15 reasons why living on an island in Croatia isn’t the dream you think it is

Island Brač in Dalmatia, Croatia
Island Brač in Dalmatia, Croatia

For many years when I still lived in Texas, I had gorgeous photos of exotic islands on the desktop of my computer. Staring at them helped me survive my long days as a cubicle monkey. When I discovered Croatia, the island of Hvar got added to my rotation.

Croatia’s islands are extraordinary and predominantly why millions of tourists trek to this country every year – with good reason. Their water is a transparent turquoise, their rocky beaches are pristine, the homes are stereotypical Mediterranean with white stone and terra cotta roofs. It’s quiet and removed from civilization’s hustle and bustle.

They are everything you would want an island to be – which is why so many people from abroad have the dream of buying a stone house on an island. Waterfront, naturally.

But living on an island in Croatia is not all it is cracked up to be. It’s certainly not awful, and there are worse places to live. However, it will not be without serious challenges, which are usually not considered amidst all the excitement and daydreaming.

To help bring you down to sea level, here is a list of the biggest things you should think about when considering a relocation to a Croatian island, many of which came straight from the islanders themselves.

#1 Electricity can go out during storms

On Croatian islands, the infrastructure as a whole is generally weaker. This makes it much more unstable than living on the mainland. When a storm or heavy rain hits, it is very possible that your electricity will go out – leaving you without electricity, water, phone, and the internet. Mega scary!

During the winter, there is a strong cold wind called “bura” that can whips up sea mist causing salt to settle on transmission lines, which must be removed manually. This can be difficult due to the height and distance of transmission poles as well as the rugged island terrain. Some island dwellers curb this by having a generator that kicks in when the grid electricity goes out, until everything is fixed.

In 2020 the residents of Premuda, a small island near Zadar, were left out of electricity due to the failure of an underwater electricity cable. Until the problem was solved, they used generators that had to be turned off during the night. Since the cables were underwater, it wasn’t easy to find the exact location of failure. Thankfully for those on Premuda, the cable was replaced and the enjoyment of their island paradise continues…

[Read: Legend of the 3 bura: Croatia’s groundhog]

#2 Internet access is limited and weak

Another aspect of the infrastructure that is not as strong as on the mainland is access to the internet. It’s always going to be slower. How slow all depends on whether you live in a village or outside of one. There are no cities on islands – only villages. If you’re living outside of a village, there may not be cable run to the house. Satellite internet is not yet available, but should be coming to Croatia from this year.

Given that the internet is electricity-dependent, it may also go down along with the electricity during heavy rains.

#3 Groceries are expensive and limited

On islands, supermarkets are fewer and farther apart than on the mainland. In cities on the mainland, you will pass a supermarket every 50 meters. Not so on the island. Small villages may only have 1 small supermarket with limited supplies and variety.

On some of the larger islands, they may have a couple of very large supermarkets like Lidl or Konzum where you can get most of what you need. However, there may only be one of them that services the entire island. For example, there are very large Lidl, Tommy, and Konzum supermarkets in the town of Supetar where the ferry lands from Split. But, depending on where you live on the island, it could take up to 1 hour to drive there one-way.

In addition, the cost of groceries tends to be higher, since they must be brought over from the mainland on ferries.

You might think it would be easy to get fresh local fruits and vegetables on the island, but that would be incorrect. Farmer’s markets are more common and larger on the mainland. Some villages may only have a few vendors selling local produce during summer only, with no options during the winter.

Additionally, trade businesses and family farms often grow their fruits and vegetables on the coast and sell them on islands during summer. Since this involves transport, their produce is more expensive as that cost is built in.

[Read: A local’s guide to shopping at Croatia’s farmer’s markets]

#4 Repairs are hard

Need something fixed? Good luck finding someone.

Professionals like plumbers, carpenters, contractors, mechanics, and other trades are in a much shorter supply on the islands. And if the closest one is on the other side of the island, forget about it. They may not even bother with you if it means they have to drive an hour round-trip.

Or they may not bother with you because you’re a foreigner. Or they may not bother you because it’s too small of a job. Or maybe it’s too big of a job. Or because, meh, they could be drinking coffee instead.

It is not uncommon for people to bring their cars over to the mainland to be repaired because it is too much of a challenge to get it handled on the island.

#5 Dialects can be extreme

Croatian has an endless number of dialects. Some are specific to regions, counties, cities, villages, or even neighborhoods. Islands also have their own dialects. The island of Vis, which is only 90 square kilometers, has two dialects – one for each of the main villages.

Learning Croatian is already a challenge. Trying to learn Croatian when you’re surrounded by a dialect that doesn’t resemble formal Croatian you’re likely learning in an app or course or in school or from a tutor, is substantially more difficult.

Croatian dialect doesn’t just involve differences in pronunciation and emphasis. Each dialect usually has its own words and phrases entirely.

If you’re living on a Croatian island and learning Croatian at the same time, mentally prepare for learning two or three languages alongside each other. For example, residents of island Brač are able to easily and frequently come and go from Split due to the short ferry ride. In this case, you’re dealing with formal Croatian, Split dialect, Dalmatian dialect and also Brač dialect. My chest hurts just thinking about it…

[Read: The 3 Croatian dialects: Što, Kaj, and Ča]

#6 There are no hospitals

Just like supermarkets, doctors are also few and far between. If you have a serious emergency, you’ll likely need to come to the mainland – either on your own or flown in on a helicopter depending on the critical nature of your situation.

This is something that many don’t really consider because living on an island seems so dreamy. If you have chronic health issues or are older, it’s important to know your proximity to health care before the time comes when you need it.

On some smaller islands like Lastovo near Split and Dubrovnik, family doctors don’t even work full-time because they service such a small number of residents.

[Read: How to find an English-speaking doctor]

#7 Packages may not come to your house

If you’re in a city or town where a truck can get close to your residence, then you may be able to get packages delivered to your door. However, if you’re living in a pedestrian-only zone or you’re outside of a city, that may not be an option for you.

If your house is not accessible, then you may need to meet the delivery truck at a central location in the town. If you live out in the sticks, then you may need to drive into the closest village or town to meet the delivery truck.

#8 You may not be on the grid

There are some homes on the islands that are not on the grid for water, sewage, or electricity. This definitely adds complexity to the maintenance and cost of your home. The cost of buying real estate on Croatian islands is already higher than buying on the mainland, especially the “popular” ones like Hvar and Vis.

Many island homes require a septic tank for sewage. Some clusters of homes will have their own water source. For electricity, you may need a generator or a solar power installation.

[Read: All the costs when buying real estate in Croatia]

#9 Almost everything closes in winter

During summer, restaurants, cafes, and shops are all open and ready to serve. Once the tourists leave in October, they all start to shutter and lay dormant until at least April, or sometimes June or July.

There will be little options for eating, drinking coffee, and shopping. If you don’t like to cook, you might want to rethink living full-time on an island in Croatia lest you starve.

If you’re skilled at gardening, you will get a longer growing season on the islands as the temperature is usually much higher year-round.

#10 You’ll probably need a car

When living in cities on the mainland, it is very easy to live without a car. You can usually walk most places and supplement with public transit or a bicycle.

On the islands, it is a different story. Things are spread out. There are buses, but their service is limited, especially during winter when there are no tourists to shuttle around. There may be only one bus every hour or 2 hours, or maybe even just twice per day.

This can make it pretty hard to function spontaneously. If you require more flexibility, buying a car will help give you peace of mind. [Read: How to buy a car in Croatia]

You can buy a scooter, but you won’t be able to ride it during the windy weather like bura. Also, you won’t be able to give a ride to more than one person. A bicycle is a good option if you use it in the city, but you may get frustrated if the city is too crowded during high season. A bike is also not the smartest option if you need to visit a neighboring village during summer when the intense sun and island drivers pose serious risks to your life.

[Read: Why wind is important: Bura vs. jugo]

#11 Delivery is limited or non-existent

If you want the pleasure of ordering dinner from your couch, forget it. Popular delivery services like Wolt, Glovo, and Dobar Tek rarely operate on the islands. There is just not enough demand and the distances for delivery people are just too great.

If you want to have bigger items delivered like appliances or furniture, you may get stonewalled again. Many Croatian companies won’t even deliver to the islands. They will only deliver to the outgoing port on the mainland and from there, you have to figure it out on your own. This can make home renovations a lot more time-consuming and costly.

#12 Foreigners stick out like sore thumbs

It’s a lot harder to hide in the crowd on the islands because there are no crowds. Everybody knows EVERYBODY. When a stranger moves in, everybody knows and they all talk about it.

Like I said above, the dialect on islands is stronger so whatever level of Croatian you’ve learned, it won’t be enough to cover up the fact that you aren’t from there. This could work in your favor because locals may treat you with kid gloves, but that is the exception. In reality, you are more likely to be taken advantage of and treated as an outsider.

When on the island, strength and confidence go a long way to fitting in. As foreigners, we usually err on the side of being overly kind and courteous. Islanders don’t give an eff and do whatever they want. Watch what they do and mimic it. That’s how you will fit in.

When in doubt, just ask yourself, what would a Croatian do?

#13 Weather can be more extreme

Islands have a lot less natural protection from the weather than the mainland has. Storms are hairier, the wind is stronger and the sea gets rougher. This extreme weather can result in damage to your property and easily cut off your utilities.

For example, a very strong bura can be dangerous for everyone, from people to transport. Bura commonly occurs along the Adriatic coast of Croatia and its islands. It’s not to be underestimated.

Some of the summer winds never fail to sweep unsuspecting tourists out to see every year.

#14 Culture is stronger

In many ways, the islands are the “wild west” of Croatia. There are different “rules” and people get away with a lot more. The administration tends to be a bit more laissez-faire in some ways, but also more strict in others. Each person in the government has even more discretion and power because the offices are smaller.

I have heard so many Croatians tell me stories about how “all the people from X island are crazy”. Once you hear this same line about 7 different islands, it makes it clear that it’s not about that particular island, but rather that they are from any island.

#15 Property isn’t cheap

There is a big myth that real estate in Croatia is cheap. I don’t know why people think this. Maybe because Croatia is considered “eastern Europe”, therefore it wouldn’t be pricey like France or Spain.

Au contraire, mon frere.

Let me give you a real life example. I recently purchased my first home (an apartment) in Split (not in the center). I do not have a view of the sea. My building was built in 1960s, not the 1600s. There is no white stone or terra cotta in sight. The cost per square meter is the same as the town where my parents live in Texas. The average home price in that town is 750,000 USD.

Real estate in Croatia is not only stable, it has been steadily on the rise for some time. We get many many requests from people who want to speak to our vetted real-estate agents about their dream home on an island with a budget of 100.000euros. Nope. Uh uh. Not happening unless it’s a dilapidated ivy-covered roofless ruin far from the coastline.

To live the Croatian island dream, you will have to pay several hundred thousand euros for the privilege.

[Read: 8 things to know about buying property in Croatia]

If you take up residence on an island in Croatia, leave all your expectations at the door. It will be frustrating, irritating, upsetting, but it could also be the best adventure of your life. Know what you’re signing up for before you buy that villa on the sea and go into it with wide-open eyes. You never know who your neighbors might be.

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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