What does an honorary consul do?

Honorary consuls aren’t professional 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. Members of the public are often unaware of an honorary consul’s role until there is a crisis or natural disaster. Most of their work is done behind the scenes, where they make a difference for Dutch people and Dutch businesses.

Assistance to Dutch nationals abroad

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 and consular declarations for which the applicant is required to appear in person.

In addition, honorary consuls create unique economic opportunities for Dutch companies. They open doors for the business community and facilitate visits. They maintain close ties with the local Dutch community.

Read more: at the bottom of this article are three 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.

Potential honorary consuls are approached by the embassy that their country or region falls under. The job requirements vary, because not every country or mission has the same needs. In general, honorary consuls should have a big network so that they can help Dutch nationals and businesses effectively. They also need to be willing and able to spend time carry out the tasks that come with this largely unpaid position. An honorary consul should act with integrity, have a good reputation, agree with Dutch values 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. Most honorary consuls hold the position in addition to their regular job. They carry out tasks on the basis of a volunteer agreement rather than an employment contract. Honorary consuls are appointed for a period of five years or less. Their appointment can be extended by five years at a time.

Diplomatic immunity

Under the Vienna Convention honorary consuls enjoy a very limited form of diplomatic immunity. This applies only when they are carrying out tasks in their role as honorary consul.

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 three examples of the extraordinary work they do.

Honorary consuls in Cambodia: Godie van de Paal and Billy Barnaart

Back at the very start of the coronavirus crisis the cruise ship Westerdam spent days on end criss-crossing the South China Sea. Why? Because the authorities in Thailand refused to let the ship dock due to coronavirus concerns. Eventually the Westerdam was allowed to dock in Cambodia. Honorary consuls Godie van de Paal and Billy Barnaart helped the Dutch nationals on board return home. Read more about Godie van de Paal and Billy Barnaart’s work here.

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 Boersma’s work here.