The Secretary of State to the Irish Minister ( Smiddy )

Sir: In compliance with the request made in your note of January 19,55 I have the honor to inform you as follows concerning the exemption [Page 415] from taxation and customs duties enjoyed by foreign diplomatic and consular officers in the United States;

Ambassadors and Ministers accredited to the United States and the members of their households, including secretaries, attaches, and servants, are exempted from the payment of Federal income tax upon their salaries, fees and wages, and upon the income derived by them from investments in the United States in stocks and bonds and from interest on bank balances in the United States. The income derived from any business carried on by them in the United States would, however, be taxable.

Property in the District of Columbia owned by foreign governments for Embassy and Legation purposes is exempt from general and special taxes or assessments. Property owned by an Ambassador or Minister and used for Embassy or Legation purposes is exempt from general taxes but not from special assessments for improvements. The payment of water rent is required in all cases, as this is not regarded as a tax but the sale of a commodity.

Under a recent ruling of the Treasury Department of the United States all foreign consular officers and the employees of foreign consulates in the United States who are nationals of the State appointing them, on the basis of reciprocity, are exempted from the payment of Federal income taxes on the salaries, fees and wages received by them in compensation for their consular services.

The taxes on the sale of automobiles and jewelry provided for in Sections 600 and 604 of the Revenue Act of 192456 are taxes imposed upon the manufacturers of automobiles and upon the vendors of jewelry. In the collection of such taxes the Government looks to the manufacturer and to the vendor for the payment of the tax and not to the purchasers of the articles. For this reason and the further reason that the price of the article sold is a matter of negotiation between the vendor and the purchasers, the appropriate authorities of this Government have taken the position that no exemption from the payment of these taxes can be granted to the manufacturer or vendor by reason of the fact that the sale is made to a diplomatic representative of a foreign government.

The members of foreign diplomatic missions and foreign consular officers in the District of Columbia are exempt in the District from the payment of personal property taxes on automobiles and other personal property, either tangible or intangible, owned by them. They are furnished identification tags and operators’ permits for their automobiles, without charge, provided the applications made therefor bear the seal of the mission and the seal of the Department of State. It is understood that automobiles bearing District of Columbia tags are [Page 416] permitted to enter the several States without obtaining additional tags. Members of foreign diplomatic missions in the United States and foreign consular officers stationed in the District of Columbia are accordingly not required to pay the fees ordinarily charged other owners of automobiles in this country.

The fees and taxes for automobiles and other property to be charged foreign consuls in the several States of the United States, in the absence of applicable treaty provisions, are subject to regulation by the States in which the consuls are stationed.

By an order dated July 8, 1921, the Collector of Taxes of the District of Columbia was authorized to issue dog licenses to foreign legations without charge.

Articles 404 and 405 of the United States Customs Regulations of 1923 provide for the granting of customs courtesies and the exemption from the payment of customs duties, to diplomatic and consular officers of foreign countries and outline the procedure to be followed by such officers in requesting these courtesies.

Under these regulations foreign ambassadors and ministers, and the secretaries and other attaches of foreign embassies and legations, and their families, are entitled to the free admission of their baggage and effects on their arrival in this country, whether they are stationed in the United States or are en route to missions in other countries. Subsequent to their arrival in the United States they are permitted to import, without the payment of duty, merchandise of any characer, if intended for their use or for the use of their families.

Foreign consular officers and their families are accorded the privilege of the free entry of their personal and household effects at the time of their arrival in the United States to take up their official duties or upon their return to their posts in the United States after leave of absence. The baggage and effects of foreign consular officers are subject to such scrutiny by customs officers as may be necessary to ascertain whether or not intoxicating liquors or other legally proscribed commodities are contained therein.

Supplies intended for official use of foreign embassies and legations and foreign consulates in the United States, such as office furniture and office material, may be entered free of duty. Exhibits of the products of foreign countries, if forming a part of the permanent exhibitions in the consulates may also be admitted free of duty.

The granting of these customs exemptions to diplomatic and consular officers of foreign countries is conditional upon the granting of similar exemptions to American diplomatic and consular officers by these countries.

Any material imported by a foreign government to be used in constructing an embassy or legation building is exempted from the payment of customs duties.

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The above statement, although not exhaustive, describes some of the more important immunities and exemptions accorded foreign diplomatic and consular officers in the United States. If information is desired in regard to any particular immunity or exemption not referred to herein, the matter will, upon request, be given further consideration.

Accept [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
J. Butler Wright
  1. Not printed.
  2. 43 Stat. 258.