The South American continent is rich in cultural diversity and natural resources. The twelve countries that occupy the landmass each have their own unique stories to tell, part of which is represented by their varying degrees of economic development.
In this post, we take a look at the richest countries in South America based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. This metric takes population size into account, which can offer a better understanding of the average prosperity and well-being of people in each country.
It’s worth noting that while a country’s GDP per capita shows the economic productivity per person in the country, it does not describe the distribution of wealth in the nation. Even countries with a high GDP per capita may suffer from significant income inequality.
Below is a table of the richest countries in South America, listed in order of their GDP per capita for the years 2022 and 2023. Information is sourced from the International Monetary Fund.
Read on to learn more about the five richest countries on the continent: Guyana, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.
|Country||GDP per capita 2022||GDP per capita 2023|
2023 GDP per capita: $9,673
Brazil’s position as one of the top five richest countries in South America is a testament to its dynamic, diverse, and resilient economy. As the largest economy in Latin America and the ninth-largest in the world by nominal GDP, Brazil exhibits a multifaceted economic structure that contributes significantly to its prosperity.
Historically, Brazil’s economy has been anchored by its abundant natural resources. It is a leading producer of coffee, soybeans, wheat, rice, corn, sugarcane, cocoa, citrus, and beef, reflecting its agricultural strength.
The agricultural sector, coupled with a rich reserve of minerals like iron ore, has laid a solid foundation for the country’s economic growth.
In recent years, Brazil has further diversified its economy. The service sector now accounts for a significant portion of the GDP, reflecting a shift towards a more balanced economic model.
The country also boasts a strong industrial sector, renowned for its automotive, steel, and petrochemical industries. This diversification is a key factor in Brazil’s resilience and ability to maintain its status among the continent’s richest nations.
Moreover, Brazil’s economic influence extends beyond its borders. It is a member of various international coalitions, including BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), reflecting its role in global economic discussions. The country’s large and growing middle class also makes it an attractive market for international investment and business.
Despite challenges such as income inequality and political instability, Brazil’s economy has shown remarkable flexibility. Its continuous efforts to reform and modernize, including initiatives in education, technology, and infrastructure, have further cemented its position as a leading economy in South America.
2023 GDP per capita: $13,709
Argentina, another country among the top five richest in South America, boasts a multifaceted economy marked by both historical strengths and modern advancements. As the third-largest economy in Latin America, Argentina’s economic landscape is shaped by a blend of natural resources, agricultural prowess, and a growing industrial sector.
Agriculturally, Argentina is renowned globally for its production of soybeans, wheat, wine, and beef. This agricultural strength is underpinned by the country’s vast and fertile plains, particularly the Pampas, which are ideal for crop cultivation and cattle rearing.
The industrial sector in Argentina is equally diverse, encompassing automobile manufacturing, textiles, and consumer durables. In recent years, technology and innovation have begun to play a more prominent role, with Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, emerging as a hub for tech startups and innovation. This shift towards technology indicates a broader trend in Argentina’s economy towards diversification and modernization.
Argentina also benefits from its rich natural resources, including significant reserves of minerals, oil, and gas. The exploitation of these resources has contributed to its economic growth, although it has also posed challenges related to sustainability and environmental impact.
Despite facing economic challenges such as inflation and debt, Argentina has shown resilience. Efforts to stabilize the economy, attract foreign investment, and increase exports have been central to its economic strategy.
Furthermore, the country’s cultural and tourism sectors contribute to its economic diversity. Argentina is full of things to do and see, made all the more attractive to international tourists by its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty.
2023 GDP per capita: $17,827
Chile also ranks as one of the top five richest countries in South America with its unique and vibrant economy. It stands out for its strong and stable economic policies, making it one of the region’s most prosperous and stable nations.
A cornerstone of Chile’s economic success is its mining industry, particularly copper mining, which has long been the backbone of its economy. Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, and the mining sector significantly contributes to its GDP. This abundance of natural resources has been effectively managed, ensuring steady economic growth.
Chile’s economy is also characterized by a high level of economic freedom, sound fiscal policies, and a strong commitment to free trade. These policies have fostered a business-friendly environment, attracting significant foreign investment. Chile is also a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, another way in which the country works with others to foster its own economic prosperity.
In recent years, Chile has been diversifying its economy. The country is increasingly focusing on other sectors such as agriculture, wine production, and renewable energy. The government’s commitment to investing in renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind energy, positions Chile as a leader in clean energy in the region.
Despite challenges such as income inequality and reliance on commodity prices, Chile’s economic policies and diversification efforts have consistently positioned it as one of South America’s wealthiest nations.
2023 GDP per capita: $17,987
Uruguay is among the smaller countries on the continent, but it’s also one of the richest countries in South America, known for its stable economy and progressive social policies. This dynamic country has consistently demonstrated economic resilience and sustainable growth, which is particularly notable given its size and regional context.
A key factor in Uruguay’s economic success is its strong agricultural sector. The country is a major exporter of soybeans, beef, and dairy products, with agriculture accounting for 7% of its GDP. Uruguay’s agricultural success is underpinned by its fertile land and favorable climate, though it faces potential challenges from climate change.
Another pillar of Uruguay’s economy is its commitment to renewable energy. The country is a regional leader in renewable energy production, particularly in wind and hydroelectric power. As well as enhancing the country’s energy security, this also positions Uruguay as a model for renewable energy development in the region.
A well-developed tourism industry is something else that benefits the economy of Uruguay. Beautiful beaches, a rich cultural heritage, and a stable political environment all work to attract visitors from around the world.
2023 GDP per capita: $20,540
Of the richest countries in South America, Guyana has the highest GDP per capita on the continent. The small nation is often overshadowed by its larger neighbors, but it now has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, driven largely by its nascent oil industry.
The discovery and subsequent development of substantial offshore oil reserves have rapidly altered Guyana’s economic landscape, propelling the country to the forefront of economic growth in the region. The oil sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP is substantial, positioning Guyana as a key player in the global oil market.
Apart from its burgeoning oil industry, Guyana’s economy has traditionally been based on agriculture and mining. The country is known for its production of rice and sugar, as well as for its bauxite mining industry. These sectors continue to play a vital role in the economy, contributing to exports and employment.
Another notable aspect of Guyana’s economy is its commitment to sustainable development. Despite the rapid growth of its oil sector, the government has shown an interest in balancing economic development with environmental preservation through the country’s Environmental Protection Agency.
Guyana’s economic growth has also been supported by foreign investment, particularly in the oil, mining, and infrastructure sectors. This influx of capital has been a key driver of recent economic expansion, contributing to the country’s rapid ascent among South America’s wealthiest nations.
In summary, Guyana’s rise to the richest country in South America is multifaceted, driven primarily by its emerging oil industry and an increase in foreign investment. Additional parts of its economic success are its traditional agricultural and mining sectors as well as its commitment to sustainable development.