Many U.S. investors never stray far from home when they pick stocks. It's easy to buy shares of the companies you know and love in your everyday life, and a lack of familiarity with overseas businesses can make foreign businesses seem risky as investment picks.

However, emerging market economies have some of the best growth prospects in the world, and that can make emerging markets a great place to invest. Rather than picking individual stocks, many investors feel more comfortable with exchange-traded funds in the emerging markets space. The following three are among the largest in the area, and although they have slight differences, they all stand to benefit if emerging markets perform well in 2020.

Emerging Market ETF

Assets Under Management

Expense Ratio

1-Year Return

Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets (VWO 0.17%)

$65.4 billion



iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets (IEMG -0.04%)

$61.9 billion



Schwab Emerging Markets Equity (SCHE 0.12%)

$6.7 billion



Data sources: fund providers,

The biggest fund in the business

Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets has been a low-cost option in the emerging markets space for nearly 15 years. The fund includes stocks from across the world, with roughly half its assets invested in Chinese stocks and shares of companies in Taiwan. India, Brazil, and South Africa round out the top five in terms of country-level exposure, but you'll find a wide array of other countries represented in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

With more than 5,000 stocks in the portfolio, the Vanguard ETF offers the ultimate in diversification, with even more stocks than you'll find in the fund's benchmark index. The fund's performance has lagged the returns that most U.S. investors are more familiar for domestic stocks, but that's in line with how emerging markets have done recently. Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets has demonstrated itself as an industry leader among emerging markets ETFs, and it's still a solid choice for those looking for the broadest possible exposure.

Currencies of various foreign countries.

Image source: Getty Images.

Building on an innovator

iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets isn't all that old, but another iShares fund was the first to enter the emerging markets space back in 2004. The core version of this fund was designed to minimize the ETF's expense ratio, making it more suitable for long-term investors. The MSCI index that this ETF tracks is arguably the most popular index of international stocks, and when Vanguard chose to change its benchmarks in recent years to save on licensing costs, that left iShares as the sole leader following that index.

The iShares ETF's portfolio has fewer stocks than Vanguard's, but at nearly 2,500 holdings, there's plenty of diversification. The MSCI index includes South Korean stocks in its benchmark, and that represents the biggest difference between the iShares and Vanguard offerings, accounting for much of the performance difference over the past year. Fees are only a bit above what Vanguard charges, making this a perfectly good entry in the emerging market ETF space.

An up-and-comer in the emerging ETF world

Schwab Emerging Markets is the newest of these ETFs, having gotten its start in 2010. But it's made a good showing in breaking into a market dominated by its larger rivals. The ETF tracks a FTSE index of emerging markets, which it has in common with the Vanguard ETF. The Schwab portfolio closely resembles Vanguard's, but Schwab only invests in roughly 1,200 to 1,300 stocks in its fund.

The Schwab ETF has done a good job of tracking its index, delivering returns in line with what most emerging markets investors have seen. As part of Schwab's broader ETF strategy, the emerging markets ETF helps flesh out the broker's overall lineup to let clients cover as many of their investing needs as possible with Schwab's own funds.

Take a look at emerging markets

U.S. stocks have done well in recent years, outperforming many international markets. But relative returns between U.S. and foreign stocks tend to run in cycles. If you're looking to diversify into emerging markets, any of these three ETFs can give you broad-based exposure that will let you participate in the growth of these small but fast-growing global economies.