The three most common cases recognized today internationally relate to the persons and belongings of foreign sovereigns, the persons and belongings of ambassadors and certain other diplomatic agents, and public ships in foreign waters.
Extraterritoriality is often extended to friendly or allied militaries, particularly for the purposes of allowing that military to simply pass through one's territory.
Extraterritoriality can also refer to the extension of the power of a nation's laws to its citizens abroad. For example, if a person commits homicide abroad and goes back to his country of citizenship, the latter can still try him under its own laws, although this is likely to involve transfer of evidence and other judicial information.
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Italian sea republics of Genoa and Venice managed to wrestle extraterritoriality for their quarters (Pera and Galata) in the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. They even battled among themselves for further control of the weakened empire.
Perhaps the most well-known cases of historical extraterritoriality concerned European nationals in 19th century China and Japan under the so-called unequal treaties. Extraterritoriality was imposed upon China in the Treaty of Nanjing, resulting from the First Opium War. Shanghai in particular became a major center of foreign activity, as it contained two extraterritorial zones, the International Settlement and the French Concession. These extraterritorialities officially ended only after the end of World War II.
Japan recognized extraterritoriality in the treaties concluded with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, and Russia in 1858, in connection with the concept of "Most Favored Nation." However, Japan succeeded in reforming its unequal status with Western countries through the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation signed on July 16, 1894 in London.
Extraterritoriality in China for non-diplomatic personnel ended at various times in the twentieth century. Germany and Austria-Hungary lost their rights in China in 1917 after China joined the allies in World War I; the Soviet Union gave up its rights in China in 1924; the United States and United Kingdom gave up their rights in 1943; Italy and Japan gave up their rights by virtue of being at war with China in World War II; and France was the last country to give up its rights, in 1946.
Thailand signed a treaty granting extraterritorial rights to Britain in 1855 during the reign of King Rama IV. Unequal treaties were later signed with 13 other European powers, as well as Japan. After the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932, the constitutional government promulgated a set of legal codes, setting the stage for new treaties signed between 1937 and 1938 which canceled extraterritorial rights.
The Treaty Ports in Ireland, which were sovereign bases created by the United Kingdom in 1922, did not enjoy extraterritoriality from the Irish Free State. They were instead pieces of sovereign territory retained by the United Kingdom, until they were finally ceded to the Free State in 1938.
A historic case of extraterritoriality was the seizure of the railways of Nicaragua by Brown Brothers Harriman, a U.S. banking firm. Under the Knox-Castrillo Treaty of 1911 these railroads became legally part of the State of Maine, according to former president of Guatemala, Juan José Arévalo, in his book The Shark and the Sardines (Lyle Stuart, New York, 1961), pp. 210-220.