How South African citizens can visit and live in Croatia: Guide for 2024

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Women sunbathing in Veli Lošinj, Croatia

UPDATED: 3.7.2024.

Croatia is becoming more and more popular with South Africans, both for tourism as well as a destination for relocation. Many South African citizens are choosing to put down roots and make Croatia their home year-round.

Some have Croatian heritage and are now applying for citizenship with the intent of moving to Croatia. Applying for citizenship as a person with a lineage was recently made easier since the language test was eliminated.

Others have married a Croatian abroad and are returning to build their life in a family home. The rest are just seeking a change and wish to live in a place with a similar climate.

There are a number of ways South African nationals can settle in Croatia. They aren’t all easy, but there are options. We’ve created a guide specifically for South Africans that includes every option available for moving to Croatia long term. If you’re just coming for holidays, we cover tourist visas for too.

In this post, we cover:

Let’s dive in…

Tourist visas for South African citizens to visit Croatia

South African citizens require a tourist visa to enter Croatia. To apply for a tourist visa, you must visit the Croatian embassy in Pretoria or a VFS Global Center in Pretoria or Cape Town.

You can find their locations below:

Embassy of the Republic of Croatia
Ozmik House, 165 Lynnwood Road, Brooklyn 0181, Pretoria
P.O. Box 11335, 0028 Hatfield, Pretoria

VFS Global
1st Floor, Cherry Lane Office Park
114 Fehrsen Street, Nieuw Muckleneuk
Brooklyn, Pretoria Gauteng

47 Strand Street, Office 502, 5th Floor
Cape Town, 8001

You can view all requirements and download the application form here.

You may view the latest requirements regarding tourist visas for South Africans on the Croatian government’s website here.

How South Africans can move to Croatia

There are many options for South Africans to stay in Croatia long term. This guide will cover all of your options for residency as well as what is required of you as a South African citizen.

Before we get started, we need to go over some terms. Croatia divides citizens into 3 groups: Croatian citizens, EU/EEA citizens, and everybody else (third-country nationals or non-EU/EEA citizens).

Citizens of South Africa belong to the third-country national group. This means that the residence permit scenarios we cover below apply to all third-country nationals, not just South Africans. For example, Australians, Brazilians, Americans, and Indians all have the same options for moving to Croatia as South Africans.

Now that we have that out of the way, time to get to the real reason why we’re here. We will go through each residency option, starting with the one that allows you the least amount of time in Croatia, moving up to the ones that allow you the most time in Croatia.

“Sara was so informative and assisted us with all information we required, and followed with an email to guide us with this process. Expat have been amazing.” – Leonnard P., South Africa

1. Digital Nomads

Digital nomads can be granted temporary residence based on their remote work as long as they are not working for any Croatian companies. This program is only open to third-country nationals.

Caveats

  • This permit is only for up to 1 year and it is not renewable. Six months after the expiration of your permit, you can apply for a new permit.
  • You are not allowed to do any work for a Croatian company.

Here is a post that explains the requirements and process for applying for a permit based on being a digital nomad.

View frequently asked questions about Croatia’s digital nomad permit here.

2. Permanent residents of EU/EEA

South Africans who hold long-term residence in another EEA member state may be granted temporary residence in Croatia.

Here are instructions on how to apply for a permit based on your permanent residence in another EU/EEA country.

3. Student Permit

South Africans can study at one of Croatia’s many universities and get residence in the process. You can also study Croatian at certain language schools, which will also qualify you for a residence permit.

To get a student residence permit, you must include proof of acceptance into a qualified Croatian institution of education with your residence application. You’ll also need to show you have enough money to support yourself during the school term.

Caveats

  • The term of the permit will be for a single school year, excluding summer months unless you can prove you need to be here in between semesters.
  • You can work as a student for up to 20 hours per week.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you for the first two years.
  • Time spent on this permit only counts half towards qualifying for permanent residence.

Here are instructions on how to apply for a student residence permit.

4. Working for a Croatian company

South African citizens can get residence permits with the option to work in Croatia.

Caveats

  • You must have a signed work contract or a valid offer of employment before the employer can apply for a work permit on your behalf.
  • Work permits can only be issued for the term of your work contract, up to 1 year at maximum. If the company wants you to stay on longer, then your employer must provide a new work contract. With this new work contract, you can apply for a new work permit. Work permits are not “renewed”.
  • If you get a residence permit with the option to work and decide to leave your job, your permit will be cancelled. All work permits are tied to work contracts. Without a contract, you cannot have a work permit.
  • For the first year, your spouse or children can not come to live with you in Croatia.
  • Before a company can offer you a work contract, they must first confirm with the office of unemployment that a Croatian is not seeking that same role.

If you want to seek a work permit to live in Croatia, then start by looking for a job. Our guide on how to find a job in Croatia includes all the ways you can find available opportunities.

All of the above also applies to approved EU Blue Card holders. Even with the Blue Card, you still need to have a work contract or employment offer before an employer can request your work and residence permit.

5. EU Blue Card

If you have received higher education or qualifications such as ISCED 1997 levels 5a or higher, or an associate’s degree or higher, you may qualify for an EU Blue Card.

Once you have been hired or given a binding work offer for a highly qualified position within Croatia, the company that intends to hire you may apply for a temporary residence that will allow you to work based on a Blue Card.

Caveats

  • You must be in a managerial position.
  • You must be paid an elevated salary.
  • The EU Blue Card will be issued for a term of 2 years.
  • Your family can join you immediately.
  • The hiring company does not have to perform a labor market test.

Our detailed guide on how How to apply for a Blue Card in Croatia is available here.

6. Starting your own Croatian company

If you’d rather start your own company, you can issue yourself a work contract as the company owner and therefore qualify for a work permit.

This option involves entangling yourself in an endless tax bureaucracy capable of strangling the life right out of you, so it is not recommended if you don’t intend to use the company for business. This option should only be used by those who really want to open and run a company in Croatia.

If you plan to go this route, make sure you educate yourself thoroughly, so you know what you are getting yourself into. We have written a heap of posts about opening and running businesses in Croatia, which you can view here.

Read more about the option of getting a work permit by opening your own company in this guide.

7. Prepayment of rent

If you only want to live in Croatia for one year, then this option could be the right fit. It’s a great option for retired people and frequent travelers whom have the flexibility to move to a new country for a limited amount of time.

Another benefit is that it is not “merit” based or tied to work contracts. Of course, there are catches…

Caveats

  • This permit is only for one year and it is not renewable. You can only apply again after 6 months have passed since the expiration of your last permit.
  • At the end of the term, you must leave Croatia for 90 days.
  • You must prove that you’ve paid for rent 1 year in advance.
  • You must sign up for state health insurance upon approval of residence, then pay 1 year of premiums for the previous year plus the monthly premiums for the year you live here. You can read more about health insurance here.
  • You are not allowed to work for a Croatian company.
  • Your spouse cannot apply for residence based on you. Your spouse must apply separately.

You can read more about how to apply for this permit scheme here.

8. Learning the Croatian language

A residence permit can also be granted if you study the Croatian language at certain language schools. To get this permit, you must enroll in a Croatian language study program (like Croaticum).

[Read: Biggest Croatian language schools in Croatia]

This permit falls under “other purposes” under the law.

Caveats

  • You can get a residence permit for up to one year.
  • You cannot work for a Croatian company.
  • If you wish to apply again for this purpose, you must leave for 90 days at the end of the permit period.
  • You can apply again 6 months and 1 day from the expiry date of your previous permit.

Our detailed guide on how to apply for temporary residence based on language study is available here.

“We needed to know the ins and outs about moving to Croatia. Our first contact we made was with CAM, then had the consult with Sara, then had Steve be our case manager. We had superb service from all three individuals, they really know the meaning of customer service, with great continued follow up after our first consult, prior planning to our meeting and immediately providing us with follow up docs after our consult based on our relevant questions, and connection made with external professionals who form part of the EIC team to further support us on our journey. Great team, can definitely recommend them.” – Shawn H., South Africa

9. Scientific research

If you wish to come to Croatia for the purposes of scientific research, you can get a residence permit. You’ll definitely need to provide proof of the research, which will likely involve a detailed plan of what you hope to accomplish, why you need to be in Croatia and the time frame in which you plan to accomplish it. Expect it to be scrutinized.

Caveats

  • You cannot work for a Croatian company

10. Volunteering

It is possible to gain residency on the grounds of humanitarian or volunteer work. To apply on this basis, you’ll need to provide a contract with a non-profit organization that shows the term of work and that you are not being paid for this work among other requirements.

Caveats

  • The term is limited to 1 year only.
  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship.
  • Your spouse cannot apply for residence based on you. Your spouse must apply separately on a volunteer or some other basis.
  • You cannot work in exchange for money.
  • You can only work for the non-profit (called “udruga”) with whom you have your contract used as the basis for your permit.

You can ready more about this permit here.

We have posts on non-profit organizations that offer long-term contracts to non-EU volunteers here:

11. Marrying a Croatian or EU national

This program is called spajanje obitelji (family reunification), which essentially means that spouses and children of Croatians and EU citizens can come to live in Croatia with their spouse or parent (if they are minors).

To be clear, I’m not suggesting or encouraging anyone to marry someone they are not in a relationship with just to live in Croatia. Frankly, I don’t recommend it either. Divorce is too big of a headache especially in Croatia. There are other, better ways. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dive in.

If you are married to a Croatian or EU/EEA national, you are entitled to residency in Croatia as long as both you and your spouse live in Croatia together at the same address. This is by far the easiest and fastest permit to get, since there is an automatic trust that is inherent when a Croatian or EU citizen is involved.

You will need to provide an original copy of your marriage certificate that is apostilled/legalized then officially translated(if married abroad). You’ll also need to show that you as a couple have the financial means to support yourself in certain cases. I will cover this in more detail below in the “Requirements” section.

If you are the spouse of a Croatian, you’ll be granted a 2-year permit. If you are the spouse of an EU/EEA national, you’ll receive a 10-year permit.

After 4 years of temporary residency, spouses of Croatian citizens qualify for permanent residency. Once you receive permanent residency, you can apply for citizenship. Hooray!

Spouses of EU/EEA citizens can apply for permanent residence after 5 years of continuous temporary residence.

If you are married to a Croatian, read this post for instructions on how to get residency.

If you are married to an EU national, read this post for instructions on how to get residency.

12. Citizenship by Croatian descent

If you have Croatian heritage, you’ve hit the ultimate jackpot. Seems like every day, the Croatian government is making it easier for the diaspora to gain citizenship in an effort to get them to come to live here.

To qualify for citizenship, you must have a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, etc. that is Croatian. Lineage must be in a straight line and you must be able to prove lineage, which is usually done with birth certificates.

Even though having heritage is the golden ticket, there are still catches.

Caveats

  • From January 1, 2020, you can only apply from an embassy or consulate abroad if you are a non-resident.
  • If your ancestor left Croatia at any point and moved to an ex-Yugoslavia country, then your right to citizenship is negated.
  • If your ancestor left Croatia after 1991, then your right to citizenship is negated (unless you’re the child of a Croatian who qualifies to register).
  • Applications for citizenship take time, months to years, so be patient. You won’t be here next week.

You can see if you qualify for Croatian citizenship in 60 seconds here.

You can see how to apply for citizenship here.

Learn how to apply for citizenship specifically based on descent here.

You can read the most important things you need to know before applying for Croatian citizenship here.

Check out all of our citizenship resources here.

Requirements that apply to all situations

There are common requirements that apply to all South African citizens no matter the reason you are applying for residence. Below is a list of the most common requirements, however, keep in mind that MUP (who handles immigration) will request additional items from you depending on your basis for residency as noted above.

Everyone must provide:

  • Completed application
    • The police will provide you with the right application called Obrazac 1a. You can view it here.
  • A valid passport
    • Validity period must be 3 months longer than the validity period of the intended stay.
  • Criminal background check + certificate on the length of stay
    • People applying for temporary residence in Croatia for the very first time must now provide a criminal background check together with a certificate on the length of stay as part of their application. This requirement went into effect on January 1, 2021. A certificate of the length of stay is required for people who lived the last 12 months in a country other than the country of their nationality.
  • Health insurance
    • This is usually private health insurance unless you have state health insurance from another EU/EEA state.
  • Registered address in Croatia
    • Proof of accommodation is sufficient for the purposes of applying for residence. After approval, you’ll need a rental contract.
  • Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself
    • There are several ways to show this, depending on your purpose for applying. The financial minimums you’ll need as well as how you can show the funds are available here. However, MUP will tell you exactly what they need.
    • Those applying for family reunification with a Croatian spouse are exempt from this.
  • (1) passport photo 30×35 mm
    • Usually, there is a photo studio right by MUP where you can get these in the right size.
  • Application fee
    • This is due upon approval of your application. All possible administrative costs for this procedure are available here. In some cases, you must pay an administrative fee earlier in the process using tax stamps.

Note: Everyone in Croatia must have an address that is registered with the police. You can register the address in several ways:

  • Notarized rental contract
  • Notarized landlord statement that states you are allowed to live on the premises
  • Landlord statement submitted through e-Građani

If your landlord statement is not notarized, then the owner will need to provide you with a confirmation from the tax office that the contract has been registered with them.

“The consultation was very informative and presented professionally with all important points covered. The follow up email was prompt covering all that was relevant with an introduction to the vetted professional.” – Bruce P., South Africa

Health insurance for South African citizens living in Croatia

As part of your application for residence, you must show proof of your private health insurance.

Then, after you are granted temporary residence, you must sign up for “obvezno” state health insurance with HZZO (unless you’re a digital nomad). This must be done within 8 days. HZZO is the state health insurance fund that both basic (obvezno) and supplemental (dopunsko) health insurance.

Obvezno is the standard state health insurance required for all Croatian residents. Learn all about Croatia’s state health care obvezno insurance, what it costs, and what is included in our detailed guide which is available here.

Dopunsko is optional supplemental health insurance. You can learn why you should have this health insurance here.

After signing up for HZZO, all non-EU/EEA citizens, children, and adults must pay 12 months of health insurance premiums for the previous year plus the monthly premium going forward. For example, if you are a family of 4 with 2 children, you must pay fees for all 4 family members. These fees change every year, so check the latest amounts here.

Exchanging South African driver’s license

You can exchange your South African driver’s license for a Croatian license during your first year of residence. If you wait for longer, you may be fined and/or required to start from scratch with the driving school.

[Read: How to take driving school (Autoškola)]

Learn how to exchange a foreign driver’s license for a Croatian one here.

Learn how to get a driver’s license from scratch in Croatia here.

Buying Croatian property

South African citizens can buy residential properties in Croatia. For more information, view our step-by-step guide on purchasing a house or apartment in Croatia here.

If you need professional help, we can connect you with expat-vetted real estate agents and lawyers. They will lead you through the process to ensure everything goes smoothly. If you’d like an introduction, please complete this form and we’ll contact you.

Taxes

South African citizens living more than 183 days in Croatia each year must report their worldwide income and pay taxes in Croatia. Croatia and South Africa have a double-taxation treaty in place.

Taxes are complicated. This is a very high-level view of the tax situation. If you ever want a detailed review of your tax liability while living in Croatia, contact us and we’ll connect you with an expat-vetted tax expert.

How to find your consulate in Croatia

Consulate of the Republic of South Africa, Zagreb

Contact: Mikša Branko

Telephone: +385 (0)1 4680 981

Email: konzulat.jar@email.ht.hr

Address:
Vinkovićeva 7
10 000 Zagreb
View Map

Conclusion

While the options to live in Croatia legally long-term are limited for South African citizens, there are a variety of options that will allow you to live here for at least a year, if not longer.

I’m an American who has lived here since 2012 and currently holds permanent residency. My options were the same as citizens of South Africa, being that we are both third-country nationals so I am familiar with the process.

It was by no means easy or cheap, but from my perspective, all the hoops of fire were worth it. It all depends on how badly you want to live here and how much patience you have.

Skip the research! Let EIC answer your questions one-on-one.

I crafted this post to be as detailed as possible, but sometimes questions still arise because everyone’s situation is different. If you’d like personalized guidance on your situation, we can help.

Save yourself the time and uncertainty of trying to navigate the ever-changing rules for living in Croatia by scheduling a private chat with us over video chat.

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Meet CAM in this quick 2-minute video here.

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The below costs are per 30 minutes and include VAT (25% tax mandated by the Croatian government).

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If additional time is requested, it is billed in ¼ hour increments.

We offer a 100% money back guarantee. If your session was not helpful, then you will be refunded – no questions asked.

We vet our information through hands-on, human work. This process includes extensive web research, phone calls to the government, collaboration with licensed Croatian professionals, and visits to government.

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“After months of Dr Googling we were left with some ideas but had no confidence in which process to citizenship to follow and if any of it was right. Actually at the time of our consultation the laws had changed and CAM was already on top of them. We left the consultation with a clear path to citizenship and in-depth explanation of everything we needed to do in SA before leaving. On top of this when moving to a new country you don’t know how people may react or approach you. I was apprehensive about this and CAM melted all of that away. On the facts she was professional and serious but when welcoming us, making jokes and telling us about Croatia she was so warm, kind and lifted all my fears of moving. My heart now completely lies in Croatia and we have within 2 weeks a complete plan and working on all the documents we need to gather. Every country needs an expat Croatia with such high integrity.”~ MaryAnn V., South Africa, January 17, 2024

“My husband and I are looking to obtain our Croatian citizenship through heritage. CAM was exceptional and was extremely informative about the process required, timelines, contact people, both in Croatia and at home, lawyers and services offered by Expat in Croatia. She was able to easy our anxiety and we felt that we will have solid support and direction going forward. She was professional and friendly. Thank you CAM for your support.” ~ Carol W., Canada, February 5, 2024

You can view our latest reviews here or all of our reviews here.

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Frequently asked questions

Can South Africans move to Croatia?

Yes, South Africans are considered third-country (non-EU/EEA) nationals in Croatia and can apply for temporary residence under conditions valid for third-country nationals. As a South African, you can apply for temporary residence based on work for a Croatian company, prepayment of rent, digital nomad permit, as an EU Blue Card holder, and more. View all options here.

Do I need a visa to go to Croatia as a South African?

South Africans need visas to enter Croatia and other Schengen countries. You can apply for a Croatian visa at the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia or VFS Global. Additional information is available here.

How can I, as a South African, live in Croatia permanently?

To qualify for permanent residency in Croatia as a South African or any other third-country national, you must first stay in Croatia continuously on a temporary residence. After that, you can apply for permanent residency and wait a few months for it to be approved. Once you get permanent residency, you no longer have to extend your temporary residence.

How long does it take to get a work permit in Croatia?

Officially, it should not take longer than 30 days once you submit the complete application, but in practice, it can take several months. More and more foreigners come to Croatia every year on work permits, which extends waiting time. Also, waiting depends on where you submitted your application, with cities like Zagreb and Split being the busiest.

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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