Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999 Guide

Foreign Exchange Management Act

Understanding of Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999: Understanding the Dynamics of the ACT

Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999, called FEMA, was introduced to cater to the need for growing regulations around foreign exchange transactions after the Indian economy opened for foreign investment in 1991. It also replaced the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1973 with a significant paradigm shift in how Foreign financial transactions should be viewed. FEMA’s considerable change was to control the flow of foreign transactions, emphasising the liberalisation and facilitation of investment and ease of doing business with the open economy. Our objective in the article is to understand the key provisions of the act, objectives and implications of FEMA, focusing on evolution and impact on the growing Indian Economy.

Historical Relation:

To understand how FEMA is developed today, let’s look into the historical backdrop that prompted its formulation is essential. FERA is the act that came into existence in 1973, as the name says, to bring in tight and stringent control and restriction on the movement of foreign exchange transactions. However, by the late 1990s, a global shift towards liberalisation and globalisation prompted India to reevaluate its foreign exchange regulatory framework.

With the changing financial scenario in 1991 and the balance of payment crises, bringing in the much-awaited reforms in India’s economic policies was essential. India embarked on economic liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation (LPG), paving the way for the Foreign Exchange Management Act to replace FERA. The change was inevitable to bring in more flexibility and transparency and accommodate the new changes in the dynamics of global economies.

Key Features of the Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999:

  • Liberalisation and Facilitation: A key feature of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) is the philosophy to liberalise, aiming to ease and simplify the movement of foreign exchange transactions, thereby promoting the free flow of in and out of foreign exchange transactions. 
  • Current and Capital Account Transactions: Transactions related to trade in goods, services and income generation falls under Current Account Transactions, and the ones for movement of capital are Capital Account Transactions. FEMA has bifurcated the transaction in the 1999 act. While current account transactions are primarily unrestricted, certain capital account transactions may require approval from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
  • Residential Status: FEMA helps define the residential status of individuals and entities, thereby determining their eligibility to engage in specific foreign exchange transactions and provisions of the act. It establishes guidelines for Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) for foreign exchange financial dealings.
  • Adjudication and Penalties: The Act empowers authorities to adjudicate and impose penalties for infringements of its provisions. The penalties are designed to ensure compliance and control illegal activities that violate the Foreign Exchange Management Act.

Key Provisions of FEMA:

  • Authorisation and Delegation of Powers: FEMA vests the central government with the authority to regulate and manage foreign exchange. The powers delegated to the RBI, authorised banks and other financial institutions ensure the effective implementation of the Act.
  • Current Account Transactions: The Act allows for liberalisation in current account transactions, such as payments for imports and exports, travel-related expenses, and remittances. The idea is to foster a business-friendly environment and simplify day-to-day transactions.
  • Capital Account Transactions: While current account transactions are generally unrestricted, FEMA imposes controls on certain capital account transactions. The RBI plays a crucial role in granting approvals and overseeing capital movements to maintain stability in the financial system.
  • External Commercial Borrowings (ECB): FEMA regulates external commercial borrowings, specifying the conditions under which Indian entities can raise funds from international markets. This provision facilitates capital inflows while ensuring prudence in managing external debt.
  • Foreign Investment: FEMA lays down the framework for foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign portfolio investment (FPI). It delineates the sectors where FDI is permitted, the entry routes, and the conditions for repatriation funds.
  • Residential Status and Exchange Control: The Act defines the residential status of individuals and entities based on their physical presence and centre of vital interests. This classification is crucial in determining the eligibility and restrictions on certain foreign exchange transactions.
  • Enforcement and Penalties: FEMA establishes a mechanism for enforcement through adjudicating authorities and appellate tribunals. Penalties for infringements range from monetary fines to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the violation.

Impact of FEMA on India’s Economy:

  • Facilitation of Trade and Investment: FEMA’s liberalised approach has facilitated smoother trade and investment activities, attracting foreign capital and fostering economic growth. The Act’s provisions have made India an attractive destination for foreign investors.
  • Enhanced Transparency and Compliance: The Act emphasises transparency in foreign exchange transactions, reducing bureaucratic hurdles and corruption. This has enhanced compliance among individuals and entities engaged in international trade and finance.
  • Adaptability to Global Changes: FEMA’s flexibility allows India to adapt to evolving global economic trends. It enables the country to respond effectively to changes in the international economic scenario while maintaining necessary controls to safeguard its economic interests.
  • Strengthening of the Rupee: FEMA’s provisions have played a role in maintaining the stability of the Indian Rupee by regulating capital flows and preventing speculative activities that could adversely impact the currency.

Challenges and Criticisms:

While FEMA has contributed significantly to India’s economic growth and integration with the global economy, it has not been without challenges and criticisms. Some of the key concerns include:

  • Complex Regulatory Framework: Critics argue that FEMA’s regulatory framework can be complex, leading to confusion and challenges for businesses and tiny and medium enterprises (SMEs).
  • Enforcement Issues: Ensuring consistent enforcement of FEMA provisions across the country remains challenging. There have been instances of non-uniform interpretation and implementation by different authorities.
  • Need for Continuous Adaptation: The global economic landscape is dynamic, and ongoing changes may necessitate continuous adaptations to FEMA. Striking the right balance between liberalisation and necessary controls requires careful consideration.


The Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999 is a cornerstone of India’s economic liberalisation and globalisation journey. By replacing the archaic Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1973, FEMA has paved the way for a more open and dynamic foreign exchange regime. Its emphasis on liberalisation, facilitation, and adaptability to global changes has played a pivotal role in attracting foreign investment, fostering economic growth, and strengthening India’s position in the worldwide marketplace. While challenges and criticisms exist, ongoing efforts to address these issues underscore the importance of a robust and flexible regulatory framework in managing foreign exchange transactions in the 21st century.

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