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U.S. equity fund returns were strong in 2017, with averages advancing more than 21%. But international funds (ex-U.S.) were even bigger winners, with Vanguard’s international equity ETF surging 27.5%. The fund giant’s emerging markets equity ETF gained 31.5%.

Take note: The 20 funds listed here outperformed even those impressive benchmarks.

The results show that Asia was the place to be in 2017. Twelve of the 20 funds listed focus on China, Japan, India or South Korea. That did not preclude broader “global opportunities” or “international growth” funds from finding investments in the Far East, as well. The average return of these 20 funds for the year was 48.5%.

As is typically the case when investing in actively managed international funds, expense ratios are slightly higher compared with domestic funds, due in part to additional research by fund managers of companies that have fewer analysts following them and less robust regulatory oversight. These funds averaged 1.43% in expense ratios — with a high of more than 2%.

Scroll through to see the 20 top 2017 international fund returns among those with at least $100 million in assets. Three-year returns, expense ratios and total assets are also included for each fund. All data from Morningstar Direct.
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20. Vanguard International Growth Inv (VWIGX)
2017 Return: 42.96%
3-Yr. return: 15.18%
Expense Ratio: 0.45%
Total Assets (millions): $34,084.57
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19. VY JPMorgan Emerging Markets Equity S (IJPIX)
2017 Return: 43.11%
3-Yr. return: 11.68%
Expense Ratio: 1.50%
Total Assets (millions): $618.40
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18. City National Rochdale Emerg Mkts N (RIMIX)
2017 Return: 43.29%
3-Yr. return: 13.29%
Expense Ratio: 1.63%
Total Assets (millions): $1,735.13
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17. Matthews Korea Investor (MAKOX)
2017 Return: 43.70%
3-Yr. return: 16.18%
Expense Ratio: 1.15%
Total Assets (millions): $221.42
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16. Eaton Vance Greater India A (ETGIX)
2017 Return: 44.80%
3-Yr. return: 12.61%
Expense Ratio: 1.72%
Total Assets (millions): $273.19
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15. American Century International Opps Inv (AIOIX)
2017 Return: 45.05%
3-Yr. return: 16.30%
Expense Ratio: 1.54%
Total Assets (millions): $209.44
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14. Invesco Pacific Growth B (TGRBX)
2017 Return: 45.78%
3-Yr. return: 15.42%
Expense Ratio: 2.39%
Total Assets (millions): $120.47
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13. American Century Emerging Markets Inv (TWMIX)
2017 Return: 45.86%
3-Yr. return: 14.02%
Expense Ratio: 1.29%
Total Assets (millions): $1,866.29
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12. Fidelity Emerging Asia (FSEAX)
2017 Return: 46.36%
3-Yr. return: 12.99%
Expense Ratio: 1.10%
Total Assets (millions): $1,252.34
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11. Fidelity Advisor Emerging Asia A (FEAAX)
2017 Return: 46.76%
3-Yr. return: 12.89%
Expense Ratio: 1.38%
Total Assets (millions): $323.73
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10. Fidelity Emerging Markets (FEMKX)
2017 Return: 47.67%
3-Yr. return: 12.41%
Expense Ratio: 0.97%
Total Assets (millions): $5,288.54
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9. Eaton Vance Greater China Growth A (EVCGX)
2017 Return: 49.38%
3-Yr. return: 13.68%
Expense Ratio: 1.85%
Total Assets (millions): $101.23
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8. Hennessy Japan Small Cap Investor (HJPSX)
2017 Return: 49.58%
3-Yr. return: 22.31%
Expense Ratio: 1.84%
Total Assets (millions): $171.50
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7. VanEck Emerging Markets A (GBFAX)
2017 Return: 49.70%
3-Yr. return: 10.24%
Expense Ratio: 1.53%
Total Assets (millions): $2,115.65
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6. Fidelity China Region (FHKCX)
2017 Return: 51.93%
3-Yr. return: 12.02%
Expense Ratio: 1.00%
Total Assets (millions): $1,483.71
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5. Oppenheimer Global Opportunities A (OPGIX)
2017 Return: 52.52%
3-Yr. return: 25.75%
Expense Ratio: 1.17%
Total Assets (millions): $7,449.62
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4. Matthews Asia Innovators Investor (MATFX)
2017 Return: 52.88%
3-Yr. return: 14.36%
Expense Ratio: 1.24%
Total Assets (millions): $219.12
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3. Wasatch Emerging India Investor (WAINX)
2017 Return: 53.40%
3-Yr. return: 16.97%
Expense Ratio: 1.75%
Total Assets (millions): $276.66
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2. Oberweis China Opportunities (OBCHX)
2017 Return: 55.05%
3-Yr. return: 11.69%
Expense Ratio: 1.99%
Total Assets (millions): $127.53
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1. Matthews China Investor (MCHFX)
2017 Return: 59.37%
3-Yr. return: 17.17%
Expense Ratio: 1.18%
Total Assets (millions): $986.24