Is It Time for an International School to Open in Split?

By 1 December 2018

December 1, 2018 - Despite a population of almost 200,000 and a rapidly increasing expat community, Split has no international school. Is it time to open one?

It is almost six years to the day since I started a website called Total Split, the first dedicated portal in English to that wonderful city, updated several times a day. At the time I knew very little about the city, despite having lived on the nearby island of Hvar for almost a decade. For me, Split back then was three things - transit to Zagreb and Split airport, shopping chores for my wife, and hospital visits with the kids. Oh yes, and always - but always - getting everything done before the last ferry at 20:30. About Split nightlife, I knew very little. 

After the initial success of my first portal, Total Hvar, I was encouraged by a friend to start one in the big city. But surely such a thing exists, I protested, and anyway I know so little about the city. I checked and - incredibly for a tourist city that size - tourist information was very scarce in English, at least beyond the very basic stuff offered by tourist boards and agencies looking to promote their tours. 

And so we began. WIth the help of young Mila (with whom we co-wrote a guidebook) and Ivica, Total Split soon blossomed, and it was a joy to get to know the city and its people in more details, as well as having more interaction with 'The Big Smoke' after so many years in sedate Jelsa. I met a young French woman living in the city who had started an Expats in Split Facebook group, and we met for coffee to see if we could work together to expand it. I had known of expats in the city since my arrival in Dalmatia back in 2002, but they were few in number. There had been an occasional monthly international food night, where expats would prepare something of their national cuisine, and some occasional 5-a-side soccer, but apart from that, the expat scene was pretty quiet. The first foreign-owned hostel opened in 2003 to give you an idea. 

Expats in Split, a Growing Community

And then Split changed. Immensely. The explosion of tourism as the city transformed itself from 'the Gateway to the Islands' to one of Europe's hottest tourist destinations is one part of the story, much less reported is the rising number of expats, particularly digital nomads, relocating to Split. 

Total Split's audience grew quickly, as the growing number of expats found a regular source of news. And so too, through our little site, did Helene's expat Facebook page, which had just 20 members when we sat for our first coffee in early 2014. The first Expats evening was organised at Zinfandel, a newly opened wine bar, one of the many new businesses opening in the city with the tourism boom. We had no idea how many people would come, but about 60 people turned up, coming from the islands and even as far away as Sarajevo. Here is a look back at the first night all those years ago.


(The Expats in Split gathering at Zinfandel in early 2014)

Helene's group grew, then split into two as one expat tried to take control of the group, and although I am rarely in Split these days, I do follow one of the groups, which has now grown to almost 1,800 members. It is a useful group, with several newcomers weekly asking a variety of questions about moving to Split, including the availability of international schools. 

Despite a population of almost 200,000 people, a growing number of internationals living in the city and a wealthy section of local families, Split does not currently have an international school. Indeed, there are only three in all Croatia, as far as my research tells me, all located in Zagreb. 

Montenegro 5 Croatia 3

I was on a business trip to both Split and Montenegro this week, meeting various people related to the TCN project. I was surprised to learn that while Croatia only has three international schools, Montenegro has five. There are three in the capital Podgorica, including a recently opened French school, a city with a population similar to Split', and there are two international schools in Tivat, a small town not far from Dubrovnik, population just 14,000. The reason for the international schools in Tivat is due to the Porto Montenegro development, of course, one which should have come to Croatia (and would have done allegedly if the required bribes to the politicians had not been so outrageous, the result being that Montenegro is now the regional port of choice for the super-rich and their mega yachts). But international schools in Dalmatia? Zero. 

The Rise of Split as an International City

It is almost four years since I asked the question Is Split Finally Becoming an International City? It was becoming so back then, it is even more so now. I don't visit Split so much these days, but I had a really nice evening on Thursday, meeting a Romanian friend for a drink in the new Black Dog pub (big like). She had just come from the Australian-Croatian gathering at an international co-working space, and after a drink, we headed to Zinfandel in the old town. A very pleasant evening. 

The expat community is growing, and while some services are there, there are some basic essentials required by internationals in a city still to be put in place. One of them is an international school. In Croatia, it is currently illegal to homeschool, and so the only option for families moving to Split for local education is to immerse themselves in the local system. While this aids language learning and character building, it is not for everyone. I am pretty sure that there is enough demand already for an international school in Split (and let's not forget the section of the local community who would be interested in such education options), and the establishment of an international school would significantly increase Split's attractiveness as a relocation option. 


Of course, this all depends on whether we want to have foreigners in The Beautiful Croatia making a positive contribution to the economy. Not according to chaps like young Jospephine, above, whose response to our recent article on residence permit issues of American retirees prompted the assertion that Croatia has no need of American retirees or tourists, unless they are of Croatian descent. An interesting economic argument, given that American tourists will have spent about a billion euro in Croatia in 2018, or about 1.5% of GDP. But that, of course, is a different discussion. 

For the latest from Split, follow TCN's dedicated portal on the Dalmatian capital