International diversified large-company funds

A sagging dollar has aided recent returns of funds in this category, although there have been plenty of land mines for managers to navigate, including the sovereign debt crisis that continues to roil Europe and the threat of inflation that prompted some emerging economies, including China and Brazil, to take measures to blunt economic growth.

The value-oriented Dodge & Cox International Stock (DODFX) fund and the growth-oriented Harbor International (HIINX) fund have been solid long-term performers. Harbor hasn't faltered since the death last year of its founding manager, Hakan Castegren.

Another well-run value fund worth noting is Oakmark International (OAKIX), run by David Herro since 1992.

Small- and midsize-company international funds

Investors were rewarded for taking risks over the past year, and this was as true in overseas markets as it was on the home front. While the winners in this group soared, they generally charged high annual fees. Over longer stretches, it pays to pay attention to expenses.

A favorite in this category is the T. Rowe Price International Discovery (PRIDX) fund, the granddaddy of small-company overseas funds. The 20-year figure is meaningless, given that Discovery is the only fund in this group with a record that long. But being a 10-year winner speaks to the fund's consistency. The fund has been in the top half of its category in six of the past nine years, as well as in the first half of 2011.

The value-oriented Oakmark International Small Cap (OAKEX) fund beat its peers by an average of 23 percentage points in 2009.

Global stock funds

Funds in this category can invest anywhere.

Morningstar puts the little-known Encompass (ENCPX) fund in this group. But Encompass also resembles a sector fund about 75% of its assets are in small and micro-cap companies in the energy and precious metals sectors, and 14% of assets are in U.S. stocks. Encompass plunged 62% in 2008, soared 137% in 2009 and gained 60% last year. Since it can go into any sector, if its managers identify the next big thing, we'll know they weren't just lucky.

Among the category's more sedate offerings is the Oakmark Global (OAKGX) fund. An intriguing fund is Old Westbury Global Small and Mid Cap (OWSMX), which is sponsored by old-money institutional manager Bessemer Trust. The fund uses Dimensional Fund Advisors as one of its four managers, so you can tap DFA's expertise without hiring a DFA-approved adviser.

Diversified emerging-markets funds

After a torrid stretch, investments in places like India and Brazil have cooled off a bit. The MSCI Emerging Markets index soared 79% in 2009 and gained 19% last year, though it earned a mere 1% in the first half of 2011.

Emerging-market stocks are about 50% more volatile than U.S. stocks, so tread cautiously here. Speaking of volatility, take a Dramamine before buying the Wasatch Small Cap Growth (WAAEX) fund, which invests in fast-growing companies. It soared 118% in 2009 and 41% last year but plunged 57% in 2008, its first full year.

If you can buy the Oppenheimer Developing Markets (ODMAX) fund without paying a load, go for it; it has been a relatively steady performer and has a fine long-term record. Another favorite in this category is the T. Rowe Price Emerging Markets Stock (PRMSX) fund, which barely missed making the winners list over five and 10 years.

Regional and single-country funds

This category could be a good place to look if you want to add spice to your portfolio.

One-year figures say Europe is on the march, but short-term results can mislead. Looking ahead, you're almost sure to earn more in faster-growing regions, namely Asia and, to a lesser degree, Latin America.

Another option is the 5-year-old Royce European Small Companies (RISCX) fund -- the Royce fund family has a long and distinguished record of investing in small, undervalued companies in the United States.

The Matthews funds, including Matthews Pacific Tiger (MAPTX) and Matthews Asia Dividend Investor (MAPIX), are run by veteran managers who live in the Asia-Pacific region and focus on regional investments, making these funds less risky than single-country funds.

If you want to bet on one country, consider the Fidelity Canada (FICDX) fund. Canada is no longer being overlooked by investors, who are drawn north by abundant natural resources and a strong currency. In addition, Canada's banks are in decent shape.