National Debt by Country: The Top IOU Nations

Debt is a serious thing.

How do you measure it?

We spent days collecting info about the national debt in countries around the world. We summarized the data in a beautiful infographic.

This Map Shows the National Debt by County 

Explore for yourself:

National Debt by Country - Infographic

Amazing, isn’t it?

Based on the national debt statistics The amount of outstanding debt, there is another figure which is probably a better indicator of how much a certain country is in debt. It is the figure that indicates debt as a percentage of GDP


What is GDP?

The gross domestic product (GDP) is an economic indicator regarding the economy of a certain country. So, this percentage can give us some insight as to whether the indebted country is able to pay out the outstanding debt. 

This is why when looking at national debt by country, we will use that ratio when ranking the countries. 

And now, let’s go into more detail.

Top 20 Countries with the Highest Debt to GDP ratio

Below you can find our list of countries ranked by public debt as a percentage of GDP.

1. National Debt of Japan – 234.18%

(Source: World Population Review)

Japan is the country with the highest national debt to GDP ratio. The national debt is more than twice the amount of annual gross domestic product. It is estimated to be more than $9 trillion. Japan’s national debt is largely owned domestically, with the majority being held by the Bank of Japan

Japan is also the most indebted country in the world in terms of national debt per person.

And yet, this isn’t the worst debt to GDP ratio in the history of Japan’s economy. Namely, the post World War II ratio exceeded the country’s GDP. It was the result of financing the costly war with government bonds. The government dealt with the debt by introducing war indemnity taxes and printing out more money.

The situation improved in the following years, however, it all came to an end in the 1990s – also known as Japan’s lost decade. It is no wonder that Japan is among the most indebted countries, with the stock market crash and the financial crisis in the 1990s.

2. National Debt of Greece – 181.78%

(Source: World Population Review)

Greece is second in the list of countries by national debt when taking into account the debt to GDP ratio.

So what happened? How did Greece end up in this mess? 

Well, it all started when Greece joined the eurozone. Initially, Greece didn’t meet certain

criteria to join. The country submitted fake reports on its budget deficit, which they subsequently admitted. As a result, the country faced a financial crisis in 2008 and the economic situation hasn’t improved since. 

The European Union feared the implications this would have on the eurozone, so they have loaned Greece approximately €320 billion. So now Greece owes a significant amount of money to EU banks, governments, funds, investors, etc. 

According to data from The Public Debt Management Agency, Greece’s country debt amounted to €353.8 billion in September 2019. That is approximately $390 billion. 

Fun fact about Greece: it seems to be one of the most expensive places on Earth to buy mobile data.

3. National Debt of Sudan – 176.02%

(Source: World Population Review)

Sudan can be considered one of the countries with the most debt. That’s not due to the dollar amount owed, but due to the country’s inability to pay its debts. In the 1970s banks loaned Sudan large amounts of money as the country was quickly becoming a major oil exporter.

However, in the 1980s, Sudan wasn’t able to meet payments. The IMF stepped in with further loans, worsening Sudan’s debt in the long run. The country defaulted in 1984 and the foreign debt remains. In 2005, South Sudan seceded, leaving the Republic of Sudan with a lot of debt and little oil. 

Sudan’s national debt is around $50 billion, mostly owed to the IMF, the World Bank and western governments. 

4. National Debt of Venezuela – 172.08%

(Source: World Population Review)

A report from the Institute of International Finance, the national debt of this South American country amounted to $156 billion in 2018. This puts Venezuela among the countries with the highest debt

US sanctions implemented by the Trump government only worsened the situation. Venezuela’s main export is oil, though their debt is more than 7 times bigger than the amount of money received from oil production and exports. 

The majority of Venezuela’s debt is owned by international bondholders, with Russia and China being the countries that own the second largest part.

5. National Debt of Lebanon – 160.57%

(Source: World Population Review)

When comparing countries by debt to GDP, Lebanon’s situation seems dire. The country is spiraling into growing amounts of debt. It is now forced to dip in their foreign exchange reserves. It all started after the civil war in the 1990s, which is to blame for Lebanon’s high public debt.

A good part of Lebanon’s GDP is dependant on remittances from migrant oil workers in the Gulf. During these past years, with the decrease in oil prices, the amount of remittances has lowered. The country’s economy was also not able to deal with the Syrian refugees, estimated to more than one million. This strained the public sector further. 

And while the debt to GDP ratio is not as high as Japan, Lebanon is barely able to pay out the high interest on the debt, let alone a significant amount of the national debt. The debt now exceeds $70 billion. 

6. National Debt of Italy – 127.51%

(Source: World Population Review)

If we rank European sovereign debts by country, Italy is second only to Greece. Some agencies estimate that the debt to GDP ratio will reach 135% by 2020. This is the highest amount of debt that Italy has had since World War II. Italy’s economic growth isn’t fast enough to pull the country out of the crisis. 

It all started with the oil crisis and the inflation in the 1980s. The national debt has been growing ever since and it now exceeds $2 trillion. Most of Italy’s country debt is held by banks, investment funds and the Bank of Italy. It is estimated that only $100 billion is owned by Italian households

7. National Debt of Eritrea – 127.34%

(Source: World Population Review)

With a national debt to GDP ratio of around 130%, Eritrea is one of the countries with the most debt worldwide. Besides this, Eritrea is also considered to be one of the most impoverished countries – more than 50% of the population lives below the national poverty line.

Eritrea’s poor economy can be attributed to the conflict with Ethiopia, which lowered the GDP rate. The fiscal deficits along with inflation have led to a high amount of national debt – estimated to be more than $13 billion – that is not sustainable.

8. National Debt of Barbados – 127.31%

(Source: World Population Review)

When looking at the amount of national debt by country, Barbados doesn’t seem to be indebted. However, the amount, estimated to be above $6 billion, represents a high percentage of the country’s GDP.

The already high debt to GDP ratio was further increased after the 2008 recession as the country relies on tourism. However, there is some hope that the public debt of Barbados will decrease. The country entered an extended fund facility arrangement with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) which would help restore debt sustainability. 

9. National Debt of Cape Verde – 126.66%

(Source: World Population Review)

While there was some recent economic growth in 2018, Cape Verde is still among the countries with the largest debt to GDP ratio. This is attributed to the devalued local currency. Another factor is the budget deficit, which stems from the need to finance public enterprises. Out of the total public debt, 77% is external and the main creditors are multilateral and bilateral lenders.  

10. National Debt of Portugal – 117.54%

(Source: World Population Review)

Portugal is also part of the European countries with the highest debt. The amount is estimated to be around $300 billion

The country’s public debt rapidly increased after the Great Recession in 2008. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union helped out with the crisis, however having to repay the debt meant that the GDP decreased. This was due to the fact that the government previously financed the economy with the aim to boost it. The inability to stimulate the economy as well as the high interests only served to increase Portugal’s public debt to GDP ratio

11. National Debt of Mozambique – 116.60%

(Source: World Population Review)

Mozambique has previously received help from the International Monetary Fund as part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. However, it was revealed that certain companies took secret loans of close to $2 billion dollars.

As the loans were guaranteed by the government, Mozambique has to repay them. What’s more, after the IMF and other donors found out about the extent of public debt Mozambique has, financial support has been stopped.

When looking at the external debt by country ranking, we can see Mozambique owes foreign creditors almost $11 billion. This may keep the overall debt to GDP ratio above 100% for the time being. If the debt isn’t restructured and if confidence in investors isn’t restored, the economic growth will slow down.

12. National Debt of United States – 109.45%

(Source: World Population Review)

The United States of America is considered to have one of the world’s strongest economies, yet that doesn’t negate the fact that it is always included in lists ranking countries by debt. The current debt outstanding is more than $22.6 trillion. The majority of the debt, or 74% to be exact, is owned by the public. The rest is intragovernmental. 

The debt to GDP ratio was highest after World War II, though it decreased steadily. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the government increased military spending. This logically caused a high budget deficit. Then along came the Great Recession which further increased the national debt.

The ballooning debt is due to increased budget spending and the 2017 tax cuts. Given the rate with which this percentage is increasing, we can only say that the amount of public debt will get bigger. 

13. National Debt of Singapore – 108.79%

(Source: World Population Review)

When ranking national debt by country, Singapore is always included in the lists. Numerous sources rank it as the 13th country with the highest debt to GDP ratio. This surprises many, seeing has Singapore has one of the most developed economies worldwide.

Yet, how can this highly developed economy have a gross public debt exceeding $2 trillion? Well that’s just it – the figure represents the gross national debt. Singapore has exactly zero net public debt. The government doesn’t run a budget deficit, however, all borrowed money is invested. The investments are backed by assets which in turn yield income.

So when ranking debt to GDP by country it is important to note that there are other indicators to consider, which also show the state of the public debt. 

14. National Debt of The Gambia – 105.17%

(Source: World Population Review)

Constant fiscal deficits and a poor economy are to blame for reserving Gambia a place in the list of countries by debt. The debt to GDP ratio is above 100%, making it unsustainable when taking into account Gambia’s budget deficit. Foreign financial aid is needed. 

In 2017, the external debt represented 54% of the total public debt. The main creditors are the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Fund, the International Monetary Fund, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development. 

15. National Debt of Republic of Congo – 105.01%

(Source: World Population Review)

Congo is yet another one of the countries with the most debt in Africa. The African Development Bank lists Congo along with Cape Verde, Eritrea, Mozambique, and Sudan as countries whose debt to GDP ratio exceeds 100%. And while Congo is rich with oil and minerals, it still has a low GDP growth.

In fact, Congo is the poorest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita.

The total public debt was reported to be around $10.6 billion at the end of 2017. The oil prices drop had a severe impact on the country’s revenue. Seeing how oil accounts for 85% of Congo’s exports, another drop in oil prices can further increase the public debt. 

16. National Debt of Bahrain – 102.01%

(Source: World Population Review)

Bahrain’s country debt is approximately the same amount as the GDP. It is estimated to be above $30 billion.

Oil and gas contribute the most to Bahrain’s GDP. A drop in oil prices has a direct impact on the budget deficit as well as the public debt. Though recently Bahrain has introduced fiscal reforms which will hopefully help the country rank lower on lists of countries by national debt

17. National Debt of Belgium – 99.08%

(Source: World Population Review)

Belgium is yet another European Union member state included when ranking public debt by country. According to the Belgian Debt Agency, the federal government debt amounts to 399, 130, 242, 292 EUR. That is more than 400 billion USD.

The debt to GDP ratio was significantly reduced from 1993, reaching 86.9% in 2007. However, following the financial crisis of 2008, Belgium’s debt increased again, exceeding 100%. Though recently there has been a steady decrease of the ratio.

18. National Debt of France – 96.20%

(Source: World Population Review)

According to data from the Agence France Trésor, the negotiable debt outstanding of France is close to $2 trillion, which makes France one of the EU countries in most debt. The ratio has been steadily increasing and is attributed to high government spending

The budget deficit will probably increase in the following years due to upcoming tax cuts. Those were announced following the anti-government protests by the yellow vests movements.

It is estimated that 53% of France’s public debt is held by non-resident investors, followed by french insurance companies. 

19. National Debt of Bhutan – 96.05%

(Source: World Population Review)

According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Finance, the total public debt outstanding 30th June 2018 was

Nu. 185,312.077 million. In US dollars, that is close to $3 billion.  It is estimated that the public debt to GDP ratio is approximately 100%. 

Bhutan’s economy is mainly based on exporting hydropower to India, its main trade partner. Hydropower also accounts to 74.43% of the external debt. And while investing in the hydropower sector has increased Bhutan’s debt, the country expects economic growth from these projects.

And IMF report analyzing the national debt of countries has assessed that Bhutan has a moderate risk of debt distress. 

20. National Debt of Yemen – 95.83%

(Source: World Population Review)

Yemen’s debt as a percentage of GDP has been estimated to be around 95%. The domestic public debt represents 38% and the rest is external public debt. 

Since the civil conflict started in 2015, public debt has been rapidly increasing. Yemen relied heavily on energy exports which were suspended in 2015. That led to the country having to use up its foreign reserves. Seeing how the public debt of countries is linked to their GDP growth, a decrease of Yemen’s national debt depends solely on whether the conflict will end in recent years. 

Other Important Indicators When Ranking Government Debt By Country

While Japan has the highest debt to GDP ratio worldwide, it is also a country with a highly developed economy. So, representing the debt as a percentage of the GDP isn’t the only indicator to be considered when ranking national debt by country. Other important factors include: economic growth, inflation, budget deficit, government spending and the interest rates on the debt. That means that countries that have the worst public debt are those whose economies cannot meet their financial obligations.


After I got my degree in translation and interpreting, I started working in a typical office. To get away from my nine-to-five job, I ventured into freelance writing. One thing led to another, and I ended up creating content for SpendMeNot. I have been involved with this site ever since its launch — first as a writer and now as a content strategist. When not busy with publication planning, I like blogging. I just hate writing bios so that’s all from me, folks.

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