Crushing it in Croatia: Alex uncovers his community

al person
Alex L. in Samobor

Welcome to “Crushing it in Croatia”, a series where we feature expats who have moved to Croatia and used Expat in Croatia’s resources to do it.

In this series, we take a deeper dive into the realities of moving to Croatia, including how long it takes, what drew people here and the things they hoped to leave behind, experiences of dealing with the Croatian police, shocks and challenges, how Expat in Croatia’s made the transition easier, advice for the next wave and whether or not it was all worth it in the end.

In this post, we spoke to Alex, an American-Croat living in Samobor. He shares how he found the right place for his family, how Croatia compares to the United States, the challenges of obtaining citizenship for his kids and getting a mortgage.

Take it away, Alex!

Hey Alex! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Alex and I grew up near New York City speaking Croatian and Russian with my immigrant parents. I lived and worked in NYC for 15 years and then in DC for a decade.

I moved to Croatia in August 2020 with my wife and three young daughters. My wife and I both work remotely in the US. She does legal work and I have small business.

Where do you live in Croatia?

A town named Samobor in Zagreb county, just outside the capitol.

Sunset in Samobor, Croatia
Sunset in Samobor, from Alex’s balcony

What drew you to Croatia?

The natural beauty of the country and the slower, leisure-oriented lifestyle. Croatians consistently take time to meet friends for coffee regularly, go hiking in the mountains on the weekends, and in the summer go swimming on the coast and the islands.

Work-life balance is much better here. We were also excited about the ability to travel regularly in Europe. And the lower cost of living makes life less stressful.

Was there anything about daily life in your previous country that you were hoping to leave behind?

Life in Washington, DC, is beautiful and stimulating and also quite busy and not inexpensive. We have shifted to a slower, more comfortable pace of life in Croatia, and without losing access to stimulating arts and culture, as well as good educational opportunities for our children.

Flyer from movie theater in Samobor, Croatia
Flyer from movie theater in Samobor

When you decided to move to Croatia, how did you prepare? What did you do first to plan your move?

I started Googling a lot, looking at YouTube videos, and contacting friends who already live in the region. I also called the Croatian consulate in DC to find out what I would need to prepare for the move, and found a lawyer in Zagreb to help with preparing some paperwork.

How did you find Expat in Croatia?

Google. The first post I read was something like “the most important thing to learn about living in Croatia.”

How did Expat in Croatia help with your transition to Croatia? Which resources did you use?

Mostly getting oriented with which papers I needed to start gathering in order to request various Croatian documents, as well as how to approach the Croatian bureaucracy. Very helpful. I looked at citizenship, residency, education, banking, and health care.

On what basis did you apply for residence? Was it work, prepayment of rent, family reunification, studying, ownership of property, or something else?

I already had Croatian citizenship from father. I always thought I would only use it for summer vacations and maybe retiring in Croatia later on in life. I changed my mind in the summer for 2019. A friend living in Sarajevo had been telling me for years that the quality of life is better here, especially for raising children.

Citizenship for my daughters was complicated. I prepared all of the applications and submitted them in January of 2020. At the consulate, they discovered that my domovnica was incorrect because they never switched my date of birth from the American style M-D-Y to the European style of D-M-Y. That took six months to fix, because the March 2020 earthquake and COVID slowed everything down. We hired a lawyer in Croatia to push the correction through.
Once the domovnica was corrected and received in June, we applied for our daughters’ citizenship based on lineage, as I already had the citizenship when they were born, and their domovnicas were ready here when we arrived in September.
For my wife, she came on a tourist visa and applied for temporary residency and received it within two months of applying. The MUP person here in Samobor responsible for dealing with foreigners was always quite busy when we went to see her. There were always lines of foreigners waiting, but she spoke good British English and was consistently polite and helpful.

How were you treated by the police?

Everyone I dealt with at the police station and other government agencies when I was getting various documents was consistently calm and polite and helpful. I didn’t feel like the service was any different from the US. Some of the services have been slower because of COVID and the March 2020 earthquake, but most were completed quickly, within days or several weeks.

Did you move directly from your home country to Croatia? Have you ever lived abroad before besides Croatia?

This isn’t my first time living abroad as I had worked as a human rights monitor in Bosnia 1996-97 and did a fellowship in Moscow 2006-07. The transition from DC to Samobor was not hard as I had been speaking Croatian with my children since they were born, and DC is a very international city with foreign diplomats, students and World Bank/IMF staff.

Croatia is also very Anglophile. Many people speak some or a lot of English. I have not felt any of the resistance or resentment towards English that you feel sometimes in other European countries.

How much time passed from the time you decided to move to Croatia, to the time you arrived here?

We decided in the fall of 2019 to move during the summer of 2020 so that it wouldn’t interrupt our children’s school and day care. We wanted time to apply for Croatian citizenship for our daughters so that they could get the state medical insurance (HZZO) upon arrival. We also needed time to prepare to move our jobs overseas.

Waldorf school in Samobor, Croatia
Waldorf school in Samobor

Once you arrived and settled into Croatia, what were the biggest shocks or challenges you experienced?

Quality of our children’s education and child care. We chose Samobor primarily because we found a small Waldorf day care center and a small, private elementary school with 9 kids per class that were just as good as what our children had in northwest DC.

Quality of health care. Our experiences with doctors and nurses in state hospitals have been very positive as everyone seems very well trained and organized. Like in the US, the state system does seem understaffed, especially with COVID going on. So we decided to get private supplementary health insurance (Uniqa) and found good private pediatric and adult clinics in Zagreb for non-urgent care.

Where are you now with your life in Croatia? Are you happy here? How long do you plan to stay?

We are very happy and planning to stay long term. Because Croatia is so beautiful, most of our friends in the US plan to visit so we feel like that will make it much easier to maintain those friendships.

samobor house
The family home in Samobor

We are currently in the process of buying a 340 square meter house in Samobor with a mortgage from the Zagreb branch of the Austrian savings and loans association Wustenrot. We plan to live on the ground floor, use the second floor for home offices and guest space, and the third floor for our in-laws, who will join us later this year.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to move to Croatia in the future?

Try to find a region and community that is compatible with your personal values, professional goals and socio-economic status so that you don’t stand out or feel out of place.

We chose Zagreb county because of the good access to country’s best medical care and educational institutions for our kids, easy access to the coast and to Central Europe, and feeling like we would connect better with Croatians who are very educated and politically/culturally liberal.

Thank you, Alex!

Here are the resources Alex mentioned in his interview:

If you would like to be featured in this series, please contact Sara here. Check out our other interviews from this series here.

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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