Croatia is officially offering temporary residence to digital nomads effective January 1, 2021. You may know this by its colloquially name – the “digital nomad visa”. The introduction of this permit adds a brand new option for non-EU nationals to live in Croatia long term.
The revised law that regulates the immigration of foreigners (and introduces this permit) became official when it was published in Narodne novine. Changes to the law are never official until they are published in Narodne novine.
In this post, we will cover:
- The myth of the “digital nomad visa”
- What the new law says about digital nomads
- Open questions about this permit
- What we know about the digital nomad residence permit
- How digital nomads can apply for temporary residence in Croatia
- Will digital nomads be exempt from paying income tax in Croatia?
- How to get help applying for residence
Let’s get started…
The digital nomad visa is not a visa. It’s a residence permit.
In Croatia, a visa refers to short stay for tourists. Depending on your nationality, you can either just show up in Croatia and stay up to 90 days or you must apply for a tourist visa from abroad, before you can enter Croatia. Some nationalities are only allowed to be in Croatia up to 30 days as tourists.
You can check MUP’s website for all the requirements to enter Croatia as a tourist, as well as how long you can stay.
If you wish to stay and actually live in Croatia beyond the term of your tourist visa, then you must apply for a residence permit. The new basis for digital nomads to get temporary residence in Croatia is therefore a residence permit, NOT a visa.
“Well then, why is everyone calling it a digital nomad visa?”
Many countries in the world refer to both short and long term stays for foreigners as visas. Croatia is not one of them.
Considering the worldwide hype around the introduction of a “digital nomad visa” in Barbados, Greece, Estonia and elsewhere, the new Croatian residence permit has been automatically referred to as a visa, even though it is not one. I guess “digital nomad visa” rolls off the tongue better than “digital nomad residence permit”.
The new law on foreigners (which we discuss in the next section) never refers to a “digital nomad visa”.
Will calling it a visa affect your ability to apply for it? Absolutely not. I’m just providing the correct information so that you can better understand Croatia’s system of immigration before moving here.
We will start at the beginning.
The law that regulates the stay of foreigners is called “Zakon o strancima” in Croatian. This act already existed prior to the introduction of the regulation of the stay of digital nomads. The update to the law is not just about digital nomads. It also includes a variety of changes including the introduction of a residence permit for Croatian diaspora and new rules for the regulation of permanent and temporary residence.
Now, we will go through what the law says about the long-term stay of digital nomads in Croatian, then English. Digital nomads are mentioned twice in the law.
(1) Pojedini pojmovi, u smislu ovoga Zakona, imaju sljedeće značenje:
43) digitalni nomad je državljanin treće zemlje koji je zaposlen ili obavlja poslove putem komunikacijske tehnologije za tvrtku ili vlastitu tvrtku koja nije registrirana u Republici Hrvatskoj i ne obavlja poslove ili pruža usluge poslodavcima na području Republike Hrvatske.
which translates to…
(1) Certain terms, in the sense of this Act, have the following meaning:
43) digital nomad is a third-country national who is employed or performs work through communication technology for a company or his own company that is not registered in the Republic of Croatia and does not perform work or provide services to employers in the Republic of Croatia.
(1) Privremeni boravak odobrava se državljaninu treće zemlje koji namjerava boraviti ili boravi u Republici Hrvatskoj u svrhu:
11. boravka digitalnih nomada.
(4) Zahtjev za reguliranje privremenog boravka u druge svrhe ili svrhu boravka digitalnih nomada državljanin treće zemlje može podnijeti nakon isteka roka od šest mjeseci od isteka važenja privremenog boravka koji je bio odobren u druge svrhe ili svrhu boravka digitalnih nomada.
which translates to…
(1) Temporary residence is granted to a third-country national who intends to reside or resides in the Republic of Croatia for the purpose of:
11. residence of digital nomads
(4) An application for regulation of temporary residence for other purposes or purposes of residence of digital nomads may be submitted by a third-country national after the expiry of six months from the expiration of temporary residence granted for other purposes or purposes of residence of digital nomads.
That is all of it. If you think that seems a little skimpy, you would not be wrong. Let’s now move on to the next section where we address open questions.
Thankfully, many of the questions we voiced back in December about this permit have been answered. There are still some open items that we won’t find out the answer to until the rulebook is released and people start applying on this basis.
#1 How many times can you apply for this permit?
This is something that is not defined in the law, which means it is up to the ministry to decide on their own. The assumption is that this basis for residence will be treated just like the permits based on prepayment of rent, volunteering and ownership of real estate.
In practice, MUP is limiting the number of times you can apply for residence based on prepayment of rent and volunteering to 2 consecutive periods. Yet, for ownership of real estate, MUP is (in practice) allowing some people to apply repeatedly with no limit.
On MUP’s web site, they say that the digital nomad permit cannot be extended, but it also says you must wait 6 months before you can apply for it again. Perhaps by “extended”, they mean extend the existing permit to stay continuously past 1 year. That would make sense based on their previous practices.
We won’t know how many times you can apply for this permit until at least the end of 2021, at the earliest. Most likely, we won’t know until 2022. For us to find out how MUP will handle this, we have to wait until the first people who got residence based on being a digital nomad in 2021 try to apply for this permit a second time. This won’t be defined in the law. It will be at the discretion of MUP.
#2 When can people start applying for this permit?
According to the law, you can apply right now. As of January 1, 2021, it is in the law as a valid basis for residence. People can contact their local MUP station and request to start an application now. Split MUP has confirmed with us that they are now accepting digital nomad permit applications.
However, do not expect that all MUP stations will be as welcoming. Smaller MUP stations may push back on this for some time. It took a couple of years before all of the major stations starting allowing people to apply based on prepayment of rent. Some stations still tell people that this option doesn’t exist.
Here’s the concern. Since the law is brief and doesn’t offer any guidance on how someone actually applies for temporary residence based on being a digital nomad, it means that it is up to the ministry to decide. The ministry will create a “rulebook” of guidelines that hopefully will bring clarity to the intention of the law.
Then, the ministry has to propagate that information to all of its different administrative stations around the country. Lastly, the individual MUP stations get to implement it. And that is going to get sticky. Just like with everything else, MUP and the humans who work there have a lot of discretion.
Has the ministry finalized the requirements? They have not yet finalized the rulebook and as such, there is still a lack of formality. As mentioned already, we don’t know exactly what kind of proof they will want you to provide showing your digital nomad-ness.
That means that the individuals working at MUP in Split and Pula and Zagreb and everywhere else in the country will use their own discretion to determine if the documentation you provide will be enough. It is also not clear when the embassies and consulates will be able to start processing these applications.
It’s a new permit. It’s going to take time to get up and running smoothly. And after all, this is Croatia. In Croatia, everything is vaguer, more haphazard and slower.
Eventually, this permit will get sorted out and become more streamlined like all of the others. While there are still some questions, there is some stuff we do know for certain. On to the next section…
While the law defining digital nomads in Croatia is brief, what it does say is very telling.
#1 We know the basic requirements
There are standard requirements for all temporary residence permits, regardless of on which basis you apply. I’ll go over the requirements in the next section.
#2 We know that you must leave for 90 days after it expires
In Article 57, the law states:
An application for regulation of temporary residence for other purposes or purposes of residence of digital nomads may be submitted by a third-country national after the expiry of six months from the expiration of temporary residence granted for other purposes or purposes of residence of digital nomads.
To summarize, this means that 6 months must elapse between the expiration of your last permit and the day you start the application for a new permit. Since nobody can be here for 6 months without legal residence, that means you need to leave for 90 days after the expiration of your permit. Then you can return for up to another 90 days on a tourist visa.
After those 6 months have passed, you can then start an application for a new residence permit. This is also reiterated on MUP’s web site.
#3 We know the digital nomad permit doesn’t lead to permanent residence or citizenship
To qualify for permanent residence, a third-country citizen must live continuously in Croatia for a period of 5 years. By continuously, they mean that you cannot be gone more ten months in total or once for up to six months during the 5-year period. This is defined in Article 150 of the Law on Foreigners.
The exception is for third-country citizens living in Croatia based on family reunification. If you are considering the digital nomad residence permit, then this exception doesn’t apply to you.
Per the new law on digital nomads, there must be 6 months in between residence permits. Due to this, a person who has residence based on being a digital nomad will never qualify to apply for permanent residence. Permanent residence is requirement for citizenship if naturalizing. Therefore, it won’t put you on track for citizenship either.
#4 We know that you cannot legally work for any Croatian company
In Article 3, a digital nomad is defined as:
…a third-country national who is employed or performs work through communication technology for a company or his own company that is not registered in the Republic of Croatia and does not perform work or provide services to employers in the Republic of Croatia.
The definition of a digital nomad in the law’s glossary clearly states you cannot work for any company registered in Croatia.
#5 It looks like family reunification will apply
Split MUP confirmed with us that spouses of digital nomads can in fact apply for residence based on family reunification. You will need to provide a marriage certificate (apostilled/legalized, translated, notarized) as part of the application.
#6 The permit is for up to 1 year
According to MUP’s web site, people can apply for the digital nomad permit for a period of up to 1 year. It is not possible to extend it.
If you only wish to apply for the permit for 6 months, you can do that. You just need to state that on your application.
In this section, we will walk you through how to apply for temporary residence in Croatia baed on being a digital nomad (aka the “digital nomad visa”) including the requirements and steps.
Step #1 Determine where you need to apply
There are two possible scenarios:
- If you need a visa to enter Croatia, then you must apply for this permit abroad at a Croatian embassy or consulate.
- If you don’t need a visa to enter Croatia, then you must apply from within Croatia at the closest police station to your address.
You can check if a visa is required for your nationality here.
Step #2 Make your desire to apply known
If you must apply abroad, contact your closest Croatian embassy or consulate to ask for the requirements and procedure.
If applying from within Croatia, contact the police (Ministarstvo unutarnjih poslova aka “MUP”) in the jurisdiction where you plan to live within Croatia. At this station, there will be a service desk specifically for foreigners (“stranci”).
Here is a full list of the administrative police stations that handle immigration. Due to pandemic measures, most police stations will allow you get started over email.
Step #3 Prepare your application
Below are the requirements you must fulfill to apply for the digital nomad residence permit in Croatia. So that you can plan your life, we will list these requirements and then will follow up with more detail. That being said, the humans working for the ministry have loads of discretion and can add or subtract from this list at any time.
The requirements for temporary residence based on being a digital nomad include:
- A completed application, which the police/embassy/consulate will provide
- Proof you are a digital nomad
- A valid passport
- Government-issued background check from your home country *NEW FOR 2021*
- OIB identification number
- Marriage certificate, if you have a spouse (apostilled/legalized, translated, notarized)
- A valid private/travel health insurance policy that covers the entire term of your permit
- A valid rental contract
- Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself
- (2) Passport photos
- Application Fee
Let’s go through each requirement, one by one.
Application for Temporary Stay
This application will be provided by MUP or the embassy/consulate. You may download a copy of the standard application for non-EU nationals here.
Please note that the ministry may decide at some point to have a different application for the digital nomad permit. If one is announced, we will publish it here. For now, all signs point to them using the same as other bases for residence.
Proof you are a digital nomad
The ministry has defined exactly what you need to provide to show this. Keep in mind that every remote worker is different and may need to show different things. Below is what is listed on MUP’s web site:
- Proof that the person performs work through communication technology (statement of the employer or third-country national)
- Work contract or contract about performing job for a foreign employer
- Copy of the registration of their own company
- Proof that he performs the said tasks through his own company.
- Employment contract
- Pay stubs
- Freelance contract
- Invoices along with corresponding payments from clients
Essentially, they want to see that you are doing work and receiving income based on clients or employment that is outside of Croatia. Once you provide what makes sense for your situation, MUP will either accept it or come back to you with an additional request. What is required will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Your passport need to be valid, which means it has an expiration more than 6 months out. You will most likely need to provide a copy of the passport, but sometimes they will make a copy at the police station. Take your passport with you every single time you go to the police.
If your passport is in a language that is not English, then you need a copy that is notarized and translated into Croatian. If you need a recommendation for a translator, contact us.
This is a brand new requirement for 2021. In Article 59 of the law, it states:
5. uz zahtjev za odobrenje prvog privremenog boravka priloži dokaz da nije pravomoćno osuđen za kaznena djela iz matične države ili države u kojoj je boravio duže od godine dana neposredno prije dolaska u Republiku Hrvatsku, osim ako je upućeni radnik odnosno student, istraživač ili osoba premještena unutar društva koja se koristi mobilnošću iz druge države članice EGP-a
which translates to…
5. enclose with the request for approval of the first temporary residence proof that he / she has not been convicted of criminal offenses from his / her home country or the country in which he / she resided for more than one year immediately before arriving in the Republic of Croatia, unless the posted worker within a company benefiting from mobility from another EEA Member State
Depending on your native country, this is likely easier to obtain while you’re still in your home country rather than once you get to Croatia. If you’re American, they want a federal background check, NOT one from your state. This is done through the FBI and it involves having your fingerprints taken. I just did mine recently.
Before you do anything else, you need to get an OIB. This is your identification number and is necessary for all financial transactions.
Technically, an OIB is not a requirement for residence. However, it is a requirement for rental agreements and state health insurance. This is a chicken and the egg situation, so make it your first priority before pursuing any residence application. Due to the pandemic, you can now get one over email.
This guide explains how you can apply for one.
Valid Health Insurance
To live in Croatia, you must have state health insurance through HZZO. However, Croatia will not allow you to sign up for a policy with HZZO until after you’ve been approved for a residence permit.
To be approved for the permit, you must first show that you have private health insurance. It must be valid for the same term as the permit for which you are applying. If you are applying for 1 year, then you need to have private health insurance for 1 year also.
In Croatia, travel insurance is called “putno zdravstveno osiguranje”, which will meet this requirement. That being said, your private health insurance does not need to be with a Croatian health insurance company. Any private health insurance will do.
Once your temporary residence is approved, you will have 8 days to sign up for health insurance with HZZO. You will be required to pay a monthly health insurance premium AND a one-time payment of premiums for the previous year. You can read more about this including the associated costs here.
Valid Rental Contract
Everyone must register their address with the police. Having a valid long-term address is the first thing the police will ask you about when you start a residence application.
When looking for a place to live, make it clear to the landlord that you are required to register with the police. Some landlords do not want to rent to foreigners for this reason because it puts them on the radar with the tax administration. If you run into this problem, offer to pay the taxes yourself. Income tax is 12% on rental property. Alternatively, you could offer to pay the building association fees.
That being said, feel free to consider any rebuff a red flag and a potential sign of other risks with renting the property.
Once you are in agreement with the landlord, have them prepare a lease contract for the same term you’ll be requesting in your residence application. The lease contract must be in Croatian to be binding.
You should also have the contract notarized by a javni bilježnik (notary). If you cannot get your landlord to have it notarized, they must accompany you to the police to prove they own the property and confirm they are renting to you in combination with providing a non-notarized lease contract.
Proof of sufficient funds
You must prove you can financially support yourself during term of the residence permit. MUP will tell you how much you must have to qualify. The amount can vary as it is based on average salaries for the previous year. Here are the current minimums.
Lately, the police have been accepting a foreign bank statement to show your funds. However, be prepared for them to require you to open a Croatian bank account and deposit the sum there.
If they require that you show a Croatian bank statement, then you must deposit this amount in one lump sum into a Croatian bank account. Once the lump sum is deposited, request a statement from the bank showing the funds then take this to the police for your application.
Here is more info on opening a bank account in Croatia.
Every country requires a different size photo, so best to get them in Croatia. Usually there is at least one shop that does passport photos right next to the police station. It can cost around 100 kn to get a package of photos.
You don’t need to provide these until your permit has been approved.
It seems that the application fee can change daily, but assume you’ll pay at least 450 kn per application. You won’t pay this at the police station. The police will give you a bill that you take to a nearby bank (normally one they specify) to pay. Then you bring the proof of payment back to the police.
Step #4 Submit your application
Visit or contact the same police station/embassy/consulate you visited earlier to get the requirements and submit your application.
The attendant/rep/worker/officer (who knows what to call them) will review your submission to confirm you’ve met the requirements. If you have, they will accept your application for processing. If not, they will ask you for something else. Be prepared to be asked for something else, especially if it’s seemingly meaningless or redundant.
If your application was accepted for processing, make sure you provide a local phone number (preferably Croatian if you are in Croatia). This is how the police will communicate with you about your application.
And now you patiently wait…
The time to process your application can vary depending on the police station, the pandemic and a variety of other factors. Expect processing to take at least a month, during which you should not leave Croatia. Be patient. You are legal to be in Croatia during this time.
Step #5 Pay the fees and deliver your photos
Once approved, you’ll be notified either by a blue envelope to your address, a phone call to you or a phone call to your lawyer (if you’re using one).
Return to the police station with your passport photos. At this time, they will take your fingerprints and signature. You’ll also have to pay the administrative fees mentioned earlier, which cannot be paid at the police station. You must go off site to a bank or post office, then return with proof of payment.
In exchange for you giving them all these things, they will give you a white card. This is temporary proof of your residence. DO NOT LOSE IT.
Step #6 Pick up your residence card
Three weeks from the day you got your little white card, you’ll be able to pick up your new residence permit. You will need provide that white card along with your passport, which is why I said in all caps DO NOT LOSE IT.
Step #7 Celebrate!
Hooray! You’re legal!
Several amendments were made to the tax code and finalized on December 11, 2020. One of those amendments defines a the income of a digital nomad and provides an exemption of income tax. We’ve translated this amendment for your reference below.
The amendment states:
(1) Porez na dohodak ne plaća se na:
26. primitke fizičkih osoba ostvarene po osnovi obavljanja nesamostalnog rada ili djelatnosti za poslodavca koji nije registriran u Republici Hrvatskoj temeljem stečenog statusa digitalnog nomada sukladno posebnom propisu.
which translates to…
(1) Income tax shall not be paid on:
26. receipts of natural persons realized on the basis of performing non-independent work or activity for an employer who is not registered in the Republic of Croatia on the basis of the acquired status of digital nomad in accordance with a special regulation.
You may view the full law here.
Keep in mind that this exemption does not mean you don’t have to report your income made while living in Croatia to your home country. Make sure you know what your home country requires with regards to income made while living abroad.
For example, the United States of America doesn’t care where you live in the world. They require that you report your income annually, regardless of your location. You may also need to file an FBAR annually, which is a fun privacy-violating form just for US expats living abroad. Make sure you know what an FBAR is and if you need to file one because the penalties for not doing so involve prison sentences.
My fellow self-employed Americans also need to know that you have to pay self-employment tax to the US, even if you live abroad full-time and even if Croatia doesn’t make you pay tax in Croatia.
What I’m hoping is that the new tax amendment will clearly address people from countries without a double taxation treaty in place, like the USA and Australia.
You can see a list of the countries that do have a double taxation treaty with Croatia here.
We recommend that everyone use a lawyer when applying for residency in Croatia. Lawyers have connections within immigration, are able to skip common roadblocks and can identify any risks with your application. In addition, it is rare that the police (who handle immigration) will speak English to applicants.
Our expat-vetted immigration lawyers can review your situation and quickly determine if you qualify for residency, all in English. If you do qualify, they can also handle your residency application from beginning to end.
This service includes:
- Personalized consulting on your specific situation
- Confirming latest immigration requirements for your nationality and basis
- Assistance with putting together necessary documents
- All communication with the police on your behalf
- Assembly, submission and monitoring of your application
- Answering questions and assisting you throughout the process
To consult with an immigration lawyer to find out if you qualify to live in Croatia as a digital nomad, please complete the form below and we’ll contact you as soon as possible.