State visit

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State visits typically involve a military review, such as this one by the Household Cavalry parading at Windsor Castle for the state visit of the Emir of Kuwait to the United Kingdom in 2012.

A state visit is a formal visit by a head of state to a foreign country, at the invitation of that country's head of state, with the latter also acting as the official host for the duration of the state visit. Speaking for the host, it is generally called a state reception. State visits are considered to be the highest expression of friendly bilateral relations between two sovereign states, and are in general characterised by an emphasis on official public ceremonies.

Less formal visits than a state visit to another country with a lesser emphasis on ceremonial events, by either a head of state or a head of government, can be classified (in descending order of magnitude) as either an official visit, a working visit, a private visit, or a Guest of Government visit.[1]

In parliamentary democracies, while heads of state in such systems of government may formally issue and accept invitations, they do so on the advice of their heads of government, who usually decides on when the invitation is to be issued or accepted in advance.

Queen Elizabeth II is "the most travelled head of state in the world," having made 261 official overseas visits and 96 state visits to 116 countries by the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.[2] Although she is sovereign of each of the Commonwealth realms, in practice, she usually performs full state visits as Queen of the United Kingdom, while the relevant governor-general undertakes state visits for his or her respective country on the sovereign's behalf. However, the Queen has occasionally made some state and official visits representing one of her other Commonwealth realms.

Components of a state visit[edit]

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany in Jerusalem during his state visit to the Ottoman Empire, 1898

State visits typically involve some or all the following components (each host country has its own traditions):

  • The visiting head of state is immediately greeted upon arrival by the host (or by a lesser official representative, if the two heads of state are to meet later at another location) and by his or her ambassador (or other head of mission) accredited to the host country.
  • A 21-gun salute is fired in honor of the visiting head of state.
  • The playing of the two national anthems by a military band. The guest country's anthem is usually played first.
  • A review of a military guard of honour.
  • The visiting head of state is formally introduced to senior officials/representatives of the host country and the hosting head of state is introduced to the delegation accompanying the visiting head of state.
  • An exchange of gifts between the two heads of state.
  • A state dinner, either white tie or black tie, is mounted by the hosting head of state, with the visiting head of state being the guest of honor.
  • A visit to the legislature of the host country, often with the visiting head of state being invited to deliver a formal address to the assembled members of the legislature.
  • High-profile visits by the visiting heads of state to host country landmarks such as laying a wreath at a military shrine or cemetery.
  • The staging of cultural events celebrating links between the two nations.
A head of state gift to President Gerald Ford from Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Henrik, Prince Consort of Denmark, 1976

The visiting 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 accompanies the visiting head of state, offered 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 state funds 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, such as Elizabeth II, the President of the United States or the Pope, often draw much publicity and large crowds. Occasionally, these include protesters.

State visits by country[edit]


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Robert Kocharyan inspecting the Honour Guard Battalion during Putin's visit to Yerevan in 2001.

State visits to Armenia are held in the capital of Yerevan, with a welcoming ceremony usually being held at Zvartnots International Airport. Foreign heads of state are welcomed at the President's Residence while heads of government are welcomed at the Residence of the Prime Minister.


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watch the inspection of the Governor General's Foot Guards during their 2011 royal tour of Canada.

The Governor General's Foot Guards of the Canadian Ceremonial Guard take part in official state visits to Ottawa. Arrival ceremonies take place at either Parliament Hill or Rideau Hall, where they will be received by the Prime Minister of Canada or the Governor General of Canada respectively. State visits also includes a visit to the National War Memorial.


The welcoming ceremony for South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
The President of Russia arrived in China on a state visit. 01.jpg
External video
What's new in China's welcoming ceremony for state visits?

State visits to China take place at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Guard of honour for the ceremony is provided by the PLA Honor Guard with musical accompaniment provided by the Central Military Band of the People's Liberation Army of China. As the military band plays the national anthems of the two countries, an honours company fires a 21-Gun Salute. After the band finishes its performance, the two leaders then inspect the guard of honour at the invitation of the guard commander. Following the inspection, both leaders embrace schoolchildren who wave flowers and the flags of both countries. At this time, the band performs a military march or folk song from the guest country.

The PLA Honor Guard then marches off the square to the tune of the March of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The ceremony ends with the marching band of the PLA performing an exhibition of military drill.[3]

Vladimir Putin awarded the Chinese Order of Friendship 07.jpg

During state visits, national awards are presented to visiting dignitaries, including the Order of Friendship.


An honours ceremony for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in August 2012.

During state visits to Germany, honours are provided by the German Wachbataillon (Guard battalion) and the Staff Band of the Bundeswehr. Depending on the status of the guest, state ceremonies are either held at the Bellevue Palace or the Federal Chancellery Complex.


A state arrivals ceremony for Petro Poroshenko.
External video
Визит президента Литвы в Грузию

State visits in Georgia are held outside the Presidential Administration of Georgia in Tbilisi. Ceremonial honours are provided by the Honour Guard and the Band of the National Guard of Georgia. The band plays Georgian Army songs during the inspection of the honour guard. During the Presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili the band played the March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment during state visits.


Foreign leaders are received at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi during state visits. The dignitary first receives the salute fron the President's Bodyguard (PBG), and the Tri-Services Guard of Honour. Heads of State is also given a 21-gun salute, with a 19-gun salute being to Heads of government. The massed bands and the commander of the guard of honour is chosen by a rotation between the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force.[4] In 2015, Wing Commander Pooja Thakur became the first female officer to lead the guard of honour for a foreign leader.[5]

State banquets are also held for foreign dignitaries at the Rashtrapati Bhavan which are hosted by the President of India. Over 100 guests are invited to attend state banquets, including the Vice-President of India, the Prime minister of India, ase well as government officials and leaders of the ruling party.


An arrival ceremony for President Jimmy Carter in Warsaw, Poland in 1977.

Ceremonial honours a provided by the Representative Honor Guard Regiment of the Polish Armed Forces (Polish: Pulk Reprezentacyjny Wojska Polskiego) at the Presidential Palace. Musical accompaniment is provided by the Representative Central Band of the Polish Armed Forces.


The welcoming ceremony for Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in the Kremlin.

A foreign head of state or government receives arrival honours from the 154th Preobrazhensky Independent Commandant's Regiment and the Special Exemplary Military Band upon their arrival at the VIP terminal at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow.

Heads of State also take part in a welcoming ceremony with the President of Russia at the Grand Kremlin Palace.

United Kingdom[edit]

Vladimir Putin and the Duke of Edinburgh at the arrival ceremony at Horse Guards Parade.
Queen Elizabeth and Donald Trump.jpg

A state visit to the United Kingdom is a royal event which involves the Queen and other members of the Royal family. An arrival ceremony usually takes place on Horse Guards Parade (There are also some instances where it takes place at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle) with a Guard of Honour being provided by members of the Queen's Guard. The foreign guest and the Queen travel to Buckingham Palace in a carriage procession escorted by a large number of mounted soldiers from the Household Cavalry. The welcome ceremony is accompanied by 21-gun salutes fired from Green Park and the Tower of London. Around 150 guests are invited to Buckingham Palace for the state banquet in the evening in the ballroom.[6]

United States[edit]

A White House state arrival ceremony in 2018.
The arival ceremony for Josip Tito.

See also[edit]