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All you need to know about US embassies and consulates

What are the uses of US embassies and consulates?

Embassies and consulates are representatives of a country, within a foreign country. An example in this case would be a US representative headquarters in Panama. Embassies tend to be the larger of the two, and are often located within a countries capital.

The main purpose, or use of an US embassy or consulate, is to assist the embassies nationals. So in the case of the example, that would be Americans living or visiting Panama.

US embassies are also responsible for interviewing citizens of the host country (eg Panama) who are looking to travel for business, education or tourism purposes.

In addition to that, the goal of the US embassies representatives is to increase understanding of the USA. They do this by interacting with the host nations citizens, corporations and government. These interactions may be shared political interest or just general collaboration.

Other uses of the US embassy include:

  • Helping US businesses set up abroad by finding customers or partners
  • Trainings for the hosts countries governmental staff. This may include policing or military training to increase security, job skills related training, or other offerings.
  • Conducting educational and cultural exchange programs
  • Conducting professional exchange programs
  • Promoting ties between the USA and the host country
  • Knowledge of local culture to help with potential political and economical tensions that may arise

Which specific services do US embassies and consulates cover?

US embassies are consulates offer a variety of services. They include services for foreign nationals of the host country who wish to visit the US, services for nationals living in the host country, and services for those visiting the host country.

For US nationals living or visiting the host country, services are split into one of four areas. They are emergency assistance, passport and citizenship, federal programs and local resources.

How many US embassies and consulates are there around the world?

US embassies and consulates are dotted around the world. They are now present in over 70% of countries. In total, there are 294 embassies and consulates. All of which help out US citizens living and visiting the country the US embassy is based in. They also help foreigners who need to apply for a visa for visiting the USA (except for ESTA which can be applied for online). Also, embassies and consulates take care of administrative things like:

  • Participating in diplomatic appointments
  • Translating relevant news in the appropriate foreign language
  • Assist foreigners in immigration questions (USA working visa, resident permit for the USA etc.)
Map showing US embassy and consulate

The United States of America (green) and its diplomatic missions, including embassies (blue), interests sections, and other representations (light blue) (Source: Wikipedia)

What is the difference between US embassies and US consulates?

Embassies and consulates both represent a country within a foreign nation. However, there are slight differences between the two. The first significant difference is that a country may have several consulates within another nation. But it can only have one embassy. That US embassy will be the main power and point of contact for its citizens on foreign soil. Embassies are also located in the capital city or biggest city. Consulates always fulfill their role in a nation’s lesser cities.

Embassies tend to take on the more major roles in diplomacy and politics for a country. Consulates do the other, more minor tasks, such as working on trade and commerce.

Embassies are also the main link between the host government and the embassies own government. Whilst consulates are responsible for public communication. Consulates are not responsible for the host countries citizens seeking to visit the consulate/embassies nation. This is the responsibility of the US embassy alone.

Finally, embassies are responsible for official visits and treaties between the nations. Whilst consulates inform citizens of security issues and look after them if they are arrested.

US embassy

Diplomatic work
Point of contact for US citizens
Political tasks
Trade and commerce
Point of contact for foreigners
Public communication (in foreign country)
Point of contact in emergencies / arrests

US consulate

Diplomatic work
Point of contact for US citizens
Political tasks
Trade and commerce
Point of contact for foreigners
Public communication (in foreign country)
Point of contact in emergencies / arrests

US Embassies – FAQ’s

For most services at a US embassy, you must make an appointment and go during opening days/hours. However, exceptional circumstances and emergencies may change that.

No. There are some days embassies may not even be open. In addition, a US embassies relations with the host country are important. Therefore if a citizen is jeopardising that and tries to enter, they may be rejected.

Yes. It is possible to apply for a visa through embassies. However, it is not possible to do it through a consulate. The US embassy accepts visa applications for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas (e.g. B1/B2 visa for tourists or J-visa for foreigners planning to start working inside the US).

Yes. In fact, it is necessary for many foreigners to enter the embassy in order to apply for a visa. An exception would be a foreigner that can travel under the Visa Waiver Program and therefore apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

Appointments with the US embassy can be scheduled through the travel state government website listed here: https://evisaforms.state.gov/acs/default.asp?postcode=WRW&appcode=1

Consulates may require you to phone a seperate number depending on where you are going.

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No. ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) for USA can be done completed online from any place you can access the internet. This is due to the visa being electronically attached to your passport.

Yes if you are aged 14-79. You will be required to go to the embassy and pass an interview process to attain a B1/B2 visa. There are occasional exceptions for people within this age group that do not have to attend an interview. However, these are mostly for visa renewals rather than applications.

Yes. US embassies issue US visas in 3 forms. The visa waiver, nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas. However, application for each of these visas is slightly different and may not require you to physically visit the US embassy. Therefore you should research visa options prior to booking an appointment. Note that if you can apply for ESTA, you do not need to visit the US embassy. The application can be processed online and you will receive your approval or rejection via email.

It is possible to apply for US citizenship at an embassy. However, you must meet the requirements, such as being born a US citizen or a naturalised US citizen.