Does The US Receive Foreign Aid? We’ve Got The Answer

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The United States is the largest donor of foreign aid in the world. Each year, the US provides around 40 billion dollars in overseas assistance. American aid supports humanitarian and development work around the world, as well as international institutions such as the UN, IMF, and World Bank. But, if America gives so much foreign aid, does it actually receive any?

The United States does not receive foreign aid. This is because of the size of its economy and high-level of development. The US does not require international assistance as it is rich and powerful enough to meet its populations needs and respond to any disasters within its territory.

So, essentially, America doesn’t receive international aid because it is too rich. However, there are many more reasons why the US is not a recipient of overseas assistance. Let us explain…

Why the US Doesn’t Receive Foreign Aid

The United States is the richest country in the world. With a total GDP of 20.94 trillion dollars, it is as rich as the poorest 150 countries put together.

This is the first reason why the US does not receive foreign aid; it is simply too rich. The aim of international aid is to alleviate poverty, help people affected by crises and assist governments to defend themselves and deliver services. America is too wealthy to receive help in this.

The second reason America does not receive foreign aid is because it is the world’s largest donor of international aid.

The United States gives billions of dollars a year in overseas assistance. The US is a major donor to the UN, NATO, IMF, and World Bank, as well as to individual countries and international NGOs. As the US makes such huge donation of foreign aid, it does not need to receive international assistance in return.

One of the main objectives of overseas aid is as a ‘soft power’ tool. Foreign aid is used to build alliances, increase international prestige, and promote a nation abroad.

The United States is a major donor of international aid for this reason. However, other countries do not need to provide foreign aid to the US in order to build soft power relationships with it. This is a major reason why America is not a recipient of overseas aid.

Another key objective of international aid is to help people in poorer countries to improve their lives. As the largest economy in the world, and with a per capita income of 66,000 USD, the United States doesn’t need foreign assistance in this. Although there are definitely people in America living in poverty, the US economy does provide the resources to assist these people and so international aid is not needed.

A further important reason for foreign aid is to provide humanitarian assistance to people affected by disasters and crises.

The US does experience humanitarian crises, often caused by extreme weather, such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. However, the United States has the resources to assist people affected by crises and so does not need to receive foreign aid.  

As well as humanitarian and development assistance, donor countries provide military aid to allied countries. This aims to strengthen their armed forces, deter external aggression, and help that country achieve internal security.

America has the most powerful army in the world. It has a total budget of 686.1 billion dollars, and nearly 500,000 personnel across its army, navy, and air force. The United States simply doesn’t need to receive overseas military aid for its armed forces.

Foreign aid is often given to help developing countries provide key services to their population. Its aim to increase access to quality education, healthcare, nutrition, livelihoods, and infrastructure.

The final reason why the US does not receive foreign aid is because it does not need international support to provide services to its population. The American government has the finances and resources to provide quality public services without overseas assistance.

Has America Ever Received International Assistance?

The United States has been the most powerful country in the world for over a century. Although throughout its history there have been calamitous events, such as the Civil War or Great Depression, America has been an amazingly successful country since its independence. With that said, was there a time in American history when the US did receive foreign aid?

There have been very few times in history the United has received international aid. The only notable ones are the French support during the American War of Independence and the offer of Russian support to the Union during the American Civil War. The US does currently have a large foreign debt, but this is not the same as foreign aid.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these…

The first, and probably most famous, example of the United States receiving overseas assistance is France during the American Revolutionary War.

France was a major rival of Britain in the 18th Century. As the US was fighting for independence from Britain, France provided the US with money, troops, equipment, training, and naval support. The international support received was critical to America gaining independence.

Another, lesser known, example of the United States receiving international assistance is during the American Civil War.

Almost all the major powers stayed neutral throughout the Civil War. However, Russia offered support to the Union. Russia was a rival of Britain and France at this time and they thought supporting the US would mean America might back them in a future dispute. However, Russia did not send aid to the US, but did send two naval fleets to American waters in case assistance was needed.

Although not a form of overseas aid, another example of the US receiving international assistance is foreign debt.

The American government currently has overseas debt of around 7.04 trillion dollars. Countries such as China, Japan and the UK have lent billions of dollars to the US government. This is not the same as the US receiving foreign aid, however it is an example of America taking international financial support.

What Does America Get in Return For Foreign Aid?

The United States is the country that donates the most in foreign aid. In 2019, America gave nearly 40 billion dollars in overseas aid to developing countries. But, if America doesn’t receive any foreign aid itself, what does it get in return for the huge sums in overseas aid it spends?

The US gives foreign aid because it is morally right to help people in poorer countries. US foreign aid also assists with international security and builds alliances that are in America’s interest. Overseas aid is proven to be a benefit to the US economy and helps the US in building diplomatic support.

America does not receive financial or material compensation for the foreign aid it sends abroad. However, overseas aid is very much in the interests of the United States.

A further example of how overseas aid benefits the US includes helping allied nations to jointly fight America’s enemies. Giving foreign aid also allows America to promote its values abroad.

Although the US does not receive foreign aid or is financially compensated for the aid money it spends, overseas aid has strong support from both the American government and public because it is a net benefit to the United States.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.