The most important lesson you need to learn about living in Croatia

There are lots of resources out there about living and visiting Croatia. What foods to eat. Which cities to visit. How to get a residence permit. What to look out for and what to beware of. What curse words to learn.

However, if you plan on living in Croatia for any period of time that necessitates you dealing with the bureaucracy, there is ONE thing must know before you do. And you need to keep knowing it the entire time you live here.

Unfortunately, many foreigners residing in Croatia don’t understand this one thing. Truly understand. As in, conscious of this lesson every time they deal with a new bureaucracy or a new person, fresh off the boat.

These forgetful people think that because they’ve made it to the Promiseland and been escorted through the stony gates that they have somehow ascended to a higher plane, one reserved for only the smartest and most deserving of this Mediterranean paradise.

That is not how it works in Croatia. If you have managed to navigate the bureaucracy, that doesn’t mean you are “chosen”. You are not special. You are not better than everyone else. It just means you have patience and, in most cases, are lucky.

So back to this lesson that most immigrants fail to fully realize. Are you ready?

Drumrolllllllllllll…

Everyone’s situation is different.

I know. Seems like common sense, right? It’s something that we’re all taught in kindergarten (hopefully). And yet, it is so frequently overlooked here.

Everyone seems to know everything, better than everyone else, just because they have a residence permit.

Apologies to the egomaniacs in the room, but no.

Why is everyone’s situation different?

Croatia is one giant gray area

In terms of giving permits to foreigners, the legislation is changing all the time. Also, much of the legislation governing foreigners in Croatia hasn’t even been written yet. The desire for foreigners to move to Croatia is still a new thing. That is why Croatians are shocked that we would want to come here, while they are trying desperately to leave.

Because this immigrant phenomenon is a fairly new idea, the nuance has not yet been addressed like it has in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and other Western European nations.

Without clearly outlined rules and policy, that leaves a lot of discretion to the individual jurisdictions. If your situation doesn’t fit the exact mold as defined, the police station can decide on their own what to do with you. The Zagreb MUP may act differently than the Split MUP than does the Makarska MUP. (For the newbies, “MUP” refers to the Ministarstvo unutarnjih poslova, which is the police organization who governs the immigration process.)

This can be both good or bad, depending on the situation. Like I said, everyone’s situation is different.

When applying for my third residence permit, the police literally didn’t know what to do with me because my specific situation was not covered in the law and they had never encountered a situation such as mine before. So what happened? The powers that be at the Split MUP had a meeting and they voted on what to do with me. Like, on Survivor. Since I did everything they asked, hadn’t been arrested, and was not a burden on society, they voted to keep me on the island.

Smoke breaks, laziness, and wind

Just as each jurisdiction can have discretion over your case, more minutely, so does the individual you speak to.

Does your request involve thinking outside the box? Does it require more work on the part of the employee than outlined in their job description? Are you visiting the police just before lunch? Just before a morning smoke break? Have they had their second coffee yet? Is the person you’re speaking to clearly in a bad mood? Is it jugo?

If the answer is YES to any of those questions, you should probably come back another day. In the morning. Before 10:00.

Photo by
Stéphane Neckebrock

More about legislation

Legislation changes so frequently in Croatia, that it could change how your application is dealt with while it’s in process. Several times. It can also change retroactively, further complicating (or uncomplicating) your situation. A legislative change can simplify your situation and give you an edge in your residence application. There is no way to know as an individual when these things happen or keep up with the changes. Even lawyers have a hard time keeping abreast of the changes.

There are other ramifications too. This means the government web sites, embassies and consulates are rarely updated with the latest rules e.g. just because it’s not on the web site, doesn’t make it so (or not so).

Even further, some police stations will say that a permit scheme doesn’t exist that really does. Usually, it’s this one. Why would they say it doesn’t exist? Maybe it’s a smaller city and they have never dealt with it before. Maybe it sounds like more work than they want to do. Or maybe it’s any of the other reasons I’ve already listed.

There are many types of visas and permits in Croatia

Every type of residence permit comes with its own set of requirements and scrutiny. Some of the basic requirements overlap, but for the most part, each type of application is different. Most of the time, the application process is customized to the exact person’s situation.

An immigrant with Croatian grandparents is held to a different standard than someone with Croatian parents than someone who is married to a Croatian than an EU national than a non-EU national with no heritage ties at all. To take it even further, a spouse of  Croatian could be asked to take the language test for permanent residence in one city, but not in another.

The government will not welcome you with open arms

Even though Croatia’s population is rapidly declining due to the mass exodus of its citizens, the country has not caught up to the idea that letting in foreigners will help mitigate the escalating loss of taxpayers.

If you are wondering why you can’t get straight, valid information from a consulate or embassy, it’s because they are the first defense against immigration. Do not bother with them. You need to be in Croatia to start any kind of successful bureaucratic process.

I mentioned above how encountering a police officer in a bad mood could hurt your case. Sometimes, the person you deal with will simply choose to make it difficult for you. Requiring you to have a certified translator with you during all visits to the police (if you are not fluent) is one such hoop. I believe wholeheartedly that any person who moves to Croatia should learn how to speak the language, but we’re talking about the department that ONLY deals with FOREIGNERS. Why wouldn’t you speak English to them?

Here is one such situation from my personal experience. During my first two years, the one woman I always encountered at the foreigner desk in Split refused to speak English to me. In fact, she did her best to give me the impression that she didn’t speak or understand English at all. For a while, I would bring a Croatian with me to speak on my behalf, but that quickly became unsustainable. Then I would bring a printed out Google translation for her, hoping she had no follow up questions. Cue the anxiety attack.

After my second permit was approved, I went to the police to pay my application fee. I walked up to the desk and handed her my passport. That is the moment she chose to start speaking English. Perfectly. As if she’d been doing it her whole life. After 20 months of living in Croatia and dealing with her over at least a dozen visits. It was obvious I was being hazed, discouraged, or tested. Who knows, probably all three.

The Facebook groups give foreigners a bad name

There are many Facebook communities throughout the country set up for foreigners (aka “expats”) to connect with each other and locals. These groups can be a great place to meet people and get answers to your most pressing “living in Croatia” questions from “are there English kindergartens in Dubrovnik?” to “where can I find a dry cleaner in Zagreb?”.

The problem is that they can also be a mecca for toxic behavior. The Facebook groups in Split (there are too many to count at this point) are the worst offenders. New people post a question regarding insurance, health care or getting residency. Usually, they will get useful responses. Then the trolls arrive…

The trolls attack useful advice as fake because they have not had the same experience. They also go off on unrelated tangents because they enjoy the sound of their voice, pretty much leading to the person who asked the question regretting they ever did so. Which brings us full circle to…

EVERYONE’S SITUATION IS DIFFERENT

Just because you haven’t heard of something, doesn’t mean it’s not true. Just because the one American you know was told something different by the police than some American you don’t know did, doesn’t mean the advice or experience isn’t valid.

The purpose of these communities is to HELP people, not tear people down and create confusion. Share your experience, give advice, but cut the ego shit. Nobody who moved here from abroad is an authority on the bureaucracy. Croatians whom have lived here their whole life don’t know how to navigate the bureaucracy. As stated above, not even experienced lawyers can stay on top of the law.

My message to the new people in Croatia…

Don’t take anyone’s word for gold. The experiences of others can help prepare you for what “might” happen, but that’s all. At the end of the day, the only opinion that matters is that of the police and the government. Get advice in the groups, but for legal questions, go to the police and engage an immigration lawyer. (I can recommend one if you email me.)

My message to the trolls…

You don’t know everything. So stop acting like everyone’s experiences aren’t valid because they don’t align with yours. Additionally, get outside and enjoy this place where you chose to live instead of looking for a fight. Or maybe get a therapist to deal with your anger management and arrogance issues. (I can recommend one if you email me.)

My message to everybody…

As foreigners, we all choose to live in Croatia. We all know how hard it can be to get legal and live here. Let’s help each other!

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18 thoughts on “The most important lesson you need to learn about living in Croatia

  1. Julia Kantic
    January 15, 2018 @ 6:54 pm

    Thanks for a piece that brings clarification to some questions and disputes brought up on the expat groups.

    I’m sorry to hear that you feel the Expat groups are part of the problem. As an admin of one of those groups I do my best to mitigate unhelpful posts whilst not suppressing free speech and debate. Generally, like in any community, members get an idea of who to ask about what and the community itself goes some way to correcting any erroneous information. I’m happy to see you recognise the important part they play in connecting people both with relevant information and with each other.

    And finally, I’m grateful for the work you do providing us with so much useful information, to both put to use and argue about, as we all find our feet here in Croatia 😉

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      January 16, 2018 @ 11:50 am

      Hi Julia,

      Thank you for the comment and for taking on the monumental task of moderating the Split Facebook group! I certainly could not handle it. 🙂

      Nobody wants to hinder free speech. I received a lot of personal feedback about this post validating that many are feeling fed up with the garbage spewed by a few of the users. With regards to the post about a one year visa in particular, several people commented in the group that this post echoed their experience exactly. Nevertheless, the “fake news” claims continued. I would never put up any information that wasn’t validated first. I only update this site to help others and it’s gross that those with too much time on their hands want to further confuse those that get value out of this information just because they aren’t familiar with it. Living in Croatia is challenging enough without other immigrants making it harder.

      Thank you for all you do!

      Cheers,
      Sara

      {reply}

  2. Dee
    January 17, 2018 @ 5:33 pm

    Thanks for this. Bureaucracy in every country is a mine field. Thanks for explaining how/why Croatia hasn’t caught up with the reality on the ground. Very interesting cultural insight.

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      January 26, 2018 @ 11:15 am

      Hi Dee,

      Thanks for the comment!

      Honestly, I’m glad they haven’t caught up with the rest of Western Europe. If they were caught up, I probably wouldn’t still be here and there are many others that would have been forced to leave. It works both ways. 🙂

      Cheers,

      Sara

      {reply}

  3. Valeria
    March 11, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

    I agree 200% with your advice that “Everyone’s situation is different”! Some of my friends and I have Croatian husbands. It seems that we should all go through very similar, if not the same application, for residency and even citizenship. But it is in fact different for each of us. Country of origin is one factor even though we are all non-EU citizens. Timing also makes a huge difference because things do change all the time here. Thanks for your great posts!

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      March 13, 2018 @ 5:26 pm

      Hi Valeria,

      Thanks for the comment and for following! Appreciate you sharing your experience. The idea that everyone’s situation is different cannot be driven home enough.

      Cheers,

      Sara

      {reply}

  4. Scott Overmyer
    April 27, 2018 @ 12:08 am

    Do you think that age will be a complicating factor if we decide to move to Croatia? I’m over 66, but qualify as a “highly qualified immigrant” (except for the job part), and we’re seriously looking at Croatia. We’re also happy to learn the language (that’s part of the fun).

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      April 30, 2018 @ 3:51 pm

      Hi Scott,

      I’m assuming you are a non-EU national. Considering your age, I recommend you move here to retire. To move here and get a work permit, you would need to have a contract with a Croatian company. It is extremely rare that a Croatian company will give a contract to a non-EU national, especially when they are not fluent in the language. It costs companies 100.000kn and they must hire 3 additional Croatians for every foreigner they hire.

      Now with regards to retirement, Croatia does not currently offer residence permits to non-EU retired nationals based on retirement alone. You may apply for this residence permit, but it is unlikely they will allow you to stay more than 2 or 3 years on this permit. I know several retirees who have gotten permits with this, but they have been given 3 year limits and must reapply annually.

      I hope that helps!

      Regards,

      Sara

      {reply}

  5. Eddie
    April 24, 2019 @ 6:32 pm

    Good article Sara. Some really sound advice.

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      April 27, 2019 @ 11:58 am

      Thanks Eddie!!

      {reply}

  6. Penelope TOLJ
    April 26, 2019 @ 6:15 pm

    Hi I am Australian but married to a Croatian.

    Three queries.
    1:
    If I want permanent residency am I allowed to leave and visit Australia for 3 months or so every year while awaiting the compulsory 7 years to receive the permant resident status?

    2:
    If I only apply for tempore residency and pay the health insurance fee and monthly fee for the duration of my allowed time, if I reenter after 90 days, do I need to repay the health insurance fee again? Or can I just pay the monthly fee again?

    3:

    I have currently applied for 10 months but can I change or submit a new application for permanent residency instead?

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      April 27, 2019 @ 11:49 am

      Hi Penelope,

      You must have 5 years of temporary residence before you can apply for permanent residence. During the temporary residence, you cannot leave Croatia for more than 30 days each year. There are exceptions, but 3 months per year is too long.

      To avoid paying the initial fee for health insurance, you need to pay the premium every month whether you are here or not.

      Cheers,

      Sara

      {reply}

  7. Katharine
    May 26, 2019 @ 12:32 am

    Hello, Sara, and THANK YOU FOR BEING “HERE.” I still haven’t figured out whether your extensive and helpful information terrifies me, but I’m immensely grateful for the reality check.

    I’m a single United States citizen retiring at the end of 2020. I’ll have government job retirement income, Social Security, and some savings, so self-support shouldn’t be an issue. I have a “dream job” (barely researched) of teaching formal business/legal English to private clients, part time. Several Croatian friends have expressed keen interest and it sure would keep my brain busy. That’s more for entertainment than income.

    I have no ties to Croatia other than the friends I’ve made there. My goal is to eventually apply for citizenship or permanent residency.

    The terror part: am I correct that I could get myself, my “stuff” and my cat all settled in and find I have to leave in a year? That is, if I’m looking for “home,” am I wasting my time learning Croatian now? Do I have ANY chance at all of being an attractive candidate?

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      May 27, 2019 @ 10:04 am

      Hi Katharine,

      Thank you for following and for donating to the project!

      As far as the terror, your impression is correct. Croatia does not yet offer residency to non-EU retirees. Your only options would be:

      • Staying for 1 year, then leaving. I have heard of retirees be approved for 2 consecutive years, but they had to leave after that.
      • Opening a business, which is not recommended at all.
      • Purchasing property. In this case, you would only be able to stay in Croatia 6 months out of every year.
      • Becoming a student, to learn Croatia.

      I wish it were easier, but at this time it is not. Please keep me posted in case you make the jump to Croatia. Good luck!

      Regards,

      Sara

      {reply}

  8. Katharine Mathews
    May 30, 2019 @ 12:58 am

    Thanks a boatload, Sara. Might I bother you for a law firm recommendation? Much as I adore my Rijeka attorney–and I do–I think I’d better switch to Bigger Guns for this project.

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      June 13, 2019 @ 9:03 am

      Hi Katharine,

      Certainly! Please email me.

      Regards,

      Sara

      {reply}

  9. Eileen
    October 18, 2019 @ 11:50 am

    If Croatia is such a great place, why are the natives leaving? My husband was born and raised there, and he only left because he had to escape Tito and his communist party because of discrimination for refusing to become a communist. He escaped in about 1964. He has never been back, but he still thinks of it as a paradise. I’ve suggested to him that things change, and it may not be like he remembers. Why are people leaving?

    Additionally, is there something that could be done to change the reason for people leaving? I ask because I am involved with a company that has a lot of money to invest in humanitarian projects, such as housing and whatever else would help. What is it that Croatia needs the most?

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      October 29, 2019 @ 12:34 pm

      Hi Eileen,

      People are leaving because the wages are too low and the cost of living is too high. The government is only making it worse by consistently raising taxes and focusing too much on tourism, rather than their own people. Now that Croatia is in the EU, Croatians can leave to go to other countries in the EU where they can earn a proper living.

      What Croatians need most is higher paying jobs.

      Regards,

      Sara

      {reply}

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