Earlier this year, I read a book in which the main character visited a foreign embassy in Los Angeles. Hold on, I thought. No way he can visit an embassy in L.A. There’s not a single one there. None. From any country. Luckily I was a beta-reader and the author was able to fix the mistake.
So, then, what is an embassy and what could the MC have visited in L.A.?
The first part is easy to answer. An embassy is the official office of a foreign country. This is best explained with an example. Japan has one official office in the U.S. and many other countries. One. It’s always in the capitol. So, for the U.S. that would be Washington D.C. For England, that would be London. The Ambassador is based at the embassy. The embassy is considered foreign soil, so if you visit the Japanese embassy, you essential set foot in Japan. If you visit Washington D.C. you can drive through “Embassy Row”, a street where many foreign embassies are located.
The second part is not quite as simple. In the case from the book I read, the MC would have visited the Consulate. Again, this is considered foreign soil. The head person at the consulate is the Consul General. The purpose of a consulate is to provide support for foreign nationals. As an example, a Japanese citizen traveling to the L.A. and loses their passport. The consulate also helps foreign companies doing business in the host country.
But foreign government offices get a bit more confusing when you think of New York City, where the United Nations is located. In this case, there may be a consulate. The official representative to the U.N. is also called an ambassador and he works out of a “foreign mission.” This ambassador represents the foreign government to the U.N., not to the U.S.
Not every country has a consulate in a particular country and may not have one in the city where your story is based. Going back to the book I was reading, the foreign country does not have a consulate in L.A., but does have an embassy in Washington D.C. and a consulate in New York City.
Bottom line, as with everything you write that based in a real place, do your homework. If your character needs to visit an official foreign government office or even the official office for his country in a foreign land, make sure you get them in the right type of office.