Each year, Congress appropriates foreign assistance based on national security, commercial, and humanitarian interests. This aid is then distributed to foreign governments, international agencies, such as the United Nations or World Health Organization, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.
These entities use foreign aid to carry out projects targeting specific goals, such as poverty reduction, humanitarian support, military assistance, and educational services. Foreign aid comes in multiple forms, including funds, goods, services, and technical assistance.
US foreign aid has varied over time due to various geopolitical circumstances, economic conditions, and national priorities. At its height in 1949, US foreign aid totaled nearly $100 billion, while it bottomed out at just under $25 billion in 1997, both after adjusting for inflation.
Between 1946 and 2021, the US has spent an average of $49.4 billion each year.
Foreign aid peaked in the years following World War II due to the Marshall Plan, which provided economic assistance to restore the infrastructure of postwar Europe. Though the Marshall Plan was passed in 1948, the US delivered substantial aid to European countries in 1947 and continued for several years after funding for the Marshall Plan ended in 1951.
Aid began falling in the 1950s, though the nation sent large aid packages sent to South Vietnam, South Korea, Israel, and other countries, during the Cold War.
Foreign aid increased beginning in 2003 following the US invasion of Iraq. Since then, a large portion of US foreign aid has been directed towards Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2021, the United States provided more than $50 billion in aid to over 150 countries and territories, as well as 30 regional funds that go to multiple countries, and a fund for international institutions and NGOs.
Afghanistan received the most US foreign aid in 2021: ($1.5 billion) in the form of humanitarian and emergency assistance during the last year of the US-backed democratic government. This was followed by Ethiopia ($1.4 billion), Jordan ($1.3 billion), Yemen ($1.1 billion), and South Sudan ($1.0 billion).
Since World War II, $960 billion, or over quarter of all US foreign aid, has gone to five countries: Israel ($312.5 billion), former South Vietnam ($184.5 billion), Egypt ($183.7 billion), Afghanistan ($158.9 billion), and South Korea ($120.7 billion), after adjusting for inflation.
There are different reasons the US provides aid to each of these countries.
The US has maintained close ties with Israel since the country’s creation in 1949. Most of America’s foreign aid to Israel has historically been for military purposes, helping the country develop a missile defense system, among other projects.
The US provided substantial foreign aid during the conflicts in South Vietnam and Afghanistan to bolster the nations’ economic infrastructure. Aid also helped enhance both nations’ defense capabilities to address instability and counterterrorism.
Egypt has received substantial foreign aid from the US since 1975, mainly as an extension of efforts to alleviate Arab-Israeli tensions. The US also supports Egypt through military assistance, though total contributions have declined year over year.
And lastly, South Korea received foreign aid from the US for a variety of reasons, from rebuilding the nation following World War II and the Korean War, to developing the economy and improving infrastructure during the 1960s and 1970s due to geopolitical interests in the region.
The United States provides foreign aid to other countries for several reasons: it helps promote global stability, advance US national security interests, and address humanitarian needs. Foreign aid can support economic development, improve healthcare and education, strengthen democratic institutions, and foster diplomatic relationships.
By assisting other nations, the US aims to create more prosperous and secure environments, prevent conflicts, and build partnerships. According to a 2022 Congressional Research Service report, foreign aid can enhance the United States' global influence, address global challenges, and promote shared values. These objectives align with US government sources and policies on foreign assistance.
This estimate only includes aid up to 2021, since aid for 2022 and 2023 is considered incomplete by USAID.
The data from 2021 is still subject to Q4 updates from the Department of Defense and may not be complete at this time.
Data for 1976 contains an extra quarter of foreign aid from July 1 to September 30 due to the change in the US government’s fiscal year which occurred.
St. Kitts and Nevis, Singapore, Malta, and Dominica technically had net negative foreign aid in 2021, meaning the funds were unobligated, and they never actually received that aid.
Formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the US began on March 28, 1949.
Keep up with the latest data and most popular content.