7 Years Living In Croatia Update

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

I wasn’t planning on writing an update this year to mark the 7-year-anniversary of relocating to Croatia as there didn’t feel like much to say. 

May 12, 2013, I left Australia with my 9-month-old, husband and a few bags to move to Croatia. The rest of our stuff followed a few years later when the house was (finally) finished. 

Seven years of living in Croatia. It seems like yesterday.

I know, I say that every anniversary – but it’s true. The time has gone by so darn fast, and life had become so normal. 

Ha! Life is not normal now; that’s sure.

Pre pandemic, life was glorious, our private transfers business was heading in a positive direction, we had drivers lined up, new cars and buses ordered, and bookings made for the 2020 season.

My oldest son was in first grade and had settled in okay; his Croatian was making huge improvements thanks to his amazing, and supportive teacher and his twice-weekly tutoring.

Our youngest son was in kindy, and equally happy playing with his little friends and learning more and more Croatian.

I had found a wonderful balance of work, and finding time for myself to work out 2x per week, and had been able to keep the weight off that I lost with the Bagatin Clinic in 2019 – as well as toning up and starting to get in better shape.

All the boring stuff. Nothing worth writing a blog post about.

But then came February and with it Croatia’s first case of COVID-19. And, things slipped and skidded off the track.

Not just for us, of course, for you too. I know, we are all affected by this blasted virus in all kinds of life-changing ways.

Back on February 23, my family and I were enjoying the sights and delights of our neighboring country Slovenia. We were on our winter school break. That seems like a lifetime ago now. Lockdown In Croatia

On the 24th, we took a family day trip to Postojna caves and were so excited. As we approached the ticket booth, we saw a busload of tourists arriving. 

I gasped “are they Chinese?”, as soon as I said it, I instantly felt awful. 

They left the bus, one-by-one all wearing masks and looking sheepish. The poor things have no doubt be subjected to gasps like mine, and glaring stares while on vacation. 

Mr. Chasing the Donkey, and I agreed to keep our distance in any case. 

Lockdown in Croatia 2
Postojna Caves, Slovenia

As we meandered down to the meeting point, we realized something. There were many Italians who were also going to be 120 meters below in that cave with us. The Italian led group was seated on the train seats behind us.

I gasped again, “do you think they are from the northern part of Italy that went on lockdown last night?”.

Of fuck. I thought to myself, “why am I so paranoid?”.

What are the chances the virus will be on one of them and leap forward onto us? As we now know, very likely.

Skip forward a few months, and I am now writing to you from my sofa (I have an office, but much prefer this spot!), where I have been with my whole family since March 10. 

As soon as we got back from Slovenia, I started slowly buying things like non-perishable items and nappies and, yes, of course, alcohol, and bog roll as I just knew we’d also have some lockdown of sorts like Italy. Mr. Chasing the Donkey said I was mad. Huh – how wrong he was, aye!

Since then, not much in our lives has happened.


Oh well, unless, of course, you don’t count the fact we both have no business this year. After all, no tourists mean that we have no one to drive, and no one reading my travel blog.

No business. My god, I never thought that would be a reality.

I always knew that there could be a downturn in tourism in Croatia for a multitude of reasons. You know, some environmental disaster, better offers available in neighboring countries…. but a pandemic of this nature never crossed my mind. Or yours, I bet.

So yeah, it’s going to be one of the most interesting years to live in Croatia. I have no clue how we will get by financially or what life will be like post-COVID-19 – but – the one thing I know is…..

I’m so glad to be in Croatia. And so far, I have not once thought about going back to Australia.

I have always said that I loved our life here (though it’s not always rainbows and unicorns!), and being here, I have felt so protected.

The Government and teams in Croatia, have done, in my opinion, an amazing job. They took active steps early, implemented lockdown, set-up school for kids via TV and online quickly, and have made a three-phased approach for coming back to some normalcy. Life isn’t how it “once was,” and for that, I am glad—much respect to you Croatia.

Of course, it would be easy to pick holes and say that “this, or that” could have been managed better, but for me, it was only a few small things. Nothing even worth mentioning.

A few people asked me if I was planning to go back to Australia when borders were tightening – the thought never even crossed my mind. 

Several people asked me, would we go back to Australia when it was announced that Australia was asking all citizens to come home – not only did it never cross my mind, I consider Croatia home. Not Australia, so no, that was not an option either.

So, thanks Croatia, thank you for keeping my boys and I safe.

We have been at home now for two months. And, in that time, I have never been more grateful for my (bigger than usual by Croatian standards) house and having a big backyard for the boys to run and play. That backyard place has been great for me to sit in the sun and gulp down, drink G&T’s.


We stayed home, going no place, and seeing no one. Ordering shopping to be delivered where possible and only going to the closest store once a week for urgent things like fruit and yogurt. 

Mr. Chasing, the Donkey, made a few food deliveries locally to family, and that was all.  

We were totally secure, and I’ll admit, slightly paranoid. 

Feeling safe, and watching the numbers of COVID-19 cases stay at low levels for the past few months, we then agreed to send our 7-year-old back to school when his teacher asked what we wanted to do about a returning to classes last week. It seemed the right choice for us.

I will not lie; I felt a little apprehensive. Was this right? I did not know but figured we’d send him back and stop if it wasn’t the right thing for our family.

I’ll clarify that school in Croatia went back today for some grades only, and it is totally voluntary. Parents got to decide.
So, if you wanted to keep your child home, you could, no questions asked. We opted to send our first-grader back for a few reasons, but our choice was only cemented when we heard what the school had planned to do, to keep them safe. 
I’ve been having daily panic attacks since lockdown started. Actually, several attacks a day, some that take my breathe away, and render me completely unable to stand. 
I have avoided dozens of DM’s. Not replied to emails. I have not answered the phone, and so on… I just could not face the world. I was too anxious. 
I gardened a little to keep my mind busy. It helped. Some.
I cooked a lot more than usual. Now I’ve gained kilos. Lots. Damn.
My anxiety was not for one particular thing; you know the bog-standard stuff most of the whole globe is fretting about right now. I am not alone in this, and I know that. A few things that keep me up at night are:
  • Financially this virus is crippling us
  • Socially I am isolated
  • We have no close family to help us or keep us from being bored
  • Homeschooling my Croatian kid was beyond tough for me
  • I can’t travel, and nor can any of you – which means my blog (which is my income) is rendered useless
And so, the panic attacks are just my “new normal,” along with all of the other adjustments we’ve all had to make around the world.
I am so proud of my first-grader. He amazed me on the daily about how well he could read and write Croatian on his own. He translated for me so much and did so much of the required work alone. But, as it goes, 7-year-olds need help understanding tasks, and they need direction (oh, and they seem to have ants-in-their-pants-non-stop!)
He made his way through many subjects, Croatian, maths (his favorite), science, and the extras he does at his school, including German and English (I loved those days!) as well as religion and arts topics. It was a long two months of schoolwork at home.
So, when I had the chance to remove one of those anxiety-inducing factors, I took it. 
Today, my alarm went off and I woke with a jolt, it was back to school day.

I woke up anxious. No surprises. That’s normal. But today, I was anxious about different stuff:

  • How would he feel about going back?  He agreed he wanted to go back when we asked him last week, but would he still like it today?
  • Was I selfish in wanting his teacher to explain the tasks to him 1:1 and help him?
  • Would he be exposed… and so on…
I should not have worried. The day was perfect. Well, as perfect as a COVID-19 day can be.
I was seriously impressed at his school.
  • On arrival, kids were asked to come between 8:00 am, and 8:30 am to avoid them all arriving at once
  • Parents were not allowed in. I know, as I tried to take him to his classroom, and was denied entry
  • Upon entry, at the first door, there was a shoe disinfection area
  • Stepping inside, a masked, gloved woman took his temperature and marked his name off the list
  • He was then asked to stand at another shoe disinfection point before being given the all-clear to go up the stairs to his building 
  • Once in his classroom, he told me all the desks were 1-2 meters apart, and they had their own desks, were not allowed to move around the room and his teacher said she would not come too close to them, staying 1-2 meters away
  • At lunchtime, the classes took turns in the dining area, with each student receiving a portion of food, and were seated 3 seats apart
  • Pick up was also scheduled for 30 mins, to avoid congestion 

Impressive right?

When I picked him up, I asked him how it was. He said, “Today was sooooo much fun! It was also a little bit weird, but way better than doing school with you, Mama”.

Hallelujah! It was the right thing to do. So I hope tonight I sleep a little easier. 

So there it goes, happy seven years to us. We are still satisfied with our choice, and have no plans to move back to Australia… let’s just hope that we can make it work here, financially surviving the pandemic, and it stays that way. 

I wish you and your family well. Stay safe and hugs from Croatia. 

Ps: Croatia has announced when the borders will open for some of you, info can be found here. 

Comments (8)

  1. I have gone through this two times, and I have to say you are brave and honest. I wish you all so much goodness. Susan.

  2. Can you please help me? I am currently in North Macedonia-I am a world traveller but this Covid 19 situation has me going crazy. WTF? I am an European citizen I came to swim for the summer in Ohrid now I want to go back to Banja Luka(in Bosnia) I am thinking of going through Kosovo and to Visegrad then on to Banja Luka-do you really think the Serbian officials are going to have a problem with that? I also need a Covid test for entering Bosnia and I want to know what the cheapest option would be-I only have 48 hrs to get across the border to Bosnia once I have the test which is very scary since there seem to be few direct buses. I can get a Covid test for 60 euro in Skopje I am wondering if I should wait for Kosovo? It is really expensive for me as I am not using my Master’s in Biology but teaching English online to support my travel addiction. :D I took a bus form Zagreb to OHRID. bUT i do not want to go all the way back to Zagreb. Can you please try to help me figure this out? I am really stressing. I do not understand the bus situation here. We could pass through serbia on the bus without a Covid test from Zagreb becasue we were not stopping we were going directly to Struga-near Ohrid-from Zagreb so we were exempt. Perhaps I need another direct bus perhaps there is one to Sarajeco? Can you help? I am more resourceful than a seagull and squirrel combined but I do not speak any Serbian language I speak the romance languages so I cannot communicate on the phone with these companies as they speak no English. Please, any helpful ideas that spring to mind would be great. Thanks. Despite my name I am not from the Balkans.

  3. After living in US for more than 20 years, I’ve decided to buy a “one way” ticket to Croatia and simply see how long we’ll stay and when “if ever” we’ll be buying returning ticket. I have been reading your blogs and they are FANTASTIC and I would not be able to use a better words if I would write them my self. Your blogs are spot on why many of us have that “love-hate” relationship with Croatia and why after all pluses and minuses many of us simply LOVE that country. Country it self is beautiful but people and way of life is the reason why i want my kids and grandkids to be there and we all of us should be adding our part to improve Croatias tomorrow. All best to you and your family and keep blogging :)
    Frank D.

    1. Thanks Frank, that’s great they resonate with you – I am so glad to help other people realize the journey is all rainbows and unicorns. Enjoy your time in Croatia xx

  4. Hello Mr & Mrs Begonja,
    Have just come across your blog in my search for information on my father’s motherland. I live in the UK and had an English mother. During lockdown I took up the study of languages on the American app but was disappointed the The Croatian language was not on their list – would welcome your thoughts on how get them interested in adding this language.
    Kind Regards,

    Andy Franic

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