Saturday, May 16, 2009

What is an Honorary Consul?

To understand what an Honorary Consul is, we must first come to understand what a Occupational Consul, or Career Consul is.


Career consuls are government representatives assigned to diplomatic posts in foreign countries, and are recognized diplomats. Each consul represents his or her government (the “sending country”) in a foreign land (the “host country”). A consul of Mexico in Los Angeles, for example, would be a government official of the country of Mexico, authorized to carry out specific duties on behalf of the Mexican government in the U.S. There are many thousands of consuls, residing in virtually every country in the world, representing their sending country’s interests in the host country.

Consuls operate from official offices called consulates. Consulates are part of the diplomatic foreign mission of the sending country, and are officially recognized by the receiving country as diplomatic in nature, and exempt from certain laws in the receiving country. You may have seen such things as consular license plates, flags or residences. These are used with specific permission of the receiving country in its recognition of the foreign mission of the sending country. Various immunities, exemptions and special treatments are designed to enable the consul to expeditiously carry out the duties required by both the sending and receiving countries, and in recognition of the importance of international business and diplomatic relations by most nations.

Larger consulates are headed by a Consul General. A Consul general typically reports directly to his or her ministry of foreign affairs, and their embassy in the receiving country. In the U.S, embassies are typically in Washington, D.C. Diplomatic duties carried out by consuls and consuls general are typically delegated by their embassies or ministries of foreign relations. Such duties may include such tasks as hosting the head of state, ambassador, business magnates or other dignitaries of the sending country when they are visiting the area of the consulate. These visits often involve a close working relationship between the consul and local government officials, as well as U.S. government officials such as the Secret Service.

Consuls advocate for their citizens located in the host country, including specific duties and privileges when criminal charges are brought against the citizenry of the consulate in the host country. In such events, consuls have a right to visit incarcerated nationals to be sure they have received legal representation, among other things.

Consulates may be very large, with hundreds of employees, or very small, with only the consul working from a small office, depending on the size of the sending country’s population in the area of the consulate, and depending on the budget of the sending country.

Most countries have diplomatic relations with each other. Those which do not have diplomatic relations do not send foreign missions to one another.


Like their counterparts the standard consuls and consuls general (often referred to as “career consuls”), the honorary consul is an official of the sending country. Unlike regular consuls however, the honorary consul is not a government employee of the sending state, and therefore does not change posts based on changes of administration in the sending country.

Honorary consuls are generally dignitaries or persons of position in business and society in the receiving state, while having some connection to the sending state. Honorary consuls are not necessarily citizens of the sending states; rather, they are recognized by the sending states as persons of influence, capable of furthering the objectives of the sending state in the receiving state.

Honorary consuls may represent large and densely populated counties, or, as is often the case, small countries in the developing world which seek to promote business diplomacy. As big business often seeks to establish itself in the developing world, honorary consuls are often chosen for their acumen in such environs.

Most honorary consuls are people of means or independent wealth who do not receive monetary compensation for their service as consul. They may have other business interests. Many hold the title for life. Such long term establishment of official representation is invaluable to the sending state. Honorary consuls are often called upon to provide back channel information or communications, diplomatic advance team logistics, local reputation perceptions and government relations. Many come from previous careers in trade, business or elected office.

Honorary consuls are unique in that they are officials of both the sending state and the host state. Honorary consuls in the U.S. are confirmed by the State Department and issued a State Department Consular ID. They are provided many of the immunities of standard consular position. Most honorary consuls are appointed by the president of their sending state, rather than the minister of foreign relations as is the case with standard consuls. Effective standard consuls will often call upon honorary consuls to familiarize and introduce the standard consul within an area where the honorary consul resides.

Many honorary consuls have the same capabilities as standard consuls regarding identification and document legalization. This capability is referred to in the honorary consular community as “powers”. Those with powers legalize documents and provide identification (passport) assistance to the citizens of the sending countries. Honorary consuls without powers will often refer such needs to the nearest consul general of their sending state, or will help citizens obtain Hague apostilles when appropriate.

In cases when a developing or small country does not have the budget to maintain an embassy in a given country, they may establish an honorary consul instead. In such cases, the honorary consul fulfills the duties otherwise assigned to ambassadors or consuls general. Such individuals usually hold the title of Honorary Consul General.


  1. Do honorary consul generals get to enjoy the same privelages as a regular consul general? E.g dimplomatic number plates

  2. The privileges are different. In some ways they are better, other ways they are not.

    Career consuls are employees of foreign governments, working in diplomatic capacity. They have special license plates because of a certain kind of immunity.

    Honorary consuls also have a certain kind of immunity, but it is more limited, and is quite different. They usually do have special license plates, but their immunity only comes in to play if they are acting in consular capacity at that moment.

  3. when do i need a honorary counsels's service?

  4. Are there any tax exemptions for Honorary Consul?

  5. Honorary consuls in the UK do not have special number plates or priviliges

  6. I would love to become an honorary consular for my parents' home country on Ghana. How would I go about doing this?

  7. For how long is an honorary consul in his position?Who decides ?

  8. In the cases where honorary consuls actually are paid by the sending country, will they be eligible to draw retirement from that country like a Career Consul?

  9. If the Honorary Consul does not have a mission in the country where he/she is serving? Not a national of the sending country?

    What is the office of the Honorary Consul called?

  10. In answer to the several questions asked above:

    The services of an honorary consul would typically be requested for the same circustances that would generate demand for a career consul. These includ passport issues, legalization of documents in the represented country, etc.

    Tax exemptions for honorary consuls are generally few unless carried out for them by the embassies to which they report. Different countries treat the position differently in this regard.

    The UK is a signer to the Vienna Conventions on Consular Relations of 1963, and does provide special immunities to honorary consuls. Whether or not they provide special license plates is irrelevant to that fact (although it would be smart of them to do so). Any acccredited honorary consul who asserts his immunity in the UK must have it recognized, as is the law of exequatur set forth in the UK.

    To offer your services as an honorary consul, make inquiries to the ministry of foreign relations of the sending country, or the embassy which represents them in your home country. Ghana is well represented with many honorary consuls.

    The typical term of an honorary consul in the US is 5 years. It is different in different foreign missions. The term ususally automatically renews unless the consul quits or is dismissed. Dismissal may be for any number of reasons and may not reflect badly on the consul. The term is requested by the sending state and approved by the receiving state.

    Honorary Consuls are not paid salaries by the sending state, and are not eligible for benefits upon retirement.

    If any consul is not part of a mission in their country of residence, they are not accredited there and are not consul there. Whether or not they are a national of the sending state is not material.

    The office of any consul who is a head of post, whether honorary or not, is called a consulate.


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