Monday, 21 December 2020

Digital Nomad Life in Croatia: Jess and Thibaud, from San Francisco to Jelsa

December 21, 2020- As the number of digital nomads rises globally, some are choosing to spend some of their time in Croatia. Continuing our TCN series meeting international digital nomads calling Croatia their temporary home. Meet Jess and Thibaud, from San Francisco to Jelsa on Hvar.

It has been a very strange year for tourism, but not all of it has been bad news.

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Renting our AirBnB apartment, Panorama Penthouse Jelsa, for example. Who would have imagined this time last year that the apartment would be empty for large parts of the early summer, but then booked solid for the winter months when it is normally empty? And by not one, but two digital nomad couples...

Meet Jess and Thibaud, the latest digital nomads in our series meeting remote workers choosing Croatia. What does San Francisco have that you couldn't possibly find in Jelsa anyway? 

Tell us a bit about you and your work.

Thibaud grew up in Paris and has spent most of his life in Northern California. I’m from New York, which is where I lived until we moved to San Francisco a few years ago. We love to travel and spent five months backpacking in Asia in 2018. If I had to describe us in a sentence, I’d say we’re an adventurous pair that likes to live life to the fullest.

We work in the technology sector and have spent the majority of our careers at companies based in Silicon Valley. As a product manager, Thibaud designs and builds digital experiences for software platforms and tools. He sets the strategy and partners with engineering, design and business teams to make that happen. I work in business development, specializing in fintech. My job is to help companies grow and improve their market positions through client/supplier relationships and partnerships. Fun fact: we met at work!

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Pros and cons of working remotely?

Some of the more challenging aspects have been exacerbated by the pandemic - for example, the lack of social interaction. During normal times, people are able to meet with friends and family and go about their daily lives outside their homes, which balances the fact that they may not see their colleagues regularly. With the lockdowns, working from shared spaces or cafes isn’t an option, so it can be a bit isolating. Living and working in the place can lead to overworking, so it’s been important for us to set some of the boundaries that exist with non-remote work. Eating meals away from our laptops, keeping to a loose routine, and taking time for movement have been helpful ways to break up the day.

More effort is required to build and maintain relationships with colleagues when working remotely. Information can fall through the cracks without those impromptu desk-side chats in the office and that glass of wine with your teammate at the end of the workday. Remote work requires more mindfulness about how you interact with colleagues and clients.

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The overall flexibility that remote work enables is the biggest pro. Without it, the term ‘digital nomad’ wouldn’t be a thing! We feel fortunate that our roles can be done remotely, as opposed to many professions that require physical presence. Not being tied down to one location and being able to experience new places is one of the best things about working remotely. Not having to commute is great as it saves time and reduces your carbon footprint. Being able to prepare your own meals is a pro. Having the ability to choose your working setup is a pro, such as taking calls while on a walk or switching rooms to follow the sun. Having the option to wear whatever you’re most comfortable in everyday is also a nice perk.

Remote work also enables companies to hire the best talent regardless of where people live. Being able to build teams across borders can be positive for both employers and employees from an economic perspective and also help drive diversity of thought.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the pros and cons, but highlights some of the aspects of working from home. For us, the benefits of remote work outweigh the challenges.

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How did you choose Croatia and specifically Jelsa?

It was a major decision to travel, let alone temporarily relocate, during Covid-`19. After weighing the risks, we decided to take advantage of our new ability to work remotely. Prior to the pandemic, we had been able to work from home occasionally but not consistently. Many technology companies started to enable employees to work from home full-time in March and we knew that we would not need to return to our offices for several months. We fully embraced the uncertainty of 2020 - we closed our San Francisco lease in June, took a month-long road trip around the western United States, and then took a one-way ticket to Split.

We wanted to spend our time remotely working in Europe and Croatia was one of the few countries open to Americans in August. I had visited Dubrovnik, Hvar and Split a few years ago, so I had some familiarity with Croatia. We chose to avoid big cities, and decided that a smaller town on an island would be a good choice. We searched Hvar and Brač for accommodations and I was excited about this Airbnb in Jelsa, primarily because of the terrace and view. Jelsa turned out to be just the kind of destination we were looking for - quaint, walkable, and charming.

Our original plan was to stay about a month in Croatia and then travel to another European country. But within a few days of arriving, we extended our booking to two months. In October, we considered traveling elsewhere, but decided against it given the rising Covid-19 risk and changing border restrictions. Plus, we were happy in Jelsa and felt settled despite having been there for a short time. We’ve made some incredible friends here and feel a sense of community - for that, we are very grateful!

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What’s important for a destination to offer to be compatible with a digital nomad lifestyle, apart from good WiFi?

This varies from person to person. We consider things that enable a good quality of life based on our priorities. Comfortable and affordable housing, ideally with a full kitchen and adequate desk space, is important. The beauty of the surroundings and access to nature is also a priority, at least for us. We’ve lived in busy cities, so one advantage of being a digital nomad is being able to live in serene and quieter places.

Being able to get around is important, so walkability is a plus. It’s also important to be able to find high quality food and have grocery stores nearby. Access to basic healthcare is also a consideration. Athletic facilities, such as a gym or soccer fields, are also pluses.

It’s easier to meet people and go about everyday life in places where English is spoken widely. Being able to connect with people is really important, so the presence of expat communities can be helpful, as well as the openness of the culture. We’ve had an extremely positive experience with Croatians in general - our friends and acquaintances have been so welcoming, friendly and willing to help us out with just about anything.

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What’s your view on the future of remote work?

Remote and flexible work arrangements have been trending for the past decade or so, and Covid-19 has certainly expedited that trend. Many people have been encouraged to stay at home and non-remote companies have had to adapt quickly. As a result, I think it’s been eye-opening for workers and companies to see that, in fact, remote work can be productive and even beneficial for morale and results. Covid-19 is likely a forcing function for companies, as well as for individuals, to re-evaluate their work arrangements. Fully remote models may not work for everyone or every company, but I do think that flexible work arrangements will become the norm in some industries.

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Do you have any advice for people looking to make the transition to digital nomad life?

Think about what you’re trying to optimize for and how different aspects of remote work do or don’t suit your lifestyle. If you’re relocating, research potential destinations before making the move. In order to be effective at your job and maintain good work/life balance, it’s important to be disciplined with your time and to set boundaries.

Most importantly - if remote work is something you want to do - just go for it! Companies are embracing remote work more now than ever. It may take some persistence to find a new role or company, or to negotiate with your current employer (which might be you!). Most decisions aren’t permanent - if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to what you’re doing now. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but you won’t know until you take that leap.

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To learn more about Croatia for the digital nomad, check out the Total Croatia Digital Nomad guide

To follow the latest news about digital nomads in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section

Are you a digital nomad in Croatia who would like to be featured in this series? Please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Nomad

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Croatian Digital Nomad Visa Update: KPMG Zagreb Explains Tax Law Change

December 15, 2020 - The Croatian digital nomad visa is getting closer, and the news is getting better. Especially regarding taxation, as KPMG Zagreb explains.

Four months to the day after Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong sent an open letter to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic asking him to introduce a digital nomad visa, Narodne Novine (National Gazette) published confirmation of the latest concrete step towards the realisation of that visa on December 11 - a change in the Croatian tax code to include the tax obligations of digital nomads. 

Recall that 44 days after that LinkedIn post, Plenkovic met with de Jong and then tweeted his intention to introduce the digital nomad visa for Croatia. A proposed amendment to the Aliens Act was introduced to Parliament the following day, which soon resulted in a change in the law, effective January 1, 2021. The framework for the visa was in place in terms of legislation. 

But we were (still are) not there yet. There were plenty of details to be ironed out. What would be the conditions of the visa, how to apply, what about tax obligations etc? As all these things had not been ironed out, it is understandable that further official announcements are pending all the final details being worked out. The most important of these I would summarise as:

Will the visa be physically available on January 1, 2020, or just in terms of legislation framework?

What are the conditions of the visa, for example minimum income requirement?

How much will the visa cost?

How to apply for the visa?

What about tax obligations in Croatia for digital nomads living there?

Big questions, and until we have the answers to them all, we will not have a full picture. But details are emerging, as the various ministries put into place the legal framework. And here is a big one to announce - a law change to reflect the tax obligations to Croatia for digital nomads. Rather than me trying to explain it, the news and explanation would carry a little more weight and authority if it came from a tax authority. Kristina Grbavac, Director of Taxation Services at KPMG Croatia kindly agreed to speak at our recent Digital Nomads for Dubrovnik conference, and I asked her to keep me updated on any update in the tax law for digital nomads. Here is what she sent me:

From 1 January 2021, anyone who is not a citizen of the EU, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or Switzerland could be eligible for a Croatian digital nomad visa of up to one year, as long as the person does not work for or provide services to a Croatian company.   The digital nomad could extend this visa for another one year after a six-month physical hiatus out of Croatia.

Coupled with the change in the immigration legislation there has also been a change in the tax legislation:  from 1 January 2021 anyone working in Croatia under a digital nomad visa will be exempt from paying Croatian tax on income earned from activities directly related to the status of being a digital nomad.

The legislation passed voting in the Parliament on 4 December 2020, it was approved by the President of Croatia and published in the National Gazette (138/2020) on Friday, 11 December 2020. 

Here are the links to:

Relevant is Article 2:

  1. primitke fizičkih osoba ostvarene po osnovi obavljanja nesamostalnog rada ili djelatnosti za poslodavca koji nije registriran u Republici Hrvatskoj temeljem stečenog statusa digitalnog nomada sukladno posebnom propisu.".

Translation - The income earned by natural persons realised on the basis of performing non-independent work or activities for an employer who isn't registered in the Republic of Croatia on the basis of the acquired status of ''digital nomad'' in accordance with a/the special regulation.

Further changes in the tax legislation are expected which would relieve digital nomads from tax reporting obligations in Croatia. Given the tremendous changes in legislation made for digital nomads, it seems to us that it is only a matter of time until this will be confirmed.

With all of this, Croatia is becoming one of the top countries of choice for digital nomads

For those of you with any questions about tax and digital nomads, I recommend you ask Kristina, rather than me. You can contact her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

So what do we know about the visa for sure, what about unofficially, and what do I expect the answers to those remaining unanswered questions to be? 

What we know for sure.

The legislation has been passed to allow for the digital nomad visa from January 1, 2021. This is NOT the same thing s saying the visa WILL be available - more on that below.

The Croatian tax code has now been legally amended to reflect digital nomad tax status - see above. 

What we know unofficially from Jan de Jong's latest update on LinkedIn.

Having initiated the visa story with that LinkedIn post, de Jong has played an active role in pushing things forward, holding several meetings with ministries to sort out all the details. While not exactly the same as an official ministry announcement, his regular LinkedIn updates on the subject have come with the authority of someone at the heart of the discussions.  And yesterday's update gave some information on two of the key unknowns - when will the visa be available, and how to apply?

Currently the Ministry of Finance is working on making the changes to the tax laws - which shall be completed by the end of this year.

 and the Ministry of Interior shall together make efforts to develop an official website where digital nomads can find all information about Croatia’s visa program. On this website it shall also be possible for digital nomads to apply for the visa.

The objective is to have this website live by March, 2021.

You can see the full post on Jan's LinkedIn.

What do I expect from the remaining key unanswered questions?

I refer you to an article I wrote last week regarding the foundation of the Croatian Digital Nomad Association and a visa update. For those without the time to read, my thoughts were that there would be no tax obligation in Croatia (see above), there would be an online application process (see above), and that while technically it could be available on January 1, sometime in the first quarter was more likely (see above). The other things I would expect - but yet to be announced - are:

Minimum income in the region of 1,500 to 2,500 euro a month.

I would expect the visa to cost a maximum of 100 euro. 

Guidelines on what constitutes a digital nomad to quality for the visa will be published in due course. 

Health insurance will be required.

No criminal record will be required. 

No working with Croatian companies or inside Croatia under the terms of the visa. 

Please note, these are my opinions, we are still waiting for the official announcements.

None of these things have been officially announced yet, but as the tax law change shows, things are moving forward. Perhaps not quick enough for digital nomads used to instant gratification, but in terms of changing Croatian law, this is cutting edge. 

I am sure that when all the details are finalised, the full initial guidelines will be published. We will, of course, bring those to you as soon as we have them, and you can follow the latest on the dedicated TCN digital nomad section.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Washington Post: Croatia Attracting Digital Nomads During the Pandemic

December 9, 2020 – One of the leading American daily newspaper, the Washington Post, published an article about Croatia attracting digital nomads from the USA while the rest of Europe banned all travel.

The Washington Post wrote about digital nomads who spent several months in Croatia and Dubrovnik during the coronavirus pandemic, said Ina Rodin, the Croatian National Tourist Board director in the United States.

The article states that many Americans decided to travel thanks to the first direct airline between Croatia and the United States, namely between Dubrovnik and Philadelphia, introduced in June 2019. According to the Croatian National Tourist Board, Americans were the second most numerous guests in Dubrovnik last year, with almost 160,000 arrivals and more than 442,000 overnight stays, writes the Washington Post.

Sarah Morlock, a freelance writer and social media manager from Indiana, who worked remotely and spent October and November in Dubrovnik with her partner, shared her experience with readers. She pointed out that when choosing a place to stay, she is looking for historic cities with preserved nature and a good internet connection, and in that sense, Dubrovnik has fulfilled all her expectations.

Binational couples attracted too

Apart from digital nomads, Croatia is also attractive for binational couples who, due to the coronavirus pandemic and limited travel opportunities, organized their meeting in Croatia.

One of the couples who did so was Justin Leung from the USA and Katja Lau from Germany. They were supposed to meet in San Francisco, but the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown thwarted their plans. Therefore, they decided to find a place that welcomed both Americans and Germans and thus chose to meet in Croatia, where they spent one month.

The Washington Post points out that Dubrovnik is trying to attract digital nomads, so a project to introduce ultra-fast broadband Internet was presented in February. Also, a virtual conference "Dubrovnik for digital nomads" was held in October to encourage them to choose Dubrovnik for their remote office.

Washington Post covers this topic right when the introduction of the digital nomad visa in Croatia is increasingly likely. Namely, TCN reported a new update about digital nomad visas in Croatia today, as the Croatian Digital Nomad Association has officially been founded.

At the beginning of 2021, Croatia will introduce a digital nomad visa, which will make it the second country in Europe and the fifth in the world to welcome digital nomads from all over the world.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad: Giving Back While Gaining New Friends

December 9, 2020 - Cyndie Burkhardt continues her nomad lifestyle with her experiences in Croatia - this week the digital nomad giving back through volunteering. 

Digital nomads, travelers, and expats are often passionate volunteers in their host countries. On International Volunteer Day, a group of people from different backgrounds and cultures came together to show some love to the Split community. 

Passionate travelers strive to be immersed in the countries they visit by living and working with local people. For many of us, participating in positive impact initiatives is a favorite way to become more involved and to support causes we care about. Volunteers contribute all over the world, often to projects that would not exist without them. The rewards are considerable—help improve a community and bond with some pretty cool people in the process.

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(Volunteers for Make a Miracle home building project near Lima, Peru carry all parts of a prefab house up multiple flights of steep steps to a site on the hillside where the house will be assembled. All hardware and tools follow the same pathway up. At the end of the day a family will have a safe place to live.)

Positive impact

People volunteer for a variety of reasons: to give back, help others, make a difference, feel involved, or use their skills in a productive way. For me, it’s each of these as much as being curious about culture and lifestyle. Volunteering gets you right in the middle of someone else’s reality. Some situations are feel-good and others are a dire wake-up call; all are opportunities to learn. Glimpsing a country through this sort of local experience is a chance to expand your perspective while becoming more conscious of your actions.

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(Groups of friends, old and new, meet up to volunteer for the biggest reforestation project on Mosor Mountain, organized by The Scouts of Croatia Association.)

Safe housing

Last year I joined a home building project in Peru with a nonprofit whose mission is to “bring hope and lasting change” to poor neighborhoods, in part by ensuring that families with children live in safe homes. Scoping the dilapidated surroundings and the rundown shacks that people occupied, it looked like something out of a movie, for as far as my eyes could see. I tried to imagine living there, and worse, having no way out. My heart ached. Us volunteers worked side by side with the organizers, locals, and students. At the end of the day when the designated family was presented with its new home, there were tears, hugs, big smiles, and no better feeling than that of optimism. When you’re used to having a roof over your head you take it for granted. Being immersed in that environment and seeing the status quo of not having one really hit home for me.

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(The Elephant Freedom Project is a camp in Thailand, near Chiang Mai, that rescues abused animals and allows visitors to learn about them and support their efforts. Baby elephants are there with their moms and they learn to interact with humans in a caring environment.)

Elephant freedom

Another time, in Thailand, I spent a day at an ethical elephant sanctuary—a camp that rescues and provides a better life for the animals—where I got to feed and bathe them in nature. Elephants are the beloved national animal and official symbol of Thailand and for that same reason they’re horribly abused in the name of profit. While feeding them, I watched the elephants inspect my hand and turn their trunks to just the right angle to grasp the food. It tickled when they took it. I swear there were moments when I looked in their eyes and I knew they were looking back at me. All day I witnessed, in awe, their sensitivity and intelligence. Of the many things I learned, nothing compared to my feeling of connection with these beings.

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(Forestry rangers instruct volunteers on the proper way to plant new seedlings; the reforestation project goals are to plant over 30,000 new trees to replace those lost in the massive 2017 fire.)

Split causes

Here in Split, lots of organizations coax volunteers to support their cause. A recent meet-up was held to introduce a few of them, including animal rescue, a women's shelter, and environmental groups. Animal shelters are dangerous for me, I love dogs and I want to take them all home. But that didn’t stop me from spending time at NO KILL animal shelter Animalis Centrum. Hiking and being in the great outdoors are other passions of mine. I quickly said yes to volunteering for a reforestation project on Mosor Mountain organized by the Croatian Scouts Association. It feels good to circulate in the community and experience the camaraderie of real people doing real things. In other words—it’s time to get off the computer!

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(Paola Palavecino is a spit ball of energy and she enthusiastically inspires her team to give their best effort and have fun.)

Beach cleaners

On International Volunteer Day, December 5, an independent crew led by Paola Palavecino descended on Kašjuni beach with trash bags, gloves, face masks, and determination to clean up the litter. For this lifelong beach kid, the assignment was a no-brainer. The seashore is my special place and it drives me mad to see trash discarded on the beach and washed up at the water’s edge. Who wants to lay their body down with that crap or swim through it? Given Croatia’s hunger for tourism, its heavy promotion of seaside/island pleasure, and its pride in the stunning natural landscape, immaculate beaches would be expected.

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(Discarded plastics are a common sight on Split’s beaches and even isolated spots like Kašjuni beach can’t avoid them.)

It was the first dry day after a week of slamming rain and thankfully the storm clouds held off. In a matter of hours, we hauled construction waste, filled large garbage bags, and stuffed smaller bags with cigarette butts.

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(Cigarette butts cause insidious harm through the release of heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. Statistics show that trillions of them are recklessly discarded, making them the world's most littered plastic pollution.)

Public Service Announcement

Pardon this interruption for a brief PSA: That last item may seem inconsequential because cancer sticks are so widespread here, but the facts are disturbing. Littered cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals—arsenic, lead, nicotine—into the environment and they can contaminate water. The toxic exposure can poison fish as well as animals that eat them. What remains is literally the world's most littered plastic pollution—trillions of those filtered tips are carelessly dumped into the environment annually. Whoa.

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(A new garbage product is popping up everywhere, the protective face mask.)

People’s consciousness

While I was cleaning one particularly trash-ridden part of the beach, a local was watching me go back and forth. Eventually he asked what was happening and I explained our effort and who we were. He didn’t understand why foreigners cared about cleaning the beach but he was impressed nonetheless. Contemplating this and looking at my trash bags filling up he said, “I think this says something about the consciousness of the people.” I said I agreed and then he walked away before a conversation could ensue. Boy did I want to talk with him and ask some questions. Perhaps he felt embarrassed, or maybe guilty, about what that consciousness actually says.

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(Volunteer Roxana Jamett is no stranger to environmental projects and sustainability. With her blog Eco-Croatia.net she shows people what’s possible to reduce plastics and live in healthier, cleaner world).

Travelers’ mistress

Travelers do care, deeply. The world is our mistress and we gush with enthusiasm at every opportunity to engage with her. The benefits we reap through exposure to people and places and new possibilities are priceless. 

In fact, the beach cleaning group was born from this mindset. An American traveler inquired on Facebook about cleaning Split’s beaches. Paola, a Chilean expat, read the post and recognized the need. Seeing that nothing was organized, she said “why not” and confidently rose up to lead it. The group that convened represented the additional countries of Australia, Croatia, Italy, and the UK.

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(Picking up refuse is tedious and backbreaking, but the toxicity from cigarette butts and their damage to people and the environment is worse.)

International Volunteer Day

International Volunteer Day is a mandate of the United Nations General Assembly since 1985. It promotes volunteerism; recognizes volunteer contributions to local, national, and global communities; and celebrates all facets of volunteer impact. It was an honor and a source of pride to be with such a proactive group on a day that stands for caring and giving.

Top 5 Reasons

For anyone who’s curious about the joy of volunteering and hasn’t yet raised their hand, here are some things to consider.

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(The product 2 Taktol is motor oil and this particular plastic bottle, found on Kašjuni, is a design from last century, it’s over 20-years old.)

1. Volunteering abroad is an opportunity of a lifetime to make a difference in a particular region; experiences and memories will stay with you for the rest of your life. You will truly become a traveler and not just a tourist.

2. Volunteers gain new perspectives and often return home with a better understanding and appreciation for different cultures and people.

3. Meet new people and make friends for life with like-minded folks who face problems head-on and in doing so become part of the solution.

4. Contribute to something bigger than yourself and boost your career. People who volunteer abroad demonstrate innovation, creativity, selflessness, and willingness to “get their hands dirty.” Wouldn’t you want to hire or work with someone like that?

5. Give back by helping communities, environments, people, and animals who are endangered or unable to take care of themselves. It’s about realizing that we are all connected through a greater humanity.

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(The Kašjuni beach cleaning volunteers are proud of a strong effort to give back and help make a difference.)

Learn more at TCN’s Digital Nomads channel. 

Story and photographs ©2020, Cyndie Burkhardt. https://photo-diaries.com

For more of Cyndie's experiences, check out her Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad column.  

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Croatian Digital Nomad Association Officially Founded (& Visa Update)

December 9, 2020 - As the digital nomad visa inches closer to reality, the Croatian Digital Nomad Association is founded. More on that, and a visa update. 

It all started with an open letter on LinkedIn to the Prime Minister last than four months ago. 44 days later, PM Plenkovic tweeted his assent - his government would push for the introduction of a digital nomad visa for Croatia, which would make it only the fifth place in the world and the second in Europe after Estonia (Dubai and Iceland have since also announced nomad visas). And the word is getting out, with the Washington Post the latest global media to feature digital nomads in Croatia, including the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads conference, which was recently co-organised by TCN, Saltwater, the City and Tourist Board of Dubrovnik. 

Jan de Jong, the Split-based Dutch entrepreneur whose LinkedIn post in July started the whole process rolling, announced plans at the Dubrovnik conference to found a Croatian digital nomad association in order to help make Croatia a more attractive destination for nomads, by offering a range of services to help build and serve the nomad community.

The new Croatian Digital Nomad Association will have five key areas of focus, as explained in the infographic below. 

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De Jong took to LinkedIn once again this morning to announce that the Croatian Digital Nomad Association has been officially founded: 

YES!! We have officially founded the Digital Nomad Association Croatia ??. Together we shall unite & serve digital nomads in Croatia.

It looks like Croatia will not only be among the first countries in the world to welcome digital nomads - but we shall also have among the most attractive visa programs currently out there.

Changing the laws in Croatia in order to welcome digital nomads was just the start of a great and exciting journey. 

Croatia has a chance to position itself among top destinations globally. There is a lot of work ahead of us - both in the private & public sector. That is the reason why we wanted to organize ourselves in an association.

If you want to:

✅ Join the association

✅ Support the association

✅ Volunteer at the association

Then please, follow Digital Nomad Association Croatia on #LinkedIn as more updates will follow soon - stay tuned.

I would like to thank my co-founders Tanja Polegubic & Karmela Tancabel for their efforts and insight. Thank you Younited Agency for our visual identity.

Last but not least, thank you all for your support. We would not have come here without your comments and shares 

Give this post a ❤ as your first action to support the Association!

Pozdrav,

Jan de Jong

#Croatia
#DigitalNomads
#Remotework

What is the latest with the Croatian digital nomad visa?

Apart from the many questions I get about the new rules for entering Croatia at the moment, the most common request for information I am getting these days is a progress report on the availability of the digital nomad visa. There has been a LOT of interest in the visa, with Croatia perfectly positioned to offer a great nomad lifestyle experience to visiting remote workers. There is also understandable frustration from the initial tweet from the Prime Minister back in late August, and the still-undefined terms of the visa or the timing of its availability.

Here's my take on the current situation and what and when I think might happen (PLEASE NOTE that this is just my personal observations only, and you should wait for official confirmation before making any firm decisions).  

What we know for sure is that the legal framework is now in place for the digital nomad visa to be available from January 1, 2021, as a result of a change in the Aliens Act a couple of weeks ago, as previously reported on TCN.

What is still to be finalised (and various ministries are working on the final details, to be completed by the end of the month) are the exact conditions of the visa, details of which are yet to be announced. Here are some of the main 

Who can apply for the digital nomad visa?

I would expect that anyone who has a bone fide remote business will be able to apply for the visa. Key restrictions on the visa would be that no business can be done in Croatia or with Croatian companies. This visa is for remote workers earning their money abroad and spending locally.  

How much will it cost?

I have not yet heard a figure for the visa fee, but I would be very surprised if it was anything more than a nominal fee, or even free of charge. Barbados is charging US$2,000 for an individual, US$3,000, which defeats the point of what Croatia is trying to achieve. There is little point creating a product and then making it prohibitively expensive. 

Will proof of a minimum income be necessary? If yes, how much?

As more and more countries are introducing digital nomad visas, it would be understandable to assume that the products are basically the same. They are not. Just as Barbados is charging US$2,000 for the visa, so too others have prohibitive minimum income requirements. Dubai requires a minimum of US$5,000 a month, Iceland more than US$7,000 a month. I have not heard a figure mentioned for Croatia yet, but I would expect it to be considerably lower, but high enough to ensure that those who do come have the spending power to help the Croatian economy. A figure of 1,500 - 2,500 euro a month minimum would make Croatia much more accessible, as well as providing a new generation of word of mouth promoters for the country's tourism.

What about tax payable in Croatia?

This is one of the big unknowns, and one which will be 100% certain next week. Will digital nomads have to pay tax in Croatia? My feeling is that the Croatian visa will come without a tax requirement to Croatia. These may seem strange to some people until you take a closer look at the realities of who might be using the visa. Perhaps the best example I can give to illustrate the point is the Russian/Ukrainian couple from Munich who I came across last year in Jelsa who truly opened my eyes to the possibilities.

They both worked in IT, and their Munich boss told them that he was happy for them to remote work 10 months of the year, as long as they were available online during Munich working hours. They could have stayed at home and enjoyed remote work in Munich, but they decided instead to rent out their apartment and spend the time travelling - 3 months in Jelsa, then to Sicily, Spain and Portugal. They came to Jelsa from April 1 - June 30, renting an apartment for three months out of the main season. So happy were they that they planned to return for the same dates this year. They ate in the restaurants, drank in the cafes, bought local in the markets, took Croatian classes. Income coming into local businesses in Croatia which would otherwise have been spent in Munich. 

Multiply these remote workers and there is a slow effect not only on the Croatian economy but also on local businesses and communities. By making Croatia an attractive destination in terms of tax liabilities, visa cost, and minimum income, this is a real opportunity. The market will only get more competitive, as more visas are offered. It should be noted that my example above does not require a visa, as they are EU residents, but I wanted to give a concrete example based on the economic benefits, even with no tax liability.

KPMG Croatia has kindly agreed to provide a tax guide article for digital nomads in Croatia, which we will be publishing later in the month.

What about health insurance?

I would expect health insurance to be a prerequisite.

Criminal record?

I would expect proof of no criminal record to be a prerequisite.

How to apply for a Croatian digital nomad visa?

We are also still waiting for details of this. I would expect this to be an online process, devoid of the usual bureaucratic obstacles. The Ministry of the Interior did an outstanding job this year with its border control, and its Enter Croatia form was an unqualified hit. This is the ministry which is driving the introduction of the visa, and this is the ministry which really performed this year in dealing with border and tourist movement. It was impressive to watch. 

How long will the application take to be approved? That I have no answer to. 

Will the visa be available on January 1? While technically, it could be, whether or not the final pieces of the jigsaw are in place is not certain. But I think it is fairly certain that it will be available in the first quarter of next year. 

We will post any updates on our dedicated digital nomad section, which you can follow here

 

Thursday, 26 November 2020

American Family in Croatia: They Left Everything Behind to Travel Europe

November 26, 2020 – Traveling the world during the pandemic may seem impossible for many, but not for one American family in Croatia. Despite the obstacles, they are now living their dream digital nomad lifestyle in Croatia.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when the countries around the world are closing their borders and traveling is kept to a minimum, one young American couple decided to go the opposite way. On October 4th, they took a one-way flight to Europe to pursue their dream of becoming full-time digital nomads.

And they did it right at the time when the introduction of the digital nomad visa in Croatia is increasingly likely.

For a long time, Victor and Klaudia Gonzalez have had a great desire to travel and show their son Augie the splendor of the world. Like many people, they have always wondered how it is possible to turn travel into a way of life with almost no savings. Little by little, as their desire did not subside, they decided to try their luck and embark on the big life journey of moving abroad, to Croatia.

Croatia affordable and welcoming

However, their journey was not easy, since they almost had no budget at all. They met in college 8 years ago in Michigan, USA. Only three years ago, when Victor was finishing college and their son Augie was a toddler, they were even getting government help to buy food. But then things started to get better.

"When Victor finished college, he got his first full-time job. We moved from Michigan to Colorado, where we caught the travel bug camping and doing hiking trips. One year ago, we decided to make our dream a reality. We sold everything for only 1,000 dollars. We didn’t sell a big house or flat because we didn’t have one, and our car wasn’t worth anything to sell," says the couple, explaining that Klaudia was homeschooling and working from home, while Victor was working between 60 to 70 hours a week to save enough money for a plane ticket to Europe.

"We were ready to leave when my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. We stayed with her until she got better, and she was the one who inspired us to follow our big dream," says Klaudia.

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Gonzalez family pictured on the day they left the USA at the Chicago O'hare Airport in October / Private archive

Although their first plan was to move to Poland, where Klaudia's heritage comes from (their son Augie is also bilingual, speaking both English and Polish), Croatia stuck out as their top choice because it was a welcoming destination for Americans during the pandemic. Besides, they note, Croatia is a safe country with ideal weather and a good connection to the rest of Europe.

"Originally we planned to stay for one month, but the quality of life and the welcoming energy has convinced us to wait until after the holidays. We look forward to seeing the Christmas lights in Zagreb. We’ll be in Croatia for almost 3 full months," the couple says, adding that Croatia and the whole Balkan region is a hidden gem, and is both affordable and welcoming.

From the sea to the mountains

"Croatians are such warm and inviting people. Our Croatian host has become a life-long friend, and when exploring inland Dalmatia, Croatian strangers invited us into their home for cherry liquor and baked goods. We won’t ever forget the hospitality of Croatians!" they say.

For now, they have visited Dubrovnik, Split, and Krka and Plitvice Lakes National Parks, and on their Instagram page The Family Journalists where they share their experiences from Croatia, they did not hide their pleasure.

"For such a small country, Croatia has a diverse landscape. We stayed in a flat next to the sea, and within an hour, we were in inland Dalmatia riding an ATV on the top of Croatia’s second-highest mountain," says this couple whose priority was to have remote careers. Klaudia is a teacher and writer, while Victor is a self-taught software engineer.

Full-time traveling on a budget

Their son Augie enjoys his time in Croatia and is always ready for the next adventure. If you ever meet this family on the street, you will probably hear Augie saying his favorite Croatian word: "Bok!"

The only thing that they miss is their families, who won't be there for their son's fifth birthday this year, which they will be celebrating in Croatia. Their initial plan was to stay in Croatia for one month, but now they decided to stay until spring when Klaudia's parents visit them from the USA.

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Exploring Split and Čiovo island / Private archive

Nevertheless, their return to Croatia is not ruled out.

"With the introduction of the digital nomad visa, it will become even easier for Americans to visit Croatia or come back," Klaudia says.

"We want people to understand that it's possible to travel the world as digital nomads with hard work. It’s possible for those that don’t have a lot of savings to travel full-time by making a budget and visiting more affordable European countries like Croatia. Now we travel with four suitcases and two backpacks as The Family Journalists interviewing locals and sharing stories from around the world," says the happy family.

To read more about digital nomads in Croatia, follow our dedicated page.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad: Croatia's Endless Summer Sport

November 26, 2020 - Continuing our look at the digital nomad lifestyle in Croatia, it may be late November for some, but Croatia's endless summer sport continues for some.

The Adriatic Sea is a focal point for seasonal visitors to the Dalmatian coast for good reason; it’s positively refreshing on hot summer days. But some people swim long after the crowds have gone, when the only onlookers are wearing coats.

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(When summer tourists crowd Split’s beaches, everyone carves out their own spot on the sand and in the water.)

Ever since I heard that Split’s summer weather can occasionally extend into fall, I got it in my head that I wanted to swim as late into the season as possible. Swimming is one of my favorite sports for the feeling of being in the water as much as the exercise. Everything about it signals freedom and expansion, increasing my movement, thoughts, and bodily sensations. I love the open water and Croatia’s total seaside environment—sun, salt, azure sea, temperature, and rugged beauty—is perfect.

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(Pine trees, white beaches, and teal waters are hallmarks of the Mediterranean coastline that draw visitors from around the world.)

Before tourists

Back in the spring, during early morning Žnjan beach walks, I’d end up sitting on a rock with my bare feet dangling in the water. Sure, it was cool outside, but I was bundled up in layers and my feel were thankful to be out of socks and shoes. As I looked over my surroundings, I craved summertime just to be fully immersed in the gorgeous water. When it finally arrived, I plotted my swims—whenever and wherever.

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(Ramps and other accommodations are found all along the seaside; they allow people with disabilities to get into the water.)

Island life

A rocky enclave on Lokrum, the Blue Lagoon near Trogir, the famous Zlatni Rat on Brač, and diving off a sailboat were perfect staging grounds for my addiction. I was mindful to soak up every minute in these brilliant surroundings. Sometimes I’d pop my head above the surface and laugh at my good fortune and my happiness; it was pure joy.

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(Shower facilities on every beach look like aliens from another planet.)

Opportunities everywhere

It seems any spot to enter the water is fair game. Croatians will climb through large rocks and pull their cars to the side of the road just to take a dip. I learned to toss my bathing suit and travel towel in a bag when meeting friends because an opportunity could pop up any time. After visiting a bee farm on Šolta, I swam before coming home because why not try another island, right? When biking around Marjan Park, I pumped my brakes at the sight of Kašjuni beach and promptly turned back to join the bathers. Dalmatians inherently love the sea and for them, this behavior is second nature.

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(View from just above the surface, where colors and textures from above and below the water meet.)

Ideal weather

September, October, now November… and I’m still checking the sea and air temperature daily. My bathing suit hangs on a doorknob as a visual reminder; each day I hope it’s the right one. So far quite a few have worked out, even though we’ve passed the Daylight Savings mark on the calendar. Back home my swim gear would’ve been packed away months ago. The Atlantic Ocean is not this agreeable.

Getting cooler

Let’s be real though, things are cooling down. On both ends of these late fall days I wear proper fall clothes. Yet, today the water and air temperature were nearly equal at 18.8ºC (65ºF) and I swam effortlessly. A small admission: I get cold very easily. The idea of swimming in November is way past my comfort zone and I honestly don’t know how I’m doing it.

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(The morning sky can create the best view for an early swim.)

Still swimming

Perhaps living in a new place brings new inspiration. Or maybe the cold is all in my head. I don’t need to figure it out, I’m still swimming and loving it. 

Learn more at TCN’s Digital Nomads channel.

Story and photographs ©2020, Cyndie Burkhardt. www.photo-diaries.com/

For more of Cyndie's experiences, check out her Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad column

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Croatian Digital Nomad Visa Closer as Parliament Changes Aliens Act

November 25, 2020 - Croatian bureaucracy 2.0, as changes to the Aliens Act to accommodate the Croatian digital nomad visa sail through Parliament. We are close, but not there yet.

Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong was back doing what he did so effectively back in July this afternoon, as he penned one more open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic via his LinkedIn profile, this time a note of thanks. 

Back in July, de Jong sent Plenkovic an open letter asking him to introduce a Croatian digital nomad visa. The response - during the summer holidays - was stunning. Just 44 days later, Plenkovic tweeted a photo with de Jong promising to do just that. By chance, changes to the Aliens Act were due to be introduced to Parliament the next day, and the nomad visa was added to those changes. 

Those changes were today ratified by Parliament, leading de Jong to head to his keyboard once more:

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Dear Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic,

On the 11th of July, I kindly asked you to consider introducing a digital nomad visa in Croatia ?? through my open letter here on LinkedIn.

Today, on 25th of November - with acceptance of the new Alien Act - you have truly delivered, making Croatia among the first countries in the world to welcome digital nomads by regulating their temporary stay. 

Thank you Prime Minister for your support from the moment this opportunity was presented to you. 

I would also like to thank Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Interior - Mr. Božinović and State Secretary of Interior Ms. Terezija Gras for your efforts and support. 

Last but not least, I would like to thank the 5.269 people here on LinkedIn that supported my open letter in July and all the thousands of other people that supported this initiative from the beginning.

Hvala svima! - ❤ -

Jan de Jong

Follow me on #LinkedIn

Ps. Required changes to tax law and health insurance are expected until 31.12.2020.

#wfh

#Croatia

#DigitalNomads

#livingthecroatiandream 

So it would appear that Croatian bureaucracy CAN run rather smoothly. 

My understanding from another source is that the issue of digital nomads and tax will be discussed during a government session tomorrow. The ministries involved are all making good progress, and the final issues are expected to be ironed out by the end of the year. 

My understanding is that the changes approved today come into effect on January 1, 2021, so IN THEORY, the Croatian digital nomad visa could be available then. Experience in The Beautiful Croatia, however, has taught me to believe it when I see it, and I would be more confident in the prediction that sometime in the first quarter of 2021 is likely. 

But if a motivated Prime Minister can move from a LinkedIn post to a change in the law in just over four months, who knows? 

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Not only is de Jong a successful entrepreneur, he is now rivalling his YouTube star wife Slavica as the family's top multitasker. When I called him for a quote and more info, he not only sent me a link to the parliament decision, but also screenshotted the relevant sections, all this without dropping the Baby de Jong he was holding.

Here is the full parliament decision - it is a riveting read. Google Translate is your friend.  The relevant sections are in the screenshots below. 

One more hurdle has been overcome. Congrats to all. 

For the latest news on this and other digital nomad news in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section

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Monday, 23 November 2020

3 Female Returnees Bring Digital Nomad Work, Play & Living to Diocletian's Palace

November 23, 2020 - What if remote workers could combine the world of digital nomad work, play and living in one place - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and retirement home of a Roman Emperor, perhaps? Well now you can thanks to three enterprising female entrepreneurs in Split. 

Having been brought up a Brit, it is hard to admit I have a hero who is Australian. Actually, not one, but three - all inspiring ladies from the Croatian diaspora who moved to Croatia to try their luck in the land of their ancestors. 

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And all three have succeeded, despite the many obstacles thrown in their way. It has been a pleasure to cheer from the sidelines as I have charted their path to success. And now a new chapter, as my three heroes have teamed up together for the first time to offer the option of digital nomad work, play and living in one exciting concept - located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former retirement home of a Roman Emperor no less - Diocletian's Palace in Split. 

There is a lot of buzz and talk about digital nomads in Croatia at the moment. A combination of the initiative to make Croatia only the sixth country in the world to offer such a visa, as well as the realisation that Croatia's current accidental tourism 'strategy' needs an urgent reset, has had many tourism providers looking to cater to this new digital nomad tourism opportunity. 

Most are completely missing the point. 

It has been mildly amusing to see the number of businesses in Croatia who are suddenly advertising themselves as digital nomad friendly, as though a bed and reasonable WiFi is all that is required. While both are a prerequisite, there is a little more to it than that. Two of the major planks of a successful digital nomad tourism offer, at least in my humble opinion, are lifestyle and community. Travelling the world is a rewarding experience, but it can also be a lonely one. If you are working remotely and you can find a place to live, work and play all in one, then that is a lot more appealing.

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Enter my three Australian heroes - Tanja, Maria and Korana - all of whom will be familiar to longterm readers of TCN. 

I have been spending quite a bit of time on and offline with Tanja Polegubic from Saltwater Nomads this year. Founder of a co-working space of the same name in Split, Tanja has put a lot more thought than most into the potential (and the pitfalls) of Croatia embarking on the digital nomad route (and for those interested, 10 Ways Croatia Will Be At The Forefront of Countries with a Digital Nomad Visa is a worthy read).  Tanja also organised the first Digital Nomad conference in Croatia last month, is a founder of the Digital Nomad Association, and we will shortly be announcing her latest cool event, a digital nomad boot camp to coincide with Advent in Zagreb. 

Maria and Korana are lifelong friends who came to Split as naive 22-year-olds who thought they spoke fluent Croatian almost 20 years ago. As some of the few foreigners who have been working here as long as I have, it is always fun to catch up with them and have a laugh about the good old days. Having famously flooded the main square of Diocletian's Palace on the first day of opening their first business, a fast food joint, they have gone from strength to strength with a combination of determination, vision, charm, sound decision-making and 10 lifetimes of hard work. The first legally registered hostel started the empire which then blossomed into three hostels, one of the most popular hangouts  in Diocletian's Palace (Charlie's Bar), and two excellent restaurants, Zinfandel and Brasserie on 7. Life was good for the owners of Zeven Gastronomy Group and Split Hostel Group.

And then came corona. 

Not for the first time in their Croatian odyssey, it was time for a rethink, this time over a glass of wine with Tanja. What if all the assets and components of both businesses could be realigned for the greater good? A co-working business, hostels, a bar and two restaurants. What kind of package could that be if it was all made available to customers to work, live and play?

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And that is exactly what these three heroes have done. As Tanja explained:

Around mid-September, I was contacted by nomads looking for co-living options. There weren’t any in Split. We already find long-stay accommodation options, so a hostel - especially as they had been hit so hard by Covid19, was a logical option. I contacted Korana, and it started very quickly.

All this was happening while the preparations for Dubrovnik Digital Nomads was underway. Korana and Amanda - our Saltwater member who ran the bar at our Beach Office Bacvice Bacvice this summer.

In our first week of opening, our two top floor “penthouse” private offices (Bill and Ted) filled up! Couples from US/Canada and UK/USA. Since then, we’ve had quite a few people trial, and some join.

Coworking isn’t an easy business - it’s very transient. It is more about the community activity and events. Plus some good ole fashioned Dalmatian ‘pomalo’... things happen slowly here. Which is fine; we’re in this for the long haul. Especially as it’s very fun to run.

So what does the digital nomad work, play and living combination look like?

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Some of the stone wall hostel rooms have been converted into shared workspaces, private offices, meeting rooms - already fitted out with showers, communal areas and kitchen. And the authentic stone walls as your Zoom background come as standard. 

One of the hostels remains as a coliving option - starting at 250 euro month to stay in the Centre of Old Town Split in Diocletian’s Palace.

And what better location for your new office. Not only in a World Heritage Site, but also above the team's Charlie's Bar, offering a steady supply of coffee, cocktails and beer on tap with a nomad discount.

Feeling peckish or looking for a change of workplace scene? Both Zinfandel and Brasserie on 7 are available with discounted prices for registered Saltwater and Split Hostels customers. And with B7's fabulous waterfront location at the centre of Split's famous riva, there are few better more beautiful locations for a temporary office. 

The sense of community is crucial to a happy experience, and all three of these fabulous ladies have long experience in producing outstanding customer service, and so it is no surprise that this new nomad offer comes with a little fun in addition to the basic services. 

The weekly Nomad Table combines food, wine, entertainment and great company.  Education of Croatian wines are already proving popular, a Zinfandel speciality, and some ice-breaking games at the events so far have helped bring people together. The first, held on the inauspicious date of Friday 13, 2020 (what could possibly go wrong?) included an icebreaker game lining up cards with guest and staff point of origin and distance to Split. The furthest away was Hamilton, NZ - although this was strongly contested by Dunedin and Taupo hometowners!

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Last week, the Crljenak, Plavac Mali and Posip was washed down with COVID bingo - “68 late for your Tinder Date, 83 Gluten Free and 88 Wills and Kate”. It’s very 2020.

The next event is on Friday 27th - a wine flight and group dinner, with another icebreaker game to be decided. And every Friday and Saturday has live music.

Word of mouth seems to be moving quicker than even the most dedicated blogger. Several Zagreb nomads are heading south for a taste of a Mediterranean winter. So far there have been nomads from Paraguay, USA, UK, Canada, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Korea, and a couple from Poland who are sharing their newly adopted home with people back home on Ewa’s Let's Split blog - documenting their journey from Poland to their new home in Croatia. 

Did I mention customer service? New vegan options are being added to the menu, as three of the early members are vegans. 

Fabulous stuff, and I look forward to seeing how this initiative evolves. With the connections and creative minds of the founding mothers, the prospects are enticing indeed. 

The potential of digital nomad tourism in Croatia - with or without the visa - is immense. In order to take advantage properly, it will require a little more than a bed and a good WiFi connection. Good luck to my three heroes - I have been saying for a while that Croatia needs to move from Croatia, Full of Life (whatever that means) to Croatia, Your Safe, Authentic, Lifestyle destination. The Zeven Hospitality Group/Split Hostel Group/Saltwater partnership does exactly that. 

For more information, you can contact the team via the Saltwater website.

For the latest digital nomad news, follow the dedicated TCN section

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad: Social Gathering Alert, also Known as Olive Picking

November 12, 2020 - Continuing our look at the digital nomad lifestyle in Croatia, the month of November means only one thing - to the fields for olive picking. 

In the spirit of age-old Dalmatian tradition, many families offer a home-cooked meal (probably Peka) and plenty of vino in exchange for some manual labor in their olive grove.

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(Working beneath the tree, you have to be careful not to crush the fresh-picked olives on the ground near your feet.)

It’s pickin’ time! Growing up in New Jersey, I know a thing or two about harvesting, mostly the anticipation of delicious, fresh food right off the vine. The state’s motto, after all, is “The Garden State” and it harvests over 100 different types of fruits and vegetables. The official state food is the Jersey tomato. I don’t really like tomatoes but man, ours are super fresh, tender, and seriously good! And the little cherry tomatoes are downright addictive.

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(Olive oil’s flavor depends on the color and ripeness of the olives when picked.)

Fond memories

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve picking fruit in the field with my family. My grandfather loved strawberries and come June we’d drive to the local pick-your-own farm. There’s nothing quite like getting your hands dirty in the strawberry patch on a sunny day and sneaking samples, one after another. Who could resist those juicy ripe jewels? Those were special times—talking, laughing, and gathering food we’d eat together. As soon as we got back home my mother pulled out her strawberry shortcake recipe and got to work. With the smell of shortcake baking in the oven, she’d gently mash the berries. When it was finally assembled, we all sat at the kitchen table and enjoyed a special homemade treat. Warm cake, like a sweet biscuit, layered and topped with a juicy berry mash was spectacular. Our vine-to-table experience lasted only a few hours, but it was some of the best bonding time a kid could wish for.

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(A small hand rake is the only tool used on this family farm.)

Croatian harvest

A Croatian friend mentioned picking olives at her family grove and I jumped at the chance to help. Spending time with her and the family and enjoying a fun day outside had my name written all over it. I was also keen to experience this harvest tradition and learn more about Croatia’s olive oil—the liquid gold that’s key to Mediterranean cuisine.

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(Placing tarps and gathering up the olives are other jobs on picking day.)

They picked me up in the morning and we drove to the family house in Trogir. Dad laid tarps around the base of the trees, like bibs, while Mom warned me about the sharp leaves. We started in the front yard and picked for several hours until lunch time. It was all done by hand, except for a small hand rake I used to reach the olives in the higher branches. Occasionally one of us would climb a tree and extend our bodies to the point of teetering just to get that patch of olives way up there. We shared stories and laughed.

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(A fresh picked basket of olives, cleaned from stems and leaves, is ready to rest in a saltwater bath before going to the mill.)

In the background, slabs of beef were being grilled and green beans, potatoes, and other food was being prepared. By the time we sat down to eat, including plenty of local wine, we had conquered the front yard. Conversation around the table was filled with warmth and happiness.

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(Hand-crafted olive oil is typically stored in large bottles and kept in dark, dry places to retain freshness.)

With full bellies we went back to the field. I was eager to keep going and my goal was to finish as many trees as possible so the family would be ready for their appointment at the mill. Once you start harvesting the clock is ticking. You have to utilize the olives within three days of picking; if they sit any longer, they’ll oxidize and “sour.” We called it a day at 5pm, only because the sun was setting. We’d gotten through nearly half of the grove and glasses were raised to toast our strong effort.

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(The olive tree is one of the heartiest trees on earth. It’s resistant to Croatia’s strong Bura and Jugo winds and temperature differences and it thrives in rocky terrain and salty atmosphere. An olive tree can live over one thousand years and occasionally bear fruit for centuries.)

Picking olive trees

Harvesting runs from August through November depending on the region, variety, and desired ripeness. All olives start out green and then gradually become rosy and finally black. Depending on the type of oil you’re making, a combination of all three may be used for pressing. 

First, determine the flavor you desire. The earlier you harvest, the more bitter the taste. As olives mature, their flavor mellows. Larger olives have more oil but the content drops as the olives ripen. Green olives have a longer shelf life but tend to be bitter and take several months to mellow. If picking olives for oil, pick those with a light, yellow color. If picking olives to eat, pick green olives when they are mature but before they change color.

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(An old stone mill at the Olive Oil Museum on Brač is a reminder of the hard, manual labor once used in production.)

The Olive Oil Museum

Earlier in the summer I learned about the history of olive oil production on the island of Brač at the Olive Oil Museum. Located in Škrip, the oldest village on Brač, this “oilery” was founded in 1864 and it processed olive oil for 100 years. In 1963 the mill closed shop when new technologies were introduced, namely the hydraulic press. It simply couldn’t keep up with modernization—the yields or the cost of new machinery. 

The museum features the original old stone mill, a wooden spindle for pressing, and plenty of traditional tools decorating every inch of the walls and the ceiling, including funny looking goat skin bags that were historically used to transport the oil. Donkeys were strategic partners throughout the fully manual process and it’s an understatement to call olive oil production labor-intensive. To underscore the point, consider that you need 18 pounds of olives to yield one pound of oil.

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(A family photo from the early 19th century is affixed to the old stone mill in homage to generations of the family business.)

A very brief history of olive oil

Greece is credited as the first place to produce olive oil, around 2500 BCE when it was used as lamp fuel and in religious ceremonies in the Mediterranean. The oil appeared in cooking sometime during the 4th century BCE and in the Middle Ages, olive oil became an ingredient in soap and beauty treatments in Spain and France.

After all those centuries, it wasn’t until the 1960s that flavor became important. The introduction of the refined press transformed olive oil’s commodity status from a frying and cooking product into a delicious kitchen staple. Today we know it as a higher-end oil and a specialty good revered for its health and nutrition benefits.

In the 1990s, the International Olive Oil Council promoted olive oil as a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. In 2013, the Mediterranean diet was selected for the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Interestingly, only seven countries endorsed the nomination and Croatia was one of them.

Taste

So how do you know what’s good? Place a taste of oil, not too much, under your tongue and inhale five or six times through your mouth. You should get a slight grassy taste and a pepperiness at the back of your mouth. Do you taste figs, lemons, or something fruity? If so, it’s fresh. The way to judge olive oil is on smell and taste, not color.

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(The Olive Oil Museum displays paintings by academic painter Hana-Marta Jurčević Bulić that depict an earlier harvesting lifestyle.)

A superior product stays in Croatia

I’ve asked why, with so many trees and a superior quality product, Croatia doesn’t export its olive oil? One answer is that small batches are too much work and can’t bring a good enough return. The vast majority of Croatian producers are small farmers producing enough oil for their families and maybe some gifts. Another answer is probably closer to the truth—property here is chopped up so small that there’s no real opportunity for anyone to go big. I was told that in fact, Croatia imports olive oil to keep up with demand. That’s crazy.

brac-olive-oil.jpg

(Olive oil is a core component of the Mediterranean diet and it’s highly valued for its beneficial health qualities. The two most popular types are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and ordinary virgin olive oil.)

Nobody gets paid

There’s a lot to be said for Dalmatia’s cultural heritage and olive oil is a centuries-old foundation of life. The history of olive oil shows that people work hard to maintain their traditions as part of their ethnic identity and more recently to support their health and well-being.

Although modern machines and processes have galvanized the olive oil business at large, most Croatians are local farmers for whom the production of oil is a labor of love. It brings feelings of bonhomie and vitality. The reward is the joy of being in nature and a part of the magnificent countryside, having some fun, and sharing a lovely bonding experience with friends and family.

Learn more at TCN’s Digital Nomads channel.

Story and photographs ©2020, Cyndie Burkhardt. www.photo-diaries.com/

For more of Cyndie's experiences, check out her Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad column

 

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