Internationalization vs. Localization: What is the difference?

Businesses are looking to expand beyond their domestic borders in the global marketplace. This expansion is not just about exporting products or services. It involves a comprehensive strategy to connect with customers in new regions in a way that feels local and relevant.

Two critical concepts in this strategy are internationalization and localization, often abbreviated as i18n and l10n. Though they are closely related and sometimes used interchangeably, they serve different purposes in the global expansion strategy.

Today, we will explore these two concepts and the processes involved as understanding the difference between internationalization and localization is crucial for businesses aiming for global success. 

What is internationalization (i18n)?

Internationalization is the process of designing products, services, and content in a way that removes barriers to adaptation to different languages, regions, or cultures. It is the first step toward creating a global product.

Core Principles

The core principles of internationalization involve creating a flexible and adaptable framework that can easily be tailored to meet the needs of various cultural and linguistic markets. This includes the use of Unicode for character encoding, ensuring software can handle input and output in multiple languages, and designing layouts that can accommodate the expansion or contraction of text after translation.

Benefits of i18n

Internationalization offers several benefits, including reduced time and costs for entering new markets, as it eliminates the need to redesign products or services from scratch for each new language or region. It enhances the user experience by ensuring that the product functions correctly and feels natural in different cultural contexts. Furthermore, i18n facilitates easier and more efficient localization, making it a strategic investment for businesses planning to expand internationally.

Where to use Internationalization?

Internationalization is a critical strategy in diverse sectors such as software internationalization development, website creation, and digital content production, aiming to cater to a global audience. Its importance also stretches into the realm of manufacturing, particularly for consumer products poised for sale in international markets.

By embedding internationalization principles at the outset, companies ensure that the core design, instructions, and packaging of their products possess the necessary flexibility for seamless adaptation to various local market requirements.

One way to achieve this is by incorporating machine translation within the internationalization framework can significantly enhance this adaptability. It offers a swift and cost-efficient means to automatically translate textual elements into multiple languages, laying a foundational layer of linguistic accessibility. Making it faster and easier for businesses to prepare their products for a broad spectrum of markets with the assistance of language professionals to ensure cultural and linguistic accuracy.

What is localization (l10n)?

Localization goes a step further than internationalization by adapting the internationalized product to specific regions or languages. It involves not just translation but also comprehensive cultural adaptation to meet the local audience's expectations and preferences.

Elements of l10n

Localization includes the translation of text and adaptation of content to reflect local customs, values, and legal requirements. This can involve changing date formats, currency, units of measure, and images to resonate with the local culture. Localization also considers local regulations and censorship laws to ensure compliance and appropriateness.

Benefits of l10n

The benefits of localization are profound, including increased market share, improved customer satisfaction, and enhanced brand loyalty. By presenting products or services in a way that feels tailor-made for the local market, businesses can significantly improve their competitiveness and acceptance in foreign markets.

When is localization necessary?

Localization is pivotal when a business endeavors to establish a deep-rooted presence in a specific foreign market, striving to create a connection that is both intimately personal and culturally resonant with the local audience. This approach is particularly vital for consumer-focused products and services rich in content, including video streaming platforms, e-commerce websites, and digital marketing initiatives.

In facilitating this process, machine translation can serve as a valuable tool, providing an initial layer of linguistic adaptation that is both efficient and cost-effective. However, to ensure the utmost accuracy and cultural sensitivity, this machine-translated content must be refined by a localization engineer who can intricately tailor every aspect of the product or service—from nuanced language to cultural references—thereby meeting and surpassing the target demographic's expectations. 

Difference between internationalization and localization

Since we defined i18n and l10n and discussed what each process is fundamentally alike and different. Let’s take a look at the side-by-side comparison of internationalization vs localization by identifying where they differ in four different aspects:


The focus of internationalization lies in developing a universal framework designed to support a wide array of languages and cultural norms, enabling seamless adaptation across diverse global markets without the necessity for market-specific modifications.

Conversely, localization zeroes in on customizing this broad framework to align precisely with the unique requirements and preferences of individual target markets. This entails a meticulous adaptation process, ensuring that every element of the product or service resonates deeply with the cultural and linguistic nuances of each specific audience, fostering a more personalized and engaging experience.


Internationalization encompasses a more expansive scope, systematically establishing the foundational infrastructure necessary to support diverse future localization endeavors. This process involves designing products and services with a global audience in mind, ensuring they can be easily adapted to meet the needs of specific locales. Localization, then, meticulously operates within this pre-defined framework, refining and adjusting the product or service to cater to the cultural, linguistic, and regulatory nuances of a particular region. This targeted approach ensures that the offerings are not only accessible but also resonate deeply with the local audience, enhancing user experience and satisfaction.


The internationalization process is strategically embedded in the initial design and development phases of a product or service, establishing a versatile foundation that facilitates effortless adaptation across diverse global markets. This preparatory phase ensures that future modifications for specific locales can be implemented with ease and efficiency.

Meanwhile, localization takes center stage, meticulously customizing the product or service for each target market. This subsequent phase involves a detailed process of translation and cultural adaptation, ensuring that every aspect of the offering is finely tuned to align with the local language, cultural norms, and consumer expectations. This sequential approach guarantees that the product not only meets global standards but also possesses the local relevance necessary to engage and satisfy the target demographic in each market.


The culmination of the internationalization process yields a product or service that is primed for global deployment, having been meticulously designed to accommodate a wide range of languages and cultural practices, thus facilitating its introduction into various markets with minimal adjustments.

In contrast, the outcome of localization is a more finely tuned iteration of the product or service, one that has undergone extensive customization to ensure it resonates deeply with the consumers in a specific market. This localized version reflects the unique cultural nuances, linguistic preferences, and regional expectations, making it appear as though it was created with just that local audience in mind, thereby fostering a stronger connection and enhancing user engagement.


Understanding the difference between internationalization and localization is vital for businesses aiming to succeed in the global market. Internationalization lays the foundation for a product's global journey, while localization tailors that product to meet the nuanced needs and preferences of each target audience.

Together, these processes ensure that businesses can not only reach a global audience but also connect with them in a meaningful and culturally sensitive way. By investing in the best machine translation technology for both internationalization and localization, businesses can maximize their global reach while ensuring local relevance and compliance, driving success in today's interconnected world.

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