What expats wish they knew about Croatia before arriving

my first apartment croatia

UPDATED: 19.1.2023.

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 had known about 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.

The facts are these…

What expats wish they knew about Croatia before arriving

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 trekked more than a kilometer away to go to 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.

[Read: How to buy a car in Croatia]

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 arrived (spring lasts about 5 days).”

– 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.

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.

[Read: How to find an apartment or house to rent in Croatia]

“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.

[Read: How to open and close an obrt in Croatia]

“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 the high quality of life earlier, I would have gotten here much sooner. I wasn’t born in Croatia, but I got here as fast as I could.

[Read: How to understand the Croatian culture: Part 2]

What others wish they knew before arriving in Croatia


In January 2023, we also asked you – our loyal readers, what you wish you had known before you came to Croatia. Your answers were quite impressive and useful. Here are some of them:

  • I wish I knew just how long everything bureaucracy-related would take. I would plan ahead more.
  • I wish I knew more clearly what to expect at the MUP and how to make my experience better.
  • Croatia is not cheap. Apartments are not cheap.
  • If you are here longer than 183 days, you probably need to pay taxes.
  • Way fewer job opportunities matching my experience compared to Bucharest.
  • Many things are closed on Sundays. That’s usually when Americans run their errands.
  • The customer service philosophy in Croatia is very different from other western countries. In Croatia, “the customer is not always right”.
  • I wish I knew more about schools. The short hours, morning/afternoon shifts, limited out-of-school care offerings, and how formal and structured it is in primary school.
  • Putting my kids in local schools would have helped their language abilities.
  • While many speak English, not everyone does.
  • I wish I knew just how hard the language would be to learn and just how much effort it would take. I thought I could pick it up casually. Maybe some can, but I didn’t know it was a generally difficult language to learn (category 4), and I would need significant effort, time, and resources to pick it up.
  • I wish I had studied basic Croatian more before moving to have a base to move forward.
  • Some small villages do not have public transport or connections are bad.
  • Bus lines may be quite slow, and you may travel for more than 10 hours on distant drives.
  • How much I would miss it once I had to leave.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! <3

View our other moving posts

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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