Made in Croatia

American Residence Permit Issues in Croatia: Notes from the Field

By 11 November 2018

November 11, 2018 - More and more foreigners are looking to move to Croatia for a lifestyle change. And while the way of life may be chilled, the bureaucracy and obtaining of residency permits can be anything but. 

Maybe I am spending an unhealthy amount of time hanging around Americans in Croatia these days, but more and more the conversations turn to issues with their residency status. As non-EU members, the paperwork is not as straightforward as for foreigners from other EU countries. But is it really a nightmare? Earlier today I published 'I Can Bring US$2 Billion to Croatia But Can't Even Get a Permit to Stay.'  The article has attracted plenty of comment online in various expat groups, and I invited others having issues to come forward with their stories if they were experiencing issues. 

From the TCN inbox an hour ago, the story of another American experiencing residence permit issues. No US$2 billion with this story, just one sick child who cannot be covered by the healthcare system and two young American parents just wanting to live in Croatia. 

Hello, I saw your Facebook post requesting stories about residency permits and I think I might have the sort of tale you're looking for.  So far, I haven't heard of anyone else experiencing delays as long as we have. My husband and I are both American.  I'm not sure if Americans actually get a harder deal typically or if it's just that all non-EU citizens have trouble and Americans (as you suggest) complain louder ?. 

We bought a farm in rural Croatia and moved here about 2 years ago. The first year, we were granted temporary residency relatively easily based on the fact that we'd bought a house and wanted to live in it. The following year was a lot more complicated.  By then, we'd had a baby which complicated things a bit.  We applied for residency for him as soon as we had all his documentation in order. This was in early December.  My husband and I applied to renew our residency at the same time, since our initial residency was set to expire in February. 

We immediately ran into issues. I was the CEO of a Croatian company by this point, managing a couple of vacation rentals.  I knew that in order to get residency through the company, I'd have to employ 3 Croatians full time, which I knew I couldn't afford to do. Initially, I thought our son and I might be able to get residency through my Husband, who had a job offer and was applying for a work permit.  However, it turns out you cannot live here based on family unification until you've held the work permit for 2 years.  I wasn't willing to live without my husband for 2 years, so my lawyer recommended that I transfer the CEO position over to my father, who was visiting from California.  That way, the company could employ me as a cleaning lady (which, to be fair, is one of the things I do) and I could apply for a work permit. I would have to pay additional taxes for the salary I'd supposedly be paying myself, and no one - including my lawyer - could actually tell me how much this tax would be, but I found a ballpark online and figured it beat having to move back to the US. I was concerned, because we still didn't have a clear path to residency for my son, but both the lawyer and the police told us that they'd figure out a way for him to stay if my husband and I were both approved. 

However, since we needed time for this to go through and things move so slowly here locally, the police and our lawyer said we should just apply to renew our residency based on owning the house, same as the first year, and expect to be denied.  However, we were assured that we could live here legally while the application was processing.  Even when we were eventually denied, we could stay while we appealed.  We could also submit a new application with the correct documentation while the first application was still pending.  So that's what we did.  In December.  

In late January, my son's initial residency was approved.  It was only valid for 2 weeks though, as it was based on my husband's and his expired in February. He was due for his vaccinations though, so we immediately moved to get him health insurance.  We went to the office, filled out all the paperwork, paid, everything seemed fine... until at the last second they noticed that his card was about to expire.  They told us they couldn't give us the insurance even though we'd already paid, until we got his new card.  At this point, we thought it would only be a couple months so we tried not to worry about it. 

We changed the basis for our application in April.  We were told it should take about 30 days to process. My husband's work permit was approved about 6 weeks later, and his 2nd application was approved in early June.  Mine... was another story.  Months passed with no word.  Eventually I was told that my residency was being held up until they worked out a way to allow my son to stay.  

During all of this, I've had to travel out of Croatia for business a few times.  I'm always afraid I won't be allowed back in, but my lawyer says the information should all be visible to officials when they scan my passport.  So far, I haven't had much trouble.  One person hassled me a bit when entering London, but she eventually begrudgingly let me through.  I wonder if this would have been different if I hadn't been a white, well dressed American. 

In mid-July, my son developed a suspicious lump growing out the bone in his leg.  They suspected it was cancer.  He needed immediate surgery.  We were in the hospital for 10 days.  Billing was a bit of a challenge, as the children's hospital doesn't usually deal with uninsured patients.  At this time, I was calling my lawyer every day trying to put pressure on her to move his residency through.  She said that she'd received permission for him to stay from the Foreign Ministry for humanitarian reasons, since both of his parents are working in Croatia, and he's too young to live elsewhere without his parents.  I was told that, since this was an unusual case, the local police needed to write to the Ministry to get the exact wording, and that was all we were waiting for.  It could be here any day. 

A month passed and my son's hospital bill was due.  We went to the police station and asked what the status was but they said they'd never received permission from the ministry. Our lawyer said there must have been a misunderstanding somewhere, because the ministry definitely had given it. We spent several thousand dollars out of pocket. However, by this point we'd been told that it definitively was not cancer, so it was hard to worry about residency when we were so relieved about the results.  It wasn't clear what the lump actually was, though, so we still have to go in for testing each month.  

I last spoke to my lawyer in September.  She was about to go on vacation for a month, so I requested an update.  She didn't have any news for us. 

Now it's November.  Nearly a year since our initial application.  Also, my son will be needing a very expensive MRI next month and I'm really hoping we don't have to pay out of pocket for this. I'm trying to figure out what if any private insurance the children's hospital takes, but no one seems to know, since everyone just has the national insurance. I'm going to call the lawyer tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure she'll just tell me "any day now." 

But while the bureaucratic process is maddening, everyone here has been so warm and welcoming to us - including individual bureaucrats. We love Croatia and feel at home here. We just want the right to stay.

Are you a foreigner struggling to obtain permits with a story to tell? Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject title 'Facepalm'