May 15, 2012

Have you ever wondered what foreigners spend their money on while visiting the United States or what Americans buy while overseas? BEA is often asked for this information, but until recently, didn’t have the means to fully respond. So, we embarked on a research project aimed at finding the answers.

BEA put its estimates of consumer spending under the microscope to try to identify differences in spending by foreign visitors and U.S. residents for the various goods and services consumed in the United States as well as to gain a better understanding of how U.S. residents spend their money when traveling abroad.

Recently released tables that cover 2002 to 2008 show that foreign visitors in the United States spent almost a fifth of their foreign travel money on lodging services, another fifth on restaurant meals and beverages, and slightly more than a fifth on nondurable goods, which include food and beverages purchased from grocery stores, clothing and footwear, and gasoline. The results also show that overall, foreigners spent more in the United States than U.S. residents spent abroad, resulting in a trade surplus on travel-related goods and services.

BEA knew that both foreigners in the United States and Americans abroad purchase things like airfares, hotels, clothing, jewelry, restaurant meals, and entertainment, as well as education and medical treatments. However, the source data used to estimate consumer spending are based mostly on revenue reported by businesses in the United States and do not allow us to easily identify whether their customers are U.S. residents or foreign visitors. This is particularly important because BEA measures consumer spending by foreigners visiting the United States and includes spending by U.S. residents traveling abroad. Thanks to the newly available estimates, BEA is now able to show these breakouts.

To learn more about how foreign visitors spend their money in the United States and how U.S. consumers spend their money while traveling abroad, read the full report.