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VERIFY: What's the difference between a consulate and an embassy?

Some wanted to know the difference between the two after the United States forced China to close their consulate in Houston.

This weekend the United States ordered China to close its consulate in Houston. It’s a move that will certainly impact diplomatic relations between the countries.

But closing a consulate is not the same as closing an embassy. Diplomatic relations can still exist if a consulate closes.

So what’s the difference between the two? What exactly is a consulate?


The U.S. Department of State explains that there is only one embassy and one ambassador in the capital of a foreign country, but there can be several consulates in large countries.

“Consulates follow the lead of the Ambassador in engaging local government, civil society and other organization to address Mission priorities. In many instances, consulates, because of their location within a country, may serve as the primary actor in achieving one priority or another. So while the Embassy may place great importance on agricultural development, the real work with the local population will be done by officers in a consulate,” the department says.

The State Department also notes that consulates coordinate with the embassy to conduct exchange programs, work with media and public entities to explain U.S. policy and “encourage academic, scientific and artistic exchanges.”

RELATED: US orders China to close Houston consulate; employees there respond by burning documents

According to the Chinese embassy, the Houston consulate was one of five consulates the Chinese embassy operates in the United States on top of the embassy itself in Washington, D.C. The four remaining consulates are in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Credit: AP
The Chinese Consulate is shown Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Houston. Houston police and fire officials responded to reports that documents were being burned in the courtyard of the consulate Tuesday night, according to the Houston Police Department. China says the U.S. has ordered it to close its consulate in Houston in what it called a provocation that violates international law. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Each Chinese consulate in the United States serves different regions. For example, people in Louisiana seeking a visa application to China would apply for one through the consulate in Houston. 

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Now, someone from Louisiana would have send their application to a different consulate from the one in Texas, or the embassy in Washington.

The United States has five consulates plus an embassy in China. The embassy is in Beijing, while the consulates are in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan.

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