Difference Between High Commission and Embassy (With Table)

High Commission vs 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.

For a start, the key difference between high commission and embassy is basically where they are situated. One applies to Commonwealth member states whereas the other to the rest of the world.

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 the 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.

British High Commision
British 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.

Cuba Embassy in Washington
Cuba Embassy in Washington

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.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About High Commission and Embassy

Can you take refuge in an embassy?

Technically, it is very difficult to take refuge in an embassy.

But under certain special circumstances which involve national political affairs, terrorist threats, Visa cancellation or any other such critical issue, the national embassy of the person present in that country can give refuge to that individual with proper documentation and back up with evidence.

Who is the head of an embassy?

The embassy is the official residence or the office place of the ambassador. It is a place where the official work on the behalf of their national country in the lands of some other host country.

The head of an embassy is known as the high commissioner. He is sometimes also referred to as only the ambassador.

Can anyone enter a High Commission?

Just like in the case of an embassy, under certain special circumstances which involve national political affairs, terrorist threats, Visa cancellation or any other such critical issue, the high commission present in that country can decide to allow someone to enter the high commission.

Who owns the land of an embassy?

The answer to this question varies from land to land. In the majority of the cases, the land is owned by the host country.

Thus, this gives the host country the authority and the power to remove the embassy office of the other country and stop all the current operations taking place, but with proper paperwork.

How do you address a high commissioner?

It is always advisable to follow the following pattern when one has to address the high commissioner of any country.

The pattern is: Start with His Excellency and then write his full name, followed by the High Commissioner of xyz country. If you are still in doubt, then you can cross-check with the secretary or the PA of the high commissioner.

What is the work of the High Commissioner?

The high commissioner is basically the senior diplomat who is the representative of his native country in the host country.

He is the sole in charge of the diplomatic mission of one government to the other and he looks after all the national political affairs related between the two countries.

What is a deputy high commissioner?

The deputy high commissioner is the next subordinate to the main high commissioner. The roles of both these high commissioners are somewhat on similar lines.

It is just that the deputy high commissioner has to report the high commissioner before the final decision making. He looks after the native people who are living in the host country or are visiting the host country.



High Commission vs Embassy



Now that you know about these two institutions of foreign policy, we trust that you can now prepare adequately to make good use of them.

What else could you possibly ask of us? Let us know whether you may indeed require any further assistance from us with regard to more details.


Word Cloud for Difference Between High Commission and Embassy

The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on High Commission and Embassy. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.

High Commission and Embassy
Word Cloud for High Commission and Embassy



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_commissioner_(Commonwealth)
  2. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/high-commission
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomatic_mission