Benefits & Leave 2 min

The best countries for paternity and maternity leave

Written by Francesco Cardi
April 22, 2024
Francesco Cardi


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Having a child can be a magical time for new parents, but it isn’t without its challenges — sleep deprivation is practically a given, of course, and running a household while caring for a newborn can be tough.

But for working parents, there’s an added quandary — how much time can they take off work while still being able to manage their finances? This is where maternity and paternity leave come in, giving parents the option to take paid leave during the first weeks or months of their new child’s life.

Parental leave is an important consideration for businesses and their employees, making it essential that employers understand the rights of new parents. 

Providing maternity and paternity leave isn’t just crucial from a legal compliance perspective, though — it also has a profound impact on employee engagement and talent retention. It helps to establish a supportive culture that understands the impact parental leave can have on people’s lives and well-being.  

Of course, different countries and companies have different parental leave policies. Some offer more support than others. 

In this article, we’ve delved deep into the topic of maternity and paternity leave by analyzing the maternity and paternity leave data of leading countries to discover the countries that offer the best parental leave.

Leading countries and their maternity and paternity leave

Basing our study on countries with a strong global presence and economic positioning, we analyzed each of their respective parental leave policies, taking into account factors such as the number of weeks paid and the percentage of pay offered during the leave period.

Note that while the duration and rate of pay for parents is a key indicator of a strong parental leave policy, additional factors such as support for adoption, surrogacy, and children’s sickness provide a more holistic picture of what a good parental leave policy looks like.

It’s also important to note that this study represents the statutory minimum requirements for parental leave in each country. Employers in many of these countries can, and often do, offer enhanced parental benefits that go beyond the basics.

Employers that go above and beyond to support new parents may have a distinct advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, with more generous and supportive leave packages marking them as empathetic employers who care deeply about their employees’ wellbeing.

In turn, this can foster greater loyalty from existing employees while making the company more attractive to prospective candidates who may one day consider starting a family.

Countries with the best maternity and paternity leave

20 Global Leaders Ranked for Best Statutory Maternity and Paternity Leave


















United Kingdom






New Zealand




South Korea










South Africa




United States

Reviewing statutory maternity and paternity leave in each country based on the number of weeks allowed and the rate of pay offered, we ranked the countries in our initial list for their combined maternity and paternity leave cover.

Europe unequivocally leads the way, perhaps partly driven by the EU’s directive which stipulates that members must offer a minimum of 10 days paternity leave. Poland and Spain share the top spot as the best countries for maternity and paternity leave from the nations reviewed, with Norway and the Netherlands coming in just behind. Singapore is the highest-ranked non-European nation in the study. 

It’s perhaps telling that Spain also ranked highly in our Global Life-Work Balance Index, highlighting its positive working culture and strong overall commitment to employee wellbeing. The country is particularly generous on paternity leave, offering 12 weeks statutory leave (more than double any other nation) with 100% pay. 

And while Poland (with 20 weeks) has a less generous statutory maternity leave period than Norway and the UK, for example (54 and 39 weeks respectively), the country offers a payment rate of up to 100% for new mothers and fathers — though it’s important to consider that the Polish government doesn’t recognize same-sex parents in the same way.

At the bottom end is the United States, a country with a notoriously restrictive approach to employee rights. The US offers no statutory paid maternity or paternity leave but permits eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. That said, it’s important to note some states, companies, and organizations offer their own paid parental leave benefits.

The United Kingdom has a respectable record in this area, with a statutory paid maternity leave period of 39 weeks only bettered by Norway. The rate of maternity pay isn’t quite so generous — most new mums get 90% of their salary for the first six weeks only —  but the UK does rank well for paternity leave and pay.

What is maternity leave?

Maternity leave is the period of time a mother takes off from work at or around the time of having a child. It’s primarily designed to allow the mother time to recover from childbirth while also giving them time to bond with their newborn. 

As we’ve discovered, the specifics of maternity leave — particularly in terms of duration and pay — vary widely between different countries and employers. Most countries mandate paid maternity leave, with some offering a certain percentage of the employee’s salary. Some countries, like the US, offer unpaid maternity leave in certain cases.

New mothers are not necessarily required to take the full amount of maternity leave allowed to them. If they decide to return to work earlier, they can usually do so at their discretion depending on the country’s laws and their personal circumstances.

Who is eligible for maternity leave?

Eligibility for maternity leave typically depends on the laws and policies of specific countries — as well as the policies of individual employers — but generally, it’s determined by factors such as your employment status and how long you’ve worked for your current employer.

To be eligible for maternity leave in most countries, the following requirements apply:

  • In most cases, you must be a permanent, full-time employee.

  • You must have worked for your employer for a certain amount of time (usually 6-12 months).

  • You must inform your employer of your pregnancy and your intended leave dates well in advance.

  • If your employer requests it, you may need to provide a medical certificate to confirm your pregnancy and due date.

In some countries, both full-time and part-time employees are eligible for maternity leave, provided they meet ‌tenure requirements. In the UK, self-employed people may be eligible for a maternity allowance, which is similar to statutory maternity pay but less financially generous. 

Additionally, certain countries have provisions for adoptive and surrogate parents to be eligible for similar leave benefits. 

Countries with the longest maternity leave

While not topping the overall list for combined parental leave policies, Norway is certainly the most generous country when it comes to the duration of its statutory maternity leave — offering just over a full year of leave at 96% pay. 

Statutory paid maternity leave in weeks: 

  • Norway: 54

  • United Kingdom: 39

  • India: 26

  • New Zealand: 26

  • Italy: 21

  • Australia: 20

  • Poland: 20

  • Denmark: 18

  • South Africa: 17

  • France: 16

  • Spain: 16

  • Netherlands: 16

  • Canada: 15

  • Germany: 14

  • Japan: 14

  • Switzerland: 14

  • Sweden: 12

  • Singapore: 12

  • South Korea: 12

Not all countries offer full pay across the duration of the leave period — only Germany, Singapore, Spain, and Poland pay up to 100%. While mothers in the UK can take 39 weeks of paid maternity leave, for example, the first six weeks are paid at 90% with the remaining 36 typically much lower, depending on the individual’s salary.

It’s also important to remember that the length of parental leave (maternity or paternity) doesn’t tell the whole story, with the inclusivity of policies also key. In Norway, for example, adoptive parents can exercise the same rights as birth parents, while similarly, in Germany, the same rules of maternity leave apply in the case of adoption.

What is paternity leave?

Paternity leave is a period of leave granted to fathers or the partners of birthing parents. It’s mostly there to help the father support their partner during the early postpartum period, while also giving them some time away from work to bond with their new child.

The specifics are dependent on individual countries and employers, but paternity leave is increasingly being recognized for its importance in supporting parents and their families. Paternity leave is typically much shorter than maternity leave, however, with fathers and husbands usually returning to work much sooner than their partners. 

Who is eligible for paternity leave?

Like maternity leave, eligibility for paternity leave largely depends on the laws of the country you’re working in as well as the policies of your employer. To be eligible for paternity leave in most countries, you must either be the father of the child, the husband, or partner of the birthing parent, or the adoptive or intended parent in cases of adoption or surrogacy.

In addition, as with maternity leave, the same criteria around employment status, length of service, and notice of intended leave generally apply in most countries.

Some organizations (and countries) may offer shared parental leave, which allows couples to split their leave for more flexibility over how they care for their newborn. In Sweden, for instance, both mothers and fathers are entitled to 480 days of parental leave at 80% of their usual salary.

Countries with the longest paternity leave

While most of the countries we analyzed offer between one and two weeks of statutory paternity leave, Spain and the Netherlands have far more generous allowances. In Spain, new fathers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, while in the Netherlands they can take six weeks.

Statutory paid paternity leave in weeks: 

  • Spain: 12

  • Netherlands: 6

  • Australia: 2

  • Denmark: 2

  • France 2

  • New Zealand: 2

  • Norway: 2

  • Poland: 2

  • Singapore: 2

  • United Kingdom: 2

  • South Africa: 1.5

  • South Korea: 1.5

  • Italy: 1

  • Sweden: 1

Along with Italy, Poland, and Singapore, Spain and the Netherlands also offer 100% pay for the full duration of paternity leave, with some countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Australia offering a much smaller percentage of the individual’s salary.

However, it’s important to note here that these are statutory minimums, and it is possible in some countries to divide leave between parents. Take Italy, for example, where three months are reserved for each parent, with an additional three months able to be transferred between parents.

Why is it important for companies to offer parental leave?

In most countries, employers must offer some form of parental leave — this is why it’s referred to as statutory, meaning something decided or controlled by law. That said, companies with a strong commitment to the wellbeing of parents may offer their own, more generous leave packages in addition to that which they’re legally required to offer.

For example, your employer may have an enhanced parental leave policy (also called contractual or occupational parental leave) whereby they offer to ‘top up’ your pay beyond the statutory minimum, offer an extended period of full pay, or both.

While employers aren’t required to go above and beyond, offering enhanced parental leave promotes a culture of support that prioritizes employee health and wellbeing. This has several potential benefits for businesses and their employees, including:

  • A healthy life-work balance. Parental leave allows new parents to recover from childbirth and adjust to the physical and emotional demands of caring for a newborn. By offering support during this time — as well as when employees are ready to return to work — employers can promote a healthy life-work balance that minimizes stress.

  • Strong morale and productivity. Employees who feel supported in their personal lives are likely to feel valued and respected, which often translates into higher morale. These employees are likely to be more engaged in their work, helping them maintain a high level of productivity. 

  • Higher retention rates. An employee is more likely to return to work if they know their role is secure and they’ll be supported while taking time off to care for their family. Moreover, employees who may be planning to have a family in the future are likely to be more committed to companies with fair parental leave policies.

  • Attractiveness to new talent. Companies that offer enhanced parental benefits may gain a competitive advantage over those offering the statutory minimum, with a strong parental leave policy making a company more attractive to prospective employees looking for a family-friendly workplace.

  • A positive corporate image. Organizations that offer generous parental leave policies are often viewed as progressive and socially responsible, which can enhance the company’s brand image and make it more appealing to customers, clients, and potential employees with strong values.

As an employer, offering fair parental leave requires a clear understanding of each country’s policies, which can be challenging when hiring remotely from overseas. 

If you’re looking to move to a country that has the best life-work balance, check out Remote’s Parental Life-Work Balance Index. Taking into account factors that affect working parents, including parental level policies, childcare costs, and access to healthcare, our informative study highlights the top 20 countries for parental life-work balance.

How can employees find out what they’re entitled to?

Since parental leave policies differ so much between countries and organizations, it can be difficult for an employee to know exactly what benefits they’re eligible for. However, there are a number of ways to find this information so that you can assess your options and make informed decisions about your family’s immediate future. Our advice would be to:

  • Review your country’s legislation. Government websites should provide clear information about country-specific leave entitlements and eligibility criteria, while our Country Guides offers up-to-date information on statutory leave in each country.

  • Check your company’s policies. Some employers offer parental leave benefits that go beyond the statutory minimum. Refer to your employee handbook or internal policy documents to check whether this is outlined here.

  • Consult your HR department. If you’re unsure about your entitlement to parental leave, your HR department should be able to provide specific advice about this and any other benefits your employer may offer for working parents.

Businesses should offer full transparency to their employees in this area. They should make it easy for employees to find information about the company’s parental leave policies, without having to hunt around for it. Employees should never be made to feel uncomfortable for asking questions on the topic — so it’s important for employers to ensure this information is readily available and clearly communicated to anyone who requires it.

What about working parents considering relocation?

Whether you’re planning to start a family in the future or are already expecting a new addition, you might be weighing the option of moving to a country with better parental leave and support provisions. Many countries offer visas and work permits for those considering relocation, but does this mean you’re entitled to the same parental benefits as residents of that country?

Well, entitlement to maternity and paternity leave benefits can vary significantly depending on the host country’s laws, the terms of the visa or work permit, the duration of your employment, and whether there are reciprocal agreements between the home and host countries regarding social security and employee benefits.

Generally speaking, the rules for maternity and paternity leave — including eligibility, duration, and compensation — are determined by the labor laws of the host country. Many countries provide these benefits to all workers, including foreign nationals, as long as they meet certain employment criteria, such as having worked for your employer for a certain period or having made social security contributions for a sufficient amount of time.

If you’re on a worker visa in the United Kingdom, for example, you’ll still be eligible for statutory maternity pay as long as you were working for your employer before you got pregnant and earned at least £126 per week on average. Of course, some employers may offer even more generous leave packages to foreign nationals working in the UK.

If you’re considering moving to another country to start a family, your employer may even allow you to relocate while keeping the same job. In this scenario, our employee relocation service can support your transition to the new location — identifying sponsorship opportunities, providing immigration and tax advice, and helping you settle into your new surroundings. 

Our exploration of maternity and paternity leave policies reveals a spectrum of global approaches, underscoring the need for an understanding of how different countries prioritize the wellbeing of working families. 

From the generous offerings in some nations to the more modest support systems in others, the disparity highlights the importance of advocating for policies that recognize the essential role of parental leave in nurturing family units. 

At Remote, we believe fostering a supportive culture where mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents can thrive both at home and in the workplace is not just beneficial for businesses and their employees, but imperative for the development of a healthy society.

Learn more about employer of record services and how we can help your employer offer world-class benefits, including parental leave.


Reviewing four categories (maternity leave weeks and rate of pay and paternity leave weeks and rate of pay), our table takes into consideration how each of the 20 countries ranks in these categories, providing an average ranking score. These average ranking scores provide a view of the best countries for statutory maternity and paternity packages. Data collected February 2024.

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