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What is an Ambassador?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Since relationships between countries can hinge on the ability for one country to be in communication with the other, or at least with a person who is fully authorized to represent his government, many nations have embassies in foreign countries. At the embassy of a foreign country, there usually exists at least one person who is titled as an ambassador, and who stands as representative of his or her country. Should problems or concerns arise between the two countries, this person acts on behalf of his or her government, and meets with heads of state to try to resolve problems or make clear his or her country's stance on a particular issue.

In earlier times, the more common term for a foreign representative was minister. Now this term may be applied to diplomats who do not have full powers and are considered second rank. In other words, this person may work for a plenipotentiary — or fully empowered — ambassador, and may be in charge of one or more departments at an embassy.

Another related term is resident. A resident ambassador not only acts as representative of his or her nation in a foreign country, but also resides in that country, usually at or near the embassy. The title is one that commands respect, and people employed in this job may be referred to as Mr. or Ms. Ambassador, or Your Excellency.

In the US, people who work in this role are frequently appointed by the head of state — the president — and the job is not without risks. In countries with unstable political environments, or those countries with significant hostility towards the US, some have been assassinated, kidnapped, or held hostage. Though this is not common, the job implies a certain amount of danger, as does any high level political position.

As representative of another country, one of the ambassador's main goals is to promote diplomatic relationships between two countries. When this diplomat is authorized to act for the state, he or she may also be able to broker treaties, trade deals, or cease fires with foreign authorities. Even though this diplomat may have full powers, he or she is usually instructed by his or her head of state as to what terms in treaties or deals will be acceptable, and may still need to seek approval from his or her head of state before any deals between two or more countries are cemented.

In addition to political diplomats, there are a number of people who may represent a country for private nonprofit organizations, like the World Health Organization. A head of state may not make these appointments, and the person appointed may be called a "good will" ambassador. Such an appointment does not give this type of agent any special powers, but it may give him or her an opportunity to address heads of state, make reports, or make recommendations based on his or her work for a charitable or nonprofit agency. It can also further the cause of representing a country as compassionate toward other nations. A number of high profile actors and actresses have been good will ambassadors to organizations or foreign countries.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Feb 16, 2013

What's a UN ambassador? Is it someone who represents the United States at the UN?

By bear78 — On Feb 15, 2013
@ankara-- That's not the whole picture. Most ambassadors work up through the civil service but some are political appointees. The President can appoint people who are politically allied as ambassador. Ambassadors who have spent forty plus years as a civil servant get very annoyed about the politically appointed ambassadors.

People think that if they are ambassador, they will get to live in Paris or Rome. That's not how it works. Only the highest ranking ambassadors who served the highest number of years and have been to every corner of the world get to go to places like that. Most ambassadors are in some godforsaken place in Africa, Latin America and other developing countries.

By bluedolphin — On Feb 15, 2013

@anon101197-- US ambassadors are appointed for a set term by the head of state. When this term is over, the ambassador will resign from the position and return to the US. He may or may not be re-appointed for another term as an ambassador after that.

Also, it's important to remember that ambassadors are civil servants. They are under the Department of State. So they must do what the head of state orders them to do in the country they are located in and they have to go wherever they are sent.

Being an ambassador is not easy. One has to work up the ranks in civil service and that takes a while.

By anon137202 — On Dec 27, 2010

RE: 'At the embassy of a foreign country, you will find at least one person who is titled as an ambassador, and stands as representative of their country.'

Does this mean there may be more than one ambassador representing a country per country?

By anon101197 — On Aug 02, 2010

how can the national security advisor say i am retired after three months and then say i am going to be the ambassador in paris? he does not like long term posts.

By anon88470 — On Jun 05, 2010

wow, thanks! i really want to become an ambassador when i grow up, despite the fact that i can get killed.

By anon42197 — On Aug 19, 2009

dude thank you so much! <3

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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