Which countries own the most US debt? (2024)

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The US government owes trillions of dollars in debt to foreign entities, including governments, central banks, companies, and individual investors.

This debt includes US Treasury bonds and other securities, which are popular as they are considered safe investments.

Many nations buy US Treasury securities (also called “Treasurys”) because they are considered one of the safest investment options available.

How much US debt do foreign countries own?

As of January 2023, foreign countries own $7.4 trillion in Treasurys — or roughly 24% of total US debt.[1] Over the past two decades, central banks and other government entities have owned 50-75% of foreign-owned debt.[2] Independent investors and companies held the rest.

In 2000, $1.7 trillion[3] or 18% of total debt was foreign-owned. This grew to $7.7 trillion in 2014, or 34% — the highest percentage in US history.

Early in the pandemic, foreign ownership of US debt fell as countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil sold their shares of US Treasurys for short-term capital. Though foreign countries resumed buying foreign debt by the end of 2020, total foreign-owned debt has fallen since.

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Which countries hold the most US debt?

Over the past 20 years, Japan and China have owned more US Treasurys than any other foreign nation.

Between 2000 and 2022, Japan grew from owning $534 billion to just over $1 trillion, while China’s ownership grew from $101 billion to $855 billion.

Japan and China held almost 50% of all foreign-owned US debt between 2004 and 2006. However, this has declined over time, and as of 2022 they controlled approximately 25% of foreign-owned debt.

Country/territoryUS foreign-owned debt (January 2023)
United Kingdom$668,300,000,000
The Cayman Islands$285,300,000,000

As of January 2023, the five countries owning the most US debt are Japan ($1.1 trillion), China ($859 billion), the United Kingdom ($668 billion), Belgium ($331 billion), and Luxembourg ($318 billion).

Investors from Russia, China, and Indonesia had sharp drops in US Treasurys over the last several years due to sanctions and short-term capital needs, among other reasons.

Today, most foreign investors own more US debt than they did a decade ago.

What types of debt do foreign countries hold?

The US offers two main types of debt: public and intragovernmental. Public debt is sold as Treasury bonds, bills, and notes to outside investors, including foreign governments. It funds various government activities and pays off older debts. Intragovernmental debt, on the other hand, is what the government owes to its own programs, like Social Security, Medicare, retirement funds, and more.

Foreign governments primarily purchase public debt because it's marketable and can be resold. In contrast, intragovernmental debt is mainly controlled by the US government, and isn't traded on the open market.

Why do foreign countries buy US debt?

Foreign investors buy US Treasury securities because they're among the world's most secure assets.

The US government's commitment to timely debt repayment, especially during economic uncertainty, makes Treasuries a staple in many foreign monetary policies.

Holding a significant amount of US dollars can be advantageous because it is a widely accepted currency in international trade and transactions. Owning US Treasury securities can provide further benefits such as portfolio diversification, as well as a higher rate of return compared to other government bonds available worldwide.

For a full picture of the US economy, read more about the nation’s rising national debt and the strength of the dollar. Get the data directly in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter.

Portfolio Holdings of U.S. and Foreign Securities

Last updated

Foreign Demand for US Treasury Securities during the Pandemic.

Last updated

January 28, 2022


Total debt includes public and intragovernmental debt.


International organizations and foreign government investment funds are also included in this category.


All figures in this article are adjusted for inflation based on 2022 calendar year dollars.

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Which countries own the most US debt? (2024)


Which countries own the most US debt? ›

Nearly half of all US foreign-owned debt comes from five countries. All values are adjusted to 2023 dollars. As of January 2023, the five countries owning the most US debt are Japan ($1.1 trillion), China ($859 billion), the United Kingdom ($668 billion), Belgium ($331 billion), and Luxembourg ($318 billion).

Which country owns the most US debt? ›

  1. Japan. Japan held $1.15 trillion in Treasury securities as of January 2024, beating out China as the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. ...
  2. China. China gets a lot of attention for holding a big chunk of the U.S. government's debt. ...
  3. The United Kingdom. ...
  4. Luxembourg. ...
  5. Canada.

What countries owe the United States money? ›

Top 20 Countries that Owe the US Money
  • Bermuda.
  • Germany.
  • Norway.
  • Korea.
  • Saudi Arabia.
  • France.
  • Singapore.
  • Brazil.
Nov 22, 2023

Who owns over 70% of the US debt? ›

Who owns the most U.S. debt? Around 70 percent of U.S. debt is held by domestic financial actors and institutions in the United States. U.S. Treasuries represent a convenient, liquid, low-risk store of value.

What percentage of US debt does China own? ›

The greatest amount of U.S. debt is owned by the U.S. government, while the largest foreign creditor is Japan. China owns around 2.6% of U.S. debt, which it buys because the Chinese yuan is pegged to the dollar.

Who are the top 4 owners of U.S. debt? ›

The major international owners of US debt include Japan ($1.1T), China, UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Cayman Islands and smaller amounts from the rest of the world. After the recent weak treasury auction, US government officials warned that they are seeing waning demand from international buyers.

Is China in more debt than the US? ›

Debt as a share of GDP has risen to about the same level as in the United States, while in dollar terms China's total debt ($47.5 trillion) is still markedly below that of the United States (close to $70 trillion). As for non-financial corporate debt, China's 28 percent share is the largest in the world.

Does Britain still owe America money? ›

How much does the UK owe the US? Nothing. As previously stated the UK's war debt to the US was finally paid off in 2006, every last dollar.

What country has no debt? ›

Singapore is one of Asia's major financial centers. It is also one of the most prosperous countries on the planet. And all this has been achieved without taking on any meaningful public debt. In fact, very much like Norway, Singapore has more assets than debt.

Does the US owe Britain money? ›

In total, other territories hold about $7.4 trillion in U.S. debt. Japan owns the most at $1.1 trillion, followed by China, with $859 billion, and the United Kingdom at $668 billion.

What happens if China dumps US debt? ›

If China (or any other nation that has a trade surplus with the U.S.) stops buying U.S. Treasuries or even starts dumping its U.S. forex reserves, its trade surplus would become a trade deficit—something which no export-oriented economy would want, as they would be worse off as a result.

Can China call in US debt? ›

Nations like China typically hold US debt in the form of various US Treasury debt, including bonds and other notes. None of these instruments allow debt holders to simply demand repayment…you get the terms and conditions associated with the bond and there's little flexibility to “calling in all of their debts”.

Who has the most debt on earth? ›

United States. The United States boasts both the world's biggest national debt in terms of dollar amount and its largest economy, which resolves to a debt-to GDP ratio of approximately 128.13%.

Does Russia hold any U.S. debt? ›

The value of U.S. Treasury securities held by residents of Russia amounted to 33 million U.S. dollars in June 2023, the lowest over the period under consideration. Furthermore, in March 2020, the figure decreased sharply to 3.85 billion U.S. dollars, down from 12.6 billion U.S. dollars one month prior.

Where does China own land in the US? ›

China owns 384,000 acres of American agricultural land. That's a 30% increase just since 2019. And on top of that, they own land near an air force base in North Dakota.

Do countries still owe the US money from WWII? ›

The case of debts arising from World War II is somewhat less complicated. At this time only four countries, discussed below, owe the U.S. government debts of any size arising from World War II programs to aid our allies. Other countries have paid their debts in full.

Why does China buy U.S. debt? ›

Key Takeaways. China invests heavily in U.S. Treasury bonds to keep its export prices lower. China focuses on export-led growth to help generate jobs. To keep its export prices low, China must keep the renminbi low compared to the U.S. dollar.

Why does the US owe Japan money? ›

Japan sells more to the U.S. than it buys from the U.S. and thus has excess dollars; Japanese investors can easily get a better and safer return by buying U.S. Treasury bonds than by buying other investment vehicles.

How is the US the richest country with so much debt? ›

How can the United States be considered one of the wealthiest nations in the world with a debt over $20 trillion? Because total US assets are $225 trillion. Nobody else comes close. The United States government owes $20 trillion, but it has no problem servicing the debt because it's all at low interest rates.

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