Moving to Croatia: Anticipations of an Expat to Be

By 9 February 2018

February 9, 2018, TCN is happy to welcome writer number 107 – Sanja Jovanović; a Vancouverite, new mama, yoga teacher, marketing professional, writer, coffee lover and sailor in the making… On TCN, we write a lot about expats living in Croatia but this time, Sanja shares a new perspective – the anticipation of an expat to be. We look forward to following your journey as you chase your dreams beside the Adriatic. If you are interested in writing for TCN, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The countdown is on!

As I write this we're exactly 6 weeks from relocating our life from Vancouver, Canada to Split, Croatia with our 8-month baby girl in tow.

photo credit Vedrana Domazet.jpeg

Credit: Vedrana Domazet

The travel day is drawing near and as stuff gets boxed up, stored, donated and packed into suitcases here are some of the thoughts buzzing around our brain as we get ready to board that plane and hop across the pond they call the Atlantic Ocean.

Five things to consider if you are wanting, planning or perhaps soon to be starting a life on the Croatian coast – more specifically Split.

1. Where to Live

To rent? To buy? In Split? A suburb like Solin, Stobrec, Podstrana, Kastele (there are 7…)?

It doesn't take long on Croatia's answer to Craigslist, njuskalo, to figure out that property prices are surprisingly high! A moderately renovated 2-bedroom apartment in a decent neighbourhood will run you 250,000+€. Compared to a lot of other European countries that may not seem like much, but when you're coming from Canada – 250,000€ is almost $400,000CDN which will get you a house in most Canadian cities. Without a 12-month work history in a Croatian bank account a mortgage is out of the question – so that's a fair amount of cash #1. to have #2. bring over and #3. payout.

So to rent right? Well again checking out handy njuskalo will give you a plethora of options for rentals between the 350-600€/month range. Compared to rents in Vancouver this is a steal! Two things to be wary of – many, I mean MANY, of them, are only available until June 1st. Or June 15th. Or if you're lucky July 1st. Because that's the peak of the season and why rent to someone for 500€/month when you can get 150€ /night from visiting tourists?

Of course, not all apartments are like this – searching for Facebook groups you can find apartments for rent long-term.

The other thing to know is that loads of these apartments are rented out by agencies. And agencies get a commission that you the renter pay that is equal to one month's rent. So if you find a place for 500€ that's 500€ for the first month + 500€ as a deposit + 500€ to the agency. 1,500€, again cash, before move in.

The thing I love about this though? Almost all rentals are furnished – so when you're moving from afar with an ocean in between your current home and stunning Split, home to be, you don't need to worry about washing machines, couches, beds, dressers, dining tables, even kitchen utensils. A turnkey rental for a reasonable price!

And in the meantime, while you find a more permanent home there are tons of options – from hotels and hostels to apartment rentals with very reasonable daily rates in the offseason. Unless you're lucky enough to have some family or friends to put you up for a few weeks!

2. The How of Work

If your investment portfolio or savings account gains you enough interest a month to live off of = no problem.

If you're a ‘digital nomad' or have clients/contracts in place that allows you to work remotely for steady income = problem solved.

If you're looking to work in Split as a way to support your family, meet new and like-minded people and/or engage in the local life = get ready to work hard to…work.

While the unemployment rate has decreased almost by half in just the past 4 years alone, it's still in the double digits; 10.9% as of Aug 2017 to be exact.

Split's economy revolves around tourism – no surprises there! The Dalmatian coast is world renowned for its shimmering Adriatic Sea, dreamy sunsets and finger licking Mediterranean dishes.  Job openings are mostly in the service sector working in restaurants, hotels, hostels, guiding tours, leading kids day camps etc. All very demanding work with long hours that fills those paradise days of lounging by the sea soaking in the sun sipping on espressos with sweat, stress and some days tears. And it's seasonal.

As a young tourism professional on a Catamaran day tour told my Canadian friend a few years back when she asked – "You've got the dream life hanging out on the water all summer and getting paid for it….but what do you do in the winter time? "We chill and wait for you to come back next summer!"

Be prepared to stretch out the income year-round, or live cheap during the winter months until next season if you're lucky enough to land a gig.

The story is not as bleak as it may seem though.

Many expats have embraced entrepreneurship since choosing Dalmatia as home and have growing businesses! While some locals may complain the situation is somewhat dire for a well paying, career building 9-5 gig with a ‘secure' company – those willing to work hard and see results are living their dream lifestyle and working for themselves.

A few stories like Mate & SJ from Australia, Mirela from Romania and Rene from Holland each with a very different business yet all finding the success and the happiness they moved for!

3. The Big IT – Language

This one is not such a barrier for us as for many expats relocating, as the husband is Croatian and I grew up around the language – that said my Croatian is not without holes, gaps and mistakes and the more serious and professional a conversation gets the more obvious it becomes.

Let's talk more about Dalmatian…than Croatian. As most regions in European countries, Dalmatia has its own dialect. To me, Dalmatian is a stew of Italian, German, English and Croatian words spoken with the cutest accent as if you've had just one glass of wine too many. I absolutely adore it! When I hear it abroad it puts a smile on my face. But it is different than Croatian. And, it gets a little harder to understand with each nautical mile as you head to the islands from the coast.

I'll never forget the day when my then future mother-in-law said to me "Dodaj mi tu tecu da stavim manistru." So ok I understood she wanted me to hand her something so she could do something with it. Had she said, "Dodaj mi taj lonac da stavim tjesteninu" I would have been all over it. She wants me to hand her the pot so she could put some pasta to cook. But with those two Dalmatian words, I was at a loss and stood in the kitchen like a deer in headlights handing her the wooden spoon in my hand in an attempt to guess at understanding.

Be prepared for some hilarious and sometimes slightly awkward moments as you navigate the language. It's not easy to learn, especially for someone hailing from an English background, but with the right attitude, a smile on your face and some persistence it comes with time. In the meanwhile, there will be some funny moments to look back on!


Sanja and Ivan

4. Paperwork

This is an inevitable elephant in the current living room of anyone moving countries.

Researching and knowing visa requirements, obtaining residence status, and securing adequate health care coverage are absolute essentials. Then there is managing and accessing finances which will vary if you are keeping accounts in both countries or transferring to a local bank. Some research is necessary for this as some countries have banking restrictions based on your residence status when moving abroad.

If you are a property owner deciding whether to rent out or sell before making the move and ensuring the paperwork coincides with your moving timeline is a big factor. 

All things to think about. We're still navigating some of these so this is more food for thought than advice. And depending on where you're moving from the situation will vary country by country.

5. Social Side of Life

Split has become an active city year round with the Christmas market competing with many larger cities like Europe's best – Zagreb. Food festivals, boat shows, markets, Carnival celebrations, Days of Diocletian…it seems there is something to do each month. And, unlike many events in Western countries – attendance is primarily free!

The food scene seems to be exploding with places like To Je Tako and Biberon (where this Vancouver girl can head to satisfy sushi cravings!).

Lucky for us there is a very active expat group based in Split where we hope to meet some new friends when we're settled.

Then there is the annual olive harvest in the fall where we hope to invite new friends to my husband's family's orchard for some fun olive picking (and free labor) only to end the day with Lika's finest rakija, and some freshly grilled fish, drizzled with olive oil, finely chopped parsley and minced garlic (our favorite Dalmatian specialty!)

grilled fish dalmatian.jpeg

So why choose Split you might ask?

Because as any local will tell you it's the most beautiful city in the world.

The culture revolves around protecting the sanctity of children and family – and it's still safe.

Everything is close – no two-hour commute in a box on four wheels to a box in a high rise to a box of a house. 20 minutes will get you almost anywhere you need to be.

Sundays are for family, for gradele and for the sea. I once had the audacity to call a well-established business on a Sunday in the midst of wedding preparations anxious to finalize our wedding favours and pick up 200 tiny olive oil bottles in the middle of the summer to ask what their hours were that day. The response: "It's Sunday. It's God's day. I'm at the beach with the family which is where you should be." Oh ok, so you're closed Sundays?....

Even the most stressful of days ends with a jaw-dropping sunset over the Adriatic Sea that puts a smile on the grimmest of faces. And for more than half the year, includes a dip in a sea that's warmer than half the world's air temperatures.

That's why.

Split – we'll see you oh so very soon my love!