She said in a whispered hush ‘Do Americans really only get two weeks holiday?’

Posted on January 5, 2011 by yankeebean


That’s the question I was asked this holiday season.

When she asked, the boisterous chatting around the full table stopped and everyone turned to look at me.

I thought I could hear a cricket chirping in the distance….

A tumble weed made up of Twiglets and Quality Street wrappers rolled by…

I paused (you’ve got to revel in these moments.  Information is power yada yada…)

‘Yup’, I said, ‘Two weeks is standard in the States.’

Everyone started talking at once, outraged on my behalf even though I don’t live there any more :) .  People were genuinely flabbergasted…  Everyone threw in their opinions on why that’s rubbish and that 4 weeks holiday is only JUST enough to feel rested in a year.

Then I threw in the information about the major lack of bank holidays and that REALLY got ‘em going…

All the standard follow-up questions were close behind, but I’m not sure I had all the right answers – maybe you guys can help?

The primary questions were:

  1. Is it possible to earn more holiday (To which I answered ‘yes)
  2. How? (To which I said, by working somewhere for a long time or some higher positions come ‘built in’ with more holiday as a perk)
  3. How long do you have to work somewhere to earn more holiday (To which I said, ‘I have no idea’)

The truth is, my work in the USA was mostly small-time retail jobs so I was able to have time off whenever.  Now I’m self employed, so as long as it doesn’t put me out of business, I can have time off whenevs.  I know some of your gorgeous ladies are Brits that have moved to the States – how do you cope??  I have a table full of friends that are dying to know… :)

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Peter Bond February 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Yes it was probably me that said something about remembering America was like remembering childhood. It was brought home to me when I went “home” for 6 months when my mom was very sick. I just realised how disconnected and uninformed I was about America, despite regular visits to family. I think perhaps because I left before the internet came along and communication was less easy than today links were more difficult to keep going.

    I came to the UK as part of an exchange tour with the RAF. I had no intention of staying beyond the two year tour, but then I met my wife……That was 1979!

  2. Justine January 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I’m a nurse that works 3 12-hour shifts a week, so I can take 8 days off in a row over two weeks without using vacation time, which is nice. When I use a week of vacation, I can stretch that to over two weeks due to working Sun, Mon, Tue, off the rest of the week, vacay the next week, and then off until the Thur, Fri, Sat.

    It’s very nice! But the downsides are: only 2 weeks of vacay time allowed in the summer and most people put vacations a year in advance because vacation days are often taken very quickly (we can’t have everyone take vacation at the same time because then no one would be able to take care of the patients)

  3. yankeebean January 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Peter – what first brought you to the UK? You’ve been a commenter for awhile, haven’t you?

    I remember you said something about ‘missing America’ was actually you missing your childhood. I think you’re bang on there… The longer I’m here, the more I agree with you.

  4. Peter Bond January 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    The very generous number of vacation days and the flexibility about when I could take them was one of the factors that led us to staying in the UK. It meant I was able to play a much bigger part in raising our children that I would otherwise.

  5. alisha January 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I moved back to the States in June after four years in England and yes, the vacation famine here is pretty appalling. I took the route of being self-employed and have the flexibility to take as much or as little holiday as I want. The negative side of this is that we have to pay through the roof for health insurance because I’m not covered by an employer. It’s pretty crazy, but all in all I’m glad to be back home. Overall, life still feels cheaper here somehow — I think housing and food costs make us for ridiculous health care costs (financially, not morally anyway).

    • yankeebean January 8, 2011 at 11:09 am

      I’m with you, Alisha – I’ve always thought life felt cheaper there, too – although I’ve never had to pay for health insurance… which would make a HUGE difference…

  6. JammyMinx January 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Just stumbled upon your site and I’m in love! Hurrah more Yanks to shake up this dusty, but lovelable old country!

    After 10 years here and one baby later, thinking of moving back home. But the holiday time in the States IS atrocious . How does expats go from having 5 weeks to 2???

  7. Jocelyn January 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I moved to the UK before I could hold a permanent US job, but mybest friend got 7 days holiday a year at her first job after college with a degree in finance. My mom worked for Hewlett Packard for 24 years and when she was made redundant she was receiving 20 days holiday a year- she was a Marketing Engineer. Both these examples were from 10 years ago.

    My mom just took a job working a in a fabric store (she lives in Las Vegas and this is the only job she could find after 3 years of looking) and gets NO holiday until she has been there for a year! She gets no sick days, no health insurance, and had to work New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (stock taking) with no overtime pay. She earns just above minimum wage.
    As an aside, the house my mom and her husband bought when they moved to Vegas about 6 years ago from CA and payed $750,000 is now worth just over $300,000. With little savings (they have used it up looking for a job the last 3 years), negative equity, no health insurance, approaching 60 years old, they will be declaring bankruptcy almost certainly. I think of this every time I am temtped to move back to the US with my family. I miss CA sunshine, Mexican food, and my family but am so grateful for the 5 weeks a year paid holiday my husband gets and the free doctor’s surgery 5 min walk from my house.

  8. TheMysteriousHat January 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    The other interesting angle to me as a Brit is the way people are saying they had n days sick time. I couldn’t tell you what the legal minimum requirements are here, but in my job (IT in the steel industry) it was simpy being off sick was nothing to do with your holiday allowance and wasn’t limited. I think after a long illness the rate you were paid would drop and there would potentially be a point where a very long illness would lead to retirement on health grounds rather than staying on the payroll. I think some of the shop-floor workers didn’t get paid for the first two days of any sickness, but I couldn’t swear to that.

    There are now legal minimum holiday entitlements across the European Union, but 5 weeks was pretty normal for employees even before those rules came in. However these don’t apply to casual workers, and it’s not unknown for people to be regularly “employed” somewhere via an agency which technically means they don’t get rights as employees. You’d need an employment lawyer to explain the difference.

  9. Yorkshire Yank January 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    At my last job in the US, I got 4 weeks holiday. I believe I earned it after working their for 5 years.

  10. yankeebean January 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

    @DM – Sign me up for THAT one!

  11. titusvilleuk January 6, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Thanks!! After 8 years of living with my Brit hubby and after 30 years of working back home in Florida, I am STILL amazed at how much time he gets off!!!!!!! I used to ‘nurse’ my two weeks by taking long weekends all year just to have a break now and then…and if I was blessed with paid sick days, I made SURE i had cramps periodically so as to get any benefit I could!!!! Funny topic because this year my hubby had leftover time from last year, had a job change so didn’t want to take time off early this year and ended up off for 5+ weeks October thru December!!! Almost enough for a divorce!!! SMILE!!!!
    Happy New Year, ‘ya’ll’!

  12. Almost American January 6, 2011 at 2:45 am

    After 16 years at his last job, my DH finally earned 20 days vacation time per year, plus 9.5 holidays. He got 2 sick days per year. He had to ask up to a month in advance to actually use any of his vacation time and as soon as he accumulated 20 days he HAD to use some of the time because he lost anything over 20! The first year he got just 2 vacation days AFTER completing the whole year!

    Last year he switched jobs. He was stunned to find that he STARTED with 20 days vacation/sick time (as opposed to the 4 days he started with at the last company!) plus 9 holidays, and after another few years with the company he will eventually get 25 days vacation/sick time. At Christmas they told him if he took 2 vacation days they would give him 2 extra ones so he could have a whole week off. Apparently they have done this every year for the last 5 years – so already he effectively has 22 days. This company also has a good enough health plan that after many years of depending on my insurance, we have finally switched to his. The company pays 90% of the monthly health insurance premiums, and 100% of the dental insurance premiums. The salary wasn’t quite as high as he’d been hoping for when he first started job hunting – but the benefits make it worthwhile!

    Guess which of the two companies is owned by Europeans!!

  13. DM January 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Hmm. I’ve had people ask me this too, but the only job I had in the States offered more vacation than my job in London. Four weeks vacation, five personal days, ten sick days, two additional weeks off at Christmas, and every other Friday off between Memorial and Labor Day. Maybe it depends which industry you work in?

  14. Melinda January 5, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    It’s so varied according to industry. When I worked at a non-profit, my salary was nil, but I got 4 weeks right out of university. I’ve had 3 weeks at my corporate job and will finally earn the 4th week this year after 5 years at the firm (though that includes sick leave). I never really felt bad for myself about it though.

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  16. yankeebean January 5, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    The awesome news, is that we get 9 here in the UK in 2011 and 2012 thanks first to Wills and Kate tying the knot, and then thanks to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. WOOHOO! :D

  17. andrea January 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    The bank holiday thing is not actually better than the Federal holidays in the US. The US has 10 Federal holidays, and most people get a choice of, say, MLK or Presidents or Columbus Day (although some get all 3), so say it is 8 Federal holidays, and there are 8 Bank holidays.

    I always earned more than 2 weeks, as did all of my friends. A key is to negotiate for more when you accept a job, usually companies are more willing to give you extra vacation days instead of a higher salary. And these were not high level positions for me.

    There is no doubt that holiday time is much better in the UK, but I personally don’t find it as dire in the US as some people do – although there are certainly extremes.

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