Who gets the most (and least) vacation

When it comes to taking a holiday, it's best to be Finnish, and (not quite) the worst to be American. A new study ranks countries by their paid time-off policies.

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's the start of vacation season, but you can probably count on one hand, if that, the people you know who are taking off several weeks this summer.

The tally likely would be much higher if you also had friends from, say, Finland, where workers must get a minimum of 30 days paid vacation plus up to 14 paid holidays a year. That makes it the country with the most generous paid time off laws out of 49 nations surveyed by human resource consulting firm Mercer. (See how the countries rank in the table below.)

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Besides getting less vacation than workers in many other countries, Americans often don't use all the time that they do get, and what vacation they take is spent in small slices and often in contact with the office, according to findings from other studies.

Unlike in most other countries, there is no federal law mandating that companies pay employees for time off or that they grant them a minimum amount of vacation days unpaid.

The typical practice in the United States - among large companies anyway - is 15 days paid vacation and 10 days of paid holidays for full-time employees with 10 years of tenure, Mercer found.

Another study, by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), found the norm to be much lower when considering companies of all sizes and workers of all tenures: 9 days of paid vacation with 6 days of paid holidays. It also estimates that almost one in four U.S. workers don't get any paid days off at all.

Joe Robinson, who runs the Work to Live Campaign and advocates for a minimum paid-leave law in the United States, contends a vacation system based on tenure, which is typical at U.S. companies, leaves U.S. workers with consistently low vacation benefits given how frequently people change jobs during a career.

All members of the European Union, by contrast, must provide workers with a minimum of 20 paid vacation days a year plus public holidays.

One reason may be a stronger relationship than exists in the United States between employer and employee, who is seen more on the level of shareholder in Europe, said Mark Sullivan, a worldwide partner at Mercer who conducted that firm's time-off study. Another may be the existence of legally mandated work councils, which represent employee interests in talks with employers, he said.

What's more, Sullivan added, companies in Europe are more likely to encourage workers to take at least two-week breaks at a time because they have seen an increase in work-stress-related absences and are increasingly concerned about potential litigation or long-term sickness or disabilities that result from work-related stress. Top of page

Country/Region Minimum Paid
Vacation Days
Paid public holidays Total
Australia 20 11 (avg.) 31**
Austria 25 13 38
Belgium 20 10 30
Bulgaria 20 12 32
Canada 10 10 (avg.) 20
Cyprus 21 15 36
Czech Rep. 20 11 31
Denmark 25 10 35
Egypt 21 16 37
Estonia 28 10 38
Finland 30 14 44
France 30 10 40
Germany 24 10 34
Greece 25 12 37
Hong Kong 14 12 26
Hungary 23 (if over thirty-one yrs old) 10 33
India 12 19 31
Indonesia 12 13 25
Ireland 20   9 29
Israel 24 16 (avg.) 40
Italy 20 11 31
Japan 20 15 35
Latvia 20 11 31
Lebanon 15 18 33
Lithuania 28 12 40
Luxembourg 25 10 35
Malaysia 16 12 + state holidays 28 + state holidays
Malta 24 14 38
Morocco 21 19 40
Netherlands 20   8 28
New Zealand 20 11 31
Pakistan 14 14 28
Philippines   5 14 19
Poland 26 10 36
Portugal 22 12 34
Romania 21   7 28
Singapore 14 12 26
Slovakia 20 15 35
Slovenia 20 16 36
South Africa 21 12 33
South Korea 19 11 30
Spain 22 14 36
Sweden 25 11 36
Taiwan 14 11 25
Thailand   6 13 19
United Arab Emirates 30   9 39
United Kingdom 20   8 28
United States 15* 10* 25*
Vietnam 14   8 22
*These numbers reflect typical practice among large U.S. firms. There is no federal law requiring employers to give a minimum number of vacation days and holidays off, paid or unpaid.

**Correction: Due to a typo, an earlier version of this table incorrectly stated that the total number of paid days off in Australia is 41. It is, in fact, 31.

Source: Mercer Human Resource Consulting