The next time your employer raises their eyebrows when you ask for time off, tell them this: a vacation will make you better at your job.
Studies show that ditching the office cubicle to explore the world can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve family relationships, boost happiness and — key for your work performance — increase focus and productivity.
Fortunately, some countries are hip to these benefits, offering employees weeks and even months off to get out of town. Unfortunately, others remain stuck in the Dark Ages, offering minimal or even zero (yes, zero) mandated days off.
Looking at paid vacation days and paid public holidays, we’ve rounded up some of the best and worst time-off policies across the globe. Note that in all these countries, employers are also free to increase paid vacation time at their discretion.
Dear bosses: hint, hint.
The Best Vacation Policies
In addition to its charitable vacation time, Kuwait provides paid time off for 13 public holidays.
More than that, it takes great care of its majority-Muslim workers. After two years of continuous service at a company, employees who haven’t taken Haj — the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to take — can receive an additional 21 days of paid leave to attend.
With this factored in, the total time off can be 64 days, or the equivalent of nearly 13 weeks!
Uniquely, Brazilian workers have the right to receive a “vacation bonus” instead of taking their leave. Up to 10 days of vacation leave can be converted into cash, and employers cannot deny the request.
The country additionally boasts 11 national paid public holidays, plus many states and municipalities celebrate their own holidays, offering still more time off.
When Brazilians use their time to travel, they prefer heading to the United States, where Orlando, Miami, New York, L.A. and Vegas are particularly beloved vacation spots. They also love exploring their own country, often heading to coastal locales like Porto Seguro and Maceio.
While its vacation policy is healthy, only one public holiday in France must be given as a paid day off: May Day, aka Fete du Travail, which (fittingly) celebrates the achievements of workers. But there are 10 more holidays that employers may include as paid time off, and often do.
Typically, French people use their vacation days to explore their beloved home country, with forays to the coastal South of France especially popular.
Malta offers not only over a month of paid leave, but 14 paid public holidays, the most in the European Union.
This includes many religious holidays (the country is majority Roman Catholic), such as Good Friday, Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas Day. Unique to Malta is the Feast of St. Peter, a holiday that honors the apostle getting shipwrecked on the island in AD 60.
By law, full-time employees in Iceland are entitled to a minimum of two working days of paid leave every year for each month they work. So 24 days is the absolute minimum.
Still, Icelanders aren’t particularly good at utilizing their time off to travel or enjoy other leisure pursuits. Of the 36 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, Iceland ranks 32nd when it comes to devoting time to leisure and personal care.
Austria knows how to reward its workers: while its legal minimum is 25 paid vacation days, those who’ve worked 25 years or more are entitled to 30 days.
It also bakes in more time off every week; employees are encouraged to leave work at 3 p.m. every Friday. (TGIF!)
And if workers have to work on holidays, they’re compensated with time off in lieu, or twice their daily wage.
Not only is Spain quite generous with its vacation time, but its siesta afternoon break is still a major part of the working day for many employees. This reprieve from work during the hottest time of day gives people the chance to go home for a meal, visit with family or take a nap before returning to the grind.
When Spaniards use their time off to get away, they often stay within Europe. But the Asia-Pacific region is becoming increasingly popular for trips.
In the UK, paid leave — already generous — can also increase with years of service.
Brits use this time primarily to explore other European locales; the most popular spots for travel are Spain, France, Italy and Ireland, followed by the United States.
Full- and part-time workers in New Zealand are entitled to a robust four weeks of paid time off. And anyone who works on any of the nation’s 11 public holidays must be paid time-and-a-half and given a day in lieu.
When Kiwis get out of town, they often head to Australia, the South Pacific, North America and the UK.
Full-time employees receive four weeks of paid leave every year, while shiftworkers — those who work on a shift schedule — are entitled to five weeks. This is in addition to 10-13 paid public holidays, depending on the region.
Famously keen on traveling, Aussies use their time off to visit an appealingly diverse group of countries. The most popular are New Zealand, Indonesia, the U.S., the UK and Thailand.
The Worst Vacation Policies
The U.S. is the only economically developed country with no federally mandated paid leave. Some 76 percent of private industry workers, and 84.7 percent of all workers, receive paid vacation days, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But because this time off isn’t required, others are stuck working with zero days to take a breather.
The same goes for holidays, which employers can honor as they see fit. And a culture of fear rules: as many as 1 in 4 U.S. workers do not take their full paid holiday entitlement because they're worried they'll lose their jobs if they do.
China is among the least generous nations for vacation benefits, giving workers no paid leave during their entire first year of employment. After one year of work, employees get just five days of paid leave. After 10 years, they receive 10 days of paid vacation, rising to 15 days after more than 20 years.
In better news, workers do enjoy 11 paid public holidays, including two semi-annual week-long holidays known as Golden Weeks.
Interestingly, the country also offers half-days off to certain groups of people. On International Women’s Day, for instance, women are entitled to a half-day away from the office.
Not only is six days off skimpy, but this leave is only offered after 12 months of continuous service. Fortunately, workers also enjoy 11 paid public holidays.
According to data from the International Labour Organization, this is one of the least generous African nations when it comes to vacation time.
(Among the best? South Africa, which mandates 21 consecutive days of paid annual leave, one day off for every 17 days worked, or one hour off for every 17 hours worked.)
Although paid annual leave allowances vary by province in Canada, most employees receive a minimum of two weeks of paid vacation every year, but only after 12 consecutive months of employment. After six years of continuous service, this gets bumped up to three weeks of paid leave.
Additional time off comes in the form of 6-10 paid public holidays, depending on the province.
For a country otherwise known for its progressive policies, this is surprisingly ho-hum.
In Mexico, there’s incentive to stay with the same employer; each year of employment at the same company, the holiday allotment increases by two working days (up to a maximum of 12).
Benefits slow down after the fourth year of service — paid vacation only increases by two days for every five years of employment after that.
There are also eight paid public holidays observed nationwide.
After a year of employment, vacation entitlement can increase at the discretion of the employer, so some workers do just fine here. The country also enjoys a healthy 13 paid public holidays.
Still, this isn't much, landing Thailand near the bottom of the pack.
Per the Singapore Employment Act, workers can eventually get up to 14 days of paid time off, depending on how long they've been with their employer. They're also entitled to 11 public holidays.
This act doesn’t, though, apply to domestic workers, seafarers or employees in managerial or executive positions making more than a certain amount of money.
Japan's vacation allotment increases by one additional day of leave for each year of employment, maxing out at 20 days of leave. Workers have the option to roll over unused leave, but they must use it within the next year.
One bright spot here is the holiday schedule. Many employers offer four paid holidays during Golden Week, with many companies closing down altogether. The New Year in January and August Obon Festival are also often celebrated with paid time off.
For the first two years of employment, full-time workers in Malaysia receive eight days of paid leave. This increases to 12 days after two years of service, and 16 days after five years.
To be fair, though, Malaysia is generous with its public holidays, both national and regional. Depending on where they work, some employees could be entitled to an additional 19 days off.
Up until recently, employees in the Philippines were only given five days of annual leave, but there’s good news for Filipino workers. A recently approved bill has doubled paid leave to 10 days. This is in addition to 11 paid public holidays.
A boost in morale, wellness and productivity among workers were cited as reasons behind the push for longer leave. Let’s hope other nations on this list take notice!