15 Freedoms Abroad That Americans Can Only Dream Of

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Imagine a world where the everyday constraints you’ve come to accept as ‘normal’ simply don’t exist. Where the pursuit of health, happiness, and well-being isn’t just a lofty ideal but a series of tangible realities stitched into the very fabric of society.

While the U.S. champions certain liberties, American expats and travel enthusiasts often find themselves envying the everyday norms of other countries. 

The Right to Disconnect

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Imagine a life where once you’re off the clock, you’re truly off. In countries like France, workers are legally protected from having to check their work email or take phone calls after their workday ends, thanks to the “Right to Disconnect” law enacted in 2017. This law encourages a healthy work-life balance and ensures that personal time stays just that — personal.

Healthcare Without the Threat of Bankruptcy

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An estimated 530,000 families file for bankruptcy each year due to medical issues and bills. Thanks to universal healthcare systems, residents in the UK, Canada, and other nations enjoy accessible and affordable (or free) medical services. These systems prioritize preventive care, mental health, and overall health, saving millions from the stress and financial burden of medical bills. 

Parental Leave

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For many new parents in the U.S., the thrill of a newborn is tempered by the anxieties of returning to work all too soon. Countries like Sweden, Norway, and Iceland get to experience what seems akin to a parenting utopia. Imagine this: up to 480 days of parental leave in Sweden, with 390 of those days paid at around 80% of your salary. Parents can take leave at the same time, share it, save it for later, and even enjoy specific ‘daddy months’ aimed at encouraging fathers to spend more time with their newborns.

Work-Life Balance

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The notion of the 9-to-5 job is a distant memory for some. In places like Norway and Denmark, the standard workweek is 37 hours, with generous vacation time and holidays that equate to months more free time than the average American enjoys (upwards of 25 days of holiday bliss annually, not counting public holidays.) Work to live, not live to work, couldn’t be a more apt descriptor of the Scandinavian approach to life.


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According to the College Board, the average annual cost for tuition and fees in the U.S. ranged from $10,740 for state residents at public colleges to $38,070 for private colleges in the 2021-2022 academic year – not including room and board. Countries like Germany and Norway are the stars of this show, offering tuition-free or heavily subsidized university education. In Germany, for instance, public universities charge no tuition fees for all undergraduate students, including international ones!

No Tipping Culture in Hospitality

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In Japan, the ethos of exceptional service is embedded in the culture, ensuring that every dining and hospitality encounter is top-notch without the need for extra incentives. In France, the service charge (“service compris”) is legally included in the bill, ensuring that workers in hospitality earn a fair wage without relying on the uncertainties of tipping.

Gun Control and Safety

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In Japan, the right to own a gun is not just regulated; it’s a privilege that comes with an extensive screening process, including mental health evaluations, rigorous training courses, and detailed background checks. Down under in Australia, the aftermath of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre led to a sweeping overhaul of gun laws, including a massive buyback program that drastically reduced the number of firearms in civilian hands. 

Privacy Laws

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Adopted in the wake of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), privacy laws in the E.U. are robust and give individuals far more control over their personal data. Imagine being able to tell a company, “Forget me completely,” and they actually have to do it! Or browse the web without being bombarded by ads tailored to your last online search.

Environmental Policies

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Legislation and cultural norms in nations like New Zealand and Bhutan placed them at the forefront of environmental protection. Denmark is on a fast track to becoming carbon neutral, with laws ensuring a 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 compared to levels recorded in 1990. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Right to Public Access (`Allemansrätten`) generously grants everyone the liberty to explore and enjoy its vast natural landscapes responsibly.

Social Safety Nets

Social Safety
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The term’ welfare state’ is often used pejoratively in the U.S., but in countries like Denmark and Canada, it’s a source of national pride. An expansive social safety net means that citizens don’t live in fear of healthcare costs, unemployment, or poverty in old age. They see these programs not as handouts but as a reflection of their societies’ values and a critical support structure.

Affordable and Livable Housing

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While many Americans juggle mortgages or sky-high rents, folks in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands live the dream. In Denmark, for example, cooperative housing allows people to have quality homes at cost price, which means living spaces are more about community and affordability than profit. Meanwhile, the Dutch approach includes strict rent control and a substantial supply of social housing, ensuring that a wide range of incomes can access good-quality housing.

Comprehensive Public Transportation

Comprehensive Public Transportation
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Owning a car is seen as a right in most of the U.S. In cities like Tokyo, Paris, and Copenhagen, where residents and visitors alike zip around with ease, leaving the car keys at home. This commitment to public transportation reduces traffic, cuts carbon emissions, and even pares down the cost of living by eliminating the need for a car. 

Broadband Internet as a Basic Right

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In places like Estonia, Finland, and Spain, broadband internet is considered a fundamental right, ensuring that every citizen can stay connected, informed, and engaged with the world around them. Finland was one of the first to declare broadband access a legal right, setting the internet pace by ensuring that every Finn has the right to a 1Mbps (megabit per second) internet connection.

Leisure Time and Access to Culture

Leisure Time
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Parks and public spaces are vital where Americans may largely rely on commercial venues for their leisure. France’s commitment to culture is woven into the fabric of society with initiatives like the Culture Pass. This ingenious program gifts 18-year-olds €300 to spend on movies, books, concerts, and more, ensuring that access to culture is not just for the well-off but a shared treasure.

Freedom to Roam and Explore

Freedom to Roam and Explore
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This dream is a daily reality in countries like Sweden, thanks to the incredible “Everyman’s Right” (Allemansrätten). This right allows public access to most natural lands, including private ones, for recreation and enjoyment. 

Whether it’s hiking through verdant forests, foraging for wild berries, or setting up a tent for a night under the stars, the freedom to roam is woven into the fabric of society. Americans, used to navigating a maze of private property and “No Trespassing” signs, can only marvel at this concept. 

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