How South African citizens can visit and live in Croatia (in 2020)

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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 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.

Let’s dive in…

Tourist visas for South African citizens to visit Croatia

There are two requirements for South Africans to visit Croatia as a tourist.

#1 Obtain a tourist visa

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 web site here.

#2 Get a PCR test

All non-EU nationals are required to provide a negative PCR result of a nasal and throat swab for SARS-Cov-2 that is not older than 48 hours at the border in addition to proof of your accommodation or reason for visit.

If you cannot provide this test, you will be required to go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days. Alternatively, you can isolate for 7 days and then get tested again in Croatia at your own expense.

You can read the most frequently asked questions about visiting Croatia as a tourist during the COVID-19 pandemic 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. In the eyes of the Croatian government, there are Croatian citizens, EU citizens and everybody else. Those in the “everybody else” bucket are referred to as “third-country nationals”.

Citizens of South Africa are considered third-country nationals. This means that the following residence permit schemes 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.

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.
  • As of right now, you cannot work as a student. Although, there is legislation in the works to change this.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you for the first two years.

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

Purchasing residential property

South Africans can buy property in Croatia, as long as it is zoned as residential. With the purchase of a residential property, you are entitled to a temporary residence permit that will allow you to stay in Croatia for up to 6 months at a time with after which you must leave for 90 days.

When the 90 days is up, you can enter Croatia again as a tourist for 90 days. During this 90 days as a tourist, you can apply for a new 6-month residence permit based on your property.

Here is the timeline outlined simply:

  • 90 Days – You are in Croatia as a tourist
  • Up to 6 months – You have a legal residence permit
  • 90 Days – You are outside Croatia
  • 90 Days – You are in Croatia as a tourist
  • Up to 6 months – You have a legal residence permit
  • 90 Days – You are outside Croatia

And then it just repeats…

Caveats

  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship
  • You cannot bring your spouse with you UNLESS your spouse is also listed as an owner of the property. Children can only come if both parents have legal residence permits.
  • The property must be zoned residential and there must be a house. A plot of land does not count.

If you wish to purchase property in Croatia, you should hire an attorney. There is a lot to sort out and a lot of room for error, specially when purchasing as a foreigner.

The law and requirements are complex, there is a lot of bureaucracy to navigate and there is a good chance you’re inexperience with the system will be taken advantage of at some stage in the process. The language barrier alone is reason enough to hire a professional. If you are interested in this option, contact me to be referred to a vetted real estate agent and/or real estate lawyer.

Here is a post that explains the process of purchasing residential property in Croatia.

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

Work permit

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

Caveats

  • You must be offered a work contract before you can apply for a work permit. You cannot get a work permit, then go find a job.
  • 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.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you for the first two years.
  • 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.

The above rules and requirements also apply to approved EU Blue Card holders. Even with the Blue Card, you still need to have a work contract or employment offer before you can apply for residence in Croatia based on work.

Work permit by opening your own company

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

This option is not recommended if you are only opening the company for the purpose of getting residence. This option should only be used by those who legit want to open and run a company in Croatia. You’ll see why I say this once you see the requirements below.

Caveats

  • You are required to invest 200.000 kuna of start-up capital.
  • You are required to hire 3 full-time Croatian nationals
  • You are required to pay yourself at least the minimum wage for directors
  • All these things we’ve noted about opening a business in this post and this post and this post.

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 many posts about opening and running businesses in Croatia, which you can browse through here.

You can also read more about the option of getting a work permit by opening your own company here.

1-year permit for third-country nationals (referred to as “other purposes”)

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 digital nomads and retirees 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. There have been individual cases when people have been allowed to apply for a second year, but they were all kicked out at the end of the second year.
  • At the end of the term, you must leave Croatia for 90 days (if only here a year) and 18 months (if here 2 years).
  • You must prove that you’ve prepaid rent (wherever you’re staying) for a year. Sometimes people are granted exceptions if they are staying with a friend or family member. Lately, since so many tourists have been stuck in Croatia due to COVID-19, some immigration offices have only required a 1-year rental contract without prepayment.
  • You must sign up for state health insurance upon approval of residence, THEN pay 1 year of premiums for the previous year (~6500 kuna) plus the monthly premiums for the year you live here.
  • You are not allowed to work for a Croatian company.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you. If you have a spouse, they must apply separately. If both parents get permits, then children can get permits too.
  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship.

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

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 heavily scrutinized.

Caveats

  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship
  • You cannot work for a Croatian company

Volunteer

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. In some specific cases, you can get the same permit again for a second year, after which you absolutely must leave for a period of 18 months.
  • There is no path to permanent residency or citizenship.
  • You cannot bring your spouse or children to live with you. If you wish to bring your spouse, they will need to apply for their own residence permit 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:

Marry a Croatian or EU national

This program is called “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 a minor).

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 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 translated, apostilled, and notarized (if married abroad). You’ll also need to show that you as a couple have the money to support yourself. I will cover this in more detail below in the “Requirements” section.

In practice, there have been discrepancies in the term of your permit. Some spouses have received 5-year permits, while others have had to get a new permit after each year. There does not appear to be a pattern, so you’ll just need to see what the police say in your situation.

After 5 years of temporary residency, you’ll qualify for permanent residency. Once you receive permanent residency, you can apply for citizenship. Hooray!

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.

Croatian ancestry

If you have Croatian heritage, you’ve hit the ultimate jackpot. Seems like every day, the Croatian government is making it easier for diaspora to gain citizenship in an effort to get them to come 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.
  • Applications for citizenship take time, months to years, so be patient. You won’t be here next week.
  • Without citizenship, lineage is on its own is not a valid basis for residency.

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

You can see how to apply for citizenship here.

You can read 8 things you need to know before applying for Croatian citizenship 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 those 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:

  • A completed application
    • The police will provide you with the right application. You can also download the application here.
  • A valid passport
    • Expiration date must be more than 6 months out
  • OIB identification number (similar to your South African ID number)
  • Health insurance
    • For some permits like volunteering or the 1-year permit, you will need to have your own private travel health insurance for the application process. Once approved, you’ll need to get state health insurance.
    • For some permits like family reunification and work permits, you must get state health insurance during the application process.
      • Here is how to get state health insurance.
      • Here are the costs of state health insurance.
  • Registered address in Croatia (where you live, whether you own or rent)
    • If you are renting, you will need a notarized rental contract OR the owner can come to the police with you to state that you are renting from them along with having a non-notarized rental contract.
  • Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself
    • Depending on your basis, you can either show you have a large amount of money on a bank account or show a work contract or show salary payments from a Croatian company. Here are the financial minimums you’ll need, but the police will tell you what they need from you.
  • (2) passport photos
    • 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. In some cases, you must pay an administrative fee earlier in the process using tax stamps.

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: [email protected]

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 whom 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.

Need help figuring out your best option for residency?

We recommend that everyone use an attorney when applying for residency in Croatia, especially non-EU nationals. Lawyers have connections within immigration, are able to skip common roadblocks and can identify any risks with your application. In addition, it is rare that the police (who handle immigration) will speak English to applicants.

Our expat-vetted network can review your situation and quickly determine if you qualify for residency, all in English. If you do qualify, they can also handle your residency application from beginning to end. This service includes:

  • Personalized consulting on your specific situation
  • Confirming latest immigration requirements for your nationality and basis
  • Assistance with putting together necessary documents
  • All communication with the police on your behalf
  • Assembly, submission and monitoring of your application
  • Answering questions and assisting you throughout the process

To consult with an immigration lawyer to find out if you qualify to live in Croatia long term, please complete the form below and we’ll contact you as soon as possible.

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