Living In Croatia As An Expat – The Essential Guide

The insider guide to all the aspects of living in Croatia as an expat.

For decades, Croatia has been a favorite destination for expats and digital nomads, and our essential guide is everything you need to know about living in Croatia.

At the crossroads of central and southeastern Europe, Croatia is one of the European Union’s newest and youngest states. 

Especially great for expat families or simply those with a budget, Croatia is one choice that provides a diversity of options. 

Somewhat of a Cinderella story, today, Croatia is the crown of the Balkan peninsula offering a bit of everything there is to love about Europe.  

Is Croatia a good place to live?

Living in Croatia has the feel of living in Italy with a landscape reminiscent of Greece along with the affordability typical of the Balkans.

Living in Croatia
A beautiful beach in Brela on the Makarska Riviera, Dalmatia, Croatia

With several international airports, ferry ports, and train and bus stations, Croatia is well-connected to the world.

Its 3600 miles/5800 KM of Adriatic coastline and over 1000 islands and islets provide dozens of amazing Blue Flag beaches, water sports, and superyacht marinas that will exceed the approval of any aquaphile.

Its seemingly untouched nature reserves and incredible biodiversity offer a landscape of purity that outdoor lovers could spend a lifetime exploring. 

Its four well-matured wine regions produce superior wines such as the polished tannins of Dalmatia and the minerally wines of Istria, all of which complement Croatia’s unique gastronomic traditions perfectly. 

The cosmopolitan urban centers are a juxtaposition of Croatia’s millenniums’ old culture and modern innovation providing the opportunity to live in virtually any era of history while never leaving the 21st century. 

Is Croatia safe?

In 2019, Eurostat ranked Croatia as the safest European country.

The US State Department routinely ranks Croatia as Level 1.

Obviously, there is crime, but the overwhelming majority is petty, and violent crime is virtually unheard of. 

Both locals and tourists, females included, repeatedly state they neither experience nor have issues or concerns walking alone, even at night.

Some leading LGBTQ+ sites call Croatia as gay-friendly as the US. 

However, public displays of affection by the LGBTQ community are not recommended.

Is Croatia expensive?

Croatia is one of the most affordable European destinations, yet it is also fully capable of satisfying luxury tastes and lifestyles.

Living in Croatia
The harbor in an old Adriatic island town of Hvar on Hvar island, Croatia.

On average, a typical one-bedroom apartment in the city has a monthly rent of around $575/500€. However, this will often be an old building without an elevator. 

For more chic accommodations, new modern city apartments average $900/825€ a month. 

Insider Tip: Annual leases can be difficult as many owners try to capitalize on the lucrative tourist season. Some owners raise the rent once the season begins. Ensure long-term agreements explicitly state the agreed monthly rent.    

Depending upon usage, utilities average $100/90€ a month. 

Groceries are reasonably affordable, and most larger stores have a basic variety of international products, but there are several international food stores as well.

A single person would average $100/90€ and a family around $275/250€ for a week’s worth of groceries.

Insider Tip: Most places close by 9 pm, earlier on Saturdays, and don’t open on Sunday. Also, most markets tend to rely on self-checkout and normally operate with one staffed cash register, which backs up quickly. 

Internet coverage throughout Croatia is excellent and very reliable. 

Internet with basic cable packages averages $35/32€ a month and includes international news and channels, with many English language channels, such as History, FOX, Nat Geo, and Viasat. 

Monthly unlimited mobile data averages $28/25€ a month.

Public transport is very good, and tickets provide unlimited rides within a specific time frame, ranging from 30-minutes for $.60/.50€ up to monthly passes for $58/53€. 

Other basic expenses average:

  • Coffee and pastry – $3.65/3.35€
  • Liter of petro/gas – currently capped by law at $1.70/1.50€
  • Gym membership – $30/25€ a month

Thus, a single person could live well on a monthly income of $1200/1350€ and a family around $3000/2700€. 

Shopping and socializing in Croatia

Croatia has numerous shopping options throughout the country ranging from small boutique stores to large modern malls for budget and high-end brands.

living in Croatia
Komiža, a Croatian coastal town lying on the western coast of the island of Vis.

A Saturday night out for dinner and drinks will average around $20-50/18-45€.

Unless of course, you simply enjoy KFC, Burger King, Dominoes, or McDonald’s.

Croatia also has 10 Michelin-starred restaurants in Zagreb and the Adriatic coastline.  

Banks and crypto in Croatia

In 2020, Croatia joined the EU’s Exchange Rate Mechanism hoping to adopt the Euro as soon as 2023.

Croatia’s banks are predominantly foreign-owned international banks and are considered one of the country’s strongest and most stable industries. 

Bank-owned ATMs offer a significantly lower fee than other ATMs.

Insider Tip: ATMs offer to conduct transactions in USD, Euros, or Pounds, and the surcharge is astronomically high. The same is true for credit card transactions at restaurants, hotels, etc. Always conduct transactions in Croatian Kuna.

Currently, cryptocurrencies are virtually unregulated. There are three major crypto exchanges (considered reliable) throughout the country including The Bitcoin Store. 

Croatian post offices also operate as crypto exchanges, and Konzum, Croatia’s largest grocery store, accepts 11 different crypto currencies as payment online. 

Taxes in Croatia

Foreign pensions are taxable income, but Croatia has tax treaties with numerous countries, including the US and UK, to buffer against some double taxation.

Living in Croatia
Omiš, a small town and port at the mouth of the Cetina River not far from Split.

The tax regulations arent very straightforward.

Basically, you become subject to income taxes after 183 days in the country. However, the type of visa, location, passive income, pensions, etc. all factor into any tax liability. 

For example, work income is tax-exempt with Croatia’s Digital Nomad Visa but passive income is required to be reported. 

Also, most residents have a tax rate of 12%, while Zagreb residents are taxed at 18%.

Simply stated, Croatia’s taxes are complicated and require professional assistance.

Healthcare and education in Croatia

Croatia has an effective nationalized healthcare system that is available, including COVID jabs, to anyone in the country. 

In fact, healthcare in Croatia is ranked amongst the best in Europe and the world. 

Among the 191 member countries of the World Health Organization, Croatia ranked 43, with the US at 37 and the UK at 18.

The very successful private medical sector makes Croatia a favored destination for medical tourism. 

International schools are available in Zagreb and Split. These include American, British, French, and German schools offering kindergarten to 12th grade.

What is the weather like in Croatia?

Croatia is for those who love all four seasons.

Living in Croatia
Split, the second-largest city in Croatia, at night.

Its blend of Mediterranean and continental climates produce 250 sunny days a year. 

The downside is the other 115 days are wet, cold, and windy. 

Summers are hot and typically dry along the Adriatic.

Winters are very cold but much milder in the coastal regions.

Zagreb has hot summers and cold, windy, and snowy winters; with average temperatures of 33 F/0 C in January and 71 F/22 C in July. 

Split has a humid subtropical climate, and temperatures average in January at around 46 F/8 C and July at around 78 F/26 C.

Is Croatia a good place to retire?

Due to the low cost of living, high quality of life, excellent medical services, and being an EU member, Croatia is a good retirement option. 

However, the country does not offer a retirement visa or many long-term options for non-EU citizens, and the available options are seemingly discretionary at best. 

Additionally, as of January 2021, Croatia made the available visas even more restrictive by now requiring a criminal background check.

Most options are temporary and involve a short-term cycle of leaving Croatia, waiting out a return window, and then re-entering.

Also, some of these options require proof of passive income or savings (currently $6500/6000€ for one person and $10,000/9000€ a year for a couple), or even prepaying a year’s rent in full. 

The two most common retirement routes for non-EU citizens are:

  • Get a temporary residency visa, then a long-term visa, and finally apply for permanent residency, or
  • Croatia’s residency and citizenship-by-investment programs.

Croatia’s citizenship-by-investment program is premised upon a minimum investment (currently $110,000/100,000€) either by buying property or registering/investing in a business and then living uninterrupted in Croatia for 8-years. 

As with the tax system, these visas and the citizenship-by-investment programs can be complex and require hiring a professional to navigate through. 

Croatia’s Digital Nomad Visa

Croatia has invested significantly to lure global digital nomads to the country.

Living in Croatia
Splitska village on Brac island in Dalmatia.

In January 2021, Croatia introduced a Digital Nomad Residency Visa, but it is not for everyone.

The law states that the digital nomad must be a non-EU citizen who is:

  • employed remotely, or 
  • owns and remotely operates a registered business 

The digital nomad cannot be an employee of or earn money from a company in Croatia.

The visa can be issued for a stay of up to 1-year, but its actual duration is discretionary.

Also, the visa is not renewable, and digital nomads are required to wait for 6 months before re-applying. 

Along with the application fee [currently $100/90€], the applicant must provide:

  • Proof of monthly income of at least $2500/2250€ for the applicant with an increase of 10% for each family member,
  • The applicant’s clean criminal record,
  • International health insurance, and
  • Proof of an address in Croatia.

Croatia’s Digital Nomad Visa does offer some features that other digital nomad visas don’t. 

Croatia added a provision to provide for children’s education to attract families.

Also, only one adult in a family needs to apply, and, if approved, all close family members can join the visa holder in Croatia. 

Citizens with 90-day visa-free entry to Croatia, such as the US and UK, can apply at either a Croatian embassy or at a local police station after arrival.

All others must apply at their local Croatian embassy or consulate.

Coworking space in Croatia

As a direct result of the Digital Nomad Visa, coworking spaces have emerged all over the country.

Most major cities and many secondary urban centers offer some professional coworking space options.

Sail Croatia in Split has one of the most unique coworking options in the world, with a Digital Nomad Offer for a monthly rental of a full-serviced catamaran so digital nomads can work while floating on the Adriatic. 

Where to live in Croatia

One of Croatia’s best features is its diverse selection of cities. 

Mainland Croatia

Zagreb, the capital, and the eastern city of Osijek are large modern urban and economic hubs that account for the majority of Croatia’s non-tourism-related industry.

Adriatic Croatia

Split, the second-largest city and largest coastal city, is a focal point for tourism and an intraregional transportation hub. The cities of Dubrovnik, Pula, and Zadar are hotbeds of tourism, culture, and history. 

Living in Croatia
Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Coast, Croatia.

The islands and islets are unparalleled in the Adriatic, and while primarily focused on tourism, many have residential towns. Hvar is a magnet for the wealthy superyacht community. The entire island of Lošinj is considered a health and wellness retreat. 

You can find a detailed guide to various locations in our Best Places To Live In Croatia guide.

Croatia’s pros and cons

Though Croatia has a lot to offer, all places have two faces. 

The pros of living in Croatia

1. Communication is not a problem

Most Croatians are bi-lingual, and many are multilingual. English, German, and Italian are the most widely available secondary languages. Serbian, Czech, Bosnian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Romani are also common. 

2. You can drink the water

You can actually drink the tap water in Croatia. In fact, UNESCO places Croatia as one of the top 5 European countries for high-quality potable tap water. 

3. It’s not in the Schengen Zone yet

One of Croatia’s greatest assets for non-EU expats is that Croatia is not inside the Schengen Zone. 

Thus, as most of Croatia’s long-term options require leaving the country, it does not require leaving the EU or Europe. Non-EU expats can wait out the 90-day return window in any of the other European countries and then return to Croatia. 

However, this is a benefit with a shelf life. The Croatian government hopes to join the zone by the latter half of 2024.

The cons of living in Croatia

1. Croatian bureaucracy is a nightmare

Getting the simplest things done is nothing short of a project. While this can differ from city to city, in general, plan for headaches and for the system to operate very slowly.

2. Very restrictive visa schemes

Croatia’s visa scheme is limited and overly restrictive. It genuinely fails to address the country’s need for expats, as many Croatians emigrate to other EU states. 

3. Smoking can be invasive

Easily Croatia’s biggest negative. Many bars, cafes, and restaurants, especially in Zagreb, permit smoking inside even though EU law prohibits it.

4. Accessibility is limited

Accessibility is a problem in Croatia, including in apartment buildings. Public transportation and new constructions are fairly accessible, and there are several beaches that are fully accessible as well. 

The government has been working towards national improvements, but currently, the Adriatic cities that focus on tourism are the most accessible. 

Final thoughts on living in Croatia

Many of the things that expats and digital nomads look for in a destination are what Croatia is all about.

It can be described as some of the best Europe has to offer, as well as a genuine European experience on a budget. 

Even though the initial phases of living in Croatia are a bit more challenging than in most other places, the end result makes it all worth wild. 

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Tom Julian
Tom Julian

My mission and vision is to open the world up to everyone.

Contributing Insider to Expatra and other publications. As an expat, digital nomad, published writer, and global citizen, the world is my home and office. All things Europe is my expertise, the undiscovered secrets of the Balkans are my specialty.

Offering expat and destination/relocation consulting, at globaltalon1@gmail.com

Website: Global Talon

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