Poorest Countries in South America 2023

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One of the quickest ways to get an idea of the overall quality of life in a given country is to examine its national income. While this can be done on a national level using statistics such as total gross domestic product (GDP) or gross national product (GNP) or gross national income (GNI) per country, it is arguably more insightful to examine income on a per-person level using indicators such as GDP per capita and GNI per capita. Overall, high-income countries tend to be the most developed and have the highest standards of living, while middle-income and low-income countries tend to be developing and least-developed countries. Even the richest countries in South America are considered part of the global south, though the poorest countries in South America are often still wealthier than the poorest countries in Africa or the world.

Countries in South America from Poorest to Wealthiest by GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$):*

  1. Bolivia — 3,360
  2. Suriname — 4,440
  3. Paraguay — 5,340
  4. Ecuador — 5,930
  5. Colombia — 6,160
  6. Peru — 6,520
  7. Brazil — 7,720
  8. Guyana — 9,380
  9. Argentina — 10,050
  10. Venezuela — 13,080
  11. Chile — 15,000
  12. Uruguay — 15,800

*Notes: As South America includes 12 countries total, the charts shown include the entire continent, from the poorest countries in South America to the wealthiest. All data are from 2021 with the exception of Venezuela, whose data ranges from 2011-2014.

Countries in South America from Poorest to Wealthiest by GNI per capita, PPP (current international $):

  1. Bolivia — 8,800
  2. Ecuador — 11,480
  3. Peru — 12,900
  4. Paraguay — 13,630
  5. Suriname — 14,430
  6. Brazil — 15,550
  7. Colombia — 16,460
  8. Venezuela — 17,090
  9. Uruguay — 22,540
  10. Argentina — 23,150
  11. Guyana — 23,480
  12. Chile — 27,410

Countries in South America from Poorest to Wealthiest by GDP per capita (current US$):

  1. Bolivia — 3,414.9
  2. Suriname — 4,836.3
  3. Paraguay — 5,400.1
  4. Ecuador — 5,934.9
  5. Colombia — 6,131.2
  6. Peru — 6,692.2
  7. Brazil — 7,518.8
  8. Guyana — 9,374.8
  9. Argentina — 10,729.2
  10. Venezuela — 16,055.6
  11. Chile — 16,502.8
  12. Uruguay — 17,020.6

Profiles of South America's poorest countries


Bolivia is the poorest nation in Latin America by any measure. High unemployment and underemployment are rampant in Bolivia, and more than 80% of the nation’s population lives in poverty, with 15.2% considered extremely poor as of 2019. However, Bolivia is improving. In 2006, a full 38.2% of the population was considered to be living in extreme poverty, substantially more than in 2019, and its overall poverty rate is already lower than that of Mexico. Bolivia has also achieved the highest economic growth, fiscal stability and foreign reserves in all of Latin America over the past several years. As a result of these trends, there exists a reasonable expectation that the country will one day give up its last-place status.


The smallest independent country in South America, Suriname has one of the highest gini coefficients in the world, which indicates a very large degree of income inequality. In 2002, the CIA estimated that 70% of the country's population lived below the poverty line. Suriname's main exports are aluminum oxide and gold (the latter of which made up nearly 80% of the country's total exports in 2019), which renders the country highly vulnerable to market fluctuations in the mineral market. Other exports include oil, bananas, rice, lumber, and shrimp. According to the World Bank, 26% of people in Suriname live on less than US$5.50 per day. Roughly 5% live in extreme poverty on less than US$1.90 per day.


A 2020-21 survey made headlines with the finding that 76.6% of Venezuelans lived in extreme poverty. While that percentage improved to 50.5% by 2022, Venezuela remains mired in significant poverty. The main causes of poverty in Venezuela include political corruption and dysfunction, poor policy decisions, and a high dependence on oil exports, which ties the economy's stability too closely to the fluctuating price of oil. Venezuela is also beset by hyperinflation, political unrest, and one of the highest crime rates in the world.


Paraguay faces high income inequality, with a Gini coefficient in the 45-46 range. According to the Borgen Project, the richest 10% of people in Paraguay earn 37.1% of the income, while the poorest 40% of people earn a total of 12.5% of the income. Part of this imbalance is due to the agricultural sector, in which 90% of the land is owned by only 5% of the people and production is dominated by large corporate farms that funnel wealth to only a few people, as opposed to smaller independent farms that spread the profits more evenly. Moreover, 94% of the land is used to grow crops for export, with only 6% used for the production of domestic food, which puts stress on the food supply chain. Fewer than 40% of Paraguayans complete their secondary education, and indigenous Paraguayans are particularly prone to poverty and malnutrition. However, by 2017, 94% of rural Paraguayans had access to safe drinking water, a major improvement from the 2000 percentage of just 51.6%.


Like many poor South American countries, Ecuador's economy relies heavily on the export of crude oil, which makes up 30-40% of the country's annual exports. The faltering of global oil prices in the mid-2010s is credited with triggering a national recession in Ecuador in 2016. Ecuador's agricultural sector is another major economic contributor thanks to crops including cocoa, flowers, and bananas, but agricultural workers earn less and are more likely to enter into poverty than workers in most other sectors. Ecuador stabilized its inflation-ridden economy in 2000 by retiring its own currency, the sucre, and adopting the US dollar as its official currency. The stability this move enabled is credited for dropping Ecuador's poverty rate from 72.7% in 2000 to a low of 23.3% in 2017.


Poverty in Peru has decreased significantly in the past 15+ years, falling from 58.7% in 2004 to 20.2% in 2019. The country has numerous trade agreements with countries such as China, Brazil, the EU, and the United States, and exports a wide variety of goods and services including copper, silver, gold, zinc, medicines, chemicals, machinery, avocadoes, blueberries, asparagus, and fish/fish meal. Peru has also adopted economic policies that make the country attractive to foreign investors. Income inequality is still a concern, and Peru's economy and people were among those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of life and employment caused by the pandemic contributed to an uptick in poverty in 2020 (from 20.6% to 32.9%) from which the country had not yet fully recovered as of late 2022.

Here are the 10 poorest countries in South America:

  1. Bolivia - $3,360
  2. Suriname - $4,440
  3. Paraguay - $5,340
  4. Ecuador - $5,930
  5. Colombia - $6,160
  6. Peru - $6,520
  7. Brazil - $7,720
  8. Guyana - $9,380
  9. Argentina - $10,050
  10. Venezuela - $13,080

Poorest Countries in South America 2023

Poorest Countries in South America 2023

Note: All data 2021 with the exception of Venezuela, whose data ranges from 2011-2014.

Poorest Countries in South America 2023