If you’ve read through 30 Ways in 30 Days, you know that one of the major benefits of the expat lifestyle is more free time. Specifically, in this case, more free time to spend with your family. And while I mostly discuss the work versus free time concept there and in The Expat Guidebook, there is another aspect to “more free time” than merely time away from work, and that is maternity leave.
There is no time more important for a mother and a father to spend with their newborn than when the child is first born and taking its first breaths in this world. Those first few weeks and months are critical to not only ensuring the health of your child but also the bond with your new addition into the family. And while the United States makes plenty of loud and boastful claims about the “family values” present on U.S. soil, the sad fact of the matter is that they are decades behind the rest of the world when it comes to actually following through on giving families the time they need to ensure the health and wellness as well as the happiness of mothers and newborns.
It’s not just about the mothers, though. There are more than 50 countries around the world (of which the U.S. is not one) which also offer paid maternity leave for fathers, understanding that the importance of the family unit is paramount to anything else. Not to mention, when you can ensure the happiness and well-being of your people, a government can go a long way to ensuring the productivity of its people. Happy people not only work harder, but they are also more likely to stay put rather than look somewhere else for a home.
If you check the global statistics, the United States falls woefully short in comparison to the vast majority of other countries around the world at providing its families with time off from work when a baby is born. Furthermore, it is one of the only countries in the world where maternity leave is (for the most part) completely unpaid, which means the time you take off work is out of your pocket…and you are only allowed a maximum of 12 weeks off before your employer can legally fire you (different states have different laws).
Bulgaria, on the other hand, offers 410 calendar days of paid maternity leave (45 of which must be taken before the birth of the child) at a 90% salary rate, with an optional second year at minimum salary, and the father can take the place of the mother, such as in the case of women who have higher salaries than their husbands. Similarly, Denmark allows 52 weeks (a full year) of paid maternity leave, two of which can be taken by the father, and the rest as the parents see fit.
There are more than just financial benefits to living abroad as an expat. Yes, you can save tens of thousands of dollars by living in a place like Bulgaria where the cost of living is $15,000 – $20,000 or so a year compared to the $60,000 a year that a family of four needs in the United States. And yes, you can save on taxes due to tax treaties and lower income tax in these countries (provided you are using the legal loopholes currently available depending on your home country). But more important than any of that is the emphasis on family that so many other countries have, and the respect given to pregnant women who have carried a child within their wombs for nine months and gone through the difficulty of childbirth.
12 weeks a year maximum or six months and beyond in other countries? I’m no rocket scientist, but the math is fairly straightforward even for an uneducated person such as myself. As a parent, what’s your take?