On April 23, 2022, I was interviewed by Toni Dukić, reporter for Dalmacija Danas. We discussed how I became a Croatian bureaucracy expert, how Croatia compares to Texas, why I call Split home and what frustrates me most about having a business in Croatia.
You can read the original article in Croatian online here.
You may read the English translation of the article below.
Life story of a hardworking American; She arrived in Split and started a successful business: “I want to stay here for the rest of my life”
She loves Split and can’t imagine being anywhere else. She tells us that this city allows her to be what she is. Meet Sara, a woman we can rightly call our “Splićanka”.
Sara Dyson is a 38-year-old American who was born and raised in Texas.
She graduated in photojournalism and political science from the university there, and in New York she specialized in culinary arts. She lived her “American dream” until the feast of St. Duje in 2012. Then she decided to turn her life around and moved to Split. This year she is celebrating ten years of living on the European continent, and recently bought her first apartment in Split.
That she has fully adapted here is evidenced by the announcement that she will apply for Croatian citizenship and will invoke “special interests” for the Republic of Croatia, and what those interests are will be much clearer after reading the story of this amazing woman.
“After a few months, I knew I wanted to stay here for the rest of my life.”
Four years ago, she founded a company called Expat in Croatia, which helps people who live or have connections with Croatia to have as few problems as possible with our complicated bureaucracy. Sara and her associates offer a multitude of free services, but also consultations as well as introduction to Croatian real estate agents, translators, accountants and lawyers.
She arrived in Croatia by accident.
“Honestly, I didn’t know anything about this country. Eleven years ago, I was planning a trip to Italy. But I came across a blog written by an American couple, who were on a kayaking tour from Opatija to Dubrovnik. They said that Croatia is more beautiful, cheaper, has better food and people than Italy.
Then I looked at the pictures for a while and wondered what is this paradise that I know nothing about? In the end, I spent ten days in Croatia. At the time, I was planning to move to Amsterdam, where I lived in 2008 and 2009. But I couldn’t find a job. The aggravating circumstance was that the cost of living there had risen a lot and I could not realize my wish. Then I decided to try in Croatia. I told myself if I failed, it would at least be a longer vacation. After a few months, I knew I wanted to stay here for the rest of my life,” described Sara in detail at the beginning of the conversation.
She spent a total of nine years working to find out as much as possible about the Croatian bureaucracy, procedures and everything related to it. And she became a real expert.
“It all started in 2013 when I started my blog where I wrote in my spare time. It started with posts like “How to get an OIB?”, “What do you need to do for health care?” and “Types of residence permits”. Over time, we wrote more and more about immigration, citizenship, health insurance, business, transportation, real estate, banking, culture, and everyday life.
I’m like a sponge for information so I quickly stored everything in my brain. We started with consulting two years ago. This means that we usually make a meeting with people through Zoom or in person and give them answers to all questions about Croatia, show them all the procedures, advise them on how to overcome a particular obstacle and warn them of all possible risks.
If they need any professional help, we refer them to the experts we work with. I am a real encyclopedia when it comes to Croatian bureaucracy and I rarely need to research anything. If something new comes out, I immediately store it in my brain,” she describes it vividly.
You thought that the Croatian bureaucracy was worse than the American one?
Sara works with everyone. From foreigners to the Croatian diaspora and those living in Croatia. She also tells us that sometimes our people tell them that they gave them better information than the authorities.
“To defend the Government, their information has been getting better in recent years, as more and more foreigners arrive in Croatia and I feel that they are doing the best they can. They provide this information based on the experience of Croats, and our advantage is that we provide them based on the experience of both Croats and foreigners.
I will tell you one of my favorite stories. Last year we were contacted by a twelve-year-old boy, who wanted to dye his hair. His mother told him that Croatian laws forbade it, but he did not believe her and contacted us. My colleague from Bedekovčina did a little research and of course found out that there is no law that could forbid him to do so, but that there are schools that cultivate such a policy. I still wonder if he managed to paint it,” Sara tells us.
Their working day is extremely dynamic.
“At the beginning of the day, we deal with all the things I listed at the beginning of the conversation. All members of the team do their job, after the check our Marija writes an article, which we edit together and post on our website. We are contacted by 30 to 40 people a day who need help. My colleague Teri is their first contact. She answers their inquiries or arranges a meeting with me, connects with colleague Lucija or the expert they need.
Lucija, who is from Sinj, helps people find apartments, connects people with offices such as the Ministry of the Interior or the Croatian Health Insurance Fund and is their assistant in adapting to Split. She recently coordinated the donation of 200 books to a school in Rogotin, donated by an American whose grandfather is originally from Šarić Struga.
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As for my part of the job, it all starts with consulting sessions, which I have 10 to 15 a week. As for the rest of the day, it’s never as we plan. I am in contact with my team. I work with our social media manager, with whom I also work on videos. Every Friday at 5 pm I have a live broadcast on Instagram, where I answer questions about Croatia.
I also administer our website, which is the key to our business. She is my vision and my baby. Now I have a few public appearances to follow. I have two conferences in May and June. Next week I will be giving a lecture to 25 students from Texas, who are now in Split. They want to learn something about Croatia, but also to live here. In addition to all this, there are also plans for the future, which will remain a secret for now,” Sara enthusiastically tells us about her work.
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We asked Sara if the Croatian bureaucracy was more complex than the American one. She would not agree with that. She says it’s just – different.
“In some parts it is more challenging. For example, the renewal of my Texas driver’s license from Croatia took nine months. I was told several times that they did not receive the request, and they only accepted it after the fourth attempt. On the other hand, getting a Croatian driver’s license was the easiest thing I managed to do. It was all over in fifteen minutes, and in Texas it would surely take three hours until you were called.
[In Croatia] what bothers me the most are the demands on companies. A lot of things make our business difficult. I try to do everything right and according to the law. I employ six people. I tried several times to do something that was legal, but my accountant told me I couldn’t do it because I would look guilty. Why would you look guilty for doing something that is allowed? I don’t understand.
“I want to invest time so I can hire more people and pay their contributions,” Sara tells us.
“I wouldn’t agree with the thesis that Dalmatians are lazy. It bothers me when someone says that.”
She adores Split and can’t imagine being anywhere else. She tells us that this city allows her to be who she is.
“I like that I can walk anywhere in 20 minutes. I also love that I can enjoy the beach, walk and go to an island on the same day. She also likes the fact that she doesn’t need a car. She likes Diocletian’s Palace, but also the architecture of the Mertojak, Trstenik and Split 3 districts. At the same time, I see the mountains, the sea and the islands. I love that I can get lost on Marjan and no one can find me.I visit Zagreb several times a year and I wouldn’t be able to live there. <
Split is relaxed. If you’re late because the bus didn’t arrive, it doesn’t matter. “Pomalo”. But I would not agree with the thesis that Dalmatians are lazy. It bothers me when someone says that. From my experience, Dalmatians enjoy their life. As for me, I still work 12 hours a day, like a real American. In America they say you are worth as much as you work. In Croatia, they look at you the way you are as a person and how much you enjoy life. That is much better,” Sara thinks.
Croatia and her native Texas can be compared in many ways. That is probably why she feels at home here.
“There are many influences of other cultures in Texas. There is a well-known saying “six flags over Texas”, which speaks to the influence of six different states that have historically had power over the area. This is also the case in Croatia, which throughout history has been a part of various state creations. Modern Croatia, Italy, Austro-Hungary, France, Venice, Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of Croatia and the Ottoman Empire. They all left their mark on this area. So it is in Texas, where the Spaniards, the French, the Mexicans, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy and today’s modern United States ruled,” she tells us.
We asked her how she is with the Croatian language.
“I speak it decently, better and better every day. I had to learn two languages at once, the Dalmatian and the standard Croatian, and there are differences between the languages in Split and elsewhere in Dalmatia. There’s a lot of work to be done. The people of Split always tell me that I have a good accent.
I am at a disadvantage because I do not have a Croat husband. I don’t go to an office every day where I am surrounded by Croats. I work constantly with people who speak English, but I speak Croatian whenever the opportunity arises. Cases are the hardest part of this language because we don’t have them in English. I understand them and I try to use them, but when I am in a situation to speak Croatian, my brain does not react so quickly,” says the nice American.
In anticipation of Croatian citizenship …
She likes our coffee drinking culture.
“In America, you drink coffee when you go to or leave work. In Croatia, drinking coffee is an event. You sit down with friends, pick up a newspaper and enjoy the time you have. It will then be the center of your life. This shows how important socializing is in Croatia. The contact with people that we are used to got lost because of cell phones and social media. That’s why I love that they stick to tradition here and take the time to socialize and talk to others. I would say if you can’t have coffee with someone, then that person can’t be a part of your life,” she tells us jokingly.
As we wrote earlier, she wants to stay in Split forever. She plans to buy a cottage in Istria, but here is her home. For the future, she has a million plans.
“I exhaust most people who know me because I am constantly coming up with ideas for new things I can do with the company, or with new jobs I want to start or projects that the community can benefit from. I feel as if the local community has welcomed me with open arms. So I want to do my best to repay the community and the city for the kindness they have shown me.
I have a lot of ideas on how to serve and reciprocate Split and I hope to have the opportunity to achieve everything. I hope that Expat in Croatia will continue to grow and eventually be able to function without me, so that I can write books about my life in Croatia. I’ve already started two. After all, I am a writer. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I’d like.
In the end, I really hope to get Croatian citizenship. I am not applying on the basis of origin, because I am married to a Croat or even because I have been here long enough. Special interest is based entirely on merit. So, if the request is approved, it means that Croatia, more precisely the government itself, agrees that I have contributed to the country in a positive way. That would mean the whole world to me,” Sara concluded.
Check out more interviews with Sara
- RTL Danas – April 2022 – Watch video and read the article here
- Večernji list – December 2021 – Read original article here in Croatian and translated into English here
- Slobodna Dalmacija – October 2021 – Read original article here in Croatian and translated into English here
- Flavor of Croatia – July 2021 – Listen to the podcast here
- Dobro jutro, Hrvatska (HRT1) – June 2020 – Watch video and read the article 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.