What are Current Transfers?

Current transfers are current account transactions in which a resident entity in one nation provides a nonresident entity with an economic value, such as a real resource or financial item, without receiving something of economic value in exchange.

Key Takeaways

  • Current transfers are one-sided transaction transfers, such as worker remittances, in which there is no quid pro quo between the two parties involved in the transfer.
  • The two main types of current transfers are general government transfers, which are conducted between governments of two countries, and other sector transfers, such as those involving worker remittances or premiums associated with non-life insurances.
  • Accounting for current transfers is not always clear in balance of payments because of their one-sided nature.

Understanding Current Transfers

Current transfers are transactions where the originator does not receive a “quid pro quo” in return; this absence of economic value on one side is represented in the balance of payments by one-sided transactions called transfers. Current transfers affect the current account and are separate and distinct from capital transfers, which are included in the capital and financial account. Current transfers include workers’ remittances, donations, tax payments, foreign aid, and grants. 

Current transfers include all transfers that do not have the following characteristics of capital transfers:

  1. Transfers of ownership of fixed assets
  2. Transfers of funds linked to acquisition or disposal of fixed assets
  3. Forgiveness by creditors of liabilities without any counterparts being received in return

Types of Current Transfers

The two main types of current transfers are general government and other sectors.

General government transfers include the following:

  • Transfers in cash or kind backed by international cooperation between governments of different economies, or between a government and an international organization
  • Cash transfers between governments for financing current expenditures by the recipient government
  • Gifts of food, clothing, medical aid, etc. as relief efforts after a natural disaster
  • Gifts of certain military equipment
  • Current taxes on income and wealth, and other transfers such as Social Security contributions

Other sector transfers include:

  • Workers’ remittances by migrants (someone who stays in another nation for more than a year) who are considered residents of other countries
  • Transfers in cash and kind for disaster relief
  • Regular contributions to charitable, religious, scientific, and cultural organizations
  • Premiums and claims for non-life insurance

The IMF's Balance of Payments Manual generally sets the terms of accounting for current transfers. While current transfers are grouped separately from goods, services, and income in the balance of payments because of their one-sided nature, the distinction between a transfer and a regular transaction is not always clear.

For example, remittances from overseas workers are classified by the recipient nation, either as current transfers or as “compensation of employees,” depending on the length of stay by these workers in the foreign countries where they are working. As another example, a remittance from a resident of one nation to finance another resident who is staying abroad temporarily is not recorded as a transfer, since it is considered a transaction between residents of the same country.