Adulting in the US versus Adulting in Europe


Nobody ever said that being an adult was easy. You have to pay rent (and maybe even student loans…the horrors), go grocery shopping, get a job, pay taxes, and other really not fun things. But there are some upsides to adulting, like being able to go out with your friends without borrowing money from your parents and having that sweet, sweet independence.

In most of the world, the age of an adult is 18. I, luckily, have had the pleasure of being an adult in both the US (Milwaukee) and in Europe (Spain). During my trials with adulting, I have noticed some similarities and differences between adulting in the US and adulting in Europe.

Granted, I am still at the beginning of my adult life, but I learn something new about succeeding at adult life every day, regardless of the country I’m in.

Let’s start with the differences I’ve noticed:


In the US, there are those standard 9-to-5 work days that everyone climbing the corporate ladder looks forward to. Start right at 9:00 am, take a half hour lunch around 12:00 pm, finish up and go home at 5:00 pm. Or maybe you work more than the standard 40-hour work week, because Americans are known for working very long hours. In Europe, it’s different. Europeans will not work the long hours that Americans do, and will not usually work after hours by sending emails. Europeans will also enjoy a longer lunch and more breaks, getting away from their desk for a coffee.


There’s also the amount of vacation time. Europeans get to enjoy an average of 28 days of vacation day a year, double the standard 14 an American gets. The other major difference between the US and European work benefits are maternity and paternity leave. In Europe, not only is parental leave paid for, but it’s significantly longer than in the US.


I am a flannel and jeans girl, which simply does not fly over here in Europe. Europeans are known for their superb fashion, which means you will not normally see adults going out in sweatpants, t-shirts, or sweatshirts unless they’re headed to the gym. Sadly, athleisure wear has not made a big splash in Europe like it has in the States and I long for my leggings. Instead, Europeans will dress nicer in different colors, patterns, and styles; of course, they’ll have accessories as well. Oh, and usually backpacks are for small children in grade school.


Getting places:

At 16, I got my driver’s license and never walked anywhere again. As an adult in the US, I heavily relied on my car to get me to and from work, school, the gym, the grocery store, my house because most of the places I went were about a 20-minute drive from wherever I was at the time. Cars are scarce in larger European cities like where I live in Madrid, so walking or taking the public transit is the norm.

Also, getting a driver’s license in Europe is a long and expensive process that most adults just don’t bother with since you have to wait until you’re 18 to even start classes.

Restaurant and bar life:

My cheap college heart broke when I realized that I had to pay for water at restaurants in Europe. But it was mended when I remembered that tipping is not a thing in Europe, because they actually pay their workers a living wage. Food in Europe is also relatively cheap, depending where you are. For example, you can get a coffee and a croissant for about €2.15. Like I stated in the work paragraph, most Europeans will go out for a coffee or for lunch with friends, so eating and drinking is an incredibly important aspect of the social culture.


A huge adult change is that in Europe, at the adult age of 18, you can legally enjoy alcoholic beverages, unlike in the US, where you have to wait until you turn 21. Because of this, you’ll see a lot of younger looking people out and about at night going in and out of bars, clubs, and restaurants enjoying cocktails with their friends.

While the differences I’ve mentioned have caused me to change my adult lifestyle, there are some things I was able to carry over from the US that still affect my adulting in Europe.


Shopping is pretty vital to life, whether it’s for food, clothing, electronics, or anything else. Luckily, shopping in Europe is similar to shopping in the US because a lot of the stores are either the same or very similar. For example, a department store in the US, like Macy’s, is very similar to a department store in Spain called El Corte Inglés. Online shopping is also very popular here (yay Amazon).

The food in Europe is also very similar to the food in the US with a few regional exceptions, so since moving, I haven’t had to change my diet or shopping schedule too much since I moved.

Paying for things:

Cash, credit, debit, whatever! A lot of the same cards are accepted in Europe as they are in the US, so I haven’t had to worry about opening up different bank accounts, which is a very confusing adult thing to do.

While there are differences in adulting in Europe and in the US, there are still several similarities. Being an adult can be overwhelming and scary and exciting and freeing no matter where in the world you are, so accept the challenges and enjoy the fun!

Also published on Medium.