I’ve Been An Expat In Croatia For 8 Years

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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.

So, be honest, who thought I would have made it thus far?

Did you?

I know when I first moved here, we were featured in several news articles talking about our move, and many commented that I’d be running back home super fast once I figured out that Croatia wasn’t the paradise I was expecting.

A few times, I wanted to.

But I did not. Not yet anyway. Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty days…and counting, and I am still here.

Expat in Croatia - SJ in Sibenik

If you have read any of my other expat in Croatia updates, you will know that between years 3 and 5, I was a huge emotional mess, and struggled a lot with life, work, and making friends (so much so, I could never bring myself to write about the anniversary)

I thought the worst was behind me as I enjoyed my 5th and 6th years living in Croatia. Then the god-damn-pandemic broke out, and year 7 was kind of miserable. Having no visitors from Australia and being in financial trouble due to the pandemic were just the pits.

Expat in Croatia - Bike Riding

At the end of 2020, my father was diagnosed with MS and told he had cancer. I was gutted not to be able to quickly get on a plane and go help my Mom and sisters with my Dad. Not to be able to sit next to my Dad and help him through his grim diagnosis. I could not leave my two little boys in Croatia without me at Christmas time, and the costs were just too high at the time to fly all 4 of us to Australia.

F*ck you COVID-19.

I genuinely thought by mid-2021, the Australian borders would open up, and we all could fly back to Australia then. Ha, how naive I was.

In December, missing out on having the regular visit from my mother-in-law (who I adore!) spend Christmas with us was just awful. Christmas felt so lonely without her. I just wanted some love and joy from back home, and the video calls were not cutting the mustard. Not even close.

F*ck you COVID-19.

Expat in Croatia - Vlad and Roko holding hands

I told myself that 2021 would be better, Australia would open up its borders – or at least let the prisoners, oops, I mean, citizens off the island. But no, they did not. 

The Australian Government is saying more like mid-2022 until Australians can depart. Urrgh, that sinking feeling in my gut gets heavier every time I think about it.

F*ck you COVID-19.

Expat in Croatia - Boys riding Rovinj

And, I wish that was the worst of my sinking feeling, but it was and still is not.

In January, my 40-year-old sister died somewhat unexpectedly. Leaving behind a husband and three kids, the youngest just 6. I could not travel back for the funeral or spend time with family due to the ridiculous costs and hotel quarantine rules imposed by the Australian Government.

Expat in Croatia - Year 8 - Alison and SJ
My sister and I

When she passed, the return flight cost was around AUD 15,000, with another AUD 3,000 for hotel quarantine (14 days spent locked up in some cheap-ass hotel), plus PCR test costs. All up, that is more than I make in a whole year living in Croatia.


The costs made it partially impossible; I mean, I could take it from savings, borrow it from family and friends – but, in actual fact going would have been somewhat pointless as I would not have made it out of the 14 days quarantine in time to go to the funeral. 

Instead, I watched my sister’s funeral online via my laptop at 3 am one dark, sad morning. I wasn’t alone thankfully, friends were with me, as was Mr. Chasing the Donkey. 

But that’s when I started to realize that eight years living in a foreign country with no family really sucks when you don’t have the option to travel freely as we did pre-COVID.

Expat in Croatia - Sj and Vlado with masks

I know, COVID-19 has screwed up so much for so many. We had a family member pass from the virus, another who spent months in hospital battling it. Our Octopus Private Transport business is struggling due to lack of tourism. Others have gone bankrupt, and generally, life is not the same for a single person on the whole planet. For sure, I am aware that I am not alone in my misery. 

That said, I still very much love Croatia. For all of the same usual reasons, everyone else moves here. The beach. The laid-back lifestyle. Safety. Having kids grow up bi-lingual. Blah blah, blah, none of that has changed. Not one bit.

But, this pandemic has made me realize more than ever how FAR away I am from my family. I wish I could take a PCR test, jump on a plane, spend a few hours on board, land, and be home to give and receive warm hugs.

But nope, Australia is so far away, and the policies in place make it financially impossible to take my family back to Australia.

Expat in Croatia - Sj with lolipop

For a family of four like mine, the costs are currently about $30,000AUD for flights and mandatory hotel quarantine costs. And the Australian people don’t want Aussies to come back – they all want to keep the borders shut up, kept tight, and protect the ones who live there. Well, at least that is how it seems when I talk to family and friends living there. 

That all said, I still don’t want to move back to Australia. Croatia is my home.

Despite it all, I have no plans to leave Croatia, and in fact, I am thinking about how best to plan for university for my two boys and also about my retirement here. How to fund those things, and making sure that our lives as expats in Croatia get better from here…after covid f*cks off that is. 

And, life is not all doom and gloom; a few weeks ago, we started traveling again. Having spent time at two kids’ hotels in two weekends isn’t that bad, aye?

Expat in Croatia - Boys at the Marina

It was so great to be able to explore again with the kids showing them new places (don’t worry, we wear our masks in and out) and staying at hotels so that I escape cooking and cleaning for a few days!

Plus, we also became God Parents again to a sweet little boy who we adore – so that’s a big cherry on top of the year of poo that is 2021.

Here is to a better 2021/2022 to you all. And, fingers crossed that my 9-year living in Croatia update is much more positive and happy – much like this one from 2019!

Love and health to you all from Zadar, Croatia. xx

Comments (8)

  1. Every line of your post made me feel so sad for you and your family. So many are struggling this year, hang in there Sj it will all get better and you will be back with your family soon enough.

  2. Ah SJ I’m so sorry to hear about your dad and I saw about your sister on Facebook. This year, hey ? I can totally empathise having not seen my mum for almost a year and my dad for almost two.

    I had a glimmer of hope that we’d get to see my parents in September but with this Indian variant I can see that being less and less likely. Especially given that everything opened up here in the UK in spite of health officials warning. My partner is getting the first dose of the vaccine Wednesday and I have had both of mine as I’m vulnerable.

    I’m so ready for this to be over and to start moving again. I’m holding onto going to Wales in three weeks and the Lake District shortly after that. But honestly who knows

  3. Thank you so much for sharing and also – my condolences. As you said, fck covid-19 and I’m sure you’ll make great plans for university for your boys as well as retirement. Thankfully, as part of the EU, some great universities are available both in Croatia and close by!

  4. Your post made me happy and sad at the same time. I am so sorry for all that you have to go through. Sending strength and love Sj <3

  5. As Aussies living in Europe as well, I totally understand how you feel. I’m so sorry you were not able to go back to OZ easily, it really brings home how we need to cherish the time we spend with loved ones and not take it for granted hey!
    I love reading your blog and this one really touched me, I just wish I could give you a big fat COVID safe hug. Sending you all the best vibes for the future.
    thanks for sharing this blog, we are looking to move to Croatia later this year, after living in France, Italy and currently Spain, hoping that we are well prepared for the crazy RED TAPE. We also do not miss Australia, totally insane with the border closures, we were in Aus when they closed in March 2020 and then had to get an exemption to LIVE, CRAZY, and have no desire to ever go back.
    Keep writing, keep living, you are probably more help to people than you know. I know I really appreciate this blog.

  6. If I were to be completely honest, no I did not think that you would make it. But also being honest, I find it so inspirational that you have. You are quite obviously home now. My brother moved back in 2007 and people still ask if he is coming back to Australia or specifically when. I always say to them he is home, Croatia is is home. Australia is just were he grew up. A turning point I think will be when you have spent more years in Croatia than Australia. That will eventually come and then I think it will be a weird feeling in terms of you identity. Are you where you were born or where you chose to live your life?

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