Living in Croatia: 18 Things to Know Before You Move

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Written By Andrew Shannon

Most people don’t consider living in Croatia, and most don’t even think of it when they think of Europe. I don’t blame them because I didn’t consider living in Croatia. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Feb 2022, I needed to find another nearby country I could quickly move to and stay. Fortunately, Croatia has a digital nomad visa program that I could use to get a temporary stay visa.

While expats end up in Croatia for different reasons, Sara Dyson, the founder of  Expat in Croatia, the most prominent English resource on living in Croatia, also ended up here by chance. In an interview, she says she discovered Croatia while researching a trip to Italy.

If you’ve decided you want to live in Croatia, here are 18 things you should know before you move.

It’s incredibly safe

The world peace index ranked Croatia as the 15th most peaceful country in 2021. It scored high marks for its political stability and low likelihood of internal and external conflict.

Croatia is a tiny country. You know, where everyone seemingly knows everyone. So it also scores well for high levels of mutual trust and low levels of traditional crime. The level of crime in Croatia ranks very low on numbeo. It is also safe for solo female tourists.

One other risk to be aware of is that in Zagreb, earthquakes are common. The last major quake was in 2020, which caused significant damage to the city. A lot of which is still under construction in 2022. The good news is that no one was killed.

Most people speak English, but…

Croatia’s spoken English level surprised me the most when I got here. According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Croatia ranks as the 11th most proficient country with English as a second language. This ranks it one spot behind Germany!

While most people, even middle-aged Croatians speak some English, there will be times when you’ll run into a problem you cannot solve with English. For example, recently, I tried calling my gas provider because they sent me a blank bill, and their automated phone system didn’t have an English option. So, I needed to go to their office to ask someone—a minor inconvenience to say the least.

It’s easy to stay longer than 90 days

Can you work remotely and earn more than $2300/mo? Great, then you qualify for a temporary stay as a digital nomad

Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that. Still, there are very few countries where it’s this easy to stay long-term. The only caveat is that you can’t extend this permit after the year. You’ll need to wait six months after it expires to apply again.

Alternatively, buying a residence and getting a temporary residence permit for up to 6 months is possible. When paired with your 90-day stay, you can stay in the country for roughly nine months per year. This option does not allow you to work legally, though.

But the bureaucracy is awful

Things move incredibly slowly here, and it’s not only how slow things move that makes it annoying. On top of that, there are tons of inconsistencies and loopholes. Let’s address the speed first, though. 

Whenever you’re dealing with the government, assume it will take longer than they tell you it will take. For example, my temporary stay visa took beyond the eight weeks I was told it would take to process.

Additionally, you’ll get two answers when you ask two different people the same question. I called the Center for Vehicles of Croatia (CVH) to ask what’s needed to register a car as a foreigner in Croatia since I didn’t have my permit yet, and they told me I only needed my address registration and tax ID. 

So I thought I could buy a car and travel around while I waited for my permit. Nope. The day I went to buy the car, we went to the CVH, and they told me I couldn’t register it without a residence card.

You won’t find your dream job

Croatia is a small country of 4 million, so there isn’t much international business happening here. There’s also a lot of local competition for higher-end knowledge jobs that do exist. Keep in mind that the unemployment rate is over 8% as well. It’s even higher for those early in their careers.

Even when you find a job, the salary will probably be much lower than expected. For example, developers earn $2000/mo, which is comfortable to live on here. However, this is still much lower than in surrounding countries.

You should review the local job market if you need a job while living in Croatia. The main job boards are Adorio, danasradim.hr, and Moj Posao. Adorio also has an excellent section detailing each job’s average gross (post-tax) salary.

But there’s a good work-life balance

One major benefit of living in Croatia is the work-life balance. The locals work to live rather than follow the American mantra of living to work. Not to sound harsh, but they likely won’t care about what you do for a living.

There’s no better evidence of this than the local coffee culture. No matter where you are, there will be a caffe bar filled with workers having their mid-morning, lunch, or afternoon coffee chatting with their friends and colleagues.

If you need to take care of anything with local or state services, it’s best to do it in the morning. Most stop working between 2:00-3:00 pm. The police station near my apartment closes at noon several days per week.

Who you know is more important than what you know

When I first moved into my apartment, I wanted to fix a few things. One of the faucets was blocked by calcium, and I bought mosquito screens for the window I needed to install.

So, I did like I would anywhere. I hopped online to find a handyman. I found one that spoke English a few minutes later and gave him a call. He told me he’d be by in the morning. Morning came, and he was nowhere to be found. This went on for two weeks until he finally showed up.

When he did show up, he fixed the faucet and said he’d be back in two weeks to build the mosquito nets. My solution was to call the realtor who helped me get my apartment to find someone to build them.

But the thing is, this is how everything is and why I highly recommend applying for residency with a lawyer. They’ll have connections in the various government agencies and be able to move things along.

They love animals

Ever wanted to take a beach vacation and bring your dog? Then you should consider Croatia. Countless beaches allow dogs. Adriatic Luxury Villas made a great list of Croatia’s most dog-friendly beaches. So your dog should enjoy living in Croatia as much as you.

Additionally, the majority of cafes and restaurants are dog friendly. Just make sure you ask the server before bringing them inside.

Oh, and also, Dalmatians originated from Dalmatia. In the village of Veli Lošinj, there’s a painting that dates back to the 1700s, and you can find the first written mention of the breed in archives of the roman catholic church in Dakovo. 

You should be aware that dogs aren’t allowed on children’s playgrounds, sports fields, cemeteries, open-air markets, and school & kindergarten grounds. 

Still affordable, but can be expensive 

I have a 90 sqm flat in Zagreb that’s a 15-minute walk from the center. It’s not the newest building, but comfortable by all western standards, i.e., air conditioning, elevator, and underground parking. I pay 900 € per month. My utilities are:

  • Gas – 45 €
  • Water – 20 €
  • Electricity – 50 €
  • Local cable – 11 €
  • Cable & Internet (500 mb/s) – 40 €
  • Trash – 20 €

In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve spent anywhere from 400-500 € per month on groceries and household goods like toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.

  • Potatoes – 1 € / kg
  • Bananas – 1.3 € / kg
  • Basmati rice – 3 €  
  • Fresh bread – 3 €
  • Pasta – 1 € / 500g
  • Can of tomatoes – 1.3 €
  • Dry aged t-bone steak – 30 € / kg
  • Staropramen – 1 € / bottle

Dining out is also affordable.

  • Cappuccino – 2 €
  • Pastry – 2 €
  • Homemade gelato – 2 €
  • Sandwich – 3 €
  • Cevapi (regional kebabs) – 5 €
  • Main course at a high-end restaurant – 15 €

When you decide to take a beach vacation during the high season, things start getting expensive. It’s often cheaper for those living in Croatia to take a bus to Rimini, Italy, than to go to the beach in their own country.

Some of the highest taxes in Europe

There are a ton of taxes in Croatia, most of which are higher than in other European countries. As an expat, the most relevant taxes for you are the value-added, income, surtax, and real estate transfer tax. The rates are as follows:

  • VAT – 25%
  • Income tax:
    • Up to $46,800 / yr – 20%
    • Over $46,800 / yr – 30%
  • Surtax rates:
    • Municipality (region) – Up to 10%
    • Cities smaller than 30,000 residents – up to 12%
    • Cities larger than 30,000 residents – up to 15%
    • City of Zagreb – up to 18%
  • Real estate transfer tax – 3%

Most products in Croatia have the 25% VAT built in. Some products have reduced rates, though. For example, food, medicine, cultural events, etc., are taxed at a reduced rate. You can find a more comprehensive list of items with the reduced tax rate on Invest Croatia’s website.

Income tax is tricky to calculate. There are a ton of exceptions, deductions, etc. To make it simple, someone earning $50,000/yr will pay roughly 36% tax. It assumes that the employer is paying social taxes. Check out PWC’s personal income tax calculation example if you’d like to see more.

Croatia has a few real estate taxes, but the most significant is the real estate transfer tax. It’s 3% and is always paid by the buyer. One interesting thing is that Croatia doesn’t have property tax unless it’s a second home or an investment property.

Cross between Slavic & southern European culture

I love Slavic and southern European culture, but they have their quirks. In Croatia, you’ll get to experience both the positives and negatives.

Let’s start with the negatives. Whether you need to follow up on your residence permit or fix the sink in your house, it will take forever. From the Slavic side, no one will call you back, and every person you speak to will give you a different answer. From the southern European side, they’ll “come tomorrow” or are always on vacation.

But there are positives. My favorite part of these cultures is that the locals are incredibly warm and welcoming. Need help? Ask anyone wherever you happen to be, and they’ll do their best to help.

Good transportation 

Whether you live in Zagreb or want to go from city to city, the transportation infrastructure in Croatia is decent. I’ll touch on urban transportation, intercity, and my experience driving here.

First off, if you plan to live in Croatia without a car, Zagreb will be the best option. Most of the city is covered by the tram network, and there are also buses. The cost for a ticket on either is $0.80 and is good for 30 minutes. There’s a reliable commuter rail system if you need to get outside the city. I recommend getting tickets on the HZPP rail website since the ticket office is sometimes closed.

Intercity rail tickets can also be bought on HZPP for domestic travel. Another more convenient and often cheaper option for intercity travel is Flixbus. The budget bus line can get you to most European cities. If your travel is 10 hours or more, I recommend booking an overnight train through Nightjet. It is operated by Austria’s railway.

The last method of transport is by car. Whether renting a car or owning one, getting around by car is very easy in Croatia. Roads are well-maintained and modern, but you can find some dangerous serpentines on the coast.

Move during the off-season

If you want to live near the sea, plan to be in Croatia between April and May. The tourist season in Croatia is from May through October and peaks in July and August. Finding an affordable apartment near the sea during the tourist season will take a lot of work.

I was looking near Opatija in May and found an excellent 2br apartment for $750/mo. The problem was I was still waiting on my background check, and the apartment went fast. By the time I got to Croatia in July, a similar apartment near the sea cost $1200/mo.

It was also challenging to find an apartment in Zagreb. There were a couple of problems. The first issue is that there are only a few 2br flats to rent. Second, when something good came up, it was expensive or went fast. It took me about a month of living in a hotel to find something. I ended up using an agent, Krešo (pronounced Kresho) from Eurovilla, and I highly recommend him if you need help in Zagreb. 

Healthcare can book up months in advance

According to the World Health Organization, Croatia has 34 doctors for every 10,000 people. To put that in perspective, the EU average is 40 doctors per 10,000 people. So we can already assume that access to healthcare will be slower in Croatia than in other EU countries.

My personal experience also shows this. It’ll depend on the type of healthcare you need, though. I tried to see a dermatologist when I arrived, and there was a two-month wait, even at a private clinic. I had the same problem when I tried to book a visit with a general Physician for an annual check-up.

That said, you can usually visit the dentist without advance notice. I called the dentist and had an appointment a few days later. If you’re in Zagreb and need an English-speaking dentist, I recommend Sanja Vuic.

For a small country, there’s a ton to do

There are officially 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Croatia, with an additional 15 tentative sites. Seven are cultural sites, and three are natural sites like Plitvice lakes.

View overlooking Plitvice Lakes National Park
Plitvice Lakes National Park

From my perspective, in Zagreb, an hour to the north are castles, and an hour and a half to the west is Pula, a city filled with ancient Roman ruins. If you continue north from Pula on the Istrian peninsula, there’s Rovinj and Poreč. Two hours south of Zagreb are Plitvice lakes and plenty of beaches and mountains. Further south is Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. All filled with other things to do. 

Some of the best beaches in the world

The first thing I should mention is that most of Croatia’s beaches aren’t sandy. The smooth pebbled beaches are clean and look like they have for thousands of years. Most of them are also left natural and undeveloped. That said, it doesn’t make them any less fantastic.

The most famous beach in Croatia is Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn). It’s located a short ferry ride away from Split on the island of Brač and regularly makes it into the top beaches of the world rankings. It’s also a pebble beach, but the pebbles are golden, which is why it’s named the way it is. Some other notable beaches are Uvala Lapad beach near Dubrovnik, Plaža Ježinac beach near Split, and Plaža Črnikovica near Opatija.

If you need a sandy beach, the best place to find one is on Susak island since it is arguably the sandiest island in Croatia.

Rich history from neanderthals to the Roman empire and beyond

Croatia is a small country, but it’s got a vibrant history. You’ll find everything from neanderthals to Roman ruins and more. Throughout history, Croatia has been a part of the Roman empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Habsburg monarchy, and the Ottoman empire. Even Napoleon got a piece of Croatia.

The Krapina Neanderthal site is the most significant archeological find of human remains from the late Pleistocene era. The accompanying Krapina Neanderthal Museum is a must-see if you make it to Zagreb. It’s located about an hour north of the city on the border with Slovenia and will teach you everything you’ve ever (or never) wanted to know about early humans.

For those of you into ancient history, the city of Pula has an excellently preserved roman amphitheater. While you’re in Pula, don’t forget to admire the Venetian architecture found throughout the Istrian peninsula. Then there’s Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Further south, the walled city of Dubrovnik.

And history makes for excellent food

Croatian cuisine is incredibly diverse, considering the size of the country. They say that eight distinct cuisines can be found in Croatia (Dalmatia, Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Istria, Lika, Medimurje, Podravina, Slavonija, and Zagorje). 

While each of these regions tends to have its unique dishes, we can simplify Croatia’s cuisine into two groups – inland as a mix of Slavic & Ottoman cuisines, and on the coast, a combination of Greek & Italian cuisines.

I haven’t made it to the coast, so you can expect a more comprehensive list of what you should eat later. However, some dishes that I recommend trying during your time in Croatia are: