Croatia's Foreign Entrepreneurs: Simon Neal, from Aberdeen to Rijeka

By 6 October 2021

October 7, 2021 - Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs trying to succeed in Croatia as so many are emigrating, meet Simon Neal who swapped Aberdeen to Rijeka. 


My name is Simon Neal, I am from a small town close to Aberdeen in Scotland. I studied Geology at University and worked for 15 years in the Oil and Gas industry in many places around the world before moving to Croatia in 2013.

After spending a few years in Croatia and enjoying holidays in the campsites here (and struggling to find the information I wanted to see) and I had the idea to create CampMap ( digital interactive map for campsites that makes camping simple for guests and camp managers, it’s like Google Maps and for camping.


First and foremost, why Croatia and what is it you do?

In 2009 whilst on holiday in Croatia I met my wife Jelena who is from Rijeka. After being together for several years and living in Jordan and the UK we decided to relocate to Croatia for a new adventure.

At the time most of my work was done remotely (an early digital nomad) with quite a bit of international travel. So being in Croatia also allowed Jelena to be close to friends and family when I was away, it then quickly became my new home and a place where I planned to stay for good.


Tell us about some of the differences of your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.

Before setting up a business in Croatia, I had run a business in the UK for a few years, so I had a good understanding of what is required there. In Croatia the reality was a bit different, you are a lot more reliant on other people to get things done e.g. lawyer, accountant, notary, government department. It takes time to get used to that but eventually you understand to the way things need to work and just go with it.

In terms of doing business with people, the culture is very different and something that was completely new to me. For one, I don’t drink coffee, much to my wife’s frustration and I am not a very conversational person so business meetings with potential customers was something that did not come naturally to me.


What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

I’ve opened two companies in Croatia, the first in 2013 and the second in 2019 and there was a huge improvement in the process. My latest company was setup in less than a week including a working bank account and for only minimal costs and paperwork, amazing.

However, there are still plenty of barriers in place that slow down business and make life complicated, it is like there is no trust in the system which is a real shame. My advice is to find a good accountant who is familiar with the type of business you do; you will need them often. And a notary office that is close to where you work because you will need to visit them more than you think.


How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

We are a start-up with a new product trying to help a well-established and successful business community in Croatia, camping. Even though we launched this year, with all the uncertainty around, the perception of the product has been amazing. This is a good sign and shows we are solving some real pain points for camping businesses and guests, but we have a lot of work to do yet.

What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

It’s always a risk when you open a new business, but I was careful to test the idea and secure funding from an investor before committing full time to CampMap, so overall the support and opinions were very positive. Most people who know me also understand that I like to create or build things so creating a start-up is a real fit with my character. Our product is also based heavily on my professional experience which gives people confidence that’s not a totally crazy idea.


What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

With CampMap there have been no big challenges so far, there is the usual bureaucracy, although as I mentioned this is improving. However, a major challenge in the future is how we can grow this business outside of Croatia, the only solution to that now is to move the business legal ownership to another country. This is a real shame but the framework for having investors and customers in Europe or Globally simply doesn’t exist or is too complicated to be practical for a company of our size.

If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

The reason for my move to Croatia was not as an entrepreneur but the opportunities in Croatia brought the entrepreneur in me to the surface, so either way, yes, I would definitely have moved to Croatia knowing what I know now.

What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

The first thing is the physical geography, the sea, islands, forests and mountains this is very familiar to me from growing up in Scotland. I love spending time outdoors with my family or competing in trail races in the mountains. 


After that it’s the climate, especially here in Rijeka, where the summer is warm and you can enjoy swimming in the sea and spending lots of time outdoors. But the winter is also cold, wet with snow and rain (something that is very familiar to me). It creates a real change in seasons which is sometimes missed in some other countries with warmer climates.

Finally, it has to be the culture which is summarised best by the food and the people, both are amazing. There is nothing better than getting together with family or friends for a big meal or BBQ in the garden.

What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?

If I had been asked this question a few years ago then some of my answers would have been solved already which is a good sign that things are getting better. For what’s left to improve I would say:

Move all possible business services and reporting to be online and digital.

Delegate responsibility of a company to the director completely, removing unnecessary checks and processes.

Copy and implement the simple and flexible investment structure and framework for limited companies (d.o.o.) from countries like the UK and US.

How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

My experience has been very positive, certainly within the travel and tourism industry in which we are working. Almost everyone has been open to talk and look at our products and thankfully many of them have been interested to do further business with us.

Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

Do your homework and read some of the sites online about doing business in Croatia, many of the government websites are now also available in English and some steps can be done online.

Don’t be afraid to come to Croatia, especially from within the EU, but make sure you know what it takes to get started. You cannot do it on your own, you are going to need people to help you especially a notary and it would be a good idea to find an accountant before you open the business. Be prepared to wait in queues and sign plenty of documents.

Apart from that, the work life balance and lifestyle in Croatia is great, healthcare, schooling, and nursery for young children are also excellent. If you have a good idea and want an adventure, there are not many better places to be an entrepreneur in Europe than Croatia. There is also a great VC based in Zagreb called Fil Rouge Capital. They are helping develop the start-up ecosystem in Croatia and are always looking for bold entrepreneurs with a big idea.

To learn more about the foreign entrepreneurs trying to make it in The Beautiful Croatia, check out the heroes we have covered already

Are you a foreign entrepreneur trying to make it work in Croatia and would like to promote your story? Contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.