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 spoken to 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 11 things you should know before applying for Croatian citizenship.
#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 from January 1, 2020. You can find the closest embassy or consulate to you 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 whom had has 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.
When a non-Croatian is married to someone who has Croatian nationality based on Article 11, then then the non-Croatian spouse can apply for citizenship.
Article 11 of the Citizenship Act is the basis for the descendants of Croatian emigrants to apply for citizenship.
While technically both spouses could apply at the same time, the ministry advises that the spouse without Croatian descent wait until their spouse with Croatian descent is approved for citizenship. There are no residency requirements at all for a spouse in this situation.
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 apostilled/legalized criminal background check from the national authority in your home country. It cannot be from a state, province or private institution. In some countries, misdemeanors will appear on this background check. A misdemeanor is not a barrier to Croatian citizenship.
However, you cannot have any criminal charges on your background check. If you do, your application for citizenship may be denied.
#4 Families MAY need less paperwork
If you have a spouse and children, it is best that you apply for citizenship as a family all at once. It will be much easier since so much of the paperwork overlaps. It will also save time as the applications will be processed at the same time.
Since much of the documentation you need to provide will be the same, the government will allow you submit 1 set of originals for your entire family for any overlapping paperwork as long as you all apply together.
An example of overlapping paperwork would be a marriage certificate or a birth certificate for your Croatian ancestor. If you need help finding a birth certificate, we can help.
However, if your children are over 18, then they must submit their own applications. As far as the documentation, each embassy or consulate has the discretion to decide whether or not they will let your original documents overlap between applications – meaning they may say you can use one set, or they can say you each must have your own set. It’s important to check with the embassy or consulate where you plan to apply before getting started.
#5 Names need to match
When Croatians emigrated to English-speaking countries like Canada, the United States, and Australia, it was common for the governments of those countries to modify their last names. Volić became Volich.
This can create a problem when it comes to making a claim for citizenship. As part of the application, you must prove proof of your connection to your Croatian ancestor. That is usually done through birth records linking you to the relative.
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 must 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.
The discrepancy should also be explained in the CV biography that you must write.
#6 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.
#7 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 cancelled. 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 apply. To find out if you qualify, check this post.
#8 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. [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.
Croatia requires that all apostilles must be no older than 6 months. The document itself can be older, but the apostille 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. To give you an example, the Croatian consulate in Washington, D.C. made a discretionary change in 2020 to their requirements on apostilles due to the pandemic. They extended apostilles up to 1-year old. This may not be the rule now for DC, it’s merely an example that they have this power.
Always make sure you know what your consulate or embassy is requiring before submitting an application. Just because the DC consulate is did this, it doesn’t mean they still are nor does it mean the other consulates will.
#9 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 December 31, 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 December 31, 2021.
If this applies to you, check out our detailed post on how to register your citizenship here.
#10 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 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.
Whenever you’re applying for citizenship, make sure you request the requirements from the place you intend to apply first so you know what to expect. Embassies and consulates have been known to deviate from the requirements published from within Croatia.
Even better, compare the embassy’s requirements to the ones provided by the government to make sure you cover all your bases. This will give you the best chance at success.
#11 For those naturalizing, there is a BIG catch
If you are a non-EU 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 Croatian spouses, people with Croatian heritage or EU nationals.
Those in this situation represent a very small sliver of people, including yours truly. Unfortunately, those naturalizing as non-EU 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.
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:
- Validating your claim (which includes confirming if you qualify and checking the citizenship status of your relative)
- Collecting birth records in Croatia (a new copy is required)
- Confirming exact requirements with your embassy or consulate (where you will submit your application, as the requirements can vary)
- Guidance on preparing CV bio (and coordinating translation into Croatian)
- Preparing your family tree
- Preparing supporting documentation
- Coordinating translations and getting notarizations for foreign documents, as needed
- Assistance 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. To get help with your application for citizenship, complete the form below and will match you with an expert.
Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. We can recommend one if you contact us.