Misconceptions about International Relations and International Business: How do they differ?


Monday, November 16, 2020

Why is it necessary to clarify the differences between International Relations and International Business? Because they are generally mistakenly believed to be the same or lead to the same career. Let’s establish the differences between them so that those who want to pursue a degree in any of them make sure they choose the right one for them. 




It is easy to see why this misconception has been established, since both degrees involve jobs in the international sphere, but it is important to make sure that their differences are highlighted. 


International Relations vs. International Business


It’s essential to clarify the differences between the two areas, the career paths each one leads to and the challenges the future profession entails so that you choose the one that fits you. 

First, let’s start by establishing the most obvious differences by defining each of them:

On the one hand, International Relations 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”.

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

Even in their definitions, it is possible to perceive the main differences between them: The former involves communication and relationship with international organizations whereas the latter is in charge of making commercial activities between countries possible.

Where to study each of them?


They are generally offered at different schools or departments within a University:

  • 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 such as political science, geography, world history, and social science. The modules of the programme could include: 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. 

Prospective Global Career Pathways


These degrees also differ in the career paths you could expect to be working in:
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
  • Foreign lobbyist
  • Immigration lawyer
  • Military officer
  • 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
  • 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 and diplomatic perspective. Even though they are related in some ways, 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 a career in one of these degrees, take a look at the following programmes offered by some of the best Universities in the UK:

University of Law
Master of Laws in International Business Law 
Bachelor of Arts Honours in Politics and International Relations
Bachelor of Science with Honours in International Business Management
Bachelor in Law with Honours in Law with International Business


London School of Economics
Certificate in Business, International Relations, and the Political Economy

University of St. Andrews
Bachelor of Arts in International Relations

University of Buckingham
Bachelor of Arts in International Studies
Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with Integrated Foundation
Bachelor of Arts in International Relations Flexible Honours
Master of Law in International and Commercial Law
Doctor of Philosphy in Economics and International Studies

The Open University
Bachelor of Arts in International Studies

University of Oxford
Master of Philosophy in International Relations

University of Greenwich
Master of International Business




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