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September 23, 2023
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Etiquette for the Proper Display of Flags

As the globe continues to shrink, the display of foreign flags grows every day. Governmental bodies, hotels, educational institutions, and the business community…are using foreign flags to welcome their foreign guests. Because of this increased usage, we are providing this basic information to help you display flags in a proper and dignified manner.  

Listed below are some common answers to questions that are frequently asked. For the complete flag display code, here is the Official Flag Code Document.  

  1. The improper use and display of a U.S. flag and flags of your visitors is worse than no display at all.
  2. When the flags of two or more nations are flown together, each flag should be displayed from a separate pole in the same height, and each flag should be the same size. In time of peace, international custom forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation. Flying the flags of two nations on the same pole is a sign of war-time victory. It will be interpreted as a serious insult. An alternative to an outdoor flag display, where flagpoles are limited, is to post the flags in your reception area and/or conference room.
  3. There is no greater insult than to fly a flag upside down.
  4. Within the United States, when the U.S.A. flag is flown with flags of other nations, the poles should be the same height and in a straight line.
The U.S.A. flag is always placed in the position of honor, i.e., to its own right when facing away from the building, followed in alphabetical order by the other nation’s flags. The U.S.A flag is the first to be raised and the last to be lowered.
  5. Flag designs do change, and care must be taken to ensure that the flag you fly is correct and current. The most comprehensive source for this information is The Flag Research Center, Winchester, Massachusetts. We subscribe to the service offered by The Flag Research Center to keep our foreign flag designs as current as possible.
  6. Many nations have a State flag (for use by governmental bodies) which is different from their Civil Flag and/or Civil Ensign (used by civilians). The State flag is appropriate for governmental display and occasions. For most civic and commercial occasions, the Civil Flag is correct. The ‘Courtesy Flag’ for vessels visiting a foreign port is the Civil Ensign.
  7. It is customary for all ships and boats to fly the appropriate Civil Ensign of their country of registration. And, when visiting a foreign port, the Civil Ensign of that country should also be flown.
  8. The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. By ‘half-staff’ is meant lowering the flag to one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. Crepe streamers may be affixed to spearheads or flagstaffs in a parade only by order of the President of the United States.


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