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Consul and ambassador – basic differences

29-04-2020

In almost every country you can find your national embassy or consulate. The key task of these two institutions is to protect and represent the interests of their citizens abroad. What is the difference between a consul and a country ambassador?

At the very beginning it is worth emphasizing that the consulate and embassy are two different institutions that perform slightly different functions. Quite often these words are used interchangeably, which is a mistake.

Embassy – basic tasks 

In light of the law, the ambassador is primarily a representative of the country. The embassy is the most important diplomatic institution. The consulate is lower in the hierarchy and falls under the jurisdiction of the embassy.

The embassy’s main tasks include:

  • establishing and caring for good relations between countries
  • taking care of the security of citizens who are staying within the embassy
  • legal assistance in urgent cases (e.g. assistance in returning to the country)

The embassy can be described as more representative than helping one. Promotion of the state through the prism of culture, history and goods – these are the everyday tasks of the ambassador. Only if there is no consulate nearby, the ambassador has the right to take over some of the functions of this institution. Most often it will be help related to issuing a visa or giving an advice.

It is worth knowing that the law of the state of which it is a representative, applies at the embassy. This means that, being, for example, in Switzerland, but directly at the Polish embassy, we are subject to Polish law. However, outside the embassy, Polish law is no longer in force.

Consulate – basic tasks

As mentioned above, the consulate has more functions than the embassy. First of all, it is a diplomatic mission that offers help to people who are outside their own country. Among the many tasks of the consul, we should distinguish:

  • issuing temporary passports
  • granting citizenship
  • performing the function of a registry office
  • brokering financial assistance (the consulate, at the citizen’s request, can help you contact your family and support the process of sending funds)
  • in exceptional cases, the consulate may provide financial assistance (e.g. costs for returning to the country), but only after completing the application, which obliges to pay the costs completely upon return
  • in the event of arrest or detention abroad, it is worth contacting the consulate immediately, which is obliged to provide legal assistance and inform our close ones of the situation
  • the disappearance of someone close is also a reason to contact the consul

It is worth noting that the consulate provides assistance in emergency situations. Change of reservation, payment of debts, purchase of airline tickets, help in finding a job – all this is not the responsibility of the consulate. Always as far as possible, it is worth trying to solve similar problems first on your own.