The hardest part about being an expat in Croatia
The hardest part of being an expat is the same regardless of whether you are in Croatia or another foreign country.
For me, it isn’t learning the Croatian language or navigating the bureaucracy. It isn’t figuring out where the grocery store is or decoding cultural nuance. It isn’t homesickness or missing breakfast tacos. It isn’t even making friends.
The hardest part of being an expat is losing the friends I’ve made while abroad.
Living in a social place like Split with an endless supply of Facebook groups, making friends is not much of a challenge – as long as you do the work to put yourself out there.
When living abroad, usually, you make friends with other foreigners who are also living abroad. Birds of a feather flock together or whatever. It makes sense. You have the same challenges. Maybe you’re from the same country and have bonded over your mutual love of marmite or Sour Patch Kids or poutine.
You also probably, hopefully, have friends who are natively from your host country – but likely, most of your tribe is expat-based.
This means that they may come and go from your life at any time – sometimes without much warning.
If you’ve taken the plunge to move to another country, it just makes it easier to move to a different country after that. So, if you’re friends with expats, that means you’re friends with people who are more likely to move away.
Not everyone can stay in Croatia indefinitely. Croatia imposes purposeful limitations with the intention of preventing people from achieving a permanent stay, forcing them to leave after a year or two.
I am one of the few that made it to permanent residence and now am a Croatia lifer. I’ve dropped anchor, and it is so embedded in the sea floor, not even King Arthur could remove it.
I won’t say I’m lucky because luck had nothing to do with it, but I am grateful to have the security of which every expat dreams.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go – some of whom I have deeply cared about. Most of them also wanted to become Croatian lifers. But then something happened, and it just didn’t work out.
Residence couldn’t be extended. Money ran dry. Housing prices went up. The underbelly was exposed. The system failed. There was an incident. It just wasn’t the right match. Croatia wasn’t for them in the end – by their own decision or by Croatia’s.
When you’re abroad, your friends become your family. They are your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and next-door neighbors. They are your entire world – the people you live your life with on a daily basis.
While your blood family tends to stay in the same place, your chosen family does not have the same staying power and can scatter all over the world. Their departure can be heartbreaking.
The longer you’re in a foreign country, the more people you inevitably lose. It starts to wear one down and discourages us from meeting new people. We don’t want to get invested in someone who is only here for a hot minute.
“Wait, you’re a Schengen hopper? CHECK PLEASE.”
A digital nomad said to me recently, “How do we meet locals? All the people we encounter at the meet-ups are temporary – only here for a few weeks or months. Where are the long-term people?”
I bluntly and honestly replied, “Not at the meet-ups. We don’t want to meet nomads.”
We’re tired of new people and avoid them intentionally in social situations. Telling one’s origin story – and listening to the origin stories of others – gets brutally repetitive and exhausting.
A friend of mine living in Split nearly twice as long as me, who has functioned as sort of a Welcome Wagon, told me over the holidays, “Sara, I’m tired of meeting new people. I just want to have a chat with people I know.”
I feel you, man.
But here’s the dilemma.
If we avoid all new people, how can we develop new, valuable, inspiring, life-changing relationships?
How could he and I have met each other if we didn’t take a chance on new people?
Taking a risk on strangers is how we met the people in our lives that we feel we cannot do without at this very moment.
Fiveish years ago, I went to an expat meet-up at a restaurant that no longer exists, organized by a person I did not know. As we have well-established, I have tremendous social anxiety. While I have overcome quite a lot of it, five years ago, we were dealing with a totally different Sara – one that none of you would recognize. Going to an expat event BY MYSELF without a human security blanket was an Everest-sized endeavor.
In the name of not being a troll living under a bridge, I pushed through my fear to meet some strangers. And I’m so glad that I did.
I met 4 people that night that changed my life forever – three of which are about to leave Croatia, and the fourth left to Zagreb a few years back.
In the lead-up to their departure, we’ll say all the things that usually get said. “You’ll come visit. We’ll come visit. We’ve always got WhatsApp.”
But I know how this goes. I’ve seen this movie before.
You never know where life will take you. Or take them. It is very possible that despite all of your promises to keep in touch, you don’t.
It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just unpredictable, distracting, life.
All you can do is remember all the wonderful times you had and be grateful that you got to know them for the era they graced you with their presence.
Cherish all the ways that they made you a better person, or opened your eyes, or made you laugh, or hugged you when you were having a rough day, or cheered on your triumphs. And, of course, you cannot forget the endless number of coffees.
After you do all of that, realize that if such special people can come into your life, most likely, others will too. You just have to be willing to take the leap and meet some new people, even if you have to dig through Schengen hoppers to find them.
Note: This article was written before Croatia entered Schengen in 2022.
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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.