Consulate, Embassy Or High Commission – What’s the Difference?

It’s something most of us don’t give a second thought to – until we get into trouble overseas and need help. So, who do you call? A Consulate, the Embassy, or High Commission? The following is intended as an unofficial and brief explanation only:


Consulates are like mini embassies or branches of embassies. They are found in major tourist cities of the world or areas with large expatriate populations. Consulates issue visas, passports and emergency documents. They also perform notary functions, register births and deaths and handle serious matters such as forced marriages and child abductions. Consulates assist nationals imprisoned abroad and victims of crime. They also help in cases of serious illness while traveling or death of relatives abroad. They are the first point of contact when passports are lost or stolen or any other serious problem is experienced when living or traveling abroad. Their main function is to assist people; they do not normally get involved in country-to-country relations (which is the main role and function of the ambassador and embassy). Smaller cities and towns may have an ‘honorary consulate’ which is a smaller version of a consulate.

A consulate establishes a presence in a foreign country mainly to assist expatriates and travelers and to some degree to promote and enhance friendly relations between the countries with regard to trade, investment, and the import and export of services between countries.

Consuls are appointed as official representatives of their government (whereas there is only one Ambassador for each country, representing the head of state). There may be several consuls appointed to a country, performing different roles, with a different consul in charge of consulates located in major cities. A consulate is also sometimes part of the embassy in the capital city of a country.

A high-ranking consul is known as a consul-general. A consul-general will have deputy consuls-general, vice-consuls, or agents working to assist them. In a large country such as the U.S. there is a consul-general in many major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.


An embassy could be looked upon as the ‘head office‘ whereas consulates are the branch offices. There is only one ambassador based in the embassy in the capital city of a host country, whereas there are many consuls to cover major cities. For example, in the United States the British Embassy is located in Washington, D.C. with consulates in major cities.

An Ambassador is a representative of the head of state and government of their country. The ambassador deals directly with the ambassador for the head of state of the host country (for example the Ambassador to H.M. The Queen and the Ambassador to the President of the United States). Ambassadors are responsible for overseeing the work of the embassy and its consulates. An ambassador also presents and explains political policies and views to the host country and similarly reports back to the home country. Other duties include security issues, commercial, economic, media, and diplomatic relations and interests. Some countries do not have an embassy for politically-sensitive reasons, but have a consulate to help resident expatriates and travelers.

High Commission

In Commonwealth countries, where the British Monarch is Head of State, an embassy is known as a High Commission and performs the same functions as an embassy. For example, there are High Commissions located in Toronto, Canada; Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia, and Pretoria, South Africa. The appointed diplomats in charge are known as High Commissioners. High Commissions are located in capital cities and, just as with embassies, are supported by consulates in major cities.

Expatriates and travelers should never contact any of the above offices unless it is a very important matter (such as a lost or stolen passport) or a real emergency. Just as it is inappropriate to contact emergency services with time-wasting calls about noisy neighbours and dogs, consulates and embassies should never be contacted over trivial matters like lost sunglasses, weather reports, missed flights, or assistance with paying bills! Travelers are expected to take out travel insurance to cover travel mishaps such as lost and stolen property and payment of emergency medical expenses. Although you need to contact a Consulate to replace a lost or stolen passport, travel insurance will normally cover the cost for replacement.

Most travelers that don’t have special reasons to stay in a country are allowed only 15 days, after which they should appear to their corresponding embassies or consulates for extension.  Also, their travel document should include a round-trip ticket booked using agoda discount voucher code before leaving their country of origin.  This is to avoid any unnecessary inconvenience of delayed flights.


  • Llywelyn Eaton | Jun 27,2017

    Before I don’t know the difference between Embassy and Consulate. Thanks for this information

  • Beatrix Victor | Jun 28,2017

    This is right we don’t need to go to embassy if we can find a consulate office nearby

  • Esbjörn Berger | Jul 4,2017

    This solves the problem when you cannot find the embassy nearby you just have to look for consulate.

  • William | Sep 25,2017

    Most expats are trained what to do during emergency situations. I think your blog is a real help to those who are traveling for the first time outside the United States soil. Thanks for the info!

  • Harold | Oct 26,2017

    Thanks for the very informative post. I like you blogging style very much! More power 🙂

  • Hannah | Feb 7,2018

    Thanks for sharing helpful information. I’ve been planning to go on vacation in the Asia Pacific and looking forward to a safe and trouble-free stay there for 5 weeks 🙂

  • Ben | Mar 22,2018

    Thank you for sharing this post. I’m a bit lucky to have found it in perfect timing. I am planning to travel outside US and am considering Asia Pacific as the perfect place! 🙂

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