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What is an Embassy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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In foreign relations terms, an embassy can refer both to a permanent diplomatic mission and the building in which that mission is housed. Embassies are an important part of foreign relations, since they serve as a contact point between the visiting and host nation. Through an embassy, countries can reach resolutions to problems ranging from trade tariffs to political tensions before they escalate. Typically, an embassy is staffed by representatives of the foreign service of the visiting nation, and it is housed in a permanent structure which includes staff housing, offices, and spaces for public functions.

Three primary types of staff can be found in an embassy, along with administrative support staff. Consular officers deal with things like issuing visas and handling issues which arise for travelers while they are abroad. Political officers are responsible for following the political climate in the host nation and issuing reports to their home government. Economic officers handle economic negotiations such as disputes over taxes, tariffs, and patent negotiations. Together, the staff of the embassy is headed by an ambassador.

An ambassador is typically an appointed political figure. Most ambassadors have foreign service training, and receive additional training before they are deployed to ensure that they act as responsible representatives of their governments. In addition to members of the foreign service, embassies often use staffers from other agencies. Staff from other agencies may provide supplemental information or support to the embassy. For example, most national embassies are guarded by representatives of the military. A limited number of embassy staff may come from the host nation as well.

The diplomats or envoys which make up an embassy enjoy special privileges because of their status as political negotiators. Most nations, for example, do not attack diplomats from visiting nations. These privileges are also extended to embassies, which are usually accorded extraterritoriality, meaning that the host nation cannot enter the premises of the embassy without being specifically invited. Many refugees take advantage of this to evade persecution and prosecution in the host nation of an embassy.

In order to work for an embassy, employees must generally pass background checks and receive extensive training. Since diplomats are living representatives of their home nations, spotless characters and manners are required of embassy personnel. Typically, a diplomat is deployed for a period of several years, ensuring that he or she establishes connections in the local community and contributes to the enrichment of relations between the two countries.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon957432 — On Jun 20, 2014

Why is not possible for police to arrest you in your embassy in a foreign country?

By watson42 — On May 17, 2011

I think it would be really cool to work at an Embassy; imagine the people you would meet, from all over the world.

By widget2010 — On May 15, 2011

When I was trying to get my work visa while volunteering abroad, the country's government and police were being really slow about various steps in the process. The USA's Embassy was a great resource for me though, helping me to come up with possible ways to speed the process and promising to stick up for me if I was threatened in any way before my application was actually finished.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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