What's the difference between embassies and consulates?
Today Mitt Romney called Benghazi the capital of Libya (it's Tripoli) and apparently mixed up consulates and embassies. I thought it'd be a handy question to have on here, for those sorting out visas and the like when wondering about consulates and embassies.
So, the question - from a traveller's point of view, what's the difference between an embassy and a consulate, and what would you use each one for?
From the perspective of a traveler, there is almost zero difference.
Both embassies and consulates are representative departments of a foreign country/government within another country.
Technically, an Embassy is where an "Ambassador" is based. As there can only be one Ambassador for a specific country, there can only be (at most) one Embassy. As the Ambassador is the highest ranking representative of that foreign government, the Embassy is thus also deemed to be the highest level of representative location.
A consulate is similar, but generally deemed to be a lower ranking due to the lack of an Ambassador. Consulates will generally be smaller - often being more like an office where the embassy often doubles as the actual residence for the Ambassador and/or some of his staff.
Some countries may not have an embassy in a specific country, but may only have a consulate there. This will occur in the situation where there is no ambassador assigned to the country.
From a travel perspective, both will generally provide the same services, and normally location will be far more relevant than the name. In some cases consulates may be slower to process requests as they may simply pass them onto the Embassy rather than doing them themselves. eg, the Australia consulate in San Francisco does not issue new passports - they are forwarded to the embassy in Washington DC, however all passport requests from people in the San Francisco area must be done via the local consulate and can not be sent directly to the embassy!
good explanation. I would just add that as a traveler even if you are at an embassy, you will go to the consular section of that embassy, because they deal with passports and visa. There is often a separate entrance for the consular section used by the public, while the main entrance is for official guests.
yes but I think consulates offer way fewer services and opening times in general. On the other hand they offer a closer service (so you don't need to go across your country to get a visa). I also believe embassies usually stand in the capital city of a country (and not in the biggest/economic capital). For example, in Canada, Ottawa has a lot of embassies while Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are larger cities.
Consulates frequently will offer fewer services, but generally these will be services not relevant to travelers. I've never come across any travel services that couldn't be handled at a consulate but could by an Embassy. And yes, Embassy's will normally be in the capital city due to it being the more logical place for the Ambassador to be based.
It's more that like when you're in St Petersburg, Russia, there's only a consulate, and there is no embassy, although my visa was delayed, I was told, because the ambassador was busy, although that could have been translation problems and they just meant "the guy who does it".
I think for some countries the line is getting blurrier with respect to services. In Thailand for example (where I live) the UK Embassy in Bangkok no longer does passports either - it sends them to Hong Kong (they are printed in the Uk and sent direct to Bangkok in some weird kind of triangle). The main difference here is that Bangkok isues other paperwork such as proof of income/right to marry/etc, which needs an ambassadorial signature. In Chiang Mai we have a consulate - it seems to do most other things that the Embassy does for travellers. Thai's wanting visas go to Bangkok.
-1 It is incorrect to assume that they are more or less synonymous to each other. There are embassies without Ambassadors.
In china, if you want a Russian visum and are not a Chinese resident, you need to be at the Russian Embassy as I was kindly informed by the Russian Consulate.