7 Surprising Facts about Croatia’s Healthcare

While many westerners may be unable to point out Croatia on a map, this small Eastern European country may yet prove to be quite important in many of their lives, given the nation’s position as a leading provider of advanced medical care.

That statement may seem farfetched, considering some the horror stories that have been shared about the Croatian healthcare system. Believe it or not, Croatia does have an edge over many other countries with regards to using advanced technologies, affordability and level of care.

Here is a list of the most surprising facts about healthcare in Croatia:

1. The island of Hvar is the birthplace of European medical tourism

During the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the island of Hvar was a playground for the empire’s rich and wealthy. The island’s abundant sunlight, mild weather, and beautiful landscapes made it a natural destination for wealthy people seeking to recuperate from various illnesses.

As early as 1868, Hvar was already considered to be a prime destination for health tourism. The establishment of the Hvar Health Society that year firmly cemented its place as a health tourism destination, though its importance faded by the mid-20th century. The current Croatian government’s drive to promote the country as a health tourism destination has revived Hvar and brought it back to its original role.

2. It’s a favorite healthcare destination for athletes

St. Catherine’s Specialty Hospital in Zabok is a popular destination for athletes throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. Some of its patients include:

  • Garry Kasparov
  • Marin Čilić
  • Aleksandr Viktorovich Khoroshilov
  • Gordan Giriček
  • Bojan Bogdanović
  • Mario Mandžukić
  • Luka Modrić
  • Ivan Rakitić
Croatia Medical Research
Image by Nestlé

3. Croatia is a major hot spot for cutting-edge medical research

Croatia’s pharmaceutical industry will be celebrating its centennial in 2021. In its nearly 100 years of existence, it has been responsible for several innovations. Azithromycin, an antibiotic, was developed in Croatia in 1980, and to date, it is only one of 10 countries where the original medication was developed and used extensively.

Other innovations include the obstetric vacuum extractor and iodine tinctures, which were universally used in the days before widely-available antibiotics.

Today, Croatia is notably leading in osteoarthritis research. In addition, Zagreb’s University Hospital Centre Zagreb has just procured (as of May 2019) a new Gamma Knife device, used for incision-less radiation therapy for treatment of tumors, vascular malformations and other abnormalities in the brain.

4. Croatia is a world leader for organ transplants

Of all the countries that are part of the Eurotransplant central database of organ donors and patients, Croatia is the leading member, with between 350 and 400 organ transplants per year. In Europe, only Spain leads Croatia in donation rates, at about 40 donors per million people, which leads to a relatively high availability of organs. While China does more organ transplants, when adjusted for the relative populations, Croatia leads the rest of the world.

5. Croatia leads Europe for dentistry and cosmetic surgery

A significant number of foreign nationals, notably from Italy, make the trip to Croatia for high quality dental and cosmetic work at some of the lowest prices in the region. Larger urban areas such as Zagreb take the lion’s share of these visitors, but other centers such as Istria and Kvarner also take in a significant number of foreign patients.

Not only do Croatian dental and medical professionals perform dental and cosmetic procedures on thousands of patients each year, they also innovate in new technologies that may not be introduced in other countries for a few years.

Croatia Dental Care
Image by djordjevla

6. Procedures are offered at lower prices than Western nations

Not only are Croatian medical professionals able to perform a wide range of complex and sometimes cutting-edge procedures, they are also able to do them for typically up to 70% less than in Western countries.

Thanks to government support and low living costs, Croatian medical professionals are able to deliver quality comparable to any Western country at drastically reduced costs. This has led patients from as far away as North America to travel to Croatia for different procedures.

Speaking as an American, to have my teeth cleaned in the United States 10 years WITH health insurance, I still had to pay 100USD (or 700 kuna). That was just the copay. The actual cost of the teeth cleaning was closer to 600USD. Here in Croatia, I pay 250 kuna (or 38USD) for a teeth cleaning WITHOUT health insurance. And x-rays are free, a service that was at least 1000USD back in my mother country.

7. State health insurance is mandatory for citizens and long-term residents

One reason Croatia is able to provide such comprehensive quality medical care is that absolutely everyone is required to pay into the state health insurance system called “HZZO”. As a result, private practices must provide competitive rates to compete with the state-provided healthcare system.

Regardless of your purpose for visiting Croatia, whether you are a tourist, or frequent traveler, it is recommended to also get an international health insurance policy from a recognized provider, such as Now Health International, in addition to the required state insurance. Your HZZO policy will keep you covered in Croatia and the EU, but an additional policy will keep you covered beyond the borders of the European Union.

In case of a medical emergency, having an additional plan will prevent many of the issues with red tape many long-term residents experience with the state medical insurance system, which is complex and heavily paper-based.

What surprised you most about the Croatian healthcare system?

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Expat in Croatia

Sara is an American expat based in Split. After globetrotting between New York, Amsterdam and California, she moved to Croatia in 2012. Sara's blog Expat in Croatia is a guide for foreigners living and traveling in Croatia.