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.