How American citizens can visit and live in Croatia

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Image by Bill Brine

Americans make up a significant portion of those coming to Croatia, for both tourism and to live here long term.

With regards to tourism, Croatia has been a big hit with Americans in the last few years. While the cost to visit to Croatia has been increasing, it can still be a bargain with U.S. citizens making dollars. Also, while it may be quite touristy and busy during high season, it is still more off the beaten track than well-worn Western European destinations like London, Paris, and Rome. It is still possible to visit Croatia and be completely by yourself among only locals, if you pick the right destination and the right time of year.

Many U.S. citizens are also choosing to put down roots and make Croatia their home year-round. In many cases, Americans have Croatian roots and are now journeying back to the homeland and applying for citizenship, now that the language test has been waved for diaspora. Others have married a Croatian abroad and are returning to build their life in the family stead. The rest just think it’s nice and want a better quality of life that isn’t dictated by what the president said on Twitter that day.

There are a number of ways U.S. citizens can settle in Croatia. They aren’t all easy, they definitely involve hoops, but there are options. We’ve created a guide specifically for Americans that includes every option available to American citizens to move to Croatia long term. If you’re just passing through, we cover tourist visas for too.

Let’s get ready to rumbleeeeeeeeee!

Tourist visas for American citizens to visit Croatia

Americans enjoy visa-free travel to 184 countries around the world. Croatia is one of those countries.

To visit Croatia as an American, all you need to do is show up with your passport. You do not have to apply for a travel visa in advance and you do not need to get a visa on arrival or pay any fee to enter. Upon entry, you can stay for 90 days within a 180-day period.

You can always see the latest tourist visa status here, but it’s unlikely to ever change. Americans have big privilege.

How to move to Croatia as an American citizen

There are many options for U.S. citizens to stay in Croatia long term, however unless if you have heritage or marry a citizen, it’s going to be an uphill battle. BUT, by no means is it impossible. This guide will cover all of your options as well as what is required of you as an American.

Before we get started, we need to cover some vocabulary. In the eyes of Croatia, there are Croatian citizens, EU citizens and everybody else. Those in the “everybody else” bucket are referred to as “third-country nationals”. Americans are third-country nationals. This means that the following residence permit schemes apply to all third-country nationals, not just Americans.

It is important to note this so one does not think that the difficulty in the process and limited options are due to prejudice specifically against Americans. They are not. The government carries legal prejudice for all non-EU countries.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started. We will go through each residency option, starting with the one that allows you the least amount of time in Croatia, moving up to the ones that allow you the most time in Croatia.

Student Permit

Americans can easily live in Croatia to study at one of the many universities across the country. You can also study Croatian at certain language schools and qualify for a permit as well.

To get a student residence permit, you must include proof of acceptance into a qualified Croatian institution of education with your residence application. You’ll also need to show you have the financial means to support yourself.

Caveats

  • The term of the permit will be for a single school year, excluding summer months unless you can prove you need to be here in between semesters.
  • As of right now, you cannot work as a student. Although, there is legislation in the works to change this.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you for the first two years.

Purchasing residential property

Americans are allowed to purchase residential property in Croatia. With the purchase of a residential property, you are entitled to a temporary residence permit that will allow you to stay in Croatia for up to one year at a time with after which you must leave for 90 days. When the 90 days is up, you can enter Croatia again as a tourist for 90 days. During this 90 days as a tourist, you can apply for a new one-year residence permit based on your property.

Here is the timeline outlined simply:

  • 90 Days – You are in Croatia as a tourist
  • Up to 1 Year – You have a legal residence permit
  • 90 Days – You are outside Croatia
  • 90 Days – You are in Croatia as a tourist
  • Up to 1 Year – You have a legal residence permit
  • 90 Days – You are outside Croatia

And then it just repeats…

Caveats

  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship
  • You cannot bring your spouse with you UNLESS your spouse is also listed as an owner of the property. Kids can only come if both parents have legal residence permits.
  • The property must be zoned residential and there must be a house. A plot of land does not count.

If you wish to purchase property in Croatia, you must hire an attorney. I don’t mean it’s required by law, I mean that it’s ludicrous to attempt to purchase a property here without a lawyer as a foreigner.

The law and requirements are too complex, there is way too much bureaucracy to navigate and there is too much chance you’re naivete will be taken advantage of at some stage in the process. The language barrier alone is reason enough to farm it out. If you are interested in this option, contact me and I will refer you to a real estate attorney.

Work permit

Americans can get residence permits with the option to work in Croatia.

Caveats

  • You MUST be offered a work contract BEFORE you can apply for a work permit. You cannot get a work permit, THEN go find a job.
  • Work permits can only be issued for the term of your work contract, up to one year at maximum. If the company wants you to stay on after the conclusion of your contract, then you’ll need to ask for a new work contract and then apply for a new work permit. Work permits cannot be “renewed”.
  • If you get a residence permit with the option to work and decide to leave your job, your permit will be cancelled. All work permits are tied to work contracts. Without a contract, you cannot have a work permit.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you within the first two years.
  • Before a company can offer you a work contract, they must first confirm with the office of unemployment that a Croatian is not seeking that same role.

If you want to seek a work permit to live in Croatia, then start by looking for a job. Our guide on how to find a job in Croatia will prove useful.

All of the above also applies to approved EU Blue Card holders. Even with the Blue Card, you still need to have a work contract or employment offer before you can apply to live in Croatia based on work.

Work permit by opening your own company

If you’d rather start your own company, you can issue yourself a work contract as the director of the company and therefore qualify for a work permit.

This option involves entangling yourself in an endless tax bureaucracy capable of strangling the life right out of you so it is not recommended if you are only opening the company for the purpose of getting residence. This option should only be used by those who legit want to open and run a company in Croatia.

Caveats

If you plan to go this route, make sure you educate yourself thoroughly so you know what you are getting yourself into. We have done a heap of posts about opening and running businesses in Croatia, which you can browse through here. You can also read more about the option of getting a work permit by opening your own company here.

1-year permit for third-country nationals

If you’re only looking to live in Croatia for just one year, then this permit scheme could be the right fit. It’s a great option for digital nomads and retirees whom have the flexibility to move to a new country for a limited amount of time.

Another benefit is that it is not “merit” based or tied to work contracts. There are some financial hoops, yes, but they are reasonable hoops if you have cash on hand. Of course, there are catches…

Caveats

  • It is only for one year and it is NOT renewable. There have been individual cases where folks using this scheme have been allowed to apply for and stay a second year, but they were all kicked out at the end of the second year.
  • At the end of the term, you must leave Croatia for 18 months before returning.
  • You must prove that you’ve prepaid rent (wherever you’re staying) for a year. Sometimes people are granted exceptions if they are staying with a friend or family member.
  • You must prepay state health insurance premiums through HZZO for one year (~6000 kuna). In addition, you’ll be required to pay an additional year’s worth of premiums for the previous year before you came. (So, total is ~ 12.000 kuna).
  • You are not allowed to work for a Croatian company.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you. If you have a spouse, they must apply separately.
  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship.

You can read more about how to apply for this permit scheme here.

Marry a Croatian or EU national

This program is called “family reunification”, which essentially means that spouses and children of Croatians and EU citizens can come to live in Croatia with their spouse or parent (if they are a minor).

To be clear, I’m not suggesting or encouraging anyone to marry someone they are not in a relationship with just to live in Croatia. Frankly, I don’t recommend it either. Divorce is too big of a headache especially in Croatia. There are other, better ways. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dive in.

If you are married to a Croatian or EU national, you are entitled to residency in Croatia AS LONG AS both you and your spouse live in Croatia together at the same address. This is by far the easiest and fastest permit to get, since there is an automatic trust that is inherent when a Croatian or EU citizen is involved.

You will need to provide an original copy of your marriage certificate that is translated, apostilled, and notarized (if married abroad). You’ll also need to show that you as a couple have the financial means to support yourself. I will cover this in more detail below in the “Requirements” section.

In practice, there have been discrepancies in the term of your permit. Some spouses have received 5-year permits, while others have had to get a new permit after each year. There does not appear to be a pattern, so you’ll just need to see what the police say in your situation.

After five years of temporary residency, you’ll qualify for permanent residency. Once you receive permanent residency, you can apply for citizenship. Hooray!

You can read more about how to apply for a permit based on marriage here.

Scientific research

If you have a legit scientific research project that you wish to work on in Croatia, you can get a residence permit. You’ll definitely need to provide proof of the research, which will likely involve a detailed plan of what you hope to accomplish and the time frame in which you plan to accomplish it. Expect it to be heavily scrutinized.

Caveats

  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship
  • You cannot work for a Croatian company

Volunteer

It is possible to gain residency on the grounds of humanitarian or volunteer work. To apply on this basis, you’ll need to provide a contract with a non-profit organization that shows the term of work and that you are not being paid for this work among other requirements.

Caveats

  • The term is limited to one year only. In some specific cases, you can get the same permit again for a second year, after which you absolutely must leave for a period of 18 months.
  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you. If you wish to bring your spouse, they will need to apply for their own residence permit on a volunteer or some other basis.
  • You cannot work in exchange for money.
  • You can only work for the non-profit with whom you have your contract used as the basis for your permit.

You can ready more about this permit here.

Croatian ancestry

If you’ve got Croatian blood, you’ve hit the ultimate jackpot. Seems like every day, the Croatian government is making it easier for diaspora to gain citizenship in an effort to get them to come live here.

To qualify for citizenship, you must have a parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc. that is Croatian. Lineage must be in a straight line and you must be able to prove lineage, which can be done in a variety of ways.

Even though having heritage is the golden ticket, there are still catches.

Caveats

  • From January 1, 2020, you can only apply from an embassy or consulate abroad if you are a non-resident.
  • If your ancestor left Croatia at any point and moved to an ex-Yugoslavia country, then your right to citizenship is negated.
  • If your ancestor left Croatia after 1991, then your right to citizenship is negated.
  • Applications for citizenship take time, months to years, so be patient. You won’t be here next week.
  • Without citizenship, lineage is on its own is not a valid basis for residency.

Requirements that apply to all situations

There are common requirements that apply to all Americans no matter which basis applies to you. Below is a list of those common requirements, however keep in mind that MUP will request additional items from you depending on your basis for residency as noted above.

Everyone must provide:

  • A completed application
    • The police will provide you with the right application
  • A valid passport
    • Expiration date must be more than 6 months out
  • OIB identification number (like a social security number)
  • Health insurance through HZZO, the state fund
    • Here is how to get state health insurance.
    • Here are the costs of state health insurance.
  • Registered address in Croatia (where you live, whether you own or rent)
    • If you are renting, you will need a notarized rental contract OR the owner can come to the police with you to state that you are renting from them.
  • Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself
    • Depending on your basis, you can either show you have a big chunk of money on a Croatian bank account or show a work contract or show salary payments from a Croatian company. The police will tell you what they need from you.
  • (2) passport photos
    • Usually there is a photo studio right by MUP where you can get these in the right size.
  • Application fee
    • This is due upon approval of your application. In some cases, you must pay an administrative fee earlier in the process using tax stamps.

Conclusion

While it may not be easy to live in Croatia legally long-term as a US citizen, there are a variety of options that will allow you to live here for at least a year.

I’m an American whom has lived here for 8 years and currently holds permanent residency. It was by no means easy or cheap, but from my perspective, all the hoops of fire were worth it. It all depends on how badly you want to live here and how much patience you have.

Are you a US citizen that lives in Croatia? On which basis do you live here? What was your application experience like?

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