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External Debt


External debt refers to the total debt a country owes to foreign creditors. It includes money borrowed from foreign banks, governments, or international financial institutions. These debts can be comprised of both short-term and long-term capital loans, commercial loans, and official debts.


The phonetic pronunciation of “External Debt” is: External – /ɪkˈstɜːrnl/ Debt – /dɛt/

Key Takeaways

  • External Debt refers to the amount of money that a country owes to foreign creditors. It includes the debt of both the public (government) and private sector.
  • It can be beneficial for a country’s development by providing resources for infrastructure, education, and other crucial sectors that can help stimulate economic growth. However, it’s important to manage it wisely to avoid a debt crisis.
  • High levels of external debt can signify economic instability and potentially lead to decreased investment, inflation, and poor growth rates. Therefore, the ratio of external debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is often used as an important economic indicator.Importance

External debt is important in the realm of business and finance as it represents the total amount of debt a country has borrowed from foreign lenders including commercial banks, governments, or international financial institutions. These debts are primarily in foreign currency and need to be paid back with interest. The level of a country’s external debt is a crucial indicator of its economic health and creditworthiness. Excessive external debt can lead to financial hardships and vulnerability to global economic shocks and exchange rate fluctuations, disrupting the stability of economic growth. Conversely, moderate levels of external debt can stimulate growth by providing access to necessary funds. Hence, the management of external debt is important for the overall economic development strategy of a country.


External debt serves a critical purpose in the global financial system, facilitating the allocation of capital across different nations. It represents the total debt a country owes to foreign creditors, encompassing both the private and public sectors. The purpose of such borrowing is typically aimed at stimulating economic growth, funding development projects, or addressing balance of payments issues. By borrowing from foreign entities, a country can access potentially larger pools of capital, which may come with lower interest rates or more favourable conditions than their domestic markets offer.

External debt can serve a number of uses depending on a nation’s specific circumstances and objectives. For instance, developing countries often utilize external debt to invest in infrastructure and diversify their economies. On the other hand, well-established economies may use it to support fiscal stimulus during a recession or to finance trade deficits. Regardless of its specific use, the overarching goal of external debt is always to provide financial resources that can be used to spur economic activity and achieve various development goals. However, it’s essential to manage such debts effectively, as excessive dependence on foreign borrowing can lead to financial instability and unsustainable debt burdens.


1. United States External Debt – As the country with the most external debt in the world, the United States provides a prominent example. It owes money to numerous other countries and institutions, such as China, Japan, and others that purchase US Treasury bonds and securities, with foreign debt estimated to be over $21 trillion as of recent years.

2. Greece External Debt Crisis (2010-2018): This is a prime example of external debt. Greece owed a significant amount of money to external creditors, mainly financial institutions in the European Union. Due to the inability to repay its debt, it resulted in a severe financial and economic crisis in the country. Various austerity measures were implemented, and bailout packages were provided by European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund.

3. Argentina’s Debt Default (2001): Argentina provides another example of a country with significant external debt. In late 2001, it suffered from a severe economic crisis, which led it to default on nearly $100 billion in debt to external creditors. It was the largest sovereign default in history at that time and led to significant political and economic turmoil within the country.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is External Debt?

External debt refers to the total debt a country owes to foreign creditors, including government, private sector, direct and portfolio investment, and other forms of debt.

Who are the creditors of External Debt?

The creditors of External Debt can be other governments, international financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF, or private companies and investors outside the borrowing country.

How is External Debt different from Internal Debt?

External Debt is the money borrowed from foreign sources and has to be repaid in the currency in which it was borrowed. Internal debt, on the other hand, represents the amount borrowed from sources within the country and can be repaid in the country’s own currency.

Why do countries have External Debt?

Countries often have External Debt because they need to finance projects they cannot afford with their own resources or budget. They may need foreign currency, technology, expertise, or goods and services not available domestically.

What are the risks of having a high External Debt?

High External Debt can pose a risk because it has to be repaid in foreign currencies, which are beyond the control of a country. It could lead to financial crises if the country cannot service its debt. Exchange rate fluctuations can change the debt burden. It can create an unsustainable debt situation if not managed correctly.

Is having External Debt bad for a country?

Not necessarily. Borrowing can help a country invest in sectors that boost its economy, like infrastructure and education. It becomes problematic if the borrowed funds are not managed properly or are used in unproductive ways that do not contribute to economic growth.

How is External Debt measured?

External Debt is usually measured as a percentage of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It gives an idea of the country’s ability to repay the debt from its produced goods and services.

How can a country reduce its External Debt?

A country can reduce its External Debt by increasing its exports, attracting foreign investment, improving economic policies and debt management, increasing domestic revenue, and fostering economic growth.

What could happen if a country cannot repay its External Debt?

If a country cannot repay its External Debt, it could default, which could lead to financial crises. This might also lead to a decrease in trust from foreign investors, higher interest rates, and economic instability.

Related Finance Terms

  • Debt Service
  • Creditors
  • Debt Sustainability
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves
  • Balance of Payments

Sources for More Information

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