Key Takeaway – The freest countries in the world are:
- New Zealand
- The Netherlands
- Australia and Norway (joint)
Data from the the Human Freedom Index
Freedom – it’s a concept that shapes civilizations, drives human progress, and fascinates me as a traveler and global citizen.
But freedom isn’t an abstract ideal. In fact, it’s very much alive in the laws, cultures, and peoples of the freest countries in the world.
So, what are the freest countries in the world? Every year, the Human Freedom Index offers some valuable insights.
Based on the latest version of the Index, let’s explore the 11 freest countries in the world and understand the political underpinnings making them so unique.
The 11 Freest Countries in the World in 2023
In first place, as the freest country in the world, we have Switzerland.
With its majestic alps and serene lakes, this small European country is a haven of freedom.
Switzerland’s political structure is a marvel in itself, rooted in a system of direct democracy and federalism.
This model grants extensive powers to Swiss cantons (or states), allowing local government bodies to handle matters closer to citizens’ everyday lives.
The federalist approach provides a tangible sense of political agency, where decision-making isn’t a distant concept but an active, integral part of Swiss life.
Direct democracy, another cornerstone of Swiss politics, empowers citizens like nowhere else.
It isn’t merely a periodic privilege exercised every four or five years; it’s a regular part of Swiss life.
Several times each year, the Swiss people vote on a variety of issues, from infrastructure projects to environmental policies, making the people direct contributors to governance.
This consistent political participation lends Swiss citizens a feeling of engagement and ownership over their country’s direction.
Freedom in Switzerland extends beyond politics to permeate Swiss culture and societal norms.
Swiss society is characterized by a high level of social trust, security, and respect for individual autonomy.
Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world. The Swiss dedication to quality of life is evident in everything from exceptional education and healthcare systems to meticulous urban planning.
Switzerland’s culture also embraces freedom in a variety of forms. Take, for example, its multilingualism.
In Switzerland, four languages – German, French, Italian, and Romansh – have official status, reflecting the cultural diversity and inclusivity inherent in Swiss society.
This commitment to language freedom not only embodies a respect for cultural diversity, but also enables Swiss citizens to connect with a wider world.
#2. New Zealand
Next, let’s hop over to New Zealand, which ranks in second place on the Human Freedom Index.
This high ranking is a direct result of the country’s deeply embedded political ethos, societal practices, and cultural norms.
New Zealand functions under a mixed-member proportional representation system, which ensures a fair representation of various political parties in the Parliament, making it one of the most proportionally representative democracies in the world.
This isn’t just a system that works in theory – it’s a living, dynamic, political structure that’s highly effective in practice, creating an environment where every voice matters.
Transparency in governance isn’t just a catchphrase in New Zealand. The fact that high-ranking public officials, including the Prime Minister, regularly publish their expenses is a testament to this commitment.
This level of transparency fosters a culture of trust between the government and the people, strengthening the country’s democratic foundations.
Freedom is also evident in New Zealand’s society and culture.
One of the first countries to give women the right to vote, New Zealand continues to champion gender equality, further cementing its commitment to personal freedoms.
But freedom in New Zealand isn’t just about grand gestures. It’s also about everyday practices – from empowering community voices to prioritizing environmental conservation, reflecting Kiwis’ inherent respect for freedom in all its forms.
Cultural inclusivity is also a hallmark of New Zealand society.
The country’s bicultural foundation, rooted in the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Maori chiefs, recognizes the rights of the indigenous Maori people and has shaped an inclusive and respectful societal ethos.
Estonia, a digital paradise in Europe, is the third freest country in the world.
With the concept of ‘e-governance’ at the heart of its administration, Estonia has revolutionized public services and citizen participation.
This includes the nation’s groundbreaking “e-residency” program, which allows global citizens to start and manage businesses in Estonia, irrespective of their geographical location.
In Estonia, residents can vote, access public services, and sign legally binding documents online – all protected by a highly secure digital identity.
This setup has streamlined government procedures and democratized access to services – solidifying Estonia’s commitment to political freedom in the digital age.
In many ways, Estonian society reflects its political commitment to freedom.
The government upholds the principles of equality, ensuring high living standards, access to quality education, and healthcare for all citizens.
Estonians value their personal freedoms, particularly their freedom of speech, fostering a societal environment where open dialogue and discussions are encouraged.
This freedom funnels through into the nation’s education system, which focuses on encouraging independent thought and critical reasoning in students.
Danish freedom is much more than the liberty of biking around in Copenhagen, or the joy of spending a cozy afternoon in a local café.
Freedom in Denmark is part of the political structure, cultural norms, and societal values that echo the Danish commitment to liberty and equality. That gives Denmark its prime position at number 4 among the freest countries in the world.
Denmark has a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, a setup that inherently upholds democratic values.
But Danish political freedom isn’t merely about systems and structures. It’s also about engagement and transparency.
In Denmark, all citizens are active participants in the country’s democratic processes.
Danish politicians are known for their accessibility, often seen cycling to work or shopping in local markets, making the political system feel less remote and more relatable.
What’s more, Denmark has earned its reputation for being one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
This transparency in the political system goes hand in hand with a strong rule of law and respect for individual rights, laying a solid foundation for political freedom.
Denmark’s tale of freedom is tied to its unique blend of monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
The Danes’ commitment to freedom of expression is worth mentioning, and you’ll find the Queen herself in political cartoons. Yep, you read that right – a royal sense of humor!
Freedom of speech is not only protected by law but it’s also deeply embedded in the societal fabric.
A testament to this is the Danish tradition of ‘jante-loven‘ – an unwritten law that discourages people from thinking they’re better than others.
In Ireland, the locals will tell you that freedom is as Irish as a pint of Guinness.
Ireland’s political system combines parliamentary democracy with a written constitution, providing robust protection for human rights.
But the spirit of Irish politics extends beyond the dry letter of law.
It’s also the vigor with which the Irish engage in political discussions, whether in the halls of Dáil Éireann (the Lower House of the Irish Parliament) or at a local pub over a Guinness.
It’s the persistent push for justice and fairness, as seen in the nation’s progressive stances on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
And it’s the commitment to peaceful processes, showcased in the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Ireland is also one of the few countries globally that has enshrined the right to housing in its constitution.
This commitment is a telling example of the Irish belief that freedom isn’t just about lofty political ideals but also about basic human needs and dignity.
It underlines Ireland’s dedication to ensuring that all its citizens can lead fulfilling, secure lives.
On the cultural front, Ireland’s relationship with freedom is both heartfelt and historic.
The Irish have a long tradition of storytelling, music, and art – forms of cultural expression that have often been mediums of freedom, resistance, and identity, especially during times of foreign rule.
Finally, yet another aspect of freedom in Ireland lies in the Irish language itself.
Irish Gaelic, once suppressed under British rule, has seen a resurgence in recent years, with increased interest among young people and supportive government policies.
In sixth place in the latest Human Freedom Index, we’ve got Sweden.
Sweden’s version of freedom is a pretty holistic one, interweaving political rights with social welfare, gender equality with family support, and individual freedom with communal harmony.
The political freedom in Sweden stems from its democratic constitution, guaranteeing civil liberties with a strong adherence to the rule of law.
But the true essence of Swedish politics lies in its profound commitment to equal opportunities and transparency.
This is evident in the country’s top-notch rankings in corruption perceptions indexes, plus its reputation for efficient and open governance.
In Swedish society, freedom translates to high living standards, comprehensive social security, and universally accessible public services.
Sweden’s social welfare model is designed to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their socio-economic background, can enjoy a high quality of life.
Sweden’s generous parental leave policy is one of the country’s standout features.
Sweden goes above and beyond in supporting family life and personal freedom, offering up to 480 days of paid parental leave shared between parents.
Icelandic society stands out for its dedication to equality and welfare. A strong social security system, universally accessible healthcare, and excellent education make freedom tangible in Iceland.
Iceland also holds the world record for gender equality.
Iceland’s success in narrowing the gender gap is part of a dedication to making freedom and opportunities equally accessible to all, regardless of gender.
The country’s political framework is based around a democratic constitution that guarantees civil liberties and a comprehensive human rights framework.
The government functions with high levels of transparency and accountability, significantly enhancing public trust.
But what truly sets the Icelandic political system apart is the deep level of civic participation.
Icelanders aren’t just observers but active contributors to their political landscape – whether that means organizing protests to demand government accountability or engaging in participatory budgeting.
Surprisingly, Iceland has no army. The country maintains its peacefulness through diplomacy and international law, not military force.
True freedom can’t be safeguarded by force, but only by fostering mutual respect, understanding, and peaceful co-existence.
This approach also helps Iceland rank top among the world’s safest countries.
Imagine a country where each citizen’s right to education, healthcare, and even happiness is not only recognized but also vigorously pursued.
That’s Finland for you. At present, it ranks number eight among the freest countries in the world.
The Finns take the concept of ‘power to the people’ incredibly seriously.
Citizens enjoy high political engagement, with the freedom to directly propose legislation.
Finland’s political system sets a high bar for political freedom with its highly transparent government. It also has one of the lowest corruption rates globally.
What’s more, the Finnish education system is considered one of the best in the world. It’s built on the principle of equal opportunity for all, regardless of socio-economic background.
Finnish schools offer free meals and educational materials. There’s even free transport available for students who live far from school.
Finland’s societal commitment to freedom also shines through its innovative social policies.
The government piloted a state-backed 2-year universal basic income research project, a ground-breaking approach to economic freedom.
In Finland, the right to roam freely in nature, or ‘everyman’s right’ (‘jokamiehenoikeus‘), is a legally protected freedom.
Everyone can enjoy the country’s beautiful outdoors, pick berries and mushrooms, and even camp temporarily on any land.
In short, it’s a delightful blend of environmental consciousness, communal respect, and the right to leisure.
#9. The Netherlands
The Netherlands is famous for its approach to freedom, which explains why it scores ninth position among the freest countries in the world.
Dutch political freedom is anchored in a democratic constitution that protects human rights and upholds the rule of law.
But it doesn’t stop there.
There’s also a high level of political pluralism in the Dutch political system, making sure diverse voices are heard.
Dutch citizens can directly influence policy through advisory referendums, demonstrating a unique blend of representative and direct democracy.
Add in the country’s commitment to transparency and its low levels of corruption, and you’ve got a political landscape where freedom thrives.
Dutch freedom is more than just political liberties. It’s also about creating a society where everyone feels valued, respected, and free to be themselves.
This philosophy is reflected in the Netherlands’ progressive social policies, including its world-leading stance on LGBTQ+ rights.
The Netherlands was indeed the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, demonstrating a strong commitment to personal freedom and equality.
What’s more, the Dutch have comprehensive laws protecting against discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.
On the cultural front, Dutch society champions freedom of expression and creativity.
Dutch culture embodies the freedom to imagine, create, and innovate – from the masterpieces of Van Gogh and Rembrandt to the innovative designs of Dutch architects.
The country is also renowned for liberal attitudes towards topics often considered taboo elsewhere, such as drug use and sex work.
Luxembourg is a tiny powerhouse with a big commitment to freedom.
The country’s political landscape is firmly based on democratic values and principles. It has a stable parliamentary system which cherishes both the rule of law and individual liberties.
Luxembourg’s constitution ensures freedom of expression, assembly, and association.
There’s high levels of governmental transparency, and citizens enjoy an excellent level of political participation.
The country frequently ranks highly on indices of political freedom, illustrating the robustness of its democratic institutions.
Luxembourg is also a multicultural melting pot, with nearly half of its population made up of immigrants.
This multiculturalism has shaped a society that is open-minded, tolerant, and welcoming. Laws protect individuals from discrimination based on nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
And for a surprising twist, let’s venture into Luxembourg’s innovative approach to mobility.
Luxembourg is the first country in the world to make all public transportation free. Yes, you heard right: buses, trams, and trains are free for everyone!
This unusual policy underscores the country’s commitment to sustainability, social equity, and the freedom of movement.
It also reflects a broader understanding of freedom that includes the rights to move freely and have access to public services – enhancing quality of life for all residents.
#11. Australia and Norway – in joint position
Finally, we have two countries sharing the 11th spot – Australia and Norway.
Australia’s democratic political system, combined with its unique cultural mix, offers a vibrant example of freedom.
Despite being a major global economy, Australia has maintained compulsory voting since 1924, ensuring high civic participation.
Norway’s freedom is also reflected in its social policies and commitment to economic transparency.
The country’s sovereign wealth fund, one of the world’s largest, is managed with an inspiring degree of transparency.
What’s more, Norway’s the only country where you can look up any citizen’s income and tax details – demonstrating an impressive commitment to financial transparency at all levels of society.
In this round up of the freest countries in the world, we discussed the politics, culture and societal aspects that make them that way.
Each of these countries offers its own lessons in liberty, and each leaves us with surprising facts that challenge our assumptions.
These countries remind us that freedom is not just about laws and systems, but also about people who wake up every day and choose to uphold these values.