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Croatia is joining the Schengen zone (and what this means for Croatian residents and tourists)

Beach in Omis, Croatia

UPDATED: 19.01.2023

Croatia is joining the Schengen zone on January 1, 2023. But what does that mean exactly, and how will it affect you?

Joining Schengen will bring some perks for anyone planning to visit Croatia from third countries and other Schengen member states – like eliminating border checks with neighboring Schengen countries.

In addition to Schengen, a travel authorization system called ETIAS will be introduced in May 2023. People who do not need a visa to enter Croatia and the EU will soon be required to register through it before their travel.

We ascertained what this big step means for Croatia, its residents, other Schengen members, and worldwide visitors – so you know what to expect.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

What joining Schengen brings to Croatian residents and visitors

What is the Schengen area?

The Schengen area is a joint territory of associated European countries that functions as one state concerning border controls. Schengen member states control people who enter and leave Schengen at their border crosses. However, there are no border (internal) controls between Schengen members.

Schengen currently has 26 members, including 22 EU member states, plus another four countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland). They mutually agreed to abolish national border checks between them to simplify trading and border crossing procedures.

By joining the European Union in 2013, Croatia accepted the entire Schengen legal acquis. However, this does not mean that Croatia automatically entered the Schengen area at the time of EU accession.

To apply the Schengen legal acquis, Croatia had to be evaluated in the following areas:

  • External border management
  • Return and readmission
  • Schengen Information System II
  • Common visa policy
  • Police cooperation
  • Data protection
  • Judicial cooperation
  • Firearms regulations
  • Work of competent authorities who apply the Schengen acquis

Croatia had to meet all the mandatory requirements to join Schengen.

When is Croatia joining Schengen?

In June 2022, The Council of the European Union (EU Council) brought the Proposal stating:

  • Border controls on the Croatian land and maritime borders with members of the Schengen area should be abolished as of January 1, 2023
  • Border controls in Croatian airports for Schengen passengers should be abolished as of March 26, 2023
  • All restrictions for using the Schengen Information System (SIS) should be abolished as of January 1, 2023

Due to the abolition of border controls, Schengen passengers will have to use separate gates at airports. Passengers who travel from Croatia to other Schengen members will be separated in those countries – they will use gates without border controls. The same will happen with passengers who arrive in Croatia from other Schengen members – they will not be checked.

So this means that flights between Schengen countries will be treated as domestic. Travelers on direct flights from Croatia to other Schengen destinations only have to check in for the flight and go through security. They can go on their flight without the check by border control or police.

The EU Council delivered this Proposal to the European Parliament and asked for their opinion. This is a required step for bringing the official decision on Croatia’s entry into Schengen. The European Parliament agreed with Croatia entering Schengen on November 10, 2022.

The EU Council brought its final decision in December 2022 – Croatia is joining Schengen as of January 1, 2023. For the final opinion to be brought, Schengen countries that also belong to the EU had to bring a consensus. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland (non-EU countries) did not have the right to vote.

What does joining Schengen mean for Croatia?

Until joining Schengen, border control of passengers is carried out both at the Croatian entrance and exit at the internal and external borders. The control includes a regular check of identity and citizenship, the validity of your travel document, and checking in the relevant databases. Third-country nationals are also subjected to thorough additional checks.

By joining Schengen, the border control between Croatia and other EU member states (Slovenia and Hungary) will be abolished. Border control will remain in place at the external borders with Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it will be stricter. Croatians who live in these neighboring countries who hold both Croatian as well as non-EU citizenship will be treated as EU citizens as long as they use their Croatian documents to cross borders.

Once people are controlled at an external border, they can freely travel inside the Schengen without being checked again.

Croatia will be allowed to use Schengen monitoring, control, and data exchange mechanisms (SIS and VIS systems, etc.) – used to combat terrorism and manage migration flows.

In addition to introducing the euro in 2023, Croatian membership in Schengen should also enable deeper integration of Croatia into the EU. Both events should strengthen the Croatian economy and enable the free movement of people and goods.

[Read: Croatian transition from kuna to euro: Guide for residents of Croatia]

[Read: Croatian transition from kuna to euro: Guide for business owners in Croatia]

Note: The Schengen area and European Union are not the same, and it is necessary to distinguish them. Not all EU member states belong to Schengen. Although all of them can apply for membership, the acceptance can be denied due to political or legal reasons.

What is SIS?

SIS (Schengen Information System) is a joint database of Schengen members that contains information about wanted and missing persons, lost and stolen property, and entry bans. It is available to all police officers, border control, law enforcement officers, and similar related bodies.

Based on the information from SIS, the police may take necessary actions. For example, the information should help in arresting people for whom a warrant has been issued, discovering re-entry attempts of people to whom entry to Schengen is refused, or confiscating stolen cars or identification documents.

What is VIS?

VIS (Visa Information System) is a system that allows Schengen members to exchange data about visas. VIS connects Schengen members’ national systems, consulates in non-EU countries, and all external border crossings.

VIS gathers the data related to applications for short-stay visas for visits or transits through Schengen. At the border crossings, it allows the police to check people who applied for biometric visas. They compare their fingerprints with the data available in the system.

Who needs to possess a Schengen visa?

Schengen can be compared to one big country with a single external border. This would mean that all passengers entering the Schengen territory from outside of Schengen must be recorded at its border. A document called the “Schengen visa” was introduced for this purpose.

A Schengen visa is not required for citizens of EU member states or third-country nationals who can already enter visa-free. They can enter and travel through Schengen without a visa. However, some third-country nationals must provide a Schengen visa before entering Schengen.

If you currently need a visa to enter Croatia, then you’ll need a Schengen visa to enter Croatia after the transition as well.

The Schengen visa can be issued for single, double, or multiple entries. The owner of a Schengen visa can stay in Schengen for a period not exceeding 90 days in any 180-day period. This 90-day period can be continuous or divided into several shorter stays within 180 days.

Schengen visa calculator of travel days remaining under a Schengen visa is available here and here.

Third-country nationals who plan to stay in the Schengen territory must:

  • Have a valid travel document and visa, if required
  • Justify the purpose and conditions of the planned travel
  • Prove that they have sufficient means of support
  • Not be the subject of a warning in the Schengen SIS for the purpose of banning entry
  • Not being perceived as a threat to public order, internal security, public health, or international relations of any of the EU countries.

Currently, foreign nationals who own Schengen visas and holders of Bulgarian, Cypriot, and Romanian visas and residence permits do not need additional Croatian visas to enter Croatia. This rule applies if they intend to transit through Croatia or stay in Croatia for up to 90 days within 180 days.

Valid documents include:

  • Unique visa (C visa) valid for the territory of all Schengen member states for two or more entries
  • Visas with limited territorial validity (LTV visa) in certain Schengen member states (but not all Schengen states) for two or more entries
  • Long-term visas (D visa) for a stay longer than 90 days, issued by a Schengen member state
  • Residence permits issued by one of the Schengen member states
  • Bulgarian visas valid for two or more entries and residence permits listed in Annex I to Decision no. 565/2014/EU
  • Cypriot visas valid for two or more entries and residence permits listed in Annex III to Decision no. 565/2014/EU
  • Romanian visas valid for two or more entries and residence permits listed in Annex IV to Decision no. 565/2014/EU

[Read: All types of available visas for entry into Croatia]

Where can Schengen visa holders apply for Croatian residence?

Some third-country nationals who want to initiate the process of applying for Croatian residence may hold a Schengen visa. To submit their temporary residence application, they must go to the Croatian diplomatic mission or consular office outside of Croatia. They are not allowed to apply for residence at a police station (MUP) in Croatia.

However, there are some exemptions. Third-country nationals who need visas to enter Croatia can apply for temporary residence at MUP if they are:

[Read: How third-country (non-EU/EEA) citizens can apply for temporary residency in Croatia]

ETIAS – new authorization system for visa-free third-country nationals

EU member states, including Croatia, will implement the travel authorization system called ETIAS in May 2023. ETIAS is an abbreviation for European Travel Information and Authorisation System.

ETIAS is an automated system with the purpose of establishing better monitoring for Schengen borders through the pre-check of travelers. ETIAS tracks only third-country nationals who travel to Schengen without needing a visa. For example, ETIAS pre-screens citizens of the USA, Great Britain, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The benefits of ETIAS are numerous including:

  • Faster and more efficient border controls
  • More efficient border management procedures
  • Less bureaucracy
  • Fewer delays for passengers
  • Identification of individuals who pose security threats
  • Improved prevention of illegal migrations
  • Prevention of terrorism and crime

How ETIAS works?

Before travel, these groups of people will have to submit the request for travel approval. This will be possible to do online or by ETIAS mobile application. They will have to provide only a passport or other travel documents. The application process is short and lasts approximately 10 minutes.

Another person can submit the request if an applicant is prevented due to age, illiteracy, or use of the system. The procedure costs 7 €. People younger than 18 and older than 70 are exempt from the cost.

After the fee is paid, the system starts an automatic evaluation procedure. Once issued, the approval is valid for 3 years and allows traveling to all Schengen member states.

The travel approval may be refused if:

  • The applicant presents a security risk
  • There is a risk of illegal immigration
  • There is a high risk of an epidemiological situation

Once people arrive at the Schengen border, the border police will electronically check their data. If everything goes well, travelers can enter Schengen. If the police find out that a traveler has no ETIAS approval, they will refuse the entry and register the refusal in the Entry Exit System.

ETIAS is expected to be implemented in November 2023. Once the government issues more information, we will update this post and introduce a guide on registering for visa-free entry through ETIAS. Do not miss it.

More information on ETIAS is available here.

Note: ETIAS is not a visa. It is a visa waiver that may be compared to the U.S. ESTA and Canadian eTA.

Frequently asked questions about Croatia joining Schengen zone

QUESTION: How will Croatia know if I’ve left Croatia to travel to other parts of Schengen if there are no border checks?

ANSWER: Croatia now has access to the Schengen Information System (SIS). When you stay in any country in Schengen, your presence must be registered with the police by the accommodation. This happens in Croatia as well. This registration will be visible in SIS. So, if you get a residence permit in Croatia, and try to use it to live in France, Croatia will find out if you are registered with the police in France.

Even though you can now freely travel from Croatia to the rest of Schengen, you must still follow the travel restrictions in place for your nationality per this guide.

QUESTION: If I spent the last quarter of 2022 in Croatia, can I restart my 90 days immediately on January 1 and have two 90-day stays back-to-back?

ANSWER: No, you may not do this. Schengen states you may spend 90 days in 180-day period within the zone. Croatia has its own 90/180-day rule unrelated to Schengen. You may not stay in Croatia for more than 90 days within a 180-day period without applying for temporary residence.

QUESTION: If I have a temporary residence permit in Croatia after the Schengen transition, can I travel to a Schengen country as a tourist after it expires?

ANSWER: Yes. Your time in a Schengen country with a temporary residence permit does not count towards your visa stay in other parts of the Schengen zone.

QUESTION: Once Croatia becomes part of Schengen, how much time will we have before the rules kick in. Will there be a grace period?

ANSWER: Yes and no. In terms of calculation of days spent in the zone, the change is immediate. There will be no grace period. However, there are systemic changes that will happen in phases as follows:

  • Border controls on the Croatian land and maritime borders with members of the Schengen area were abolished as of January 1, 2023
  • All restrictions for using the Schengen Information System (SIS) were abolished as of January 1, 2023
  • Border controls in Croatian airports for Schengen passengers will be abolished as of March 26, 2023
  • ETIAS will launch by end of 2023

QUESTION: I need a visa to enter Croatia. How will Schengen affect me?

ANSWER: Schengen visas were valid before Croatia entered Schengen, and will be valid after. The biggest change is in options for a visa. The Entry Visa C used for business, personal and tourist purposes has been replaced by the Schengen visa.

You may learn how to apply for a visa to enter Croatia here.

QUESTION: I must stay in Croatia a certain amount of time to maintain my residence permit. How will Croatia know if I’m gone longer if all I do is travel to other parts of the Schengen zone?

ANSWER: Everyone with a residence permit in Croatia must stay a specific amount of time in Croatia each year to maintain their residence. Those restrictions can vary and are outlined here. This was regulated by border patrol. However, after the introduction of Schengen, there will no longer be border checks between Croatia and other Schengen nations.

Through the new Schengen Information System, Croatia will be able to see if you are registered with the police in another country within Schengen. In each country in Europe, your accommodation is required to register you with local police – just like in Croatia. Keep that in mind if you try to bend the rules. If you lose your residence permit because you stayed outside Croatia longer than you were supposed to, do not get mad at Croatia.

View our other visa posts

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Travel to & From Croatia Will Be Notably Easier From Next Year by Schengen Visa
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Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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