by Alexandra Schmidt
So, you think you have what it takes to move to Croatia? I hope you do too. Though life on Croatia’s Adriatic beaches and quaint inland villages may look seamless, it’s not easy moving here. In fact, it may be one of the hardest places in Europe for expats. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
I know this first-hand. I’ve lived here on and off for over three years, and now I blog about my travels and life in Dubrovnik. I’ve lived elsewhere in Europe, but I have to say that moving to Croatia can be both exceptionally challenging and rewarding.
With some help from fellow expats in Croatia, here are the top things to know before moving here:
1. The bureaucracy will slow you down
You must take into account that the bureaucracy in Croatia will surely slow down all your plans of moving here. The country is less than 30 years old, and the various kinks in the system can make moving here seem impossible. Do not despair.
The thing is, Croatia has a lot of rules by the books, but less than half of them are actually enforced. Depending on whom you ask in what office and in what town, many times these rules are bent or even ignored entirely. I sometimes get the impression that no one actually knows the rules in the first place.
I’m convinced that navigating the bureaucracy is what bonds the expat community in Croatia. Sometimes you’re better off asking someone who has done it before instead of asking a federal employee. Either way, you can expect to be fined or taxed for something ridiculous along the way.
Just be prepared that the path to living here is filled with just as many curveballs as loopholes.
2. It’s a safe place to raise a family
Despite its tumultuous history, Croatia may be one of the last truly safe places on earth. Rarely are there any murders, kidnappings, or crimes. Kids play outside without the parents watching over their shoulder. There’s a strong sense of community in each town and village. For this reason, it’s a great place to raise a family.
Many expats end up marrying a Croatian and then starting a family this way. Croatia was actually voted the number one country in the world when it comes to the longest paid maternity leave.
Additionally, daycare is essentially free, and many public schools are pretty exceptional.
Even though many Croats are leaving to work elsewhere in the EU, it’s just as common that many stay to raise a family. I don’t blame them.
3. You likely won’t find your dream job (or salary) here
If you’re fresh out of college looking to climb the corporate ladder, Croatia is definitely not for you. I came here myself as a college graduate and quickly found that my career aspirations simply did not fit into the economic landscape of Croatia.
Though the cost of living is a lot lower, the average salary here is about 6,000 kunas a month, according to Trading Economics. So, you won’t find your dream salary here either. There are a lot of seasonal tourism jobs along the coast, and more long-term opportunities in Zagreb. But it may take years to finally get to your dream job here.
4. There is room to make your own opportunities
Your best bet for making it here, as an expat is to chase prospects of your own. Successful expats come here and make their own opportunities by investing in property or starting businesses. Many times, they also have a competitive advantage by bringing in new innovative ideas and ventures that have yet to hit the market here.
The rules and regulations can still be a bit of a pain, which is why some people have businesses in their home countries that operate out of Croatia. (For example, a charter company registered in the U.S. but operating out of Croatia.) This is one way to make the process a bit easier, but the possibilities for starting a business here are what make up for the otherwise lackluster job market.
5. It’s ALWAYS who you know around here
I remember a distinct conversation with my Croatian partner that I will never forget. I told him that hard work breeds success, but he said it was luck. I now understand why.
In Croatia, the luck of knowing the right people will get you further than your merit. This is why you can sometimes find the most incompetent people in high positions. This is also why many people end up joining a political party.
Although this can cross the line into nepotism, it brings up another important point. Social capital is the lifeblood of Croatia. From every village to business, we all get by with a little (a lot) of help from our friends.
6. Knowing a little Croatian goes a long way
English is so widely spoken in Croatia that it’s easy to use this as a crutch. Indeed some people have lived here for 10+ years and get by with only English. But as much as you can, do try to learn. I’ve found that the biggest barrier between native Croats and expats ends up being the language. The foreigners that are able to learn very quickly usually have a lot more doors open up for them and feel a greater part of the community.
But be prepared that if you don’t say it in the RIGHT regional accent or perfect intonation, some Croats will pretend they don’t understand you. Keep trying anyway.
7. Renting can be a mess
It depends on where you are looking, but renting an apartment or flat in Croatia can be very difficult. It’s easier in bigger cities like Zagreb or Split. But you can’t expect to show up in the summer tourism season looking for a place to live for a year. It’s this same reason why many young adults in Croatia live with their parents until they get married and can usually afford to buy a place.
For instance, here in Dubrovnik, tenants are usually kicked out of rental apartments come May 1st to make room for tourists instead. That’s why it can be easier, in the long run, to invest in property, even if it means renting it out during part of the year.
8. You’ll find a great work/life balance here
If there’s one thing besides its remarkable beauty that draws foreigners into Croatia, I think it is the work/life balance. People here don’t live to work; they work to live. Your paycheck doesn’t define your success, and quite frankly, no one really cares what you do for a living.
You may perfectly plan your day out, and find that entire plan falls apart with the chaos of daily life in Croatia. But sometimes this is a good thing, as it forces you to stay on your toes and appreciate each day.
It can be refreshing for other Americans like myself. If you can learn to live a simpler and slower lifestyle, you really can have it all here.
Living in Croatia is not for everyone. It requires courage, a little faith, and a lot of rakija in those moments where nothing makes sense. But for those that are willing to stick with it, it’s worth it.