National Debt per Person: Is the World Drowning in Bills in 2020? 

Would life be better in another country?

Sure.

Can you make a fortune somewhere else?

Why not.

Well, national debt per person is something we decided to research today.

This Map Shows the National Debt per Person

We here, at SpendMeNot.com, made a little map that will give us all the answers we need.

Made withVisme

Want to find a way to put that debt behind you? 

I bet you have.

But before you get ready to emigrate, keep in mind the grass might not be greener on the other side. Some countries have piled up mountains of debt. Sooner or later, it will have to be repaid. 

And guess who pays the bill? That’s right. Taxpayers.

Here is everything you need to know about debt per capita on a global scale. We’ve summarized it beautifully in this map.

Now we’re ready to go deeper. In this post, we’ll go through the top 20 countries with the highest national debt per person. We’ll also have a look at:

  • What each country’s nominal GDP is
  • How their GDP ranks in comparison to the rest of the world
  • What their annual economic growth rate is
  • Which industries dominate their economies
  • The unemployment rate
  • Exports the country makes

Before we get started, let’s look at the definitions of the terms and why we chose to focus on these particular factors. 

Why We Chose the Highest National Debt Per Person  

Considering that all of our other statistics are related to the nationwide stats, it might seem odd that we focused on the amount of debt per person. In fact, we chose that deliberately to make the statistics more relatable.

Here’s how it works:

If we say that the average person in Japan, for example, owes $96 476, you can take that figure and compare it to your debt. Now, what if we chose instead to tell you that going into 2018, Japan, as a country owed $9.94 trillion?

Sorting our list by the national debt by country was a credible option. But the figures wouldn’t mean all that much to the man in the street. Can you even imagine how much a trillion dollars is? Most of us have little concept of what that amount of money looks like.

Don’t get us wrong: 

If someone offered it to us, we’d make a dent. But, even if you’re spending money like water, it will take you a while to work your way through that much money.

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to the main categories.

What Is Debt Per Capita?

Put simply, it’s the total amount of debt the country owes, divided by the number of citizens living in that country.

What Is the GDP of a Country?

The Gross Domestic Product is an indicator of how many goods or services the entire country produced over the year. It’s an indication of how prosperous the country is as a whole. Naturally, though, it’s also important to consider other factors when considering prosperity, like imports, exports, debt, and so on.

Those issues would be outside the scope of this article, so we stuck to simple GDP statistics.

Why Did We Choose the Nominal GDP?

The nominal gross domestic product is the GDP calculated at today’s market prices. Using the nominal rate allows us to compare apples with apples rather than apples with oranges.

Top 20 National Debt Per Capita per Country

1.  Japan

(Source: CIA Factbook) 

Japan has the dubious distinction of coming in first on our list. The country’s GDP is the third highest in the world, so business does seem to be booming there. The unemployment rate is encouraging at just 2.2%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Electronic Equipment
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Nonferrous Metals
  • Machine Tools
  • Chemicals
  • Ships
  • Tools
  • Ships
  • Steel
  • Chemicals
  • Processed foods
  • Textiles

While we’re focusing more on personal debt in this list, it’s interesting that Japan comes in first place in terms of debt to GDP ratio by country as well.

Japan in Numbers
  • Debt per capita: $96,476.00
  • GDP: $4,971,930 million
  • Economic Growth: 0.8%
  • Unemployment: 2.2%
  • Primary Export: Motor vehicles

2.  Ireland

(Source: CIA Factbook/ Wikipedia) 

Ireland comes in second on our list of countries by debt per citizen. The country’s GDP is the 32nd highest in the world, so for a small country, it doesn’t do badly. The unemployment rate could be better, at 4.4%. 

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Chemicals
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Computer Hardware
  • Food Products
  • Software
  • Beverages
  • Medical Devices
  • Brewed Products
Ireland in Numbers
  • Debt per capita: $61,010.00
  • GDP: $372.695 billion  
  • Economic Growth: 6.8%
  • Unemployment: 4.4%
  • Primary Export: Pharmaceuticals and Machinery and Equipment

3.  Norway

(Source: CIA Factbook) 

Norway has been a prosperous country known for its employee-centric culture. It earns third place on our list. The country’s GDP is the 28th highest in the world. The unemployment rate is not bad, at 3.9%. 

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Natural Gas
  • Petroleum
  • Shipping
  • Aquaculture
  • Fishing
  • Food Processing
  • Pulp and Paper
  • Metals
  • Chemicals
  • Ship Building
  • Textiles
  • Timber Mining 
Norway in Numbers
  • Debt per Capita: $58,923.00
  • GDP: $434.937 billion 
  • Economic Growth: 1.4%
  • Unemployment: 3.9%
  • Primary Export: Natural Gas and Petroleum

4.  Singapore

(Source: CIA Factbook/ Wikipedia) 

Singapore gets the fourth spot on our list. The country’s GDP is the 36th highest in the world, and the small island nation does seem industrious. The unemployment rate is encouraging at just 2.1%. It also rates as one of the states with the highest debt overall.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Electronics
  • Chemicals
  • Financial Services
  • Oil Drilling Equipment
  • Petroleum Refining
  • Biomedical Products
  • Scientific Instruments
  • Telecommunications
  • Equipment
  • Rubber
  • Food and Beverages
  • Ship Repair
  • Offshore Construction
  • Life Sciences
  • Re-Exportation 
Singapore in Numbers
  • Debt per Citizen: $58,899.00
  • GDP: $372.807 billion
  • Economic Growth: 3.2%
  • Unemployment: 2.1%
  • Primary Export: Machinery and Equipment 

5.  United States

(Source: CIA Factbook) 

The United States comes in fifth on our list. It has the highest GDP in the world and an unemployment rate of just 3.5%. In fact, this is the lowest that it has been in years. That the US consumer debt is high is not surprising. We did, however, expect it to be a little higher.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Natural Gas
  • Petroleum
  • Steel
  • Aerospace
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Chemicals
  • Electronics
  • Telecommunications
  • Food Processing
  • Consumer Goods
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Lumber Mining
  • Healthcare Information
  • Defence Equipment
  • Technology
  • Retail
  • Construction
  • Financial Services
  • Real Estate 
The USA in Numbers
  • US Debt per Capita: $50,093.00
  • GDP: $21.345 trillion  
  • Economic Growth: 2.9%
  • Unemployment: 3.5%
  • Primary Export: Manufactured goods.

6.  Canada

(Source: CIA Factbook) 

Canada takes sixth place on our list. The country’s GDP is the 18th highest in the world. The unemployment rate is of slight concern at 5.7%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Chemicals
  • Transportation
  • Minerals
  • Equipment
  • Wood and Paper
  • Food Products
  • Fish Products
  • Natural Gas
  • Petroleum
 Canada in Numbers
  • Average Debt per Person: $48,960.00
  • GDP: $1.91 trillion 
  • Economic Growth: 1.8%
  • Unemployment: 5.7%
  • Primary Export: Chemicals

7.  Belgium

(Source: CIA Factbook/ Wikipedia) 

Belgium is famous for more than being the birthplace of Agatha Christie’s fictional sleuth, Hercule Poirot. It comes in seventh on our list. The country’s GDP is the 23rd highest in the world. The unemployment rate is worrisome at 6%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Motor Vehicle Assembly
  • Engineering and Metal Products
  • Transportation Equipment
  • Processed Food and Beverages
  • Scientific Instruments
  • Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals
  • Textiles
  • Base Metals
  • Petroleum
  • Glass 
Belgium in Numbers
  • Debt per Citizen: $45,361.00
  • GDP: $533.153 billion 
  • Economic Growth: 1.4
  • Unemployment: 6%
  • Primary Export: Chemicals and engineering products

8.  United Kingdom

(Source: CIA Factbook) 

Taking eighth place on our list of countries with the highest national debt per person is the United Kingdom. The country’s GDP is the sixth highest in the world, despite all the uncertainty about Brexit. The unemployment rate is a manageable 3.8%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Agriculture
  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Chemicals
  • Business and professional services
  • Construction
  • Defence equipment
  • Consumer goods
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Electronics
  • Entertainment
  • Food and beverages
  • Financial services
  • Healthcare
  • Industrial equipment
  • Hospitality and leisure
  • Information technology
  • Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology
  • Media
  • Processed metals
  • Retailing
  • Real estate
  • Scientific equipment
  • Tourism
  • Telecommunications
  • Utilities
  • Transportation and logistics 
The UK in Numbers
  • Debt per Capita: $44,671.00
  • GDP: $2.828 trillion 
  • Economic Growth: 2.6%
  • Unemployment: 3.8%
  • Primary Export: Manufactured goods

9.  Iceland

(Source: CIA Factbook) 

Iceland comes in ninth on our list. The country’s GDP is not all that impressive – it ranks 111th in the world. The unemployment rate could be better – it’s 4.6% at present.  

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Fish Processing
  • Tourism
  • Aluminium Smelting
  • Hydropower
  • Geothermal Power
  • Ferrosilicon Production
Iceland in Numbers
  • National Debt per Person: $41,801.00
  • GDP: $23 billion  
  • Unemployment: 4.7%
  • Primary Export: Aluminum and Seafood

10. France

(Source: CIA Factbook/ Wikipedia) 

France comes in tenth place on our list. The country’s GDP is the seventh highest in the world. The unemployment rate is pretty high, at 8.8%. This is something you wouldn’t expect from one of the world’s top ten countries in terms of GDP.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Chemicals
  • Machinery
  • Automobiles
  • Aircraft
  • Metallurgy
  • Electronics
  • Tourism
  • Food Processing
  • Textiles
France in Numbers
  • Average Debt Per Citizen: $39,030.00
  • GDP: $3.06 trillion 
  • Economic Growth: 1.5%
  • Unemployment: 8.8%
  • Primary Export: Machinery and Equipment 

11. Italy

(Source: CIA Factbook/ Wikipedia) 

Italy comes in 11th on our list of countries with the highest national debt per person. Despite excellent performance in terms of GDP, the unemployment rate is high at 9.5%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Machinery
  • Tourism
  • Iron and Steel
  • Food Processing
  • Chemicals
  • Textiles
  • Clothing
  • Ceramics
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Footwear
Italy in Numbers
  • Personal and State Debt per Capita: $37,803.00
  • GDP: $2.26 trillion
  • Economic Growth: 0.8%
  • Unemployment: 9.5%
  • Primary Export: Engineering Products and Textiles

12. Netherlands

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Most of us wouldn’t consider the Netherlands a power player in the world economy, but their GDP last year was just under a trillion dollars. They rank 12th on our list. What is impressive, though, is that their GDP is the 18th highest in the world. The unemployment rate is pretty low at 3.3%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Oil and Natural Gas
  • Agriculture-Related Industries
  • Metal and Engineering Products
  • Chemicals
  • Fishing
  • Electronic Machinery and Equipment
  • Petroleum
  • Microelectronics
  • Construction
The Netherlands in Numbers
  • Personal and National Debt Per Citizen: $37,398.00
  • GDP: $914 billion
  • Economic Growth: 2.5%
  • Unemployment: 3.3%
  • Primary Export: Natural Gas

13. Austria

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Austria comes in 13th on our list. The country’s GDP is the 26th highest in the world. What is interesting is that its growth rate is one of the healthiest on this list. The unemployment rate could be better, at 4.9%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

    • Machinery
    • Construction
    • Vehicles and Parts
    • Metals
    • Food
    • Tourism
    • Chemicals
    • Electronics
Austria in Numbers
  • Debt per Capita by Country: $36,146.00
  • GDP: $457.637 billion
  • Economic Growth: 2.7%
  • Unemployment: 4.9%
  • Primary Export: Motor vehicles

14. San Marino  

(Source: CIA Factbook)

San Marino is one of the tiniest states in Europe and the only Medieval nation to survive intact in modern times. It comes in 14th on our list. 

The country’s GDP may seem like peanuts compared to some of the others on this list, but it’s pretty impressive for a microstate. Unemployment rates are also very low. 

  • Banking
  • Tourism
  • Ceramics
  • Fabrics
  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Wine
  • Spirits
  • Paints
  • Tiles
San Marino in Numbers
  • Personal and State Debt per Capita: $35,924.00
  • GDP: $1.64 billion
  • Economic Growth: 1.1%
  • Unemployment: Negligible
  • Primary Export: Building Stone 

15. Germany

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Germany is the 15th addition to our list. The country’s GDP is the fourth highest in the world. The unemployment rate of Europe’s largest economy is fairly decent at 3.4%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Steel
  • Iron
  • Coal
  • Chemicals
  • Cement
  • Machinery
  • Machine Tools
  • Vehicles
  • Electronics
  • Textiles
  • Food and Beverages
  • Automobiles
  • Shipbuilding 
Germany in Numbers
  • Total Debt per Citizen: $34,179.00
  • GDP: $4.42 trillion
  • Economic Growth: 1.4%
  • Unemployment: 3.4%
  • Primary Export: Machinery

16. Denmark

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Denmark comes in 16th on our list. The country’s GDP is the 36th highest in the world. The unemployment rate could be better at 5%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Wind Turbines
  • Medical Equipment
  • Iron
  • Shipbuilding and Refurbishment
  • Steel
  • Chemicals
  • Nonferrous Metals
  • Food Processing
  • Textiles and Clothing
  • Machinery and Transportation Equipment
  • Electronics
  • Furniture
  • Construction
Denmark in Numbers
  • Debt per Citizen: $27,732.00
  • GDP: $350.874 billion 
  • Economic Growth: 1.2%
  • Unemployment: 5%
  • Primary Export: Pharmaceutical 

17. Portugal

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Coming in 17th on our list of countries with the biggest national debt per person is Portugal. The country’s GDP is the 46th highest in the world. The unemployment rate could be better at 6.7%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Textiles
  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Wood and Cork
  • Chemicals
  • Paper
  • Auto-Parts Manufacturing
  • Dairy Products
  • Base Metals
  • Porcelain and Ceramics
  • Wine and Other Foods
  • Technology
  • Glassware
  • Telecommunications
  • Building Materials
  • Tourism
  • Ship Construction and Refurbishment
Portugal in Numbers
  • Debt per Citizen: : $27,445.00
  • GDP: $328.808 billion 
  • Economic Growth: 2%
  • Unemployment: 6.7%
  • Primary Export: Motor vehicles

18. Switzerland

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Our list of states with the highest national debt per person continues with Switzerland, which comes in 18th. The country’s GDP is the 20th highest in the world. The unemployment rate could be better at 3.2%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Chemicals
  • Machinery
  • Watches
  • Precision Instruments
  • Textiles
  • Tourism
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Insurance
  • Banking
Switzerland in Numbers
  • Debt per Citizen: $27,085.00
  • GDP: $703.750 billion  
  • Economic Growth: 2.5%
  • Unemployment: 3.2%
  • Primary Export: Machinery

19. Qatar

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Qatar comes 19th on our list of countries with the biggest national debt per person. The country’s GDP is the 52nd highest in the world. The unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world at 0.6%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Crude Oil
  • Liquefied Natural Gas
  • Ammonia
  • Petrochemicals
  • Fertilizer
  • Reinforcing Steel
  • Ship Repair
  • Cement
Qatar in Numbers
  • Debt per Citizen: $26,491.00
  • GDP: $193.622 billion
  • Economic Growth: 2.1%
  • Unemployment: 0.6%
  • Primary Export: Petroleum

20. Israel

(Source: CIA Factbook)

Israel comes in 20th on our list. The country has an impressive GDP considering its small size and the volatile geopolitical situation in that part of the world. The country has also been making significant advances in the field of medicine. The unemployment rate could be better at 3.1%.

The country’s dominant industries are:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • High-Technology Products Across a Range of Industries
  • Potash and Phosphates
  • Chemical Products
  • Metallurgy
  • Diamond Cutting
  • Plastics
  • Financial Services
  • Textiles
  • Petroleum Refining
Israel in Numbers
  • Debt per Capita: $24,696.00
  • GDP: $390.656 billion
  • Economic Growth: 3.2%
  • Unemployment: 3.1%
  • Primary Export: Cut gems

Now we’ve run through the national debt per person by country, let’s explore the topic of national debt statistics a little more closely. 

How does this figure affect each citizen? Is it even essential to know this information? Is each citizen liable for the debt incurred by the government?

Here’s the thing:

How much national debt per person is entails more than just a fun intellectual exercise. For one thing, it’s one way to assess how well the government is managing its finances. High GDP figures and growth rates can be spun into a positive, but they don’t tell the whole picture.

If not correctly managed, a national debt problem will soon erode gains made in terms of GDP. Japan is not only one of the countries with the highest debt but also one where the GDP to debt ratio is also one of the highest.

Japan’s currently sitting on a GDP/ Debt ratio of 200.5%. That means that it owes double the income that it produced in 2018. Now, for a country, that’s normal. In Japan’s case, it services its debt well, so it’s not problematic. 

For those wondering, “Are all countries in debt?“ the answer is, “Yes.” All countries in the world borrow money to some extent.

Should Countries Borrow Money?

As in our personal lives, credit can be a good thing. It all depends on what the money borrowed is spent on and how quickly it’s paid back. Some countries borrow to supplement budget deficits. If this is done once in a while, it gives the country some breathing room.

What’s more:

It could also be a good thing if the funds are used to boost the economy. So, yes, countries should borrow money from time to time. The key is to do it responsibly so that the state debt ranking is not negatively impacted.

What Happens if You Don’t Borrow Responsibly?

Again, like in our personal lives, continuous borrowing shows that you don’t manage your money correctly. And, as in our own lives, this impacts the credit rating of the country concerned. While the state will still be able to borrow money for a while, they’ll have to pay higher interest on it.

Now:

Having to repay the high interest on external debt means that less money is pumped back into the economy. The economy will start to slow as a result. More importantly, though, outside investors begin to see the country as a bad risk. Once outside investment starts to stall, the growth slows further, and GDP suffers as well.

Are There Countries with No Debt?

Statistically, it’s hard to establish if there are countries that have no external debt. In 2014, Brunei was listed as one of these. The country is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, so that could be why it doesn’t need to borrow money. The politics at play in the region could also form a significant portion of the reason.

Generally speaking, you’ll be hard-pressed to find countries that have not borrowed money. Even with superpowers like the United States and China, having national debt is par for the course. The World Bank often offers countries stimulus loans as a way of boosting the global economy and staving off a global recession.

In truth, it’s a very complicated issue. Much of the actual world debt figures are obscured by countries borrowing from divisions within their government. The exact statistics are further obscured by countries which borrow more money to service the debt they already have. To complicate things even more, lenders like the World Bank may write off the debt.

What’s more:

Other lenders may write off debt in exchange for concessions from the country they’ve lent money to. This all makes the question of which country has the most debt a lot more complicated to answer.

To make things even more complicated, countries may find ways to obscure the amount of money that they owe. The higher the national debt is, the more of a risk the country tends to be for investors. Countries typically want to attract investors and so may attempt to fudge the lines in this area.

That’s easier said than done, but it does lend another element to questions like “How much debt is America in?”

 Final Notes

Overall, unless you’re an international tycoon interested in investing in a particular country, you’re likely to be more interested in the national debt per person than the overall debt of the country. 

Sources:

  1. CIA Fact Book
  2. CIA Fact Book
  3. CIA Fact Book
  4. CIA Fact Book
  5. CIA Fact Book
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  18. CIA Fact Book
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  20. CIA Fact Book
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