His Excellency Adama Barrow is visiting France and Belgium this week. Different news outlets have given the visit different titles, with some calling it state visit, others an official visit, while some refer to it a working visit. To the general public, these might just be interchangeable appellations. From a diplomatic perspective, there are significant differences than ought to be noted. Here is a rough primer:
This is the highest level of visit to a foreign country. It is generally reserved for heads of state, and it follows a formal invitation by the head of state of the host country. State visits generally involve arrival and departure honours such as the national anthems, inspection of guard of honours, and in some jurisdictions gun salutes. There is also state dinner or lunch in the honour of the visiting leader. Gifts are exchanged and spouses generally attend. The host country meets the accommodation and transportation expenses of the visiting leader and some members of delegations.
An official visit is similar to a state visit in many ways. However, unlike state visits which are generally reserved for heads of state only in many jurisdictions, official visits are undertaken by both heads of state and heads of government. In jurisdictions such as the US, official visits may involve arrival and departure ceremonies, gun salutes and an official ( not state) dinner is offered. Spouses attend and gifts are exchanged. The host country offers accommodation to the visiting leader and some member of the delegation.
Some jurisdictions make a distinction between “official working visits” and “working visits. Official working visits follow a formal invitation of the head of state or head of government of the host country. There are generally no arrival or departure honours, although the visiting leader and some of his delegation are lodged at the expense of the host government. A working luncheon may be organized, but spouses do not attend and no gifts are exchanged.
Working Visits have no arrival or departure honours. Spouses do not attend, and no gifts are exchanged. In some jurisdictions, nor formal invitation is necessary, and the host country does not pay for the accommodation of the visiting delegation.
In a nutshell, all three types of visit involve meeting and discussing with the head of state or head of government of the host country. The main difference is the ceremonial content of the visits as well as the type of hospitality extended to the visiting leader. State visits and official visits are considerably formal. Although nothing is ever simple in diplomacy, working visits are relatively simpler and allow leaders to discuss important issues without being bogged down in ceremonies and formalities.