Countries with the most debt

Written by:
April 8, 2020
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Countries with the most debt

When global debt skyrocketed to an all-time high of $247 trillion in early 2018, it was hard to imagine it could continue to increase. After all, that jaw-dropping figure represented a debt-to-gross domestic product ratio (GDP) of more than 318%. The rates of borrowing fell throughout the rest of the year, though, giving the global economy the chance to take a breath.

But once 2019 rolled around, global debt began an upward trajectory once again, hitting $246.5 trillion in the first quarter. The borrowing binge—fueled by low interest rates and higher rates of government spending—was a matter of concern then, but now that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economies of nations across the world such as the United States and Italy, this debt load could put some countries in a state of distress, depending on how things shake out in the long term.

Debt isn’t always a bad thing, though. It can help governments, like that of Japan, take care of an aging population, for example, or fund capital projects. However, debt that makes up a huge portion of GDP can be a problem. Countries with large amounts of debt can be especially vulnerable to economic downturns. What’s more, high debt loads can also make it harder for the world’s economy to recover from financial swings.

So where’s all this money going, and who’s shouldering the bulk of the debt? To uncover the countries with the most debt, Stacker consulted the IMF's October 2019 World Economic Outlook. Countries are ranked by debt as a percentage of GDP. Interestingly, some of the countries with the highest GDPs across the globe are also among the most indebted.

Read on to learn which nations have the biggest debt repayment bills, and see how your country compares to others on the list.

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#50. El Salvador

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 68.3%
- Total GDP: $26.87 billion
- Population: 6,486,205

El Salvador, one of the planet’s most densely populated countries, has taken strides to curb its expenses. The Central American country reformed its pension system in 2017 to reduce government spending, which may curb debt growth in the coming years. However, persistently low growth rates may make it difficult for the country to bring in much-needed revenue.

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#49. Mauritius

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 68.7%
- Total GDP: $14.39 billion
- Population: 1,271,768

Mauritius faces a deficit of 16.9 billion Mauritian rupees (or around $430 million) on its 2019–20 budget, according to PwC. The country aims to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio to 60% in the coming years with the help of new public-infrastructure projects and stable inflation.

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#48. India

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 69.0%
- Total GDP: $2.94 trillion
- Population: 1,380,004,385

India has a “challenging fiscal outlook,” according to a report from the Institute of International Finance. The country’s in the midst of a “severe growth slowdown,” and unless growth climbs above 7%, there’s little hope for debt reduction in the near future.

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#47. Guinea-Bissau

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 69.2%
- Total GDP: $1.40 billion
- Population: 1,968,001

Just 10 years ago, the IMF and the World Bank teamed up to provide Guinea-Bissau with $1.2 billion in debt relief. But despite the help, the country—one of the poorest in the world—still finds itself in debt. It has been cutting government spending by rolling back fuel subsidies and raising electricity rates.

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#46. Maldives

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 70.1%
- Total GDP: $5.79 billion
- Population: 540,544

When it comes to money owed to China, the Maldives may be in over its head. The country’s foreign minister said that its massive debt to China (around $1.4 billion) has put the country in a difficult position, according to the AP. The World Bank expects infrastructure investment to help increase growth in the Maldives to 5.5% in 2020, but public debt is still expected to increase in the coming years.

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#45. Austria

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 70.7%
- Total GDP: $447.72 billion
- Population: 9,006,398

Austria’s aging population may strain its financial situation, according to the 2020 Index of Economic Freedom. However, the government has been making strides to curb government spending by slashing child benefits for residents who don’t speak German or English and reducing assistance for asylum-seekers.

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#44. Croatia

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 71.1%
- Total GDP: $60.70 billion
- Population: 4,105,267

Croatia has been making a dent in its financial obligations. The country’s external debt fell by 3.8% from November 2018 to November 2019, according to an article in Total Croatia News.

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#43. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 72.0%
- Total GDP: $0.86 billion
- Population: 110,940

While the debt-to-GDP ratio of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is still 72%, the country has come a long way from where it was in 2016, when it was at 82.8%, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country’s government revenue as a percentage of GDP is expected to remain fairly steady through 2024.

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#42. Togo

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 72.6%
- Total GDP: $5.50 billion
- Population: 8,278,724

Togo may have a high debt-to-GDP ratio this year, but it’s expected to turn things around in the coming years. Experts at the World Bank and the IMF predict that it will drop below 55% by 2023.

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#41. Tunisia

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 74.4%
- Total GDP: $38.73 billion
- Population: 11,818,619

For Tunisia, 2020 may be an important year for the economy. According to Tunisian economist Radhi Meddeb, via The Arab Weekly, it will be the first time that the country will pay more in debt service than it borrows in new debts. That could make it difficult for the country to put money into investments and development projects, despite the overall trend of rising government revenue over the last few decades.

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#40. Suriname

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 75.6%
- Total GDP: $3.77 billion
- Population: 586,632

Suriname has taken steps to reduce government spending, such as reducing electricity tariff subsidies in cities in 2019. But that same year, the country amended its National Debt Act to get rid of the “60% GDP ceiling on public debt,” according to Coface, and Suriname is expected to see public debt climb this year.

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#39. Pakistan

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 76.7%
- Total GDP: $284.21 billion
- Population: 220,892,340

Experts have a grim outlook on Pakistan’s projected debt growth in the coming years, projecting it to climb significantly higher by 2024. While government revenue is expected to increase, so is government expenditure, which will make it difficult for the country to get out of the red.

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#38. Dominica

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 76.8%
- Total GDP: $0.59 billion
- Population: 71,986

The Commonwealth of Dominica is projected to see GDP growth of 6.8% this year, with much more modest growth rates (1.5% to 3.6%) through 2023. The island has been working to drive government revenue through a Citizenship by Investment Program, which is expected to bring in up to $52.6 million.

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#37. São Tomé and Príncipe

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 77.2%
- Total GDP: $0.43 billion
- Population: 204,327

As one of the continent’s smallest economies, the African archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe faces financial challenges. It’s aiming to increase government revenues through an oil-field development project with Nigeria, but whether or not the plan will be successful remains to be seen.

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#36. Mauritania

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 78.5%
- Total GDP: $5.65 billion
- Population: 4,649,658

Mauritania is projected to see growth of 5.7% this year, increasing to 5.9% in 2021. While its debt percentage is still high, that number is actually a big achievement from 2016, when the country’s debt was 89% of its GDP.

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#35. Democratic Republic of Congo

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 78.5%
- Total GDP: $48.99 billion
- Population: 91,931,000

The Congolese government has been trying to balance its books in recent years. It has tightened up government spending and boosted revenue through increased taxes on mining activities. However, the country still faces long-term financial challenges and high vulnerability to economic shocks, according to the IMF.

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#34. Gambia

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 80.9%
- Total GDP: $1.77 billion
- Population: 2,416,668

Government overspending on goods and services in the Gambia has deteriorated the country’s financial situation in recent years, according to the World Bank. Its high debt also proves to be an ongoing challenge—in 2018, interest payments alone took up 25% of the Gambia’s domestic revenue.

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#33. Montenegro

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 81.1%
- Total GDP: $5.42 billion
- Population: 628,066

The government of Montenegro is aiming to bring its budget deficit to just under 1% of the GDP this year. It will also increase spending in 2020, with plans to use the revenues from issuing eurobonds in 2019 to pay down debt.

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#32. Aruba

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 82.9%
- Total GDP: $2.90 billion
- Population: 106,766

The IMF has a positive outlook on the Aruban economy. The government has put forth a fiscal consolidation plan and expects to increase revenues from the growing tourism sector and large-scale investment projects.

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#31. Sri Lanka

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 83.0%
- Total GDP: $86.57 billion
- Population: 21,413,249

Sri Lanka has made major progress in bringing down its debt from the late 1980s, when it was equivalent to 108.7% of the country’s GDP. However, the outlook for the country’s fiscal situation isn’t great. S&P Global Ratings downgraded its ratings outlook for Sri Lanka to negative earlier this year after the government implemented new tax cuts that could impact revenue.

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#30. Egypt

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 84.9%
- Total GDP: $302.26 billion
- Population: 102,334,404

After facing a “debt crisis” in 2018, the Egyptian government implemented tactics to try to balance its books. The country has moved away from subsidizing energy in an effort to curb government spending and implemented a new value-added tax to increase revenues.

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#29. San Marino

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 85.1%
- Total GDP: $1.59 billion
- Population: 33,931

Deep-rooted flaws in the Republic of San Marino’s banking system cast a shadow over the country’s fiscal outlook. The IMF is urging San Marino’s leadership to “strengthen [its] debt management capacity and diversify financing options” to help mitigate fiscal risks.

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#28. United Kingdom

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 85.6%
- Total GDP: $2.74 trillion
- Population: 67,886,011

Government spending in the United Kingdom is on the rise overall. The country will likely issue the largest amount of public debt of the last 10 years or so to get the revenues it needs to cover rising costs.

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#27. Canada

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 87.5%
- Total GDP: $1.73 trillion
- Population: 37,742,154

Canada may have a lot of debt, but it’s being managed “carefully,” according to Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau via BNN Bloomberg. He expects to see drops in the federal debt-to-GDP ratio in the coming years. However, Fitch Ratings warns that Canada’s sustained debts make the country more vulnerable to a downward swing in the economy.

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#26. Antigua and Barbuda

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 90.0%
- Total GDP: $1.69 billion
- Population: 97,929

Antigua and Barbuda has brought its debt-to-GDP ratio down from a staggering 102% in 2014. The country aims to hit the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union’s goal of 60% debt-to-GDP by 2030.

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#25. Zambia

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 91.6%
- Total GDP: $23.95 billion
- Population: 18,383,955

Zambia’s economy has taken a couple of hits in recent years. A severe drought reduced agricultural production and electricity generation in 2018–2019, and mining activities have slowed. The African Development Bank Group expects the country’s current account deficit to expand to 2.8% of GDP by 2021.

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#24. Brazil (tie)

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 91.6%
- Total GDP: $1.85 trillion
- Population: 212,559,417

Low inflation, modest wage increases, and a drop in unemployment are expected to help Brazil see growth in 2020. However, its debt outlook may be held back by its “fragmented political landscape.” The divide presents challenges in implementing essential reforms (like pension reform) that would stop public debt from rising.

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#24. Belize (tie)

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 93.0%
- Total GDP: $2.00 billion
- Population: 397,628

Belize’s medium-term outlook is considered “challenging” right now, according to the IMF. The country is projected to see a slow rate of GDP growth of about 2% in the coming years, along with continued elevation of public debt.

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#22. Argentina

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 93.3%
- Total GDP: $445.47 billion
- Population: 45,195,774

Staff at the IMF deemed Argentina to have an unsustainable level of debt in July 2019. The country’s capacity to service its debt has deteriorated, and the government postponed repayment of some debts in September 2019.

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#21. Jamaica

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 93.5%
- Total GDP: $15.70 billion
- Population: 2,961,167

Jamaica received praise from the IMF for concluding an economic reform program in 2019 that strengthened its economy and helped it reduce its public debt significantly. The country is expected to bring its debt to a goal of 60% of GDP by the 2025–2026 fiscal year.

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#20. Jordan

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 94.6%
- Total GDP: $44.17 billion
- Population: 10,203,134

Jordan has been weathering a series of shocks to its economy, from high unemployment rates to an influx of Syrian refugees. But despite these challenges, the country has successfully implemented fiscal and structural reforms. It has put forth new efforts to prevent tax evasion, which could help the government increase revenues.

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#19. Angola

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 95.0%
- Total GDP: $91.53 billion
- Population: 32,866,272

Restrained government spending and better-than-expected currency depreciation at the end of 2018 helped Angola limit its increases in public debt. The IMF has encouraged Angola to mobilize non-oil revenue as part of a broader effort to address debt vulnerabilities.

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#18. Cyprus

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 96.1%
- Total GDP: $24.28 billion
- Population: 1,207,359

With large fiscal surpluses projected on the horizon, Cyprus may be able to lower its debts quickly. The IMF expects the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio to drop to 64% by 2024.

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#17. Spain

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 96.4%
- Total GDP: $1.40 trillion
- Population: 46,754,778

Despite its high debt, Spain plans to increase government spending on social welfare, including boosting the minimum wage by around 30%. A report from Rabobank warns that the increased wages could have a negative impact on the competitiveness of the country’s export firms and employment rates, ultimately hurting the economy.

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#16. France

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 99.3%
- Total GDP: $2.71 trillion
- Population: 65,273,511

The French government may lose revenue in the coming years as legislated tax-relief schemes are implemented. The country must find ways to reduce government spending in order to cut its debt level and bolster itself for future economic downturns, according to the IMF.

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#15. Belgium

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 101.0%
- Total GDP: $517.61 billion
- Population: 11,589,623

Belgium’s fiscal deficit and public debt are on the decline. The country has cut spending by reforming its pension plan and further improved its fiscal situation by overhauling its corporate income tax system and slashing labor taxes.

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#14. Bahrain

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 101.7%
- Total GDP: $38.18 billion
- Population: 1,701,575

Supported with a pledge of $10 billion from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain is trying to get rid of its budget deficit by 2022. It has introduced a value-added tax to increase government revenues and a voluntary early retirement program to shrink the public-sector workforce and ultimately curb spending.

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#13. United States

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 106.2%
- Total GDP: $21.44 trillion
- Population: 331,002,651

The United States faces huge projected budget deficits in the coming decades, which could drive it further into debt. The Congressional Budget Office expects the debt-to-GDP ratio to be a jaw-dropping 180% by 2050—its highest rate ever.

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#12. Bhutan

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 108.6%
- Total GDP: $2.84 billion
- Population: 771,608

A debt ratio of almost 109% may be unsustainable for some countries, but for Bhutan, it’s a manageable situation due to a “special financing arrangement with India,” according to the World Bank. Increased revenue from hydropower and new taxes on fuel and goods and services will give the government more money to play with in the coming years.

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#11. Mozambique

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 108.8%
- Total GDP: $15.09 billion
- Population: 31,255,435

A country in debt distress, Mozambique is in the midst of renegotiating its defaulted debt and continues to dig itself into a deeper hole with private creditors. The country is expected to see its GDP grow by 5.5% this year, though.

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#10. Singapore

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 114.1%
- Total GDP: $362.82 billion
- Population: 5,850,342

Singapore is the best country on the planet in human capital development, according to the World Bank Human Capital Index. Government spending often focuses on improving the flexibility of its workforce. The country intends to nearly double its spending on continuing education.

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#9. Barbados

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 115.4%
- Total GDP: $5.19 billion
- Population: 287,375

Barbados underwent a comprehensive sovereign debt restructuring from 2018-2019, which helped reduce its public debt burden. The government is striving to reduce recurrent expenditures to increase its ability for capital spending this year.

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#8. Portugal

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 117.6%
- Total GDP: $236.41 billion
- Population: 10,196,709

Portugal’s debt is projected to increase to 120% of GDP by the end of this year, climbing as high as 127% in 2022. The country has been criticized for failing to invest enough money in its public services, despite high economic growth.

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#7. Cabo Verde

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 123.5%
- Total GDP: $2.01 billion
- Population: 546,388

Forecasts indicate that Cabo Verde may see its debt-to-GDP ratio climb to 140% by the end of 2020. Public debt has been rising for years due to increased spending on state-owned entities.

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#6. Italy

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 133.2%
- Total GDP: $1.99 trillion
- Population: 60,461,826

The COVID-19 crisis not only devastated Italy’s health-care system—it has also impacted the country’s economy. The debilitating pandemic-related costs could propel Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio to more than 145% within the next year.

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#5. Lebanon

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 155.1%
- Total GDP: $58.57 billion
- Population: 6,825,445

Shrinking foreign-currency deposits from Lebanese expats are reducing the confidence investors have in the country’s ability to manage its economy, according to the Financial Times. Almost half of government revenues were expected to be eaten up by debt service in 2019.

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#4. Eritrea

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 165.1%
- Total GDP: $2.11 billion
- Population: 3,546,421

Eritrea’s debt level is considered unsustainable by the World Bank. Repayment burdens could make it difficult for state enterprises (which play a major role in the country’s economy) to get the state revenues they need to maintain productivity, further damaging the overall financial state of Eritrea.

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#3. Greece

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 176.6%
- Total GDP: $214.01 billion
- Population: 10,423,054

Despite austerity measures, Greece still faces major challenges in boosting revenue and paying down its debts. Its slow bureaucracy has made it difficult for it to sell billions of euros’ worth of state-owned property and make commercial investments. Furthermore, there has been an increase in people working in the black economy, ultimately depriving the government of much-needed tax revenues, according to Kimberly Amadeo of The Balance.

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#2. Sudan

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 207.0%
- Total GDP: $30.87 billion
- Population: 43,849,260

Sudan’s GDP is projected to decline by 1.5% this year. It’s still reeling from the financial shock of the secession of its southern states, now known as the Republic of South Sudan, in 2011, which cost the country three-quarters of its oil reserves. The country can’t get debt relief from the World Bank-International Monetary Fund’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative due to its status as a state sponsor of terrorism.

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#1. Japan

- Debt as a percentage of GDP: 237.7%
- Total GDP: $5.15 trillion
- Population: 126,476,461

Despite efforts to rein in its massive debt, Japan continues to increase spending on public works and social security, according to Japan Times. The country aims to attain a budget surplus by 2027.

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