As we await the launch of Motley Fool Global Gains , our new international investing service, we are taking a look back at some of our best international stock ideas. This article was originally published on March 28, 2006.

We all love to pick stocks that beat the market by 10 to 20 percentage points over a flat year. Now, imagine you earned the same outperformance in a market that climbed more than 50%. Impossible?

Maybe in the United States, but not abroad.

A brave new world
Just last year, markets in Austria, Egypt, Turkey, and South Korea delivered better than 50% returns, and that's no one-year fluke. In 2004, Mexico, Indonesia, Iceland, and Egypt (again) produced similarly great results. Look back to 2003 and you'll find a near-doubling of the Brazilian market, as well as very strong performance in places as diverse as Mexico, Indonesia, and Singapore.

The basic fuel here is not hard to understand -- growth, and lots of it. The U.S. economy (in terms of gross domestic product) grew approximately 2.9% last year. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, grew 4.4%, while Indonesia grew 4.9% and Chile grew 5.2%. And the much-fabled "Chindia" grew 8% and 6.8%, respectively, more than doubling our domestic performance.

And it's not always just about finding the right country. Many of the top-performing stocks in a variety of industries are based overseas. Switzerland's Novartis (NYSE:NVS) has far surpassed U.S. pharmaceutical rival Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). Germany's SAP (NYSE:SAP) has trounced our own Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) in terms of stock performance, and foreign banks such as Mitsubishi UFJ have left American institutions such as Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) choking on their total return dust.

Even mighty Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has barely bested the returns of China's NetEase over the past year. Look at any industry and you'll see a foreign competitor growing, and growing fast.

The next superpower
Just imagine it: A far-off country with a growing population that's getting more affluent and educated with each passing year. The folks there are building out their transportation and communications systems, and the average person in the street is looking to spend their growing wealth on comforts and luxuries. Within a generation, this will be a world economic power, and its influence will stretch around the globe.

The best part for you is that no one is looking there ... yet. While the investing world is full of smart cookies, there's also a lot of fear, stubbornness, and force of habit that keep folks investing only in the United States. That's why you should look elsewhere -- the guy in the next cube probably isn't.

How much, and where?
Investment analysts and advisors seldom agree on much of anything, but there seems to be broad agreement that international investing should play a role in almost everyone's portfolio. Suggested allocations range from the very modest (10% or so) to the more aggressive (40% or more), but the bottom line is that almost everybody should be looking at international equities.

You know this, of course. It's been all over the news. But maybe you don't have the time or familiarity with foreign markets and companies to properly explore their opportunities and risks -- such as unfamiliar accounting practices or lenient corporate governance.

Fool's final word
The world around us is growing -- and fast. As an investor, that means opportunity. Don't be the last person on your block to put your money to work the world over.

If you can't wait for the launch of our Motley Fool Global Gains newsletter, click here to gain access to the Fool's free Global Gains Special Report.

Foolish research associate Katrina Chan updated this article, which was originally written by Stephen Simpson. Pfizer and Microsoft are Inside Value recommendations. Bank of America is an Income Investor recommendation. NetEase is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy has never been vetoed by the United Nations.