The centre-back is one of six Manchester United players in the squad for the games against San Marino on 22 March and Montenegro four days later.
Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck have also been named by manager Roy Hodgson for the two away fixtures.
Rio, who has been in excellent form for the Reds this season, has 81 international caps but hasn’t featured for England since the game with Switzerland in June 2011.
"He's playing well, his team are doing extremely well and this is the moment to select him because he deserves it on current form," said Hodgson.
Hodgson revealed he didn't tell Rio of his decision in advance, saying: "I preferred it to be a nice surprise. I didn't consider talking to him."
Rio's omission from the England squad for Euro 2012 prompted suggestions the 34-year-old's international career was over, though Hodgson later dismissed this and believes Ferdinand could even feature at the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014.
"I can't make guarantees for the future - 2014 is a long way off - but if he's playing like he is now he'll be a candidate to be in the squad," he added.
England: Foster, Hart, Forster; Baines, Cahill, Cole, Dawson, Ferdinand, Johnson, Smalling, Walker; Carrick, Cleverley, Gerrard, Lampard, Lennon, Milner, Osman, Parker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Young; Defoe, Rooney, Sturridge, Welbeck.