Consul (representative)

Last updated

A consul is an official representative of the government of one state in the territory of another, normally acting to assist and protect the citizens of the consul's own country, and to facilitate trade and friendship between the people of the two countries. [1]

Sovereign state Political organization with a centralized independent government

In international law, a sovereign country, country, or simply state, is a political entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is neither dependent on nor subjected to any other power or state.


A consul is distinguished from an ambassador, the latter being a representative from one head of state to another, but both have a form of immunity. There can be only one ambassador from one country to another, representing the first country's head of state to that of the second, and his or her duties revolve around diplomatic relations between the two countries; however, there may be several consuls, one in each of several major cities, providing assistance with bureaucratic issues to both the citizens of the consul's own country traveling or living abroad and to the citizens of the country in which the consul resides who wish to travel to or trade with the consul's country.

An ambassador is an official envoy, especially a high-ranking diplomat who represents a state and is usually accredited to another sovereign state or to an international organization as the resident representative of their own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment. The word is also often used more liberally for persons who are known, without national appointment, to represent certain professions, activities and fields of endeavor such as sales.

A head of state is the public persona who officially embodies a state in its unity and legitimacy. Depending on the country's form of government and separation of powers, the head of state may be a ceremonial figurehead or concurrently the head of government and more.

A less common usage is an administrative consul, who takes a governing role and is appointed by a country that has colonised or occupied another.

Under certain historical circumstances, a major power's consular representation would take on various degrees of administrative roles, not unlike a colonial Resident Minister. This would often occur in territories without a formal state government or in relatively insignificant "backwaters."

Colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components. Colonization refers strictly to migration, for example, to settler colonies in America or Australia, trading posts, and plantations, while colonialism to the existing indigenous peoples of styled "new territories". Colonization was linked to the spread of tens of millions from Western European states all over the world. In many settled colonies, Western European settlers eventually formed a large majority of the population after killing or driving away indigenous peoples. Examples include the Americas, Australia and New Zealand. These colonies were occasionally called 'neo-Europes'. In other places, Western European settlers formed minority groups, which often used more advanced weaponry to dominate the people initially living in their places of settlement.

Military occupation effective provisional control of a certain power over a territory

Military or belligerent occupation is effective provisional control by a certain ruling power over a territory, which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity, without the violation of the actual sovereign. The territory is then known as the occupied territory and the ruling power the occupant. Occupation is distinguished from annexation by its intended temporary nature, by its military nature, and by citizenship rights of the controlling power not being conferred upon the subjugated population.

The imposing building on Luis de Camoes Square in Lisbon which held the Consulate-General of Brazil for more than a century. 17.4.14 1 Lisbon 325 (13909208546).jpg
The imposing building on Luís de Camões Square in Lisbon which held the Consulate-General of Brazil for more than a century.

Antecedent: the classical Greek proxenos

In classical Greece, some of the functions of the modern consul were fulfilled by a proxenos. Unlike the modern position, this was a citizen of the host polity (in Greece, a city-state). The proxenos was usually a wealthy merchant who had socio-economic ties with another city and who helped its citizens when they were in trouble in his own city. The position of proxenos was often hereditary in a particular family. Modern honorary consuls fulfill a function that is to a degree similar to that of the ancient Greek institution.

Classical Greece Period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC

Classical Greece was a period of around 200 years in Greek culture. This Classical period saw the annexation of much of modern-day Greece by the Persian Empire and its subsequent independence. Classical Greece had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and on the foundations of Western civilization. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, scientific thought, theatre, literature and philosophy derives from this period of Greek history. In the context of the art, architecture, and culture of Ancient Greece, the Classical period corresponds to most of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The Classical period in this sense follows the Greek Dark Ages and Archaic period and is in turn succeeded by the Hellenistic period.

A city-state is a sovereign state, also described as a type of small independent country, that usually consists of a single city and its dependent territories. Historically, this included cities such as Rome, Athens, Carthage, and the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. As of 2019, only a handful of sovereign city-states exist, with some disagreement as to which are city-states. A great deal of consensus exists that the term properly applies currently to Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City. City states are also sometimes called microstates which however also includes other configurations of very small countries, not to be confused with micronations.

Historical development of the terms

Consuls were the highest magistrates of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. The term was revived by the Republic of Genoa, which, unlike Rome, bestowed it on various state officials, not necessarily restricted to the highest. Among these were Genoese officials stationed in various Mediterranean ports, whose role included duties similar to those of the modern consul, i. e. helping Genoese merchants and sailors in difficulties with the local authorities.

Consul was the title of one of the two chief magistrates of the Roman Republic, and subsequently also an important title under the Roman Empire. The title was used in other European city states through antiquity and the Middle Ages, then revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic. The related adjective is consular, from the Latin consularis.

Magistrate Officer of the state, usually judge

The term magistrate is used in a variety of systems of governments and laws to refer to a civilian officer who administers the law. In ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest ranking government officers, and possessed both judicial and executive powers. In other parts of the world, such as China, a magistrate was responsible for administration over a particular geographic area. Today, in some jurisdictions, a magistrate is a judicial officer who hears cases in a lower court, and typically deals with more minor or preliminary matters. In other jurisdictions, magistrates may be volunteers without formal legal training who perform a judicial role with regard to minor matters.

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

The consolat de mar was an institution established under the reign of Peter IV of Aragon in the fourteenth century, and spread to 47 locations throughout the Mediterranean. [3] It was primarily a judicial body, administering maritime and commercial law as Lex Mercatoria . Although the consolat de mar was established by the Corts General (parliament) of the Crown of Aragon, the consuls were independent from the King. This distinction between consular and diplomatic functions remains (at least formally) to this day. Modern consuls retain limited judicial powers to settle disputes on ships from their country (notably regarding the payment of wages to sailors).

Peter IV of Aragon King of Aragon

Peter IV, called the Ceremonious, was from 1336 until his death the King of Aragon and also King of Sardinia and Corsica, King of Valencia, and Count of Barcelona. In 1344, he deposed James III of Majorca and made himself King of Majorca.

Commercial law body of law that applies to persons and businesses engaged in commerce

Commercial law, also known as trade law, is the body of law that applies to the rights, relations, and conduct of persons and businesses engaged in commerce, merchandising, trade, and sales. It is often considered to be a branch of civil law and deals with issues of both private law and public law.

Parliament legislature whose power and function are similar to those dictated by the Westminster system of the United Kingdom

In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: representing the electorate, making laws, and overseeing the government via hearings and inquiries.The term is similar to the idea of a senate, synod or congress, and is commonly used in countries that are current or former monarchies, a form of government with a monarch as the head. Some contexts restrict the use of the word parliament to parliamentary systems, although it is also used to describe the legislature in some presidential systems, even where it is not in the official name.

The consulado de mercaderes was set up in 1543 in Seville as a merchant guild to control trade with Latin America. As such, it had branches in the principal cities of the Spanish colonies.

The connection of "consul" with trade and commercial law is retained in French. In Francophone countries, a juge consulaire (consular judge) is a non-professional judge elected by the chamber of commerce to settle commercial disputes in the first instance (in France, sitting in panels of three; in Belgium, in conjunction with a professional magistrate).

Consulates and embassies

Consulate-General of Indonesia in Houston is Indonesia's representation in Houston, Texas, United States. IndonesiaConsulateHouston.JPG
Consulate-General of Indonesia in Houston is Indonesia's representation in Houston, Texas, United States.
Consulate of Kazakhstan in Omsk, Russia Consulate of Kazakhstan in Omsk.jpg
Consulate of Kazakhstan in Omsk, Russia
Consulate of Denmark in Hamburg Klopstockstrasse 27.JPG
Consulate of Denmark in Hamburg

The office of a consul is a consulate and is usually subordinate to the state's main representation in the capital of that foreign country (host state), usually an embassy or – between Commonwealth countries – high commission . Like the terms embassy or high commission, consulate may refer not only to the office of consul, but also to the building occupied by the consul and his or her staff. The consulate may share premises with the embassy itself.

Consular rank

A consul of the highest rank is termed a consul-general, and is appointed to a consulate-general. There are typically one or more deputy consuls-general, consuls, vice-consuls, and consular agents working under the consul-general. A country may appoint more than one consul-general to another nation.

Authority and activities

Consuls of various ranks may have specific legal authority for certain activities, such as notarizing documents. As such, diplomatic personnel with other responsibilities may receive consular letters patent (commissions). Aside from those outlined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, there are few formal requirements outlining what a consular official must do. For example, for some countries, consular officials may be responsible for the issue of visas; other countries may limit "consular services" to providing assistance to compatriots, legalization of documents, etc. Nonetheless, consulates proper will be headed by consuls of various ranks, even if such officials have little or no connection with the more limited sense of consular service.

Activities of a consulate include protecting the interests of their citizens temporarily or permanently resident in the host country, issuing passports; issuing visas to foreigners and public diplomacy. However, the principal role of a consulate lies traditionally in promoting trade—assisting companies to invest and to import and export goods and services both inwardly to their home country and outward to their host country. Although it is not admitted publicly, consulates, like embassies, may also gather intelligence information from the assigned country.

Consular districts

Role in diplomatic missions

Contrary to popular belief, many of the staff of consulates may be career diplomats, but they do not generally have diplomatic immunity unless they are also accredited as such. Immunities and privileges for consuls and accredited staff of consulates (consular immunity) are generally limited to actions undertaken in their official capacity and, with respect to the consulate itself, to those required for official duties. In practice, the extension and application of consular privileges and immunities can differ widely from country to country.

Consulates are more numerous than diplomatic missions, such as embassies. Ambassadors are posted only in a foreign nation's capital (but exceptionally outside the country, as in the case of a multiple mandate; e.g., a minor power may accredit a single ambassador with several neighbouring states of modest relative importance that are not considered important allies).

Consuls are posted in a nation's capital, and in other cities throughout that country, especially centres of economic activity and cities where large populations of citizens from the consul's home country reside (expatriates). In the United States, for example, most countries have a consulate-general in New York City, (the home of the United Nations), and some have consulates-general in several major cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, or San Francisco. Many countries have multiple consular offices in nations such as Germany, Russia, Canada, Brazil, and Australia.

Consulates are subordinate posts of their home country's diplomatic mission (typically an embassy, in the capital city of the host country). Diplomatic missions are established in international law under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, while consulates-general and consulates are established in international law under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Formally, at least within the US system, the consular career (ranking in descending order: consul-general, consul, vice-consul, honorary consul) forms a different hierarchy from the diplomats in the strict sense. However, it is common for individuals to be transferred from one hierarchy to the other, and for consular officials to serve in a capital carrying out strictly consular duties within the consular section of a diplomatic post; e.g., within an embassy.

Between Commonwealth countries, both diplomatic and consular activities may be undertaken by a High Commission in the capital, although larger Commonwealth nations generally also have consulates and consulates-general in major cities. For example, Toronto in Canada, Sydney in Australia and Auckland, New Zealand, are of greater economic importance than their respective national capitals, hence the need for consulates there.

Hong Kong

When Hong Kong was under British administration, diplomatic missions of Commonwealth countries, such as Canada, [4] Australia, [5] New Zealand, [6] India, [7] Malaysia, [8] and Singapore [9] were known as commissions. After the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997, they were renamed consulates-general, [10] with the last commissioner becoming consul-general. [11] However, the Australian commission had been renamed the consulate-general in 1986. [12]

Owing to Hong Kong's status as a special administrative region of China, some countries' consulates-general in Hong Kong report directly to their respective foreign ministries, rather than to their embassies in Beijing, such as those of Canada, [13] the United Kingdom [14] and United States. [15]

Consul general

A consul general is an official who heads a consulate general and is a consul of the highest rank serving at a particular location. A consul general may also be responsible for consular districts which contain other, subordinate consular offices within a country. The consul general serves as a representative who speaks on behalf of his or her state in the country to which he or she is located, although ultimate jurisdiction over the right to speak on behalf of a home country within another country ultimately belongs to the single ambassador. It is abbreviated "CG", and the plural form is 'consuls general'. In most embassies, the consular section is headed by a consul general who is a diplomat and a member of the ambassador's country team.

Honorary consul

Honorary consulate of Poland in Jerusalem Polish Consul Jer.JPG
Honorary consulate of Poland in Jerusalem
Honorary consulate of Portugal in Mindelo, Cape Verde Consulate Portugal Mindelo 2006.jpg
Honorary consulate of Portugal in Mindelo, Cape Verde

Some consuls are not career officials of the represented state at all; some are locally engaged staff with the nationality of the sending country, [16] and in smaller cities, or in cities that are very distant from full-time diplomatic missions, a foreign government which feels that some form of representation is nevertheless desirable may appoint a person who has not hitherto been part of their diplomatic service to fulfill this role. Such a consul may well combine the job with his or her own (often commercial) private activities, and in some instances may not even be a citizen of the sending country. Such consular appointments are usually given the title of honorary consul.

In addition, the U.S. Secretary of State (in a memo issued on 6 August 2003) states the following concerning honorary consuls:

The United States Government appreciates that honorary consular officers provide important services both to the governments which they represent and to United States citizens and entities. Nevertheless, for reasons previously communicated to the missions, United States Government policy requires that the maintenance and establishment of consular posts headed by honorary consular officers must be supported by documentation which makes it possible for the Department of State to be assured that meaningful consular functions will be exercised by honorary consular officers on a regular basis and that such consular officers come under the supervision of, and are accountable to, the governments which they represent." [17]

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. The limited immunity afforded honorary consular officers is specified in Article 71 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). Such individuals do not enjoy personal inviolability, and may be arrested pending trial if circumstances should otherwise warrant. However, appropriate steps are provided to accord to such officers the protection required by virtue of their official position. In addition, the consular archives and documents of a consular post headed by an honorary consular officer are inviolable at all times, and wherever they may be, provided they are kept separate from other papers and documents of a private or commercial nature relating to other activities of an honorary consular officer or persons working with that consular officer.

Despite their other roles, honorary consular officers (in the widest use of the term) in some instances also have responsibility for the welfare of citizens of the appointing country within their bailiwick. [18] For example, the Embassy of Finland states that the tasks of Finland's Honorary Consulate include monitoring the rights of Finns and permanent residents of Finland residing in the area in which the consulate is located, providing advice and guidance for distressed Finnish citizens and permanent residents traveling abroad to that area, and assisting them in their contacts with local authorities or the nearest Finnish embassy or consulate. Certain types of notarized certificates can be acquired through an honorary consul. Together with diplomatic missions, an honorary consul promotes economic and cultural relations between Finland and the country in question, and takes part in strengthening Finland's image abroad. An honorary consul can advise Finnish companies, for instance, in obtaining information about local business culture and in finding cooperation partners. [18]

Historical role


In the social life of 19th-century Lübeck as depicted in Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks – based on Mann's thorough personal knowledge of his own birthplace – an appointment as the consul of a foreign country was a source of considerable social prestige among the city's merchant elite. As depicted in the book, the position of a consul for a particular country was in practice hereditary in a specific family, whose mansion bore the represented country's coat of arms, and with that country confirming the consul's son or other heir in the position on the death of the previous consul. As repeatedly referenced by Mann, a consul's wife was known as "Consulin" and continued to bear that title even on the death of her husband. Characters in the book are mentioned as consuls for Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Colonial and similar roles

Concessions and extraterritoriality

European consuls in the Ottoman Empire

See also


  1. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Consul (commercial)"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–22.
  2. _new Brazilian Consulate address, Lisbon, 2015, Rua António Maria Cardoso, nº 39.
  3. "Consulados de Barcelona". La Vanguardia . 7 November 2008.
  4. 2 China Dissidents Granted Asylum, Fly to Vancouver Archived 29 July 2015 at Wikiwix, Los Angeles Times , 17 September 1992
  5. Australian Commission Office Requirements, Sydney Morning Herald , 18 August 1982
  6. NZer's credibility under fire in Hong Kong court, New Zealand Herald , 27 March 2006
  7. Indians in Limbo as 1997 Hand-over Date Draws Nearer Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine , Inter Press Service , 12 February 1996
  8. Officials puzzled by Malaysian decision, New Straits Times , 3 July 1984
  9. Singapore Lure Stirs Crowds In Hong Kong Archived 28 July 2015 at Wikiwix, Chicago Tribune , 12 July 1989
  10. ABOUT THE CONSULATE-GENERAL Archived 8 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  11. In the swing of things Archived 23 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine , Embassy Magazine, September 2010
  12. Australian Foreign Affairs Record, Volume 56, Issues 7–12, Australian Government Public Service, 1985, page 1153
  13. Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs Trade and Development Canada. "Inspection reports". Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  14. Commons, The Committee Office, House of. "House of Commons – The UK's relations with Hong Kong: 30 years after the Joint Declaration – Foreign Affairs". Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  15. Christopher J. Marut Appointed as Director of the Taipei Office of the American Institute in Taiwan [ permanent dead link ], American Institute in Taiwan, 8 May 2012
  16. See Chapter 1, Section 1, Article 22 of convention
  17. "Archived copy" (PDF). Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  18. 1 2 "Honorary consulates of Finland in the U.S. – Embassy of Finland, Washington – Consulate Generals of Finland, New York, Los Angeles : Finland in the US : Finnish Honorary Consuls". 15 December 2011. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.

Related Research Articles

Diplomatic mission group of people from one state present in another state to represent the sending state

A diplomatic mission or foreign mission is a group of people from one state or an organisation present in another state to represent the sending state/organisation officially in the receiving state. In practice, the phrase diplomatic mission usually denotes the resident mission, namely the embassy, which is the main office of a country's diplomatic representatives to another country; this is usually, but not necessarily, in the receiving state's capital city. Consulates, on the other hand, are smaller diplomatic missions which are normally located in major cities of the receiving state. As well as being a diplomatic mission to the country in which it is situated, it may also be a non-resident permanent mission to one or more other countries. There are thus resident and non-resident embassies.

Diplomatic rank is a system of professional and social rank used in the world of diplomacy and international relations. A diplomat's rank determines many ceremonial details, such as the order of precedence at official processions, table seatings at state dinners, the person to whom diplomatic credentials should be presented, and the title by which the diplomat should be addressed.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Singapore) Runs the diplomatic relations of the Republic of Singapore with other countries

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a ministry of the Government of Singapore responsible for conducting and managing diplomatic relations between Singapore and other countries and regions. It is headed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the office currently held by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

Embassy of Finland, Canberra Wikimedia list article

The Embassy of Finland to the Commonwealth of Australia is Finland's diplomatic mission in Canberra, Australia. The mission is also accredited to New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. As it is the only Finnish Embassy in the Southern Pacific region (Oceania) in practice the Embassy also represents Finland in its relations with other Pacific island states in the region.

Consulate General of the United States, Hong Kong and Macau American diplomatic mission

The Consulate General of the United States, Hong Kong and Macau represents the United States in the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China.

Consular missions in Hong Kong Wikimedia list article

There are 123 diplomatic missions in Hong Kong, of which 62 are Consulates-General and 61 are Consulates (including those represented by Honorary Consuls, and six officially recognised bodies in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London

The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office London is Hong Kong's representation in the United Kingdom. As one of the Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong does not have and is not empowered to have representation or representative missions outside Hong Kong at the rank of a full Embassy.

Estonia–United States relations Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Estonia and the United States of America

Estonian-U.S. relations are bilateral relations between Estonia and the United States. The relationship has been constant and strong since Estonia first became independent. The United States and Estonia are important allies and partners.

Monaco–United States relations Diplomatic relations between the Principality of Monaco and the United States of America

Monaco – United States relations are bilateral relations between Monaco and the United States.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Serbia) Foreign Affairs Ministry of Serbia

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia is the ministry in the government of Serbia which is in the charge of maintaining the consular affairs and foreign relations of Serbia. The current minister is Ivica Dačić, in office since 27 April 2014.

Consular missions in Macau Wikimedia list article

There are 13 consular missions in Macau, of which 4 are Consulates-General and 9 are Honorary Consuls.

A de facto embassy is an office or organisation that serves de facto as an embassy in the absence of normal or official diplomatic relations among countries, usually to represent nations which lack full diplomatic recognition, regions or dependencies of countries, or territories over which sovereignty is disputed. In some cases, diplomatic immunity and extraterritoriality may be granted.

Embassy of the United Kingdom, Beijing A diplomatic mission of the United Kingdom to China.

The Embassy of the United Kingdom in Beijing is the chief diplomatic mission of the United Kingdom in the People's Republic of China. It is one of Britain's largest overseas embassies. It is located at 11 Guang Hua Lu, in the Chaoyang District. The current British Ambassador to China is Barbara Woodward.

The Embassy of Switzerland in New Zealand is the official representation of Switzerland in New Zealand and in a number of Pacific island countries.