What expats wish they knew about Croatia before arriving

Anytime you move to a country that is foreign, it’s safe to assume there will be a bumpy landing. Between the language barrier and the cultural shift, there is a lot to take in and figure out. Fresh arrivals are practically new born babies. Our skin is a little thin, we have to learn everything from scratch and we cry easily.

This is especially true when foreigners move to Croatia. No matter how much preparation you do beforehand, nothing will prepare you for reality. Previously silly inconsequential tasks like paying bills can become monumental undertakings.

The good thing is that no matter when you move to Croatia, someone else came before you. Thanks to the internet and Facebook groups, you can learn from other people’s experiences and mistakes. Expat in Croatia was created for this very reason.

In this post, I’ll share some of the things I wish I knew B.C. – Before Croatia. Some well-seasoned expats around the country have also let us in on what they wish they knew before getting here.

Let’s get started…

Things we wish we knew before moving to Croatia

Sara: I wish I had known what supermarkets looked like. Most supermarkets in the US are huge buildings flanked by giant parking lots with multiple neon signs calling to you from the road. Most neighborhood supermarkets in Croatia are like little bodegas, hidden among a swath of other small shops.

When I first moved here, I was trekking more than a kilometer away to go the supermarket because that was the only one I could identify. It was a bit of a pain. It took nearly 2 months to realize there were about 30 grocery stores between my apartment and the one I had been going to.

“Before moving to Croatia I wish I knew that every time that you go to some government office you will get a very common answer “NE MOŽE”, which means “it can’t be done”. I think it happens because they are not used to new things or new people and every time something new happens it is easier to say those magic words. So I can recommend that every time that you need to go to a government office, bring ALL your papers so they can’t say to you “NE MOŽE”.”

– Roxana J., EcoCroatia, Lives in Split, 6 years in Croatia

Sara: I wish I knew how expensive it was to buy a car in Croatia. Even used cars are expensive in comparison to what you are getting. Just before I left the North American continent, I sold my beautiful Lucille, a ’96 silvery-blue Toyota Camry. She was the best car in the world and likely would have lived longer than me.

In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t let her go. It would have been cheaper to bring her over the ocean in a container than to buy a new car here.

“I wish I’d known that March was full of Bura. Having arrived in October with the view that if I liked Split in autumn and winter, then I’d definitely love the summer, things started off pretty well.

The sun was shone brightly every month, most days until January were pleasant enough to be in a light jumper, and it didn’t rain that often so you could go hiking a lot and socialise outside.

Then March came, and I started to hear about bura. A strong north eastern wind that brings cold and dry temperatures to the coast. What was meant to be a fine crisp sunny winter’s day of say 10 degrees, suddenly felt like you were in Siberia.

Scarves, gloves, snoods, thermals and at least two pairs of socks would just about warm you up if you were braving the elements. However the most important piece of advice I would give you was to invest in lipbalm. The cracked lips I endured the whole month were horrible, constantly splitting in the corners of my mouth, and never healing until the bura had subsided when summer (spring lasts about 5 days) arrived.”

– Michael F., Ensoco, Lives in Trolokve, 5 years in Croatia

Sara: I wish I knew how much rent and utilities were supposed to be from the start, but there was nobody to ask except people who had a vested interest in me paying as much as possible. As a result, I got jackhammered with foreigner tax on my first apartment.

The moment I walked into the apartment for the first time, I gravitated towards the glorious 180-degree view of the sea. I didn’t look at anything else in the apartment, which I’m sure they were betting on. After settling in, I noticed that the living room was unusable because the ceiling was so low. Anytime I did go in there for some reason, I’d get a concussion.

The second bedroom was also unusable – super tiny and obviously used as their furniture storage. The apartment quickly became full of black mold. It was so widespread, it became clear this was an ongoing issue. Eight years later and I’m still flabbergasted at what I paid for that place. It would be too much even now. T

When we decided to leave (after the landlord bought a new car and paid to have the road repaved so as not to damage said new car), the landlords were furious. Their gravy train was leaving the station. Despite all the overcharging, I have no regrets. For a few months (until I got wise), I had the most incredible view of the sea, the islands and the mountain range trailing down the coast. The photo at the top of this post shows this apartment and a portion of that view.

“Do not volunteer information. Giving more info in Croatia than exactly what is asked for makes you look suspicious.”

– Alan F., Cream of Croatia, Lives in Split, 12 years in Croatia

Sara: As you all know by now, I’m an American. My understanding was that I would not be taxed on my income up to a certain amount if I lived abroad full time.

So when I moved to Croatia, I functioned as if I did not have to pay taxes in the US. Turns out, this is inaccurate if you are self employed. As a result, I got myself into a bit of a pickle with the IRS due to this incorrect assumption and a lack of a double taxation treaty that took a pretty long time to clean up.

“Why did you move here?”

As an expat from the diaspora who chose to live in Croatia, I wish I had been better prepared to answer that question. Locals are baffled by anyone who would choose to live here and follow-up questions can take on a persistent instructive tone. “Don’t you know how terrible life is here?” they insist. Then they will point out that living in Croatia is much different than being a tourist.

The same locals enjoy validation when they see a non-native struggling with what they perceive as an everyday Croatia reality, like a visit to the police station, which does not go as planned. “Welcome to Croatia” they say, which means “I told you so.”

– Forrest S., Daily Croatia, Lives in Zagreb, 3 years in Croatia

Sara: Lastly, and most importantly, I wish I’d known how amazing Croatia is. There is this saying in Texas for people who were born elsewhere and then moved to Texas later in life. It goes “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could”.

If I’d only known about the kind and generous people, the tight-knit communities, the diverse nature, the slurpable sea, and high quality of life earlier, I would have gotten here a lot sooner. I wasn’t born in Croatia, but I got here as fast as I could.

So, what things do you wish you had known before moving to Croatia? Get into any pickles of your own? Let us know in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “What expats wish they knew about Croatia before arriving

  1. David
    October 31, 2020 @ 5:52 pm

    This article made me smile a lot! But….banking!
    At first it was a nightmare. I had various trips to the bank to open an account which was very laborious. Then the app was in Croatian and didn’t function logically. Paying bills was a real chore. Trying to figure it all out was a constant headache. So I went to the bank and complained and spent 30 minutes talking about how the app should be and showing them my UK bank account app. It was like a revelation. They spent 20 minutes showing me exactly what I needed to do and how, with all the shortcuts I needed to know. Bingo. Amazingly the app was updated about 3 months later and is now better than the UK version. I point my mobile at a bar code on a bill, it instantly auto populates the mobile phone fields, and pays at a click. It’s brilliant.

    The learning wasn’t a bank account training course, but the principle of show and tell, which I’ve now used countless times. Things start to go fast when seeing is believing. I also wasn’t born in Croatia, but I love being here. I had holidayed all over the world, apart from Croatia, and I took a job here without even visititing. I don’t regret it for one minute. In my eyes there are so many positives about Croatia, they far outweigh the minor niggle.

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    • Expat in Croatia
      November 10, 2020 @ 11:09 am

      Hi David,

      Thanks so much for sharing your trials and tribulations with banking! I also feel amazed by my banking app here (once I actually started using it). Took me a loooooong time to get on board too.

      Sometimes all it takes is a Croatian explaining something for the light bulb to go off. I had a very similar situation. I was loaning money to my business with a 100 kuna fee. I didn’t know if I used the app, it would only be 2 kuna. But then an employee enlightened me and I was like, thank goodness!

      I’m so glad you love being in Croatia. 🙂

      Cheers,

      Sara

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  2. Ana
    November 13, 2020 @ 6:16 pm

    Please explain about the tax situation. I was born there but I’m in a US citizen most of my life and I’m thinking of going back to start a bed-and-breakfast on the coast on an island that I spent a lot of time as a kid. Obviously this would be a self business and my understanding was that I would not be paying US taxes on it. It has been nearly impossible to get tax advice from the US. Seriously I guess I would have the option of forming a corporation there and running everything through that. How on earth do I get accurate tax advice from the US? Please help

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    • Expat in Croatia
      November 17, 2020 @ 11:19 am

      Hi Ana,

      I feel your pain! My US accountant has been encouraging me to find an international tax lawyer, but have no idea where to even start. I do know that if you are self employed (e.g. either a 1099 freelancer or you own a foreign company), you don’t qualify for the foreign income tax exclusion. Keep in mind that Croatia and the US don’t have a double taxation treaty. I was also told by my US accountant a few years back that I will also have to pay a 12% income tax on my foreign business’ profit too. This is the first year I’ll have profit, so I’m not sure what that will look like until next year. I couldn’t find anything on the IRS web site about it.

      The IRS is supposed to be available for us to ask questions like this. I would start by giving them a call to ask questions. If I find out anything more, I’ll let you know.

      Regards,

      Sara

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