International comparison of consular services

Embassy of the Netherlands in Maputo, photo by Jcornelius/CC BY-SA 3.0

To help the Dutch government identify best practices for consular services, researchers compared the support different countries provide to their citizens abroad.

The insights may help the Netherlands identify innovative practices, procedures and ways of organising their consular services.


Providing services to citizens abroad has been an age-old tradition for national governments across the globe. Nevertheless, different countries have pursued dissimilar ways to ensure that their travellers and expatriates remain protected in foreign jurisdictions. As trends in travelling and cross-border exchanges continue to change, the provision of consular services has become increasingly demanding in the twenty-first century. How can countries best improve the quality of their consular services and ensure preparedness for future challenges?


The House of Representatives of the Netherlands commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a comparison of the consular services that different countries provide to their citizens. The objective of the study was to identify best practices and to provide insights on how these policies may be transferable internationally.


The study utilised a variety of methods to map out the similarities and differences of consular services. Academic and policy literature were reviewed in order to develop a framework for collecting information on the different countries under investigation, and interviews were conducted with consular affairs officers. A comparative analysis was then used to determine innovative practices, procedures and ways of organising consular services.


Domestic legislation around consular services

  • In some countries, consular responsibilities have been codified and consolidated in legislation, while in others they arise from multiple laws.
  • Where consular services are not determined by law they are provided upon discretion, with policy frameworks used to define the services and allow authorities more flexibility to respond to the needs of citizens.

Organisation of consular networks

  • Some countries offer standardised “core” training to all consular staff in order to achieve consistent service.
  • Headquarters can be used as a hub for information-sharing and the flexible allocation of resources. The centralisation of customer services in call centres can help improve availability.
  • Several countries request a financial contribution for notarial services, while others maintain a specific emergency fund to finance crisis operations in emergency situations.

Travel advice and documents

  • Some countries use targeted communication activities to reach different target groups and communities that they believe are more at risk when traveling abroad or settling, such as the LGBTQ community, women, and student travellers.
  • Several countries have attempted to make procedures related to the issuance of travel documents easier, for example by offering citizens abroad the ability to apply for a new passport online, which can shorten the application processing time.

Support to distressed citizens

  • Collaboration with NGOs around the repatriation of distressed citizens can also help assist those that are vulnerable.
  • Crisis response plans can help improve the preparedness of individual missions.
  • Several countries provide financial assistance for repatriation (in the form of loans).
  • Some countries entered into bilateral agreements with other countries to improve conditions of citizens in detention abroad.

Other services

  • Online voting allows citizens abroad to vote from a location and at a time that suits them. Citizens from countries where elections are constituency-based can also sometimes elect officials to represent the interests of citizens abroad.
  • In some countries, organising cultural events is an essential part of consular work.