International Relations and International Business: What’s the difference?


Monday, August 10, 2020

International Relations and International Business are generally mistakenly believed to be the same degree or lead to the same type of career. However, there are plenty of differences between them. It can even be said that the only thing they have in common is that they involve jobs in the international sphere but, in all other aspects, they are quite different. If you want to pursue a career in any of them, you need to be aware of those differences. 




International relations, on the one hand, can be defined as “the study of the relations of states with each other and with international organizations and certain subnational entities (e.g., bureaucracies, political parties, and interest groups). It is related to a number of other academic disciplines, including political science, geography, history, economics, law, sociology, psychology, and philosophy”.

On the other hand, International Business encompasses “all commercial activities that take place to promote the transfer of goods, services, resources, people, ideas, and technologies across national boundaries”.

It is of paramount importance to be aware of the differences among them and what each degree and future profession entails so that you choose the one that suits you best. 

School where each degree is imparted

International relations degrees are typically offered by a college’s foreign or public affairs division at a School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The curricula generally range from topics political science, geography, world history, and social science. The modules of the programme could be: National Security, Immigration, Terrorism, Human Rights Law, Policy Analysis, among others. 

Business Schools offer International Business degrees. The programme’s curriculum starts with the general management basics. Some modules are: Supply Chain Logistics, Global Finance, Emerging Markets, and International Currency. 

Potential Career Pathways

These degrees also differ in the career paths you could expect to pursue:

  • International Relations career prospects: International Relations professionals are in charge of making sure that relationships between different states or cultures go smoothly in a way that both or all parts in the relationship are benefited from the bond. Their jobs include: diplomat, NGO administrator, political analyst, intelligence specialist, translator, foreign lobbyist, immigration lawyer, military officer, or demographer. If IR graduates have enough experience, they could even be appointed ambassadors or even Secretary of State. 
  • International Business career prospects: International Business leads to careers like export officer, product manager, budget analyst, advertising manager, human capital consultant, logistician, global communications specialist, sales director, and controller. Climbing the corporate ladder to big titles like VP of Diversity & Inclusion or Chief Financial Officer might be the end goal.

As you can see, International Business degrees lead to commercial jobs whereas International Relations degrees have a more political approach. Even though they are related somehow, they are quite different and it is important to be aware of those differences when considering pursuing any of them. 

if you are interested in pursuing any of these fields as a career, take a look at the programmes in International Business and International Relations offered by some of the best universities in South Africa. 




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