Personal remittances statistics
Data extracted in November 2020.
Planned article update: November 2021.
This article presents statistics and comments on recent developments relating to international remittances in the European Union (EU). It refers in particular to personal remittances according to the concept of the Balance of payments and international investment position manual (BPM6). The data situation currently only allows the production of approximate figures on personal remittances. This refers to the narrowest concept of international remittances, which are "personal remittances" and it is based on two standard components – personal transfers and compensation of employees.
EU-27 is a net payer in personal remittances to the rest of the world
According to the BPM6 methodology, personal remittances consist of both transfer and income elements (personal transfers and compensation of employees). While personal transfers (i.e. transfers sent by migrants to their home economies) generally show net outflows in the EU-27 (more outflows than inflows), compensation of employees (i.e. wages earned by employees who work in other countries on short-term work contracts, as seasonal workers or cross border commuters) show net inflows (more inflows than outflows).
In the period 2013-2017, the EU-27 was a net recipient of personal remittances from the rest of the world. This meant that net transfers sent by migrants in the EU to their home economies were smaller than the net incomes earned by the EU citizens working abroad. The balance in personal remittances grew from EUR 5.5 billion in 2013 to EUR 9.3 billion in 2015, when net inflows in compensation of employees culminated at EUR 22.7 billion, while net outflows in personal transfers were only at EUR 13.4 billion. This trend has been reversed in the subsequent years, with decreasing net inflows from compensation of employees and increasing net outflows from personal transfers. As a consequence, the balance in personal remittances turned negative in 2018, assuming a deficit of EUR 2.5 billion. Net inflows in income generated by EU citizens through their work abroad decreased since 2015 to EUR 16.0 billion in 2018, and net outflows in personal transfers by migrants to their home economies dynamically increased from 2015 to EUR 18.4 billion in 2018. Although net inflows from compensation of employees increased slightly in 2019 (to EUR 16.9 billion), the deficit in personal remittances further deepened, reaching EUR 3.2 billion, as net outflows in personal transfers continued in dynamic growth (to EUR 20.1 billion) (Figure 1).
Surge in migration in 2015 re-emphasises the importance of migrant transfers
Outflows of personal remittances from the EU-27 have boosted since 2013 from EUR 35.3 billion, reaching EUR 53.4 billion in 2019 (Figure 2a). Inflows of personal remittances have been, on the other hand, increasing at a much slower pace since 2013. The extent of inflows in personal remittances to the EU-27 grew from EUR 40.8 billion in 2013 to EUR 50.2 billion in 2019, with a period of stagnation between 2015 and 2018 (Figure 2b), which effectively contributed to the earlier mentioned consolidation trend in remittances' in- and outflows. While outflows are predominantly driven by personal transfers (in 2019: EUR 33.2 billion), inflows are mostly nurtured by compensation of employees from border, seasonal or short-term work contracts by EU residents in other economies (in 2019: EUR 37.2 billion). Since 2016, growth in outflows considerably exceeds annual growth in GDP, while growth in inflows remained below GDP growth in 2016-2018, indicating the favourable labour market conditions for migrant workers in the EU-27 and a boost in payments made to their home economies. Accordingly, outflows in personal remittances (supported in particular by personal transfers) increased at annual growth rates of 6 % and more in 2016-2019. Inflows, on the other hand, maintained a steady level until 2018, followed by a significant increase in 2019 (Figure 3).
More than half of the amount remitted across borders remain within the EU-27
About 55 % of total flows in personal remittances in 2019, as in the previous years, took place within EU Member States, i.e. EU-27 residents predominantly (but not exclusively) remit among themselves. This does not come as a surprise given that EU citizens are allowed to move freely within the EU labour market. There are, however, considerable disparities between the EU Member States in regard to their relative exposure to the rest of the world: in countries like Poland (97 % of total national outflows), Spain (91 %, workers’ remittances instead of personal transfers), Greece (89 %), Italy, Lithuania (both 80 %) and France (74 %) personal remittance outflows went predominantly to economies outside the EU-27, while Ireland (71 % of total national inflows), Italy (74 %), and Lithuania (72 %) received their inflows mostly from outside the EU-27. As the most EU-centered economies in regard to international remittances, Luxembourg on the other hand recorded only 0.5 % of its total outflows beyond the EU-27, and Slovakia only 5.9 % of its total inflows from outside the EU (see Tables 1 and 2).
Migration is concentrated on a few hotspots in Europe
At the beginning of 2019, 7.9 % of the total population in the 27 EU Member States lived outside their home economies. This compares to 17.4 % of foreign born workers in the USA and 21.9 % of foreign born population in Canada. However, while countries like Luxembourg (47.4 %), Cyprus (17.8 %), Malta (16.9 %) and Austria (16.1 %) show relatively high shares of foreign-born population (in EFTA: Liechtenstein 34.0 % and Switzerland 25.1 %), some European countries have no significant resident foreign population, e.g. Poland (0.8 %) and Romania (0.6 %). This situation points at considerable migration flows of workers across Europe or abroad, and seasonal or border work between countries, which provides the fundamentals for significant international remittance flows.
Western European countries are the focal point for cross-border remittances
The major sending economies of personal remittances (outflows to intra-EU plus extra-EU) are Germany (17.6 % of total outbound personal remittances of the EU-27), France (11.1 %), the Netherlands (10.7 %) and Luxembourg (10.1 %). While Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have their remittance outflows predominantly based upon income generated through border, seasonal or short-term work, remittance outflows in France mainly stem from personal transfers. The major recipient economies of personal remittances (inflows from intra-EU plus extra-EU) are France (20.9 % of total inbound personal remittances of the EU-27), Germany (12.8 %) and Belgium (9.5 %), all predominantly based on income generated through border, seasonal and short-term work (see Maps 1a and 1b).
An analysis of the major corridors in personal remittances places the above figures in a bilateral context, in which geographical proximity naturally plays an important role. In 2019, France observed major corridors with all its neighbouring countries representing significant inflows, most notably from border and seasonal work of French residents in Switzerland (EUR 12.2 billion), Luxembourg (EUR 5.8 billion) and Germany (EUR 2.6 billion), while figuring as a main source for personal transfers to Morocco (EUR 2.2 billion) and Portugal (EUR 1.1 billion). In a similar manner, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are exposed to their neighbouring countries in terms of border and seasonal work relations, while Belgium and Luxembourg also record significant inflows from the European Institutions domiciled in their jurisdictions (Belgium EUR 4.1 billion, Luxembourg EUR 1.5 billion). Beyond the limits of geographical proximity Germany is the major source of income for seasonal workers from Romania (EUR 2.1 billion) and migrant transfers to Turkey (EUR 0.8 billion), while the Netherlands figures as sending economy for the compensation of employees to Poland (EUR 2.0 billion), the United Kingdom and the United States (each EUR 0.9 billion). Sweden records inflows from border and seasonal work from Denmark (EUR 1.4 billion) and Norway (EUR 1.2 billion). The major powerhouse for employment of EU citizens outside the EU-27 is Switzerland, generating considerable inflows in compensation of employees to the EU. France (EUR 12.2 billion), Italy (EUR 4.6 billion), Germany (EUR 4.1 billion), Portugal (EUR 1.0 billion) and Austria (EUR 0.6 billion) benefit significantly from their residents working in Switzerland. Similarly, Liechtenstein figures as a prominent source of income for neighbouring Austria (EUR 0.5 billion) in 2019. The United Kingdom continues in 2019 to be a major sender of personal transfers to Romania (EUR 0.8 billion) and Poland (EUR 0.6 billion).
Croatia, Bulgaria and Latvia are most dependent on international remittances in the EU
Dependency rates on international remittances are measured by the share of inflows in personal remittances in percentage of the respective country's GDP. According to this, the highest dependency rates on remittances in the EU-27 are observed in Croatia (6.6 % of GDP), Bulgaria (3.4 % of GDP), Latvia and Romania (both 3.3 % of GDP) in 2019 (see Figure 4), while the least dependent economies in the EU-27 are Ireland (0.1 % of GDP), Greece, Finland and the Netherlands (each 0.3 % of GDP). By comparison, south-eastern European economies appear much more reliant on this source of income: Kosovo (15.7 % of GDP), Bosnia and Herzegovina (11.2 % of GDP), Montenegro (10.5 % of GDP), Albania (9.6 % of GDP) and Serbia (8.2 % of GDP).
Belgium, Croatia and Bulgaria eliminate their current account deficits from personal remittances
In the above context of importing national wealth of Member States via the economic activities of the diaspora, personal remittances also provide an essential contribution towards reducing national current account deficits or even contribute to current account surpluses.
In 2019, three Member States recorded a current account surplus, which would have turned into a deficit without the impact of personal remittances. Those were Belgium, Bulgaria and Croatia (see Figure 5). Most prominently, Belgium showed a current account surplus of EUR 1.7 billion. Without personal remittances, this would have turned into a considerable deficit of EUR 4.4 billion in 2019. The major inflows in personal remittances to Belgium came from income generated by their residents from border work in the Netherlands (EUR 3.4 billion), Luxembourg (EUR 3.2 billion) and France (EUR 0.4 billion), and from employment in the European Institutions (EUR 4.1 billion). Croatia showed a current account surplus of EUR 1.5 billion, which would have turned into a current account deficit of EUR 1.6 billion. Personal remittances inflows to Croatia came from the compensation of employees and personal transfers in similar proportion. Income generated through short-term or seasonal work by Croatians abroad came from the United Kingdom (EUR 0.3 billion), United States and Germany (each EUR 0.2 billion), while personal transfers sent by Croatians came from Switzerland (EUR 0.3 billion), Germany and United States (each EUR 0.2 billion). Bulgaria turned an otherwise current account deficit of EUR 0.08 billion with the help of personal remittances to a surplus of EUR 1.85 billion in 2019. Major inflows in personal remittances to Bulgaria came from personal transfers sent by Bulgarians from the United States, Germany (each EUR 0.2 billion), Spain and the United Kingdom (each EUR 0.1 billion), and to a lesser extent from income generated through short-term or seasonal work in Germany and Spain (each EUR 0.1 billion).
Czechia, France, Latvia, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia could considerably reduce their current account deficit through personal remittances. The major inflows in personal remittances to Portugal came from personal transfers sent by Portuguese people from France (EUR 1.1 billion) and Switzerland (EUR 1.0 billion). For France, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Latvia, the major share came from income generated by their residents from border work in neighbouring countries, while both sources were equally important for Romania.
EU citizens working abroad - Switzerland is main source of income
By far the highest surplus in personal remittances of the EU-27 with countries abroad, EUR 23.4 billion, has been recorded with Switzerland, mostly due to compensation of employees flows to Germany, France and Italy. It was followed by the United Kingdom, with a surplus of EUR 3.9 billion, mostly due to personal transfers to Romania, Poland and Portugal. The balance in personal remittances of the EU-27 recorded also a considerable surplus of EUR 1.9 billion with Norway, mostly due to inflows to Sweden, and EUR 1.8 billion with the United States. The most prominent inflows come in this context from compensation of employees by German and French residents working in the United States, as well as from personal transfers or workers’ remittances sent by Portuguese, Lithuanians and Bulgarians to their home economies. As the EU-27 is, however, a net payer of personal remittances to the rest of the world, the bilateral balances of the EU-27 with most overseas partners are otherwise negative. Major net outflows in 2019 were recorded with Morocco (EUR 3.9 billion), the Philippines (EUR 2.0 billion), China (EUR 1.5 billion), Turkey (EUR 1.4 billion) and India (EUR 1.2 billion) in 2019. Net outflows to Morocco, Turkey and India were based on personal transfers, while those to the Philippines and China were based on both personal transfers and compensation of employees in similar proportion (Figure 6).
Data on personal remittances according to the BPM6 manual are currently available from dedicated tables (bop_rem6) in the Eurostat database under the balance of payments domain, with the most comprehensive coverage starting from 2005. Personal remittances are not directly reported by Member States, but are compiled from the two standard components personal transfers and compensation of employees. The online tables are available for each component on an annual basis and are reported by Member States by end-September each year with a somewhat extended geographical breakdown (Geo 5 – main world aggregates and a large selection of countries). The EU-27 aggregates contain also confidential data as well as Eurostat estimations for missing data. Quarterly data on personal transfers and compensation of employees are regularly collected by Eurostat as part of the quarterly balance of payments data, but with less geographical details. All disseminated data are subject to revisions.
The World Bank publishes also annual data on personal remittances under its World Development Indicators. The data starting from 2005 are compiled according to the BPM6. Differences to World Bank figures (in US$) could occur from exchange rates applied, different update frequencies or in particular geographical breakdowns due to World Bank estimations.
Data on personal remittances and its components are collected on the basis of Regulation (EC) No. 184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 January 2005 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment.
Personal remittances allow to measure and analyse transactions resulting from private households’ economic activities in other countries, either as migrant transfers to their home economies or as income gained from employment abroad or with non-resident entities. As both components relate to the same phenomenon, a combined presentation appears legitimate according to the BPM6 standard, although in the public perception the concepts of "personal transfers", "personal remittances" and "workers' remittances" are commonly mixed up, while it rarely connects the concept of "compensation of employees" to remittances. However, the concept of personal remittances is the broadest of them, including all of the above mentioned as major elements. 
The reason for incomplete data on personal remittances lies in the considerable information asymmetries between host and recipient economies and the relative insignificance of remittance flows in industrial nations in their role as host economies. For recipient economies abroad they represent however very often a substantial source of income (see above measures in relation to GDP and current account balance). Further, the heterogeneous character of remittance transactions makes the compilation process more complex, thus usually having to rely on a combination of resources (data collections from the financial sector, surveys on migrant or commuter populations, estimations based on macroeconomic modelling), depending on the availability of corresponding data sources in the compiling economy. As a consequence there appears to be a systemic problem of under-coverage (excluding unrecorded remittances in cash and kind via informal transmission channels) combined with data asymmetries, which should be kept in mind when analysing data on international remittances.
This can be illustrated by analysing intra-EU remittance flows, i.e. remittance flows between the Member States of the EU. In theory, intra-EU inflows (credits) should equal mirror intra-EU outflows (debits). Asymmetries, calculated as intra-EU inflows (credits) minus intra-EU outflows (debits), show positive values for personal transfers and mostly negative values for compensation of employees. It can be explained by compilation issues: personal transfers are more relevant for beneficiary countries and thus credits are higher (and presumably of better quality), while for compensation of employees, debit data are easier to compile as they are available from administrative sources.
The use of macroeconomic modelling has certainly increased knowledge about international remittance flows and can address to some extent the problem of under-coverage, but unfortunately bears also the risk in diffusing the delineation between the included remittance components (e.g. capital transfers, net compensation of employees). As a result, the consideration of the components in strict interpretation of the accounting standard (BPM6) remains implicit and does not allow comparable breakdowns.
Finally, a particular interest in international remittance data is nurtured by the quest for analysing persisting global labour market disparities and assessing dependencies and opportunities (such as “diaspora externalities”) arising for recipient economies from this source of income, as well as predicting its correlation to business cycles in both host and recipient economies.
In view of the large movements of refugees and migrants in recent years a renewed interest on international remittances in the context of migration evolves among European policy-makers, emphasising the significant impact of remittances to developing economies. For a snapshot on migration and remittances from a global perspective the World Bank recently published a comprehensive fact book, dealing among others with statistical issues related to the compilation of remittance data, the use of data sources, data quality issues and providing for country tables. Further its newsletter provides valuable updates on recent trends in migration and remittances.
- Personal transfers and compensation of employees (bop_rem6)
- Balance of payments and international investment position manual, Washington D.C., IMF 2009, 6th edition (BPM6)
- Regulation (EU) No. 1013/2016 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment
- Regulation (EC) No.184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 January 2005 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment.
- Summaries of EU Legislation: EU statistics — balance of payments, trade in services and foreign direct investment
- Commission Regulation (EU) No.555/2012 of 22 June 2012 amending Regulation (EC) No.184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment, as regards the update of data requirements and definitions.
- News release - Personal transfers in the EU
- Including citizens who moved between EU Member States and stateless persons
- US Bureau of Labour Statistics (2018)
- Statistics Canada (2016)
- Latvian and Estonian figures appear hardly comparable in this context due to the status of the Russian minorities in these countries.
- Due to the unavailability of Swiss data, this figure was derived from inbound flows reported by France.
- Due to the unavailability of Norwegian data, this figure was derived from inbound flows reported by Sweden.
- Due to the unavailability of Swiss data, figures were derived from inbound flows reported by France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Austria.
- Source: Eurostat
- Due to the unavailability of data from the United Kingdom, main counterpart countries were derived from inbound flows reported by Romania, Poland and Portugal.
- In some countries the memo item workers' remittances is available instead of personal transfers
- For more details see in Eurostat Statistics Explained Remittances according to the BPM6 manual
- Attempts to estimate the impact of informal remittance transactions and to provide major geographical breakdowns could be based on international migration statistics, e.g. Jiménez-Martin S./Jorgensen N./Labeaga J.M.: The volume and geography of remittances from the EU, European Commission, September 2007
- Brain Drain in Globalization: A general Equilibrium Analysis from the Sending Countries’ Perspective. In: Economic Enquiry, Vol. 51, No.2, April 2013
- Bettin G./Presbitero A./Spatafora N.: Remittances and Vulnerability in Developing Countries, IMF Working Paper, January 2014
- http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2016/11/07/second-world-bank-eu-presidency-conference-on-migration-and-the-global-development-agenda Move4Dev: 2nd EU Presidency-World Bank Conference on Migration and Development, December 2016
- https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/23743/9781464803192.pdf Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016, World Bank
- http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2017/04/21/trends-in-migration-and-remittances-2017 Trends in Migration and Remittances 2017, World Bank