Here is the list of countries that owe the most to foreign creditors in 2017. The United States leads, followed by the Euro area and the United Kingdom.

Having high external debt can fast become an economic crisis for a country. If financial markets consider that the country's ability to pay back its debt is not sufficient or too uncertain, it will find further borrowings to be be impossible or extremely expensive. Eventually, the economy may find itself strangled by a lack of credit. 

External debt (also called “foreign debt”) is the portion of total country debt that is owed to creditors outside of the country. The debtors can be the government, corporations or private households. The creditors include private commercial banks, other governments and international financial institutions (such as the IMF and the World Bank). 

A sustainable external debt, therefore, would be one that allowed the country to service its obligations in full without accumulating any arrears, having recourse to rescheduling or to debt cancellation, while allowing for an acceptable level of economic growth. To help low income countries attain this goal, the IMF and the World Bank created the Debt Sustainability Framework in 2005 to periodically assess the situation and provide recommendations to address any potential risks. 

The most commonly used indicator to express and compare external debt is the Gross External Debt. The IMF, the BIS, the OECD and the World Bank share a common definition for it as “the outstanding amount of actual, current, and not contingent, liabilities that require payment(s) of interest and/or principal by the debtor at some point(s) in the future and that are owed to nonresidents by residents of an economy”.

Note that the definition refers to residency and not to nationality, and that the indicator includes both principal and interest of the debt. The loans included in external debt have to be repaid in the currency in which they were signed, which for most countries is a foreign currency. If that is the case, to be able to repay the debt, the country may produce and sell goods or services to buyers who pay in that foreign currency, use their foreign currency reserves or recur to new credit. 

The last review was conducted in 2012 and a new one is ongoing and to be discussed by the IMF and WB boards this summer.


Countries with the most external debt

Country Name Extwernal debt in 2016, last trimestre (USD millions)
United States 18,325,489
Euro area 14,292,310
United Kingdom 7,486,249
France 4,991,533
Germany 4,891,076
Netherlands 3,865,914
Luxembourg 3,845,300
Japan 3,416,122
Italy 2,215,150
Ireland 2,185,535
Spain 1,966,282
Canada 1,743,183
Switzerland 1,691,213
China 1,420,657
Australia 1,397,821
Hong Kong SAR, China 1,330,055
Singapore 1,283,526
Belgium 1,176,358
Sweden 853,841
Brazil 671,647
Austria 616,435
Norway 608,729
Russian Federation 513,478
Denmark 495,338
India 456,066
Greece 455,785
Finland 442,698
Portugal 420,428
Mexico 411,507
Turkey 404,182
Korea, Rep. 380,949
Poland 335,941
Indonesia 316,968
Malaysia 202,550
Argentina 192,462
Mauritius 185,370
New Zealand 181,954
Chile 163,789
Kazakhstan 163,758
Hungary 143,744
South Africa 142,833
Czech Republic 137,606
Thailand 131,362
Colombia 120,010
Ukraine 113,483
Cyprus 112,696
Romania 97,374
Malta 91,690
Israel 91,081
Slovak Republic 77,740
Philippines 74,763
Peru 69,609
Egypt, Arab Rep. 67,323
Morocco 47,549
Sri Lanka 46,586
Slovenia 45,678
Croatia 43,916
Latvia 38,847
Belarus 37,567
Bulgaria 37,338
Lithuania 35,173
Ecuador 34,161
Tunisia 28,464
Jordan 27,083
Costa Rica 26,437
Uruguay 26,148
Iceland 25,024
Estonia 20,070
El Salvador 16,253
Georgia 15,496
Armenia 9,952
Kyrgyz Republic 7,867
Macedonia, FYR 7,646
Moldova 6,595
Seychelles 3,103
West Bank and Gaza 1,749





Countries With The Most External Debt in 2015

October 11, 2015


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) defines external debt as the outstanding amount of actual, current, and not contingent, liabilities that require payment(s) of interest and/or principal by the debtor at some point(s) in the future and that are owed to nonresidents by residents of an economy (determined by where one is located, not one’s nationality). The debt includes both principal and interest payments due.




For some countries, particularly developing ones, debt incurred by governments can exceed those governments’ ability to pay (based on tax revenues and on the nation’s gross domestic product). Government funds spent on poverty reduction, job creation, infrastructure improvement, education and the like, foster longer-term growth, possibly leading to lower levels of borrowing in the future. However, the burden of loan repayments can make these beneficial expenditures impossible. In addition, sometimes the debts were incurred by regimes that are no longer in power, but the burden to pay down the loan falls to a subsequent administration. Loans are sometimes restructured, allowing longer time-periods for repayment. And debt cancellation for developing nations is a topic that is hotly debated.