Croatia joined Schengen – what this means for Croatian residents and tourists

Beach in Omis, Croatia

UPDATED: 15.11.2023.

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

Joining Schengen brought 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, a travel authorization system called ETIAS will be introduced in mid-2025. 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 Schengen brought 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 crossings. However, there are no border (internal) controls between Schengen members.

Schengen currently has 27 members, including 23 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.

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What is the difference between the EU and Schengen?

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 for political or legal reasons.

By joining the European Union in 2013, Croatia accepted the entire Schengen legal acquis. However, Croatia did not automatically enter the Schengen area at the time of EU accession.

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

  • 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 did Croatia join 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 Schengen members should be abolished as of January 1, 2023
  • Border controls in Croatian airports for Schengen passengers should be abolished as of March 26, 2023
  • Restrictions for using the Schengen Information System (SIS) should be abolished as of January 1, 2023

The EU Council then delivered this Proposal to the European Parliament and asked for their opinion. This was 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, which stated that Croatia would join Schengen on January 1, 2023. For this decision, Schengen countries belonging to the EU had to bring a consensus. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland (non-EU countries) did not have the right to vote.

So, Croatia is officially a Schengen member state as of January 1, 2023.

Border controls have been abolished, and Schengen passengers must use separate airport gates. Passengers who travel from Croatia to other Schengen members are separated in those countries – they use gates without border controls. The same is valid for passengers who arrive in Croatia from other Schengen members – they are not checked.

Flights between Schengen countries are now 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.

What does belonging to Schengen mean for Croatia?

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

By joining Schengen, the border control between Croatia and other EU member states (Slovenia and Hungary) was abolished. Border control remained in place at the external borders with Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it is stricter.

Croatians who live in these neighboring countries and hold Croatian and non-EU citizenship are treated as EU citizens as long as they use their Croatian documents to cross borders.

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

Croatia can now use Schengen monitoring, control, and data exchange mechanisms (SIS and VIS systems, etc.) 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]

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 related bodies.

Based on the SIS information, the police may take action. For example, the information should help arrest people for whom a warrant has been issued, discover re-entry attempts of people to whom entry to Schengen is refused, or confiscate 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 and third-country nationals who can enter visa-free. Other third-country nationals must provide a Schengen visa before entering Schengen.

If you needed a visa to enter Croatia before Croatia joined Schengen, now you probably need a Schengen visa to enter Croatia.

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 days. This 90-day period can be continuous or divided into several shorter stays within 180 days. The time spent in Croatia is added to the time spent in other Schengen member states.

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

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

  • Have a valid travel document and visa if required
  • Justify the purpose and conditions of the planned travel
  • Prove 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 EU countries

Learn about the types of available visas for entry into Croatia and possible exemptions in this guide.

Where can Schengen visa holders apply for Croatian residence?

Some third-country nationals who want to apply for Croatian residence may hold a Schengen visa. To submit a temporary residence application, they must visit the Croatian diplomatic mission or consular office outside Croatia. They cannot apply at a police station called MUP in Croatia.

However, there are some exemptions. They can apply for temporary residence at MUP if they are:

  • Close family member of a Croatian citizen – view a guide here
  • Life partner or informal life partner of a Croatian citizen – view a guide here
  • Applying to study at a university, undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate level – view a guide here
  • Researcher who comes under a guest contract
  • Close family member of a researcher or third-country national who comes to study
  • Applying based on humanitarian reasons – view a guide here
  • Member of the family of holders of the EU Blue Card – view a guide here

[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 mid-2025. 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 euros. 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 discover that a traveler has no ETIAS approval, they will refuse the entry and register the refusal in the Entry-Exit System.

Once the government issues more information on the ETIAS implementation, 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’s membership in Schengen

View MUP’s frequently asked questions on Schengen visas here and here.

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 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.

The time you spend on a temporary stay in Croatia is not included in the time of your short-term stay in all Schengen member states. After your temporary residence expires, you can stay in Croatia or other Schengen countries if you meet the requirements for a short-term stay.

QUESTION: When did the Schengen rules start?

ANSWER: Borders have been abolished since the beginning of 2023, and these are the changes that were part of the process:

  • 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 were abolished as of March 26, 2023
  • ETIAS will launch in 2025

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

ANSWER: Schengen visas were valid before Croatia entered Schengen and are valid after. The biggest change is in the options for a visa. The transit visa A and short-stay visa C, used for business, personal, and tourist purposes, are now called Schengen visas.

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

QUESTION: I must stay in Croatia for 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 are no longer border checks between Croatia and other Schengen nations.

Through the new Schengen Information System, Croatia can see if you are registered with the police in another country within Schengen. In each European country, your accommodation must register you with the 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.

QUESTION: Can I enter Croatia after my Schengen days expire if I have submitted my digital nomad permit online?

ANSWER: If you have submitted your application online and your Schengen days have expired you must wait for the approval before entering Croatia. Once approved, if you belong to a nationality that needs a visa to enter Croatia you must apply for a D visa in a consulate. If you are from a nationality that does not need a visa to enter Croatia, you can enter Croatia without a visa.

However, if you apply in person in Croatia before the expiration of your Schengen days you can stay even after your days have expired while waiting for the processing of your application, which can take up to 2 months.

Read more about the process in this post about the digital nomad residency permit and in this post with frequently asked questions.

QUESTION: Is it true that if I work in Croatia for one year I can then migrate to other Schengen countries?

ANSWER: The Schengen region functions as a single zone exclusively for border control purposes. Each nation issues its own work permits, residency permits, student visas, and so forth. The Schengen Agreement has nothing to do with being able to live, work, or study in a country that is a member of the Schengen zone.

If a Schengen member country grants you a residence permit for work, it also serves as a tourist visa, allowing you to travel to other Schengen nations for up to 90 days during 180 days. A residence permit from one Schengen country does not grant you the right to reside in another. You can only visit as a tourist.

QUESTION: Can I travel by air to other Schengen countries with my residency permit?

ANSWER: Yes. Flights to other Schengen countries from Croatia are considered domestic flights now. Also, since you have a residency permit issued by one Schengen country, in this case Croatia, you are permitted to travel to another Schengen country as per Schengen visa rules (90 days within a 180-day time frame).

QUESTION: What has changed with Schengen and how am I going to be affected?

ANSWER: If you are staying in Croatia on a Schengen visa, the time counts toward your allowed days, which is 90 days within 180 days. So, Croatia cannot be a “break” from Schengen anymore.

Also, the borders have been abolished, including land, sea, and air travel. This means that any trips within the Schengen zone are now considered domestic. On the other hand, external Schengen borders have stronger control and sometimes longer waiting times, especially in the summer.

QUESTION: What has changed with the Digital Nomad permit since Croatia entered Schengen?

ANSWER: Rules that apply to Croatia’s digital nomad permit are still the same but now you must consider the time you have spent in the Schengen zone when applying for this permit. You can apply for a digital nomad permit in Croatia until 8 days before your Schengen days expire. Please note you should not wait until the last moment to submit your application in person. See more information here.

QUESTION: Can I enter Schengen when my digital nomad residency expires?

ANSWER: Your digital nomad residency in Croatia does not count towards your Schengen visa days. If you have some time left on your Schengen visa you can travel to other Schengen countries after your digital nomad residency expires. However, you cannot stay in Croatia after the expiration date. To be able to return to Croatia and apply for digital nomad residency again you must leave Schengen for a minimum of 90 days.

QUESTION: Now in Schengen, I may stay away longer, can I list my apartment on Airbnb?

ANSWER: Different rules apply if you want to rent out your apartment in Croatia, and it depends on which country you are coming from. It is simple for you as an EU/EEA citizen or their family member or have the right to work in Croatia. All you have to do is register your property for renting.

But, if you are coming from a third country without the right to work in Croatia, it’s more complicated to rent out your apartment short term. For you, a better option is to rent your apartment long-term, because it does not require any special permit to do so.

See this post for more information about renting your apartment in Croatia as a foreigner.

QUESTION: What is a Schengen background check and does it apply for a Croatia temporary residence permit?

ANSWER: The Schengen area does not have a no-admission policy for tourist visas. However, individual countries might require a criminal background check if you are applying for temporary or permanent residency.

To apply for Croatian temporary residency you must submit a criminal background check, among other documents. Here is everything you need to know about the process.

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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