Difference Between High Commission and Embassy

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


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

Key Takeaways

  1. The high commission is the diplomatic representation of one Commonwealth country in another, while the embassy is the diplomatic representation of one country in another.
  2. The high commission is typically used by Commonwealth countries, while the embassy is used by non-Commonwealth countries.
  3. A High Commissioner heads the high commission, while an Ambassador heads the embassy.

High Commission vs Embassy

High Commission is a diplomatic mission established by a Commonwealth country in another Commonwealth country, and it is headed by a High Commissioner, who is the equivalent of an ambassador. Embassy is a diplomatic mission established by a country in another country, and it is headed by an ambassador, who is the highest-ranking diplomatic representative of the sending country. 

High Commission vs Embassy

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Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonHigh CommissionEmbassy
MeaningA diplomatic post or mission is located in and represents a nation member of the British Commonwealth.A diplomatic mission that is located in any nation outside the British Commonwealth. It also refers to one party not subscribing to the Commonwealth.
Officer-in-chargeThe officer in charge of a High Commission is called a High Commissioner.The 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 serve 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 commonwealth member, whereas Qatar is not.

What is High Commission?

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

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

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

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

High Commission

What is Embassy?

On the other hand, an embassy is a diplomatic mission located outside the British Commonwealth. It may or may not belong to a member of the Commonwealth.

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

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

In many cases, it is permanent and generally remains in force even when the holder of the position of an ambassador is recalled or passed 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 receiving countries belong to the British Commonwealth. If neither country is a commonwealth member, 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 generally appointed by the Heads of State of their respective countries. Nonetheless, they differ in the manner in which they are called. Generally, 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 advantages in 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. Primary Purpose: These two institutions exist primarily to foster good relations between 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 primarily limited though to other Commonwealth countries.
  5. Location: By their definitions above, you will find an embassy just about anywhere, provided it is within that country’s capital city. A High Commission, though, is only found in the capital city of another Commonwealth country.
  6. Countries Applicable: We have already explained that roughly 53 Commonwealth member states exist. This means the term ‘High Commission’ is limited to only those countries. Contrast this with 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 primarily deals 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 outside the scope of 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 since the host nation, India is. On the other hand, the Kenyan diplomatic mission in Canada 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 is 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 widely accepted and recognized as the embassies. This is partly attributable to the fact that they largely apply within the Commonwealth member-states.
Difference Between High Commission and Embassy
  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/high-commission
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