Countries That Are Making the United States Look Bad

By Rachel R.Last Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:23:14 PM ET
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The U.S. is one of the richest, most powerful and most technologically advanced countries in the world, yet many other countries are doing things far better. Nations such as Japan, Qatar and Sweden are leaving America in the dust in many key areas.

Many countries outshine the U.S. on everything from high life expectancy to world-class education and extraordinary social support. Who is coming out on top? Take a look at the main countries that are making the United States look bad. It looks like Americans have some catching up to do.


What are some great things about Japan that are better than the U.S.? For starters, many things in Japan are efficient and convenient. The country has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world. Besides the fast surfing speed, the nation's trains move extremely fast as well, topping out at 224 miles per hour.

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The trains are also on time. If the train schedule says it departs at 1:05 p.m., the train leaves at that exact moment. How serious are they? In one incident, a Japanese train line issued a public apology for leaving 20 seconds early.


The average life expectancy in Spain is 82.8 years, one of the highest in the world. Some researchers believe high sociability contributes to the residents’ long life spans. In fact, it's common in the country for multi-generations of families to spend a lot of time together.

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Trains in Spain can reach incredible speeds of 217 miles per hour, so imagine how quickly you can get to your destination. Public transportation in the country is so good that many residents don't even have a car. Many sources say a high-speed rail helps boost productivity and mobility.


Qatar is the richest nation in the world, with a gross national income per capita of $116,799 — a whopping $20,000 more than any other country. Wow! The country’s oil and natural gas revenues put a lot of money in residents’ pockets.

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With such a strong economy, the country also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, at 0.1%. Another great thing about Qatar? Travelers love Qatar Airways. The country takes the crown for the world's best airline, winning the top award in 2019, 2017, 2015, 2012 and 2011.


Expats have a lot of great things to say about Singapore after moving there. In fact, Singapore may be the best place for expats because the country gives them a better quality of life. Many people praise the island's powerful economy and great education.

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Singapore's passport is the strongest in the world, tying with Japan in 2019 by allowing its travelers to visit 189 countries without a visa. Whoa! Speaking of traveling, the island nation is also known for its airline, which earned first place four times in Skytrax World Airline Awards history.


Italy is a beautiful country with plenty of sunshine and a rich history. The nation is also known for its delicious food, including pasta, gelato and rich Italian-roasted coffee. With its abundance of great food, Italy may not seem like one of the healthiest countries in the world to outsiders.

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In fact, it was the world's healthiest country in 2018, although Spain took the title in 2019. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains contributes to the nation's good health. It's so healthy that the average life expectancy is 82.7 years.

South Korea

The U.S. may be home to Silicon Valley, but South Korea is far more technologically advanced. In 2017, the country introduced the first virtual store to the world, providing extra convenience to smartphone users. From guide robots to self-driving buses, the nation is at the top of tech culture.

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South Korea is also home to the fastest internet speeds on the planet. Its 4G mobile phone availability is more efficient as well, with users receiving a signal 95.71% of the time. If you want to see what the future looks like, check out South Korea.


You'll find the fastest train on Earth in Shanghai, China. Despite mind-blowing speeds of 267 miles per hour, the train isn’t new or expensive. In fact, the Shanghai Maglev made its debut in 2004 and only costs $8 to ride 19 miles from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport to the Longyang metro station.

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Residents in China also have a futuristic lifestyle. It’s common to use a mobile phone to pay for almost everything from fancy restaurants to panhandlers, and some restaurants and stores only accept mobile payments. Many people also use their mobile devices for on-demand services. With one click, consumers can request in-home massages or manicures within just a few hours.


Education in the U.S. is outrageously expensive, and student loan debt has piled up to a massive $1.3 billion. However, French residents don't have to worry about affording college. Those attending a French public university often only pay a few hundred dollars per year.

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France's health care system is also at the top, according to the World Health Organization, with the country gaining a lot of attention for its overall quality. With such great healthcare, you would expect French citizens to spend more on services. However, the average citizen pays almost nothing for care.


Mexico elaborately celebrates death and makes the best tequilas in the world. The country also produces the best soap operas. When it comes to paid vacations, Mexico beats the U.S. hands down. (To be fair, many countries are ahead of the U.S. in this area.)

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The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that doesn't guarantee its citizens receive paid vacation days and paid public holidays. In other words, the nation has zero guaranteed paid time off for work. Employees in Mexico are entitled to six paid vacation days and seven paid public holidays.


Malta is one of Europe’s cheeriest island countries. Located in the Mediterranean Sea, it’s known for its beautiful blue lagoon, megalithic temples, rich history and knights. If you like vacations, paid vacation is enshrined in law in Malta.

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As previously noted, the U.S. has no laws for paid time off work. In Malta, every employee is entitled to 26 paid vacation days, plus 14 paid public holidays. That's 40 opportunities a year for residents to just relax on the gorgeous beaches and get paid.

United Arab Emirates

Famous for its two largest cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an extremely strong economy. It outranks the U.S. in wealth, with a gross national income per capita of $67,758. The nation's main exports are crude oil, refined oil and natural gas.

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Primary school enrollment and primary school completion rates in the country are among the highest in the world, so the country’s kids are set up for success. The nation also has lower unemployment rates than the U.S. — 2.6% for the UAE versus 3.8% for the U.S.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has among the highest number of days for paid parental leave, allowing parents to spend more time with their new babies. The U.S. is the only developed country that doesn't entitle new parents to paid leave. In the Czech Republic, parents can take more than a year off work in some cases.

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New mothers in the Czech Republic always receive paid time off, but moms in the U.S. don't. In general, the Czech Republic offers 28 weeks of maternity leave. Will the U.S. learn from the Czech Republic when it comes to providing paid time off for working parents?


Belgium does waffles, beer and chocolate better than any other country. When it comes to freedom of the press, the country also rises above the U.S. The nation's legal system allows Belgian journalists to efficiently do their jobs, while in the U.S. journalists can get arrested for covering a protest. Many journalists have even been attacked.

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The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 an hour. Other countries, including Belgium, allow workers to take home more income on starter jobs. In fact, Belgium has one of the highest pay scales in the world, with a minimum wage of $11.42 an hour.


Known for its automotive expertise, Germany produced some of the most famous car brands in the world, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen. However, these vehicles aren't the only ways Germany beats the U.S. The country has one of the strongest passports, enabling its travelers to enter 187 countries without visas, and college is practically free.

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Another area where the nation surges ahead is paid time off. Workers can take parental leave without worrying about job security or their income. When the child turns three years old, then the worker must return to work. Germans workers are also entitled to 20 paid vacation days and 10 paid holidays. The best part is they don't feel guilty about actually taking their holidays.


In the past, Ireland gave the world some great literary and musical artists, including Oscar Wilde, Rory Gallagher, Phil Lynott and U2. Today, the nation gives awesome benefits to its residents, such as more money to take home. In Ireland, the minimum wage is $11.56 an hour.

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The country also takes great care of its residents, who have a high life expectancy of 81.4 years. What's their secret? It might have something to do with the country's free health care and education systems, plus, working residents receive four weeks of paid leave and nine days of paid public holidays each year.

United Kingdom

The Great British Bake Off, the BBC, the Beatles and delicious sausage rolls are just a few of the wonderful things that came out of the United Kingdom (U.K.) over the years. The nation is also famous for tea, fish and chips, red buses and Big Ben.

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Many people believe the U.S. could learn a few things from the U.K. For instance, the student loan repayment program is more efficient, making it easier to pay education debt. The country takes it out of the paycheck, depending on the income. Also, healthcare is free, so residents don't think about how much it costs.


As one of the richest countries on Earth, Luxembourg has the second-highest minimum wage in the world, at $11.85 an hour. Its happy residents get to enjoy the nation's many award-winning wines and Michelin restaurants. In fact, Luxembourg’s capital is filled with the highest number of Michelin restaurants per capita in the world.

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With so much great food and drink readily available, you might assume Luxembourg residents are unhealthy. However, quite the opposite is true. The nation has a high life expectancy of 82 years old and is considered one of the healthiest places on the planet.


Residents in Israel have a long life span, with an average of 82.5 years. Is it because there are more than 130 beaches in Israel? Maybe. But most researchers say the main contributing factors include adults spending so much time with their families and everyone receiving great healthcare.

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As the country that created Waze — Google Maps' biggest competitor if you’re not familiar — Israel’s position as a high-tech powerhouse shouldn’t be surprising. The country’s military is one of the most technologically advanced in the world.

Another area of success for Israel is the Nobel Peace Prize. The country boasts the highest number of winners per capita.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica doesn't have an army, so it invests in education instead — and receives a high rate of return. Outshining the U.S., Costa Rica boasts a 96% literacy rate. In fact, it has the highest rate in Latin America and one of the highest in the world. In the U.S., the rate is only 86%.

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Costa Rica also exceeds the U.S. in happiness. The World Happiness Report ranks the country as the No. 12 happiest nation on Earth, while the U.S. ranks No. 20. Why are people so happy there? Maybe it's the magnificent coffee or unmatched nature. Maybe it's the higher gender equality and the notable health care system. Maybe it’s all the above and more.


The land of "the Outback," Australia, is home to the famous Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef. It's also known for its low crime rates. For instance, Australia's murder rate is one person per 100,000, while the U.S. rate is 4.88 people per 100,000.

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In addition, the country has a stronger quality of life due to its world-class education and health care system. Minimum wage is another area where Australia does better than the rest of the world. In fact, the country kicks every country’s butt, with a minimum wage of $14.56 an hour.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found 82 percent of Austrians feel more success, rest and enjoyment in a day than negative experiences. Austria has the best quality of life in the world, so it's no surprise that residents feel so happy.

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Austria earned this high recognition due to fresh air, affordable rents, vibrant culture and especially low crime rates. Most residents don’t worry about theft, muggings and assaults. Austrians also feel safe walking home late at night. With a homicide rate of 0.61 per 100,000 population, the nation has one of the lowest rates on Earth.


Known for maple syrup, ice hockey and a champion NBA team, Canada has the best reputation internationally. Canadians are generally a cheery nation, thanks to clean air, free health care, excellent public education, diversity and nature galore (31,752 lakes, just for starters).

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With a great education system, Canadians also score higher in reading, math and science than Americans. According to the OECD, Canadian teenagers are among the best educated in the world. An extremely low crime rate also contributes to the nation's happiness. Many Canadians report feeling safe and not worrying about mass shootings, homicide, robbery or walking outside alone at night.

New Zealand

Many people know New Zealand as the filming location of The Lord of the Rings, but there's so much more to it. As the home of a record-winning rugby team, New Zealand does many things better than every other country. There's even Pokemon on some of the nation's currency!

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Ranking at No. 8 for the happiest nation in the world, New Zealand pleases its residents by providing a relaxing and welcoming environment. How could you not be happy with breathtaking landscapes everywhere, guaranteed paid time off and a high minimum wage?


Sweden often makes headlines for being a great place to live. For instance, the nation has superior social support and a great life expectancy, so it's no secret that it's full of cheerful residents. Holding the No. 7 spot for the happiest country, Sweden seems to have perfected quality of life and the concept of work-life-balance.

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In fact, many people consider Sweden to be the best place for women and for raising children. Two-thirds of university degrees are given to women, and almost half the members of parliament are women. Sweden offers generous parental leave policies, with 16 months of leave available with 80% of it paid. The country is also experimenting with six-hour work days.


Despite being a moderately small country, Switzerland has a flourishing economy, the second-highest life expectancy in the world (83.4 years) and amazing tax breaks. Swiss citizens report being more content than Americans, which makes sense. The country is safer, cleaner and has a better work-life balance.

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Switzerland also took one of the top five spots for accelerating social progress based on fundamental human needs (food, water and shelter), well-being (environment quality) and opportunity (freedom and education). The U.S. falls far behind at No. 18 on the list.


What are some things that keep the people in the Netherlands smiling? Often associated with a relaxed and welcoming lifestyle, the country ranks high on the life expectancy and minimum wage lists. Many citizens praise the pace of life and freedom in the country.

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The Netherlands approaches sex education better than the U.S. In fact, it teaches its youth how to have healthy attitudes about intercourse. It's common to discuss sex with friends, family and teachers. As a result, teenagers learn important information they take with them into adulthood, including how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.


Known as a waterfall and hot spring paradise, Iceland is a beautiful country filled with upbeat and inviting residents. The country earned the fourth spot on the world's happiest nation list. It soundly defeats the U.S. in access to great health care and education.

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Iceland also has amazingly low taxes and crime rates. It's common to see children outside by themselves, even in the dark. Another area Iceland does better than any other country is equal pay. In fact, it became the first nation to require equal pay for women and men in 2018.


Norway is the third most perky country internationally. The cold, yet beautiful nation boasts extraordinary social support and freedom. Researchers believe the cold weather helps bring residents together. Although the country has high taxes, it hasn't hurt its happiness ranking.

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When it comes to affordable health care, social progress, easy access to higher education, entitled paid time off and generous parental leave, Norway crushes the U.S. How can residents dislike five weeks of paid vacation and tuition-free universities?


The Danish proudly practice a hygge lifestyle, and they are definitely benefiting from it. With a great life expectancy and a small wealth gap, Denmark comes out second on the list of happiest countries in the world. Working less and spending more time with family are contributing factors.

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The country has high taxes, but it comes with a lot of advantages, including social security, universal healthcare and a generous retirement system. Many Danish companies provide at least five weeks of paid vacation. When a person loses a job, it's not a huge deal because workers are re-trained to find better roles.


Finland is at the top of the happiness chart, beating every other country. The majority of residents have shelter, national daycare, a high-quality education, national health care and enough to eat, thanks to the country's commitment to social progress. Sounds marvelous, right?

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The nation has an amazing social structure and continues to work on ending homelessness and closing the gender gap. Generosity is a way of life in Finland. It's also common for fathers to spend more time with their children than mothers.