What’s the Difference Between Localization and Internationalization?


Written by

Joe Place

The key difference between internationalization and localization comes down to their interaction with a product or service.

New products and services are internationalized at the development stage. Existing products and services are localized.

One is about making your product adaptable to different markets, and the other is actually adapting it.

So, which one is right for your business?

Let’s find out!

Pro tip: When localizing your software or product, make sure to use a localization management platform. With its help, your translators, developers, designers, and managers can collaborate via a single dashboard, thereby saving time and money in the process. Learn more.

Key Differences Between Localization and Internationalization

internationalization vs localization

Internationalization is the process of designing software, products, or content to be easily adaptable to different languages and cultures.

internationalization definition

Localization, on the other hand, is the adaptation of the existing product or service to a specific target market.

localization definition

Internationalization comes first, making the localization process easier.

To understand the difference between internationalization and localization, consider an example of a software company designing a new product. To ensure its future expansion to new markets, the product needs to be internationalized.

Internationalization of a software product requires the following steps:

1.Create code placeholders that later can be replaced with a target language

2.Ensure support for vertical and right-to-left languages

3.Ensure support for local date and time formats, currency, and numbers among others

4.Accommodate text file extraction without impacting code

5.Accommodate translation synchronization with code hosting services

internationalization process

Once the software is internationalized, the company can then begin localization.

Localization of a software product requires the following steps:

1.Translate user interface, content, documentation, and marketing materials

2.Adapt UI and visuals

3.Adapt time and date, currency, and number formatting

4.Modify the software’s functionality

5.QA localized software

Localization process

Now that have a core understanding of internationalization vs localization, let’s go into more detail.

Simply put, internationalization focuses on world readiness. It’s necessary to ensure that your software or website handles global expansion without having to modify its source code. This involves the accommodation of global time and date formats, currency symbols, and character encoding, among others.

Internationalization is a crucial step in making your software globally compatible with new languages and cultures beyond your native market. Skip it, and your business expansion opportunities will be severely limited.

Wheres internationalization is necessary to make your product world-ready, localization is about market-readiness. Depending on the market location, the required product changes might involve:

  • content translation

  • user interface adjustment

  • graphic redesign

  • legal content review

  • date and time format adjustment

  • payment system adjustment

  • product functionality adjustment

To better understand localization, consider McDonald’s and its vastly different menus across the globe. The company always heeds to the cultural and religious preferences of their local audiences. Therefore, McDonald’s serves vegetarian food in India and Halal food in Turkey.

In addition to adjusting its menus, McDonald’s also tailors its marketing campaigns and restaurant designs to specific locales.

Internationalization vs Localization: What’s Right for Your Business?

You’ve learned the differences between internationalization and localization and now it’s time to understand which one better suits your business. To this end, consider the following factors:

Target market

Are you looking to expand your reach to global markets? If so, internationalization is the way to go. This will allow you to design your software or product to be easily adapted to different languages and cultures in the future, without having to completely overhaul your resource files.

On the other hand, if you already have a presence in a market and want to improve your product’s performance and user experience, localization is the way to go. This involves translating and adapting your product to the local language, culture, and preferences of that market.


Internationalization is a time-and resource-consuming process requiring an up-front investment to prepare your codebase for future localization. However, if you have the resources to invest, it will save you time and money in the long run.

Localization, on the other hand, can be done shortly before entering a new market, using available resources. Although localization is challenging without previous internationalization, it can yield a significant return on investment, if done correctly.

Pro tip: To streamline your software localization project, use a professional localization platform – Centus. The platform enables seamless collaboration between developers, designers, translators, and QA engineers, saving you time and money in the process. Learn more.

Project timeline

If you’re planning to launch your product quickly in multiple locales, internationalization may not be feasible in the short term. In this case, localization may be the best option to quickly adapt to specific markets.

Software design

Investigate the limitations and advantages of your software design as some might be more suitable for internationalization than others. Specifically, consider technical factors such as encoding, character sets, and right-to-left language support. You'll also want to think about how your software handles date and time formats, currency, and other locale specific components.

Implementation difficulty

In terms of implementation, internationalization requires more upfront planning in the development process, while localization can often be handled through text translation software or third-party services. However, both processes require collaboration between various stakeholders, including developers, designers, translators, and cultural experts.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the differences between internationalization and localization is crucial for any business looking to expand its reach beyond its native language market.

Internationalization provides a foundation for successful localization. Using both, you can adapt your product to perform well in different cultural and linguistic areas.

Choosing which approach to prioritize ultimately depends on your business goals, target audience, and available resources.


What are the differences between localization and internationalization?

Internationalization sets the foundation for localization.

Before your product can be localized, it’s first necessary to ensure it can support multiple languages, data and time formats, currencies, and UI elements, among others. This process is referred to as internationalization.

Only after, the product can be tailored to a local language, culture, and legal system, which is called localization.

Why is internationalization important for global businesses?

Internationalization is crucial for global businesses because it helps them expand their reach.

By internationalizing their products, businesses make localization easier. This, in turn, allows making the products more appealing to customers around the world.

When implemented properly, internationalization improves the business’ bottom line.

How do you determine if your product needs internationalization or localization?

To determine if your product needs internationalization or localization, consider the following factors:

  • Target market: opt for localization if you target 2-3 markets only.

  • Resources: opt for internationalization if you have resources to spare.

  • Project timeline: opt for localization if you want to launch your product quickly.

  • Software design: opt for localization if your codebase limits internationalization.

  • Implementation difficulty: opt for localization to minimize the project scope.

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