Why Croatia is Not (But Could Be) a Top American Retirement Destination

By 18 November 2018

November 18, 2018 - Croatia regularly features in lists as a top country to retire to for Americans, which it could be. There is just one thing stopping that reality.

It is almost 15 years since I spent an afternoon with a senior writer from International Living, the American publication which focuses on the best places to retire, invest and travel to. Some island called Hvar was coming onto the international property radar (a version of Steenie Harvey's article still exists online). We both agreed that Hvar was gorgeous and that Croatia would make an excellent retirement destination for Americans. 

Croatia's best hospitals are 'in Zagreb, Slavonski Brod and Pozega'

For the 15 years that followed, I have often wondered why Croatia has not made more effort to attract wealthy retirees to retire here. Unlikely to be looking for work, often willing to contribute their skills to society, and with $$$ to spend going about their business in their twilight years, it would seem to be a win-win for all. And, as I have read over the last 15 years at regular intervals, Croatia is often named in the top 20 countries to retire to - by Forbes magazine back in 2015, for example. And in the latest bizarre article on the subject just a month ago by Moneywise - The Top Countries Where You Can Retire on US$150,000. Bizarre because Moneywise claims that the best hospitals in Croatia are located in Zagreb, Slavonski Brod and Pozega (I hear great things about the doctors and medical staff in Slavonski Brod and Pozega, less so about the equipment and facilities - and possibly not the number one destination for retiree healthcare). 

A great climate, English spoken, lots of culture, great food and wine, located by the sea close to places like Italy and Germany, affordable, extremely safe and with great private healthcare. 

There is only one thing preventing this potentially lucrative addition to Croatia's demographic makeup - our old friend, Croatian bureaucracy. 

In the latest article on issues Americans are having with issues with gaining residency, we take a look at the real-life situation of American couples, who are retired and independently wealthy, but with no previous connection to the country, and their efforts to retire here. Before I continue, one of the themes of the comments on the two previous articles on this subject recently - I Can Bring US$2 Billion Investment, But Can't Get a Permit to Stay, and American Residence Permit Issues: Notes from the Field - was how hard it is for Croatians to get permits in the States. A good point, and well made, but there is another angle to this. Croatia is suffering huge emigration, particularly from its tax-paying younger generation. Any initiatives that can start to bring revenue in the opposite direction should be worthy of examination, especially ones which have no downsides, such as high-spending people looking to quietly live out their retirement. 

Retiring to Croatia as an American - the reality

My initial interest in the issue of American (or perhaps to be more exact - it is just that Americans either seem more vocal in complaint, or are being singled out for some reason - non-EEA citizens) came from expat forums and the many interactions I have had with the expat community here. One American couple in Split, who adore life here, are very active in the community and have done great promo work with their photography and positivity to other Americans who have subsequently visited (and spent money, that's how it works), will be moving from Croatia in March next year, with great reluctance, having exhausted all possibilities. As one of them said on an expat forum this week:

My partner and I would be happy to share our rather lengthy two-year saga to put down roots here in Croatia. We have played by their rules, jumped through every hoop, tried to look for every loophole. Long story short, we are required to leave by the end of March 2019 if not sooner, for a minimum of three months. At present, there seems to be no visa category for non-EU applicants (we're Americans) who are retired, of independent means, and simply wish to live here and eventually reach the magical 5-year permanent residency mark.

Footnote: we are asking for no special favors, we would just like to make this country our adopted home, contribute to the local businesses, and enjoy this magnificent country and its people.

Retiring to Croatia: Realities and Recommendations

It didn't take long for others to concur, with an American couple in Pula nicely detailing the problem, much better than I could:

We are two more American retired couples here in Pula with exactly the same issue as described above. 

Retired Americans are hoping for immediate changes and relaxation on Croatian requirements for temporary stay visa and permanent citizenship. 

We feel that making it easier for this “classification”, retirees, can have a substantial multiplier effect on the Croatian economy. 

There is no threat to Croatian jobs as most do not wish to work, and not only are they financially self-sufficient but health contributors to the Croatian economy. 

In nearly all cases, retirees are genuinely eager to contribute to the Croatian economy and society, both with their time and substantial financial resources. 

Most, however, are necessarily hesitant to make significant investments because there is no clear path to a long-term continuous stay. 

Even so, many have a lot of valuable experience and knowledge to offer and are even willing to volunteer their time. 

Current Croatian regulations limit American retirees, and others, to a 1-year stay, after which they must leave the country and cannot reapply until 6 months after the expiration of the previous visa. 

This policy, and the resulting ramifications, create an untenable situation for any retiree looking for a long-term stable and desirable place to live. Each year the person needs to start all over again, going through the maze of bureaucracy, with no guarantee a positive outcome will result. 

Without a clear and continuous path, retirees cannot plan even the most basic aspects of their lives (e.g major purchases such as a home, car, property or boat; insurance, long-term apartment lease, travel, etc.)


Implement changes to the visa process to incorporate a provision for retirees that allows for a continual and uninterrupted stay. The stay could be predicated on multiple minimum requirements that any, or either, would satisfy approval, for example:

1. Purchase of property or home of X HRK min value, or

2. Deposits held in Croatian bank of X HRKmin value, or,

3. Volunteer work, or

4. Proof of Financial pension of X HRK for income,or 

5. Proof of Net worth of X HRK

6. Paid housing lease, or

7. Other???

To be clear, we are non-EU (Americans), retirees, with no Croatian family connections, who are already married, so can’t marry a Croatian spouse. We are retired, so not necessarily eager to take jobs or start companies. We just want to enjoy living in this beautiful country, and contribute by paying our own way through taxes, insurance, housing, investments, entertainment, etc. Many of us are even willing to donate our time, knowledge and skills. In our situation, as I’ve described, our justification for the visa is NOT:

1. family reunification,

2. secondary school education and university-level studies, 

3. scientific research,

4. humanitarian reasons,

5. work

6. work of an assigned worker)

None of these. 

Our justification is under a special exception paragraph called “OTHER PURPOSES”. 

When the temporary stay visa is granted under “OTHER PURPOSES” you are limited to 1 year only, after which you must leave the country and can’t reapply until 6 months after expiration. 

I say all this to make the point that under these circumstances, one can never achieve the requirement of 5 years continuous stay that is required to become a permanent resident. 

Therefore, not only do those in this situation need to leave every year, but there is absolutely no path for permanent residence.

Having residency permit problems but with a different issue? Contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Subject Facepalm.

Tagged under: croatia