A state visit is a formal visit by a foreign head of state to another nation, at the invitation of that nation's head of state. State visits are the highest form of diplomatic contact between two nations, and are marked by ceremonial pomp and diplomatic protocol. In parliamentary democracies, heads of state may formally issue and accept invitations. However, they do so on the consent of their governments, who usually agree together on when the invitation is to be issued or accepted in advance.
State visits involve some or all the following components:
- A welcoming ceremony consisting of a review of military honor guards, parades, and the playing of national anthems by a military band. State visits to the United States include a State Arrival Ceremony at the White House.
- A 21-gun salute fired for foreign heads of state and a 19-gun salute fired for foreign heads of government.
- An exchange of gifts between the foreign head of state and the head of state from the nation hosting the state visit.
- State dinners, either white tie or black tie, hosted by a head of state, with the foreign head of state being the guest of honor.
- A visit to a national legislature, often with a formal address by the foreign head of state being delivered to the legislative bodies assembled.
- High-profile visits by foreign heads of state to national landmarks such as laying a wreath at a military shrine or cemetery.
- Cultural events celebrating links between the two nations, which are held in conjunction with a state visit.
The foreign head of state is usually accompanied by a senior government minister, usually by a foreign minister. Behind the diplomatic protocol, delegations made up from trade organizations also travel with the foreign head of state, offering an opportunity to network and develop economic, cultural, and social links with industry leaders in the nation being visited. At the end of a state visit, the foreign head of state traditionally issues a formal invitation to the head of state of the nation being visited who at another time in the future, would pay a reciprocal state visit.
While the costs of a state visit are usually borne by the treasury of the host country, most nations host fewer than ten state visits per year, with some as few as two. Most foreign heads of state will stay in the official residence of the head of state who is hosting the state visit, in a guest house reserved for foreign visitors, or in their own nation's embassy located in the foreign nation being visited.
State visits by well-known global leaders, like the President of the United States, the Pope or Queen Elizabeth II (who heads 16 countries), often draw much publicity and large crowds.
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