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Thousands of digital nomads staying in Croatia, longer stay problematic

Thousands of digital nomads staying in Croatia, longer stay problematic

Thousands of digital nomads staying in Croatia, longer stay problematic

ZAGREB, 14 Feb (Hina) – Croatia, a country with a dwindling population, has become a hot destination for digital nomads – mostly young, highly educated and rich foreigners. Thousands of them are staying in the country, but the small number of those wishing to stay longer have to be resourceful as the law does not allow a stay of more than one year.

The global number of digital nomads is estimated at around 35 million. According to some estimates, that number is expected to reach one billion by 2035.

Croatia ranks high on the list of digital nomads’ favourite destinations. Even though data vary, depending on the source of information, a survey conducted by the Nomad List platform shows Croatia is globally the most attractive destination for digital nomads.

Croatia is a small country but what it offers is diverse so it attracts different groups of digital nomads, says Jan de Jong, founder of the Digital Nomads Croatia association.

The Dutch, who lives in Croatia, in 2020 launched amendment of the relevant laws owing to which Croatia introduced, as one of the first European countries to do so, a visa for digital nomads, enabling citizens of third countries to stay in the country for up to one year.

10,000 digital nomads staying in Croatia on a monthly basis

De Jong notes that one of the main reasons why digital nomads come to Croatia, besides infrastructure, which mostly includes the need for a good internet connection and an established community of digital nomads, is the lifestyle Croatia offers, which, in an addition to everything else, is very affordable.

That lifestyle seems to be very affordable to digital nomads, as an average digital nomad makes around €6,500 a month, according to Nomad List.

At the end of January 2023, there were 595 valid visas for digital nomads in Croatia, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior, however, that figure is much below the actual number of digital nomads staying in Croatia because it refers only to third-country citizens staying here for more than three months.

To get a complete picture of the situation, one should take into account EU citizens, who move freely throughout EU territory, including Croatia, without time limitations, as well as the large number of digital nomads from third countries staying in Croatia for less than a month.

The Ministry of the Interior says that it does not keep a record of the latter two categories of digital nomads, so their number can only be estimated.

Judging by trends for individual cities, including Zadar, Split and Zagreb, on the Nomad List platform, de Jong concludes that roughly 5,000 digital nomads arrive in Croatia a month. If every digital nomad is estimated to stay in Croatia for two months, one can say that around 10,000 digital nomads are staying in Croatia every month.

Meanwhile, after Croatia was one of the first European countries to introduce visas for digital nomads, other European countries have followed suit.

In addition to the basic requirements, such as remote work or self-employment and a certain minimum monthly income, which in Croatia amounts to €2,300, while in Iceland it is more than €6,000 – the visa for digital nomads also regulates the longest allowed stay in the country.

Croatia is one of the countries with more restrictive rules because if a digital nomad likes the country and wants to stay for more than a year, they must leave the country for at least six months in order to be able to apply for a visa again.

On the other hand, in other European countries the visa can mostly be extended, depending on the country, for example, in the Czech Republic a digital nomad visa can be extended for a period of three years in total.

Purpose of visa country’s tourist promotion

Even though de Jong says that the purpose of the visa for digital nomads was never to allow permanent stays, he notes that a certain number of digital nomads contact his association looking for advice on what to do if they want to stay in the country.

Asked if there is a legal way to extend the visa, the Ministry of the Interior says that that option does not exist and that it cannot even be extended with a permit for extended tourist stay.

The ministry explains this with the fact that the sole purpose of visas for digital nomads was “Croatia’s tourism promotion.”

One of those who got caught in that legal limbo is Steve Tsentserensky, a copywriter from Ohio, USA, who was among the first digital nomads to get a visa in Croatia.

During his six-month stay in Zagreb, he fell so much in love with the city that he decided to return for a longer period of time.

Asked how he would do that, because the law restricts his stay, unless he marries a Croat, establishes a company or finds employment, he says that he will do what is feasible to regulate his stay and probably again apply for a visa for digital nomads.

He stresses, however, that it would be good if the visa could be extended for a longer period of time, without applicants having to leave the country because they all have the possibility to reapply after the expiry of the six-month period, and the conditions are completely the same.

Another digital nomad, a woman from the USA, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that after the expiry of her visa she did not want to leave the country and that, even though she kept the same job for which she receives a US salary, she found the solution in a fictitious employment contract.

Somebody offered me a work permit, she says cautiously. She considered other ways as well, such as starting a business, and was also advised to marry, but she believes that with the work permit she has also found a way to contribute to the community she lives in by paying taxes, because as a digital nomad she does not have to do it.

Both Americans like the relaxed lifestyle of Zagreb residents, which is why they want to stay for some time.

They did not say how long, but the woman said that she is actively learning Croatian and not thinking about leaving the country.

When they stay longer, they become immigrants

Caroline Hornstein-Tomić, a researcher at the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, says that digital nomads are usually highly educated people, mostly in their 30s, who are also excellent consumers.

“If they decide to stay longer, they become a kind of immigrants,” she says and adds that there is still no research in Croatia on how digital nomads impact local communities, but that that impact certainly exists.

They boost tourism as well as other sectors of the economy, they have encouraged the development of infrastructure and the establishment of numerous hubs, as well as services that meet their need to get along in the new country, she says.

Hornstein-Tomić says that she has interviewed some of the nomads who have been staying on Dalmatian islands, and that she has heard about their positive experiences with the local community.

“Those who have decided to stay longer are interested in local jobs or business development, and they also do volunteer work, so apart from financial resources, they also have knowledge that they like to share,” says Hornstein-Tomić.

Commenting on the demographic potential of that group, de Jong says that digital nomads follow new trends and no longer go to countries where they have a better-paying job but rather those where they like the lifestyle, bringing their well-paid jobs with them.

He thinks that the current remote work revolution will continue and that a reversal of the trend is not likely.

That trend can be the biggest opportunity for Croatia, from where around half a million people have emigrated over the past ten years looking for better-paying jobs, says de Jong, who has lived in Croatia for the past 16 years.

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