Difference Between High Commission and Embassy

You have definitely come across the terms ‘high commission’ and ‘embassy.’ Indeed, in many cases, these two terms are either used interchangeably or are used to infer more or less similar concepts.

But are they really the same. If at all they differ, do those differences really matter?

It is impossible to get the answers to these two questions just like that. Indeed, only an in-depth look into the two will provide a rough clue.

High Commission vs Embassy

The difference between high commission and embassy is basically where they are situated. Commission applies to Commonwealth member states whereas Embassy applies to the rest of the world.

High Commission vs Embassy

Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonHigh CommissionEmbassy
MeaningA diplomatic post or mission that is located in and represents a nation that is a member of the British Commonwealth.A diplomatic mission that is located in any nation outside the British Commonwealth. It also refers to that which one party does not subscribe to the Commonwealth.
Officer-in-chargeThe officer in charge of a High Commission is called a High Commissioner.That one who is in charge of an embassy is called an Ambassador.
PurposeFosters the unity between the two member states. Goes ahead to conduct other relevant businesses that revolve around its country’s best interests.Restricted to matters of upholding the relations between the two nations concerned only.
ScopeMay serves citizens other than their own on condition that they are members of another Commonwealth member-state.Its services are limited to the citizens of its counties only; nothing more.
ExampleAn Indian diplomatic mission in Australia is called a High Commission because both nations subscribe to the British Commonwealth.A Kenyan diplomatic mission in Qatar is called an embassy. That is because Kenya is a member of the commonwealth whereas Qatar is not.

What is High Commission?

A high commission is basically a term that is employed by the members of the British Commonwealth. It describes the diplomatic missions of Commonwealth member states that are similarly located in other Commonwealth member states.

By ‘Commonwealth’ we mean those countries that were once colonized by the United Kingdom.

They are 53 in number as of now. These countries are as large and populous as India and are small and less populated as the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

They form a close association that is cemented by among others, sports, diplomacy, common defense, economic unity, and military cooperation.

High Commission

What is Embassy?

An embassy, on the other hand, is a diplomatic mission that is located outside the British Commonwealth. It may or may not belong to a member of the commonwealth.

Many times, it is simply referred to as a foreign mission.

The mission houses the group of top diplomatic representatives of a foreign nation to another.

In many cases, it is permanent in nature and generally remains in force even when the holder of the position of the ambassador is recalled or passes on.

Its primary purpose is to present the foreign policy of a particular nation to that of another. This is besides caring for the citizens who are in those countries.


Main Differences Between High Commission and Embassy

  1. Definition: The term “High Commission” is only applied when the sending and the receiving country both belong to the British Commonwealth. If either country is not a member of the commonwealth, the term embassy comes into play. Beyond that, there is almost no significant variation in meaning.
  2. Head: Both installations are headed by an official who is generally appointed by the Head of States of their respective countries. Nonetheless, they differ in the manner in which they are called. As a general rule, the head of an embassy is called an ambassador while the head of a High Commission is called a High Commissioner.
  3. Scope: Though these two institutions play more or less similar roles, the High Commissions seem to have some slight advantage with regards to the scope. As for an embassy, you have to be a citizen of that country to receive any services. The High Commission can nonetheless serve members of other countries besides those of its own, provided that their countries are also members of the Commonwealth.
  4. Main Purpose: These two institutions exist primarily to foster good relations between any foreign nations. However, the High Commission serves extra purposes. It goes beyond that to even carry out the missions of its home country to the host country. This secondary purpose is largely limited though to other Commonwealth countries.
  5. Location: By their definitions above, you will definitely come across an embassy just about anywhere provided that it is within the capital city of that country. A High Commission though is only found in the capital city of another Commonwealth country.
  6. Countries Applicable: We have already explained that there are roughly 53 Commonwealth member states. This means that the term ‘High Commission’ is limited to only those countries. Contrast this with well over 200 other nations that do not subscribe to or belong to the Commonwealth member-states.
  7. The extent of Relevance: An embassy’s role is to primarily deal with fostering good relations between its original country and the host country. That of a High Commission extends to handling business, commercial, and other interests that are outside the scope of the International Relations.
  8. Common Examples: An American diplomatic mission is called the American embassy. That is because the United States is not a member of the British Commonwealth inasmuch as the host nation, India is. The Kenyan diplomatic mission in Canada, on the other hand, is called a High Commission because both subscribe to the British Commonwealth.
  9. Sheer Size: These two installations differ in their sheer size. In general, an embassy is large as it serves as the headquarters of a vast network of other diplomatic posts within the host nation, called consulates. The High Commission for a large part is a single installation where all activities are carried out.
  10. International Recognition: Though High Commissions are at par with and serve roughly the same purposes as the embassies, they are not as far widely accepted and recognized as the embassies. This is partly attributable to the fact that they are largely applicable within the Commonwealth member-states.
Difference Between High Commission and Embassy


  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/high-commission
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