Clubs spent a total of £1.65 billion on recruiting players from other countries, down 10 percent on the previous year, according to a study by FIFA's Transfer Matching System.
It was too early to say whether the global economic crisis or pressure on clubs to curb losses was dampening the market, TMS General Manager Marc Goddard said, adding that the TMS survey of the market was only in its second year.
Teams from England, where the Premier League enjoys the world's most lucrative television deals, were the biggest net spenders, paying out £205 million in 2012.
The next three highest spenders were less predictable - Russia £167 million, Turkey £51 million and China £32 million - showing the growing influence of these fast-developing economies on the football world.
English teams also paid out the highest fees to middlemen involved in brokering transfers. Where agents were involved in deals, the average commission paid by clubs around the globe was 28 percent.
Brazilian clubs were the biggest beneficiaries of transfer spending, reaping £79 million. Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times and the country has a history of exporting top players.
Oscar, who joined Chelsea from Internacional last July, was one of almost 1,500 players with Brazilian nationality involved in international transfers last year.
Italian clubs paid the highest salaries for new international hires - an average of £470,000 per year. By contrast, players moving to Argentina were paid on average £26,000.
FIFA's TMS was set up to help to promote a transparent and efficient global transfer market. Its study does not cover domestic deals.
- Sports & Recreation