What does an honorary consul do? Foreign Affairs in plain language

Honorary consuls aren’t diplomats, but they play an essential part in the Netherlands’ international network. They help Dutch nationals abroad in emergency situations. They also open doors for business owners. Read on to find out everything you need to know about honorary consuls.

The Netherlands has almost 300 honorary consuls all over the world. Together with our embassies and other missions, they are the Netherlands’ eyes and ears abroad. But what exactly does an honorary consul do?

An honorary consul’s work

There are two elements to an honorary consul’s work: assisting Dutch nationals abroad and representing Dutch trade interests. They do this at the request of the embassy they fall under. Members of the public are often unaware of an honorary consul’s role until there is a crisis or natural disaster.

At the request of the embassy, honorary consuls help Dutch nationals abroad. For example in the event of a hospital stay, missing person, death, natural disaster or other emergency. They also visit Dutch prisoners and issue emergency travel documents.

In addition, honorary consuls are indispensable for Dutch companies. At the embassy’s request they can spring into action to open doors and facilitate visits, enabling the business community to take advantage of unique opportunities. They also maintain close ties with the local Dutch community.

Read more: at the bottom of this article are examples of honorary consuls in action. But first let’s look at what it takes to become a honorary consul.

Where are honorary consuls based?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a global network of around 140 embassies and consulates-general. In countries and regions without a diplomatic mission, an honorary consul can be appointed to help Dutch people and Dutch businesses. Dutch embassies can suggest countries or regions where they believe an honorary consul would have added value, after which the process of opening a consulate can be set in motion.

How do you become an honorary consul?

Potential honorary consuls can apply to the embassy. The job requirements vary, because not every country or embassy has the same needs. Candidates’ conduct should be beyond reproach. They should have ties to the Netherlands, a big network and they should agree with Dutch core values relating to freedom, solidarity and diversity. They also need to be willing and able to spend time carry out the tasks that come with this unpaid position.

An honorary consul should act with integrity, have a good reputation and be able to facilitate contacts with the authorities in their country. They should also have an in-depth understanding of the local situation and speak the local language or languages, as well as English and preferably Dutch, too.

Expense allowance

Honorary consuls receive only an expense allowance for the work they do. It is an unsalaried, part-time role. They carry out tasks on the basis of a volunteer agreement and don’t have an employment contract with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In principle, honorary consuls are appointed for a period of five years. An appointment can be extended once by another five years. Shorter appointments are possible for honorary consuls who are nearing retirement age. The maximum age for an honorary consul is 70.

Diplomatic immunity

Under the Vienna Convention honorary consuls enjoy diplomatic protection while carrying out tasks in this role. As a diplomatic representation, the consulate is also protected (See also: What is diplomacy?).

Honorary consuls’ work in practice

Now you know what an honorary consul’s main tasks and characteristics are. But their importance doesn’t really become clear until you know what they do in practice. Below are two examples of the extraordinary work they do.

Honorary consul in the United States: Odette Bakker

Based in Phoenix, Arizona honorary consul Odette Bakker helps Dutch people who want to do business there, need official documents or are in trouble. For example, she forged a connection with a Dutch algae grower in Arizona and helped a Dutch 90-year-old suffering from dementia get an emergency passport so that she could return to the Netherlands. Read more about Odette Bakker’s work here.

Honorary consul in Germany: Hylke Boerstra

Honarary consul Hylke Boerstra knows Bremen like the back of his hand and creates unique opportunities for Dutch entrepreneurs within the region’s business network. Aerospace, hydrogen and wind energy are just some of the fields in which he brings entrepreneurs closer together. Read more about Hylke Boerstra’s work.