How to retire in Croatia

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How to retire in Croatia
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UPDATED: 31.08.2023.

Croatia is a popular destination for retirees across the world. It has a low cost of living, high quality of life, small population, clean air and water, great food and wine, socialized healthcare and it is easy to get around. It’s also full of culture and things to do. For all those reasons, many people seek out Croatia as a place to live out their retirement.

Is Croatia an ideal place to retire? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on what you want out of your retirement. Everyone is different. To help you make a decision on whether Croatia is the right place for you to retire, we’ve created a detailed guide that covers all of the most important things to consider when choosing a place for retirement.

It is important to note that the residency portion of this guide is focused on options for non-EU citizens (also referred to as third-country nationals). EU citizens are entitled to residence in Croatia automatically, without restrictions or limitations.

If you are an EU citizen, then it is best to hop over to this post that explains how to get residence. That being said, you may find our information below on healthcare, transportation and taxes relevant if facing retirement.

In this post, we cover:

Let’s get started…

How to retire in Croatia

Temporary residence options for people who want to retire in Croatia

Croatia doesn’t currently offer a temporary residence permit specifically for non-EU retirees that would allow them to live in Croatia year-round indefinitely. This is a bit of a tragedy both for retirees and the Republic of Croatia.

Retirees pay into the system, while not competing for jobs. Croatia would be lucky to have more retirees here. I hope that this changes one day and if it does, I’ll be the first person to scream it from the mountain tops.

In the meantime, even though there is not a temporary residence permit specifically for retirees, that doesn’t mean people can’t retire in Croatia. There are other options. Several of them actually.

The easiest ways for retired people to live in Croatia are:

  1. Prepayment of rent
  2. Owning a property
  3. Volunteering

Each of these options is a basis to apply for a temporary residence permit. I’ll now go over each one in greater detail.

#1 Prepayment of rent

Retirees can be granted a 1-year temporary residence permit in Croatia when they prepay rent for the full year. Once you arrive in Croatia, you’ll need to secure a place to live. It can’t be an Airbnb. It needs to be an apartment or home where the landlord will allow you to register the address and provide you with a 12-month contract.

n some cases, landlords have agreed to note in the contract that you prepaid rent when in reality, you’ll pay month to month. Many police stations will accept a notarized version of this contract as proof of prepayment.

However, sometimes they will not. Instead, they will require an actual bank receipt showing you prepaid rent for this period. It’s best to be prepared for both scenarios. The rule of thumb in Croatia is not to offer up any information until it’s requested. Try first by showing prepayment in the contract. If they don’t accept it, you can go to Plan B.

What you should know about this permit

  • It is only for 1 year
  • You cannot work
  • There is no path to long-term residency or citizenship
  • You must leave for 90 days at the end of the permit period
  • You cannot apply for this permit again until 6 months and 1 day have passed from the time your previous permit expired

You can learn all about this permit and find step-by-step instructions on how to apply here.

You can find tips on how to find a place to live here.

#2 Owning a property

Retired people can be granted temporary residence if they own a residential property in Croatia. The property cannot be zoned anything else other than residential and you must live in the property.

With this permit, you can stay in Croatia with temporary residence for 1 year. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for the permit. There are just two restrictions:

  1. You must leave Croatia for 90 days after the expiration of the permit
  2. You cannot apply for a new permit until 6 months have passed since the expiration of the first permit

This can be a great option for retirees as it gives them a solid home base in Croatia to which they can keep returning. Also, there is no minimum investment. It doesn’t matter at all what the purchase price is.

If you have a spouse with you, both of you will need to be on the ownership certificate filed with the land registry. Only owners can apply for this type of permit.

What you should know about this permit

  • It is only for 1 year
  • You cannot work
  • There is no path to long-term residency or citizenship
  • You must leave for 90 days at the end of the permit period
  • You cannot apply for this permit again until 6 months and 1 day have passed from the time your previous permit expired

You can learn all about this permit and find step-by-step instructions on how to apply here.

You can find instructions on how to buy residential property in Croatia here.

#3 Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way for any non-EU citizen to stay in Croatia, retirees included. Many of the retired non-EU citizens I’ve spoken to want to give back to the community as well as stay busy while in Croatia.

To get this permit, you must have a volunteer contract with a non-profit organization in Croatia. A non-profit organization is called “udruga” in Croatian. The term of the contract must match the length of time you want to be in Croatia, but no more than 1 year. The term of the temporary residence permit will match the term of the contract.

There are many non-profit organizations across Croatia that accept long-term volunteers. We’ve personally contacted organizations in both Split and Zagreb to find out which ones are open to giving contracts to foreign citizens. You can view them below:

What you should know about this permit

  • It is only for 1 year
  • It is only valid for people up to 65 years old
  • You cannot work for anyone other than the udruga
  • You cannot be given payment in exchange for your work for the udruga
  • There is no path to long-term residency or citizenship

You can learn all about this permit and find step-by-step instructions on how to apply here.

#4 People with Croatian heritage

If you have a Croatian ancestor and you intend to apply for Croatian citizenship, then you can come live in Croatia while you apply.

To get this permit, you must have a Croatian ancestor that you are connected to in a straight line and must be able to prove your connection through birth certificates. You will have to do the same to apply for citizenship.

What you should know about this permit

  • It is only for 1 year, but it is renewable
  • You are not required to show you have health insurance as part of your application (though it is required after approval)
  • You are not required to show you have funds to support yourself
  • You must obtain the certificate for “Members of the Croatian people” from the Office of Croats Abroad
  • You are legal to work (if you wish) and gain access to education

Instructions on how to obtain the certificate for “Members of Croatian people” can be found here.

Instructions on how to apply for this permit can be found here.

Instructions on how to apply for Croatian citizenship based on descent can be found here.

Background checks

People applying for temporary residence in Croatia for the very first time must now provide a criminal background check as part of their application. This is requirement went into effect January 1, 2021. In Article 59 of the law, it states:

5. uz zahtjev za odobrenje prvog privremenog boravka priloži dokaz da nije pravomoćno osuđen za kaznena djela iz matične države ili države u kojoj je boravio duže od godine dana neposredno prije dolaska u Republiku Hrvatsku, osim ako je upućeni radnik odnosno student, istraživač ili osoba premještena unutar društva koja se koristi mobilnošću iz druge države članice EGP-a

which translates to…

5. enclose with the request for approval of the first temporary residence proof that he / she has not been convicted of criminal offenses from his / her home country or the country in which he / she resided for more than one year immediately before arriving in the Republic of Croatia, unless the posted worker within a company benefiting from mobility from another EEA Member State

Depending on your native country, this is likely easier to obtain while you’re still in your home country rather than once you get to Croatia. If you’re American, they want a federal background check, NOT one from your state. This is done through the FBI and it involves having your fingerprints taken. I just did mine recently.

Residence options based on your nationality

If you’d like a fuller picture of all possible residence options, we’ve created residence guides for specific nationalities.

Healthcare

Access to affordable healthcare is very important for everyone, but it is especially critical for seniors. If you’re planning to move abroad, good healthcare is probably at the top of your list of concerns.

I’ve been lobbying my mom to move to Croatia when she retires. She always says the same thing. “Sara, will I be able to get my medication? Are the same brands available? What happens if I have an emergency?”

All legitimate questions. Let’s dive into the different aspects of the Croatian healthcare system.

Health insurance

All residents of Croatia are required to have “obvezno” state health insurance through HZZO, the Croatian Health Insurance Fund. When you first apply for residence, you’ll need to show that you are privately insured. Most people use private insurance. EU citizens usually show their EHIC, which is prove of having state health in their home country.

Then once you are approved for residence, you’ll need to sign up for “obvezno” at HZZO. Obvezno is the basic state health insurance if you are a non-EU national. Signing up is done in person at the closest HZZO office to where you live. EU nationals have the freedom to choose if they want to sign up for HZZO or keep their insurance from their home country.

You can see everything that is included in obvezno insurance here.

Now, let’s turn to costs.

There are 3 healthcare costs you be aware of when planning a move to Croatia:

  1. Back pay
  2. Monthly premium
  3. Co-payments

Back Pay

Everyone who was not covered by an EU state policy for the previous 12 months is required to pay 12 months of health care premiums for the year before they arrived. Once your registration is processed by HZZO, you are covered.

Monthly premium

The monthly premium is what you pay going forward each month. If you receive a foreign pension, then the monthly cost of your health insurance will be 16,5% of your monthly pension payment. To calculate the year of back payment, multiply this amount by 12 months.

Every month, you’ll receive a bill at your address. You can pay this at the post office, the bank or using a mobile banking app (as long as it is a Croatian bank). It should be noted that you can pay each year in one lump sum if you so choose.

Co-payments

If you only have obvezno health insurance, you will encounter co-payments. Luckily, they are small. The co-payment for most medicines and doctor appointments is usually only 1,30 euros. For specialized diagnostics, the co-payment is around 6,5 euros. If you have an overnight stay in the hospital, it could be as much as 260 euros per night.

To eliminate co-payments, you’ll need a supplemental health insurance called “dopunsko”. Everyone should have dopunsko in case of emergencies, but it is especially important for those who need frequent healthcare and medications.

Dopunsko ranges in cost from 5,31 euros to 10,62 euros per month. If you’re going to the doctor, picking up medication or having diagnostics more than 4 times per month, it more than pays for itself.

You can read all about dopunsko, what it includes and how to sign up here.

There is also a third type of insurance called “dodatno”. Dodatno is an optional supplement insurance focused on preventive medicine, diagnostics, and specialist treatments. This type of insurance is best for those with chronic conditions or those at risk of developing a serious condition. It is only offered by private companies.

You can read all about dodatno, what it includes and how to sign up here.

Croatian healthcare system

The Croatian healthcare system itself can be a bit bipolar. There are horror stories, but also great success stories. There are a lot of variables to take into consideration. I’ll share with you what I know.

  • Croatia has affordable access to preventative care. If you have both obvezno and dopunsko, all of your preventative care will be free.
  • Croatia has affordable access to medications, including name brands and generics. If you have both obvezno and dopunsko, most of your medications will be free.
  • Croatia is a world leader in organ transplantation, especially for kidneys.
  • Lovran has a great facility for orthopedics.
  • Croatia is a dental tourism destination due to its high-quality of services in combination with extremely low costs.

Now, I’ll share with you quick anecdotes from my personal life:

  • My friend was diagnosed and cured of Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at Split hospital.
  • My friend had a successful (and practically joyous) knee surgery at Split hospital.
  • My friend had a successful spinal surgery at Split hospital (but only after being put off for months). After his surgery, the state health insurance covered a 3-week stay at a rehab facility (more like a hotel) on the island of Korčula.
  • One friend of mine had a successful hip replacement surgery and the other a very successfully fix of a broken leg at the aforementioned orthopedic facility in Lovran.
  • My friend was misdiagnosed and ignored by ER doctors at Split hospital for multiple days, during which her bowel obstruction got worse and her pain grew. In the end, a doctor found her and treated her successfully.
  • Every story of someone giving birth has been absolutely frightening.
  • My family doctor gave me an ear infection. She was supposed to be cleaning out my ears, and instead made the problem worse, prompting an infection.

Family doctors are known for being less skilled. Their main purpose is to refer you out to specialists. Specialists are usually great at what they do, have ultrasounds in their office as a standard and extremely knowledgeable.

If you ever want to step outside of the public health system, Croatia has superb private health care. There are private “poliklinika” and hospitals all over the country. A poliklinika is a private clinic that usually contains multiple practices like family medicine, gastroenterology, ENT, gynecology, etc.

The cost for private health care in Croatia is a fraction of what it would be in the United States. A private specialist appointment can cost about 53 euros to 92,90 euros. An MRI or a colonoscopy through a private facility can cost 260 euros.

Taxes

Before moving to any country, it’s important to know if you’ll be taxed on your income. If you’re retired, this may include pension, social security or investments.

You are considered a tax resident in Croatia once you have been in the country for at least 183 days. After that, you are obligated to report and potentially pay tax on your worldwide income UNLESS the country where you are making the income has a double taxation treaty in place with Croatia that states some kind of exemption in your particular case for your type of income.

You can see which countries have treaties with Croatia here.

You can see the current income tax rates here.

If you wish to have a full tax evaluation performed so you can know exactly what to expect, we can make an introduction to a vetted tax professional as part of our consulting service. In addition to connecting you to a tax advisor, we can answer all of your questions about moving to Croatia. Learn about that service and request a session here.

Another tax you need to know about is PDV. PDV is the value-added tax (or sales tax) added to products and services. PDV is set at 25% for most things, 10% for tourist-related services and 0% for things like medical care, bank and social services.

You can read all about PDV and which rates are charged on which products here.

Transportation

If moving abroad, it’s important to know how you will get around. Most retirees want to limit their costs and one way to do that is by eliminating the responsibility of a car. Thankfully, it is very easy to get around in Croatia without a car.

To get around Croatia, you can use:

Public transportation

Most cities have their own form of public transportation, which is usually buses but some cities like Zagreb and Osijek also have trams. There are no metros currently in Croatia.

Inter-country transport

Buses – Croatia has an extensive bus system that connects all parts of the country. Buses between cities are operated by a number of private companies.

Buses are how Croatians travel when they don’t have a car. Even if they have a car, they will still use buses for longer trips as it is much more affordable than paying for gas and toll road fees. A round trip on a bus between Split and Zagreb can cost as little as 25 euros in low season.

You can learn more about bus travel in Croatia here.

Trains – Trains are predominantly used in the northern part of the country, in Zagreb and Slavonija counties. There is a train line that runs from Zagreb to Rijeka, then goes down the coast ending in Split.

There has been a lot of improvement made to the train system recently, including a hell of a lot of brand new trains. I recently took a train from Split to Kaštela. I was stunned at how nice and new the train was. Felt like I was back in The Netherlands.

You can learn more about train travel in Croatia here.

Ferries – Croatia has 718 islands. Given this, there is an extensive system of state-owned ferries that usher people and cars to and from the islands up and down the coast.

The ferries are a fun and affordable way to travel as well. If you’re in Split, you can be on island Brač in under an hour for just 6,24 euros.

You can book all of your ferry travel online in advance through Jadrolinija here.

You can learn more about traveling by boat in Croatia here.

Flights – There are 9 commercial airports across Croatia, many of which offer domestic flights to other parts of Croatia through Croatia Airlines.

Croatia Airlines is a reliable and safe airline. It has to meet strict guidelines for operation and safety to be allowed to land in other countries. In addition to domestic flights, Croatia Airlines currently flies to 23 countries.

You can see the list of airports in Croatia here.

You can see our guides on how to get to and from each airport here.

Conclusion

With this post, I hope we have shown how Croatia could be a good place for retirement. Croatia offers a very high quality of life, especially for those coming from more populated, industrialized nations like the United States, Australia, the UK and Western Europe.

On top of the low cost of living, affordable health care and a laid back culture, the country is covered with a variety of diverse climates and landscapes. There are lakes, forests, mountains, deserts, meadows, vineyards, islands and seas.

It’s a nice play to relax and enjoy work-less days.

If you’ve got a question about how to retire in Croatia that we haven’t answered, please contact us.

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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.

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