10 things to know before applying for Croatian citizenship: Guide for 2022

This post has been verified with an immigration lawyer and the ministry that handles citizenship.

Croatian waving flag of Croatia at World Cup

UPDATED: 29/08/2022

Since the Croatian government eliminated the language test as a requirement for those with Croatian lineage, many many many people are applying for Croatian citizenship. Croatia is becoming a very desirable location for those who want to escape their home country to find a better life where their family came from. Some just want to reconnect with their heritage.

If you are planning to apply for Croatian citizenship based on descent, it’s important to understand the process and all potential roadblocks you may encounter before getting started.

Since we vet all of our resources with immigration lawyers within Croatia and because we have helped hundreds of people applying for citizenship, we are well versed in the possible complications one might encounter during the application process.

Before you get started, check out our list of 10 things you should know before applying for Croatian citizenship.

Jump to the section:

The facts are these…

#1 Where to apply

If you are not a legal resident of Croatia, then you must apply for citizenship at the closest embassy or consulate to where you live. This rule was implemented on January 1, 2020. However, if you are a Croatian parent and wish to register your child for citizenship, you can do that from Croatia in addition to abroad.

A list of all Croatian diplomatic missions and consular offices outside of Croatia is available here.

That being said, there is a residence program specifically for people who wish to come live in Croatia and apply for nationality based on descent. You can find all the details here.

#2 Your spouse can apply too

The rules on citizenship for spouses of Croatians and spouses of non-Croatians with Croatian heritage are different. We’ll go over both situations so that the differences are made clear.

When a non-Croatian is married to a Croatian who had always had citizenship, the non-Croatian must live in Croatia with their Croatian spouse to get on the path to citizenship. They must live in Croatia for 4 continuous years and achieve permanent residency before they qualify to apply for citizenship.

[Read: How third-country citizens can apply for permanent residency in Croatia]

When a non-Croatian is married to someone who currently has Croatian nationality OR qualifies for nationality based on Article 11, then the non-Croatian spouse can apply for citizenship. If the Croatian descendant does not yet have nationality, the descendant and their spouse may apply at the same time. There are no residency requirements at all for a spouse in this situation.

[Read: How to apply for citizenship based on descent]

Article 11 of the Citizenship Act is the basis for the descendants of Croatian emigrants to apply for citizenship.

This is the relevant clause in the Act:

Stranac koji je u braku s osobom iz stavka 1. ovoga članka može steći hrvatsko državljanstvo iako ne udovoljava pretpostavkama iz članka 8. stavka 1. točaka 2. – 4. ovoga Zakona.

Which translates to:

An alien who is married to a person referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article may acquire Croatian citizenship even though he does not meet the preconditions referred to in Article 8, paragraph 1, items 2-4 of this Act.

#3 What can and cannot be on your background check

As part of your application, you must provide a legalized and officially translated criminal background check from the national authority in your country of nationality or the country where you have lived for the previous 12 months. It cannot be from a state, province or private institution. In our experience, the exception is if you have lived in Croatia for the previous 12 months – in which case, they still want you to get a background check from your country of nationality.

[Read: Background checks and fingerprints for third-country nationals (non-EU/EEA citizens)]

In some countries, misdemeanors will appear on this background check. A misdemeanor is not a barrier to Croatian citizenship. However, you cannot have any felonies on your background check. If you do, your application for citizenship may be denied.

If your country does not differentiate between misdemeanors and felonies and you do have something listed, you’ll need to have a lawyer from your country make a statement that explains that the item on your check is considered a misdemeanor. It will need to be translated into Croatian. Canada is an example of a country like this.

[Read: How to prepare your foreign documents for use in Croatia]

#4 Names need to match

When Croatians emigrated to English-speaking countries like Canada, the United States, South Africa and Australia, it was common for the governments of those countries to modify their last names. Volić became Volich, for example.

This can create a problem when it comes to making a claim for citizenship. As part of the application, you must provide proof of your connection to your Croatian ancestor. That is usually done through birth records linking you to the relative.

[Read: How to get a copy of a birth certificate]

If your grandfather’s name was Nejašmić on his birth record from Solin but is listed as Nismich on your mother’s birth certificate from Chicago, you may not be allowed to apply for citizenship unless you can prove they are the same person. To get around this, you may need to either fix the records in the foreign country to match the records in Croatia or provide some kind of document from the foreign country explicitly stating the name change.

Sometimes it is not possible to provide this kind of documentation. At a minimum, the name change should be explained in the CV biography that every applicant over 18 must write. The consulate (or MUP office in Croatia) will tell you if they see a concern with the name change.

#5 Where did your relative go

Croatia has specific rules about who can and cannot apply for citizenship and several of these rules are rooted in patriotism and politics.

If your relative left Croatia for another country within the former Yugoslavia, then the right to citizenship is negated for all of their descendants (by law).

If your relative left Croatia for another country outside of the former Yugoslavia, then the right to citizenship is preserved. HOWEVER, for some reason in practice, this is not always the case.

The ministry is giving a hard time to descendants of Croatians who left Croatia for another country within Europe – more specifically Eastern Europe. Technically, the law is clear on this. Those in this situation should have a right to apply for citizenship.

There is nothing in the law that says the right to citizenship is negated for European descendants of Croatian nationals. Regardless, they are rejecting application requests to some people (or just sitting on them and not issuing a decision at all). When there is no decision, there is nothing to appeal.

If this situation applies to you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. You still should. If they deny your claim on this basis, raise hell about it! There is no legal basis for them to deny your claim. Until enough people get in the government’s face about this discrimination, it will not be addressed.

#6 When did your relative leave Croatia

Your claim to citizenship (based on Article 11) can also be affected depending on when your ancestor left Croatia.

If your ancestor left Croatia before October 8, 1991 (the start of the war for independence), then your claim to citizenship is still intact.

If your ancestor left Croatia after October 8, 1991, then all claims to citizenship for their descendants are canceled. In this case, it doesn’t matter where they went, only that they left after this date.

The reason is that if a person left after the start of the war, it implies that they abandoned Croatia.

However, there is an exception. If you are the child of a Croatian who left Croatia after 1991, then you may qualify to register your citizenship instead of applying.

[Read: How children of Croatians can register their citizenship]

#7 Your apostille needs to be current

All foreign documents issued in countries that are party to the Apostille Convention need to have an apostille to be used outside of the issuing country. If your country isn’t part of that convention, then your documents need to be legalized and officially translated. Canada, for example, is not in the Apostille convention. This means there are two steps for legalization instead of one.

[Read: Apostille versus legalization]

What is an apostille?

An apostille is a special certificate (usually with a seal) that a country can provide and attach to documents issued within that country. It serves as an extra level of validation so that the document can be used in foreign countries.

For example, when you are applying for citizenship, you must provide a copy of your birth certificate. If you were not born in Croatia, then it will need to have an apostille or be legalized and officially translated.

Croatia requires that all apostille or legalization be no older than 6 months. The document itself can be older, but the apostille/legalization itself must not be older than 6 months.

It should be noted that this requirement is not included in the law. It’s merely a discretionary requirement imposed by the government. Always make sure you know what your consulate or embassy is requiring before submitting an application. Just because the DC consulate did this, it doesn’t mean they still are nor does it mean the other consulates will.

[Read: How to prepare your foreign documents for use in Croatia]

#8 You may not need to apply, only register

If you are a child of a Croatian, then you may have an easier and faster option for obtaining citizenship. This process is referred to as “registering” your citizenship, rather than “applying” for it.

Here are the situations in which you can register your citizenship:

  • If you were born after October 8, 1991 AND at least one of your parents was a Croatian citizen at the time of your birth AND you are younger than 21, then you qualify to register your citizenship.
  • If you were born after October 8, 1991 AND at least one of your parents was a Croatian citizen at the time of your birth AND you are older than 21, then you qualify to register your citizenship before January 1, 2023 (the deadline was prolonged in November 2021).
  • If you were born between January 8, 1977 and October 8, 1991 AND both parents were Croatian citizens at the time of your birth, then you qualify to register your citizenship before January 1, 2023 (the deadline was prolonged in November 2021).

In all cases, your parent(s) must still have Croatian citizenship – meaning they never relinquished it. If this applies to you, check out our detailed post on how to register your Croatian citizenship here.

If you do not register before the deadline, then that just means you must apply based on Article 11 instead of registering. You don’t lose your right to apply all together.

#9 Requirements may vary

As we mentioned earlier in this post, you must apply for Croatian citizenship from your country of residence. If that country is not Croatia, then you will apply at an embassy or consulate.

While an embassy or consulate will take your application, they are not the ones who approve it. The application gets sent back to the Ministry of the Interior in Zagreb for review and processing.

Here’s the hitch. Even though all applications are reviewed by the same ministry in Zagreb, different consulates and embassies have may have different requirements for citizenship. They cannot do this to you. Consulates and embassies are under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the Ministry of the Interior. This means they can accept applications, but they are not making the decision.

The requirements from the Ministry of the Interior are the ones to follow.

[Read: How to apply for Croatian citizenship (hrvatsko državljanstvo)]

#10 For those naturalizing, there is a BIG catch

If you are a non-EU/EEA citizen and are applying for citizenship simply because you’ve lived in Croatia long enough, then you have the opportunity to naturalize. This caveat does not apply to spouses of Croatians or people with Croatian heritage.

Those in this situation represent a very small sliver of people, including yours truly. Unfortunately, those naturalizing as non-EU/EEA citizens are required to give up their other nationality before they can be granted Croatian citizenship. This group is the only one that Croatia requires to relinquish their other citizenship. It’s kind of crap.

Need help with your Croatian citizenship application?

If you are currently a resident of Croatia, our expat-vetted lawyer network can take care of your application from beginning to end. We have excellent English-speaking lawyers across the country that specialize in immigration.

If you live abroad, you must apply for citizenship at an embassy or consulate. While our lawyers cannot file applications on behalf of those abroad, they can:

  • Validate your claim (which includes confirming if you qualify and checking the citizenship status of your relative)
  • Collect birth records in Croatia (a new copy is required)
  • Confirm exact requirements with your embassy or consulate (where you will submit your application, as the requirements can vary)
  • Provide guidance on preparing a successful CV biography (and coordinating translation into Croatian)
  • Prepare your family tree
  • Prepare supporting documentation
  • Coordinate translations for foreign documents, as needed
  • Assist with any issues or questions that arise after submission. They are with you throughout the process from start to approval.

Having a lawyer prepare and review your application will increase your chances of approval on the first try. It takes 1-2 years on average for applications to be processed, so best not to risk denial. To get help with your application for citizenship, complete the form below and will match you with an expert.

View other citizenship posts

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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