What You Need To Know Before You Move To Croatia

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.

If you’re thinking about moving to Croatia, you must read this! It’s not very hard to fall in love with Croatia, but, this info will help you decide if it’s suitable for you.

It’s not very hard to fall in love with Croatia – it’s a wonderful place. Like all countries, there are pros and cons to moving to Croatia. I know; I have been living here (from Australia) for nine years.

Family Photo Shot - Nin Croatia


As a new ex-pat in Croatia, I guess that you will love:

Pros Of Living In Croatia 

  • The relaxed lifestyle
  • The beautiful environment
  • The healthy food
  • The community spirit
  • So much sunshine and generally great weather, even in wintertime, in many parts of the country
  • Croatia’s proximity to the rest of Europe is great for traveling.

Cons Of Living In Croatia

These are relative to where you’re from and your current expectations. For us, they were and are;

  • Tough economic climate. Finding and keeping work outside the summer season is very difficult.
  • The cost of living (from a Croatian wage) is very high. If, however, you have a foreign income or savings, then the cost of living is okay.
  • The bureaucracy. This factor is the most difficult to accept. Things take a LONG time to be processed and an even longer time to ensure that you’ve completed the steps required. Simple tasks like submitting a visa application will take weeks, if not months, of running around.
  • Outside of summer, there is a reduced capacity for places to eat and things to do if you live on the Dalmatian Coast, so I always advise people to be mindful of what they plan to do in the colder months. Travel, freelance work, a hobby, something to keep you busy. Of course, if you have children, then they keep you busy.

4 Quick And Simple Things You Need To Know If You’re Moving To Croatia

expat in croatia insurance hzzo logo
Living in Croatia: HZZO Insurance is a must
  1. Visa – Depending on where you come from, you may need a visa. You will need to check the visa requirements with your local Croatian embassy. If you need a visa, you can apply at the Croatian Embassy in your country. They will have an application form and explain to you the identification required. You will need a heap of identification and proof of address. It is worth mentioning that things like birth, wedding, etc. certificates need to be with an issue date of fewer than six months. If you have a Croatian background/spouse, you can apply for your visa at the police station when you arrive in Croatia.
  2. Health Insurance – If you live in Croatia, it is mandatory to have Health Insurance. Anyone living in the country must pay for health insurance. Croatia has one health insurer called HZZO, which is a government organization. Organizing this was prolonged and painful for us, but we got there in the end. You will have to organize this once you arrive.
  3. Jobs – Jobs are hard to come by, and if you manage to get a job, the pay rates in Croatia are relatively low.
  4. Language – Most young people speak English; however, you will find the older generation doesn’t speak English. Learning the language can be challenging; however, it is worth learning Croatian.

As someone married to a Croatian, I felt I adjusted well living in Croatia However, I had spoken to many ex-pats before me who went back’ home’ as the culture shock, and difficult working conditions were too much.


Extra Tips For Moving To Croatia – Real Lessons Learned From 9 Years Of Living In Croatia

Begonja Family. Mate, Sj, Roko, Vladimir - Family Photo Shot6

Sigh, I get sick of being asked this question because moving to Croatia is different for everyone.

If you plan to move to Croatia, do not take advice from anyone who does not live in Croatia 24/7 – 365 days a year – for at least a full year.

Anything less than a year (or two or three), they are too fresh to know.

If they do not live here, 365 days a year, they have a skewed view of real life.

I would say you REALLY need to be prepared. Come for at least six months, try it out, and do not come when it’s summer, sunny, and everyone has pockets full of cash.

Come between November and April when the tourism and apartment money has been spent, and the weather is less than outstanding. Keep your eyes open and be honest with yourself.

Don’t quit your job; pack a shipping container until you know what you are in for. I have spoken to many people who returned after a failed attempt. Almost always, they returned home, as Croatia did not meet their unrealistic expectations about finding work, cost of living, etc.

Remind yourself that there is a reason that hundreds and thousands of Croats have moved abroad these past few years. This country can be tricky to live and survive in – it is not for everyone.

Also, join all of the ‘ex-pats in (city)’ Facebook groups (see below for their list) and connect with others with similar situations. Don’t take anything one person says as gospel — not even mine.

How to Get from Split to Zadar Croatia

Getting A Croatian Visa

Oh god, what a head fuck.

Getting a visa as a foreigner in Croatia is like winning a fluffy toy at the carnival – sure, it can be achieved, but it isn’t easy and will take many attempts. The only difference is it is free.

Oh wait, it is only free so long as you are from the EU. If not, be prepared to fork out hundreds of euro for the mandatory health insurance back payment fees. When you go to your local Hrvatski Zavod Za Zdravstveno Osiguranje (HZZO) office, you’ll discover that you have to pay for the 12 months you were not in the country. Ours was over 500 euro each.

The legislation is constantly changing, so be sure to ask at your Croatian embassy where you live – more than once. But be warned, most embassies are hopeless. They don’t always know the current legislation, and I have heard from many people over the years – many embassies do not want to deal with helping new people move back to the motherland. Head straight to the Ministry of Police (MUP) when you arrive and start the lengthy process of getting your visa.

While we are on the topic of the MUP, be sure to take someone with you who speaks Croatian fluently. Even in the foreigner’s line, getting an English-speaking staff member is not always possible – and if it’s like the one in Zadar, the service will also be provided without a hint of trying to speak English.

My recent trip there to inquire about getting my citizenship was met with a deathly look of disgust; the women at the counter had to ask a colleague what the process was – and all they could agree on was that I should just come back when it expires and see what the rules are then.

Five years ago, I was told that once I made it to the 5-year mark, I could return to MUP  and be given my Croatian citizenship. But now, I am not sure. So, I go back in a few months to see what rules apply and/or have changed. I am mentally preparing to take the citizenship test. 

KRKA - Day Trip From Split


If you don’t speak Croatian, life will be tough. I know that everyone says that Croatians speak English – and they do, but not in all cases.

You’ll be able to communicate with the majority of people that are younger than 40. But even then, maybe the doctor will refuse, and you’ll find yourself explaining your symptoms with hand gestures.

Croatian is a damn complex language to learn and even harder to speak correctly. Why must there be so many crazy grammar rules? I mean, seven noun declensions……

Please don’t leave it too late to take lessons and get help. Trust me; you’ll need it.

I restarted my Croatian lessons and can genuinely say that life here would have been even more challenging had I not taken them. 


The salaries in Croatia are meager when compared to most developed nations. Once you pay bills, rent an apartment, and buy food – not much is left over.

On the other hand, if you have a salary from abroad, you’ll live like a King or Queen. If you plan to work locally, you’ll have to live like a local.

Eating out, traveling, or paying for services like a babysitter are affordable, so long as you earn more than minimum wage (or have those dollars from aboard on hand), otherwise you’ll be hard-pressed to get someone to look after your child. At the same time, you work, so you’ll need to enroll your kids in a kindergarten.

Want a job as soon as you arrive? Good luck. It’s not as easy as you think. Make plans to freelance or set up your own business if you need money immediately. Or else have savings to get you by until you can find work.

Travel Tips First Time to Croatia - Zadar Croatia Travel Blog


Homeschool In Croatia 2

If you plan to move to Croatia with school-age children, then you’ll be happy to know that public education in Croatia is (almost) free. Just be sure to have money for lots of books and appropriate school clothing, as there are no school uniforms.

Kindergarten (suitable for ages 1-6) is not mandatory, and while this is subsidized, it is not free and will set you back at least 600 kune a month, up to several thousand if you plan to go to the British kindergarten in Zagreb.

Primary school education is, of course, compulsory – that begins at seven years of age.

The secondary education system is vastly different from what I am used to in Australia, and I have yet to master its complexities, so be sure to ask people with kids the same age as yours how it all works.


Roko in Zadar Hospital - Living in Hospital

Hmm, this one is tricky.

You can obtain primary healthcare all over the county, no matter where you live. You’ll just wait. And wait, and wait. I have heard of people waiting 6-12 months for an MRI and more than six months for a mammogram to check a breast lump. We waited four months for a specialist appointment for my newborn son.

That said, my son was treated with immediate and astounding care when he was born with severe complications. He spent several weeks in Zagreb in the NICU  at the country’s best hospital – all expenses paid. My treatment was less than stellar (think plenty of tears and confusion),  but I never once doubted the care he received.

He also spent a week in Zadar hospital, and I have zero complaints. Sure the place is old and run down, and I had to sleep overnight sitting up on a desk chair, but his medical treatment is what I would have received in Australia.

If you have a job, your employer will pay your essential healthcare contributions, and you can also pay a small amount extra to avoid paying fees when going to the hospital or each time you go to the doctor or dentist. If you do not work, budget around 400 Kune a month per person to pay for this.

But, this is the tricky part – getting access to this ‘free’ service (should you be eligible) is a pain in the ass. Leave around 2 or 3 days over three weeks to achieve the steps necessary to access this service, and then about another six months for your card to arrive in the mail.

I advise having a savings fund for emergency healthcare to go private. You can find blood tests, MRIs, doctors, dentists, etc., all over the country that you can see fast, provided you have money in that pocketbook.

As a rough guide, we paid between 200 and 300 Kune per appointment for private doctors to see my newborn son avoid waiting months for the hospital to get him into an appointment.

Retiring In Croatia

Pula, Istria. Driving Zagreb to Dubrovnik

Sigh. Yeah, yeah, Croatia is an excellent place to come to live out the end of your days. But really, where are all of the young families, singles, hard-working movers, and shakers?  Come on, people, move to Croatia. 


Zagreb in Two Days - Croatia Travel Blog

What a place to live. After five years of traveling this magnificent country, I can tell you; there is no shortage of things to do and new places to discover. And, when you are bored with Croatia, we have so many neighboring countries just waiting for your euros.

Visiting New Friends

You’d be hard-pressed to find any Croatian family where there is not an emphasis on family, friends, and with that food. Hospitality towards your guests is critical. Offering drinks, pre-meal snacks, a meal, a second helping, even a third helping, cake, coffee, and then more drink to your guests is necessary. Then your responsibility in return is not to decline… ever. Saying no would be plain rude.

To avoid being rude (or, in some cases, being nagged), here is what I suggest you do:

  • Take a small serving the first go, thus allowing plenty of wiggle room in your jeans for that second helping you will be required to consume. Failure to heed this warning will see you having to hear repeatedly how you are too skinny; you must be hungry, and so on.
  • Your host may also use guilt to force you into a second helping. My favorite one (yes, I have become one of ‘them’) is “Oh, did you not like the food”? Boom! Host 1-guest 0.

If you have listened to this very sane advice, you are still hungry by this stage, so when your hosts ask you to take another serving, you eagerly oblige. Everybody wins.

The tricky part is the third serving; you may want one, but chances are you’ve already indulged in two plates of  Kiseli Kapus and yummy ribe sa žara, so when that time comes, you’ll need to be polite and say no thanks. If you want to show off, you can use the phrase “ne mogu više, hvala,” which means you can’t take (eat) anymore.

Word of warning: be sure not to overuse this phrase, as your hosts may come not to believe you.


PLITVICE LAKES - Day Trips From Split

The people in Croatia who will tell you that you look fat and gained 10 pounds are the same people you can call when you need help. And you will need it.

Be warned that the Croatians are brutally honest – some too much so for my taste – but you have to roll with it for the most part. It will be worth it; my Croatian friends are worth their weight in gold – I treasure them dearly.

It is also the case that people can be such bullshitters. The plumber will tell you he will be at your house at 7 am, and by 10 am (if you are extra lucky), and you are into your second cup of coffee, he will knock on the door as if nothing happened. Either that or he will show up and have forgotten his tool and say he will be back tomorrow – which can quickly turn into a week. True story.

It’s always who you know. So network. You will have to ask many people for references and help along the way. We never networked at the start; it seemed so fake. But now I realize, here in Croatia, that old saying rings true, it is not what you know – but who. Don’t fight it; go with it.

Government Administration

You will have to do many rubbish admin types of jobs, just like any place in the world. But here, things are beyond disorganized.

While at government offices (and doctors), be warned. These breaks are known as ‘pauza.’ It’s when the whole place goes on a lunch break, and you have to wait 30 mins till they come back. Please do your homework, find out when they are, and avoid them like the plague.

If your request is out of the ordinary, you need extra help, or the staff member is having a bad day, you’ll probably end up leaving in a bad mood and with nothing accomplished. I always now assume that I can’t complete a task, and then if I do, it’s a win. But, usually, when I do not, I take myself to a cafe, shake it off, and try again in a few days.


Tips For First Time to Croatia - Croatia Travel Blog

Racism in Croatia. I do not have any firsthand experience with it. I never confirm or deny racism rumors in Croatia on my blog, social media, or any other form.  And I do not plan to start now. If you want to read a post covering both sides of the topic, I suggest you start here.

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Comments (29)

  1. Hey, Sarah Jane. I’m considering Croatia for retirement and wanted to ask what level of monthly income would be required to sustain two people comfortably ?

  2. I am finding that there are not a lot of places in Eastern Europe that will accept an American pension as proof of income. Otherwise I would be there in a flash. Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary all want you to either be working or have your own business. It’s frustrating!

  3. Thank you for always posting such helpful information! Our family is planning to move next year to Zadar from the US. I was getting contradicting information regarding the health insurance. I was told by one person that it would cost about 450 kuna per month per person (we are a family of 5). However, I was told by someone else that bc we both have our domovnica, we will be covered as citizens and do not have to pay. Do you know which is correct? We would need to plan for in our savings so any information would be helpful! Thanks!

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