Confronted with economic instability, collapsing incomes, and rapidly rising unemployment that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union, people began emigrating from Moldova on a large scale in the first half of the 1990s. The Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova has estimated that 1,200,000 to two million Moldovan citizens (almost 45% of a population of some 3.6 million) are working abroad, most illegally. Only around 80,000 are estimated to be in their destination country legally. Russia (especially Moscow region), Italy, Ukraine, Romania, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Israel are the main destinations (in decreasing order of importance). Due to the clandestine nature of these migration flows, however, no official statistics exist. Some 500,000 Moldovans are thought to be working in Russia, mainly in construction. Another estimate puts the number of Moldovans in Italy at 500,000. Moldovan citizens are drawn toward countries that speak their language or a similar one, such as Moldovans to Romance-speaking countries, Russians and Ukrainians to Russia or Ukraine, or the Turkic-speaking Gagauz to Turkey.
Remittances from Moldovans abroad account for almost 24,9% of Moldova's GDP, the fifth-highest percentage in the world.