizens such as local police, FBI, NSA?

    • Hey Allan, thanks for writing in, and that’s an excellent question!

      Any diplomatic mission, such as an embassy or consulate, is technically NOT sovereign territory.

      However, according to the Vienna Convention, it is “immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.”

      When people think they are safe because they made it to their home country’s embassy, they’re not on their home country’s land. However, they are on property that is immune from the host country’s authorities barging in there.

      A host country could violate the Vienna Convention, but would take something exceedingly grave to warrant, and it might lead to war or something.

      Hope that helps, Allan, and thanks so much, once again! I’m going to update this article soon to reflect this, as it is a huge miss on my part 🙂

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