If you’ve never lived abroad before, it can seem impossible to know how to make it work or even where to start.
You may wonder…how do I choose a country? Do I need a visa? What is a visa? Do I apply before I get there, or after I arrive? Where do I go to apply? What do I need to provide? Is this even realistic?
For anyone who wishes to live in Europe for any amount of time, I encourage you to consider the Republic of Croatia. It’s a fabulous place to dip your toe in the waters of living abroad.
The air, water, and food are clean, the cost of living is still reasonable, nature is diverse and predominantly untouched, and the people and culture are laid back. Plus, you’ve got Expat in Croatia to guide you step-by-step through the bureaucratic process – in English and for free.
In terms of accessibility, Croatia offers more than 10 programs for living in Croatia for up to 1 year, and in some cases, even longer. Take it from me, you’ll want to stay longer.
Staying long-term can be the challenge. Croatia is quite protectionist of its country and conservative with regards to immigration, in hopes of preserving it for their people. It’s this protectionism that has fostered the high quality of life and safety that is so attractive to foreigners.
Regardless, everyone has at least one option, if not several, for staying in Croatia for a little while.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the most common residence permit programs that Croatia offers – including the best ones for staying long term (and the worst).
Let’s get started…
The Basic Tourist Visa for Croatia
Before I dive into the best and worst long-term visa (or residency) options in Croatia, it's important you know the basics.
Croatia officially joined the Schengen Zone January 2023 meaning now the 90 days every 180 days allotted in this country combines with other countries in the Schengen Zone. A general rule of thumb is that the countries in the EU are the countries in the Schengen but there are some exceptions and additions to this rule.
If you're interested in staying just three months every six months in Croatia, for most nationalities it's as easy as showing up at immigration, passport in hand. Keep in mind that if you enter Croatia visa-free, you're not given any rights towards work, study, or long-term residency. This is meant simply for tourism although many digital nomads passing through the country use these three months to work and travel throughout the country.
If you go this route, you are able to enter Croatia multiple times during your 180 day period, just make sure to keep it under 90 days. This is a great option for those enjoying a larger Balkans trip. After Croatia, you can do the same and work and live in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro before heading to Saranda, Albania.
Best Residence Permit Programs to Live Long-Term in Croatia
Whenever I personally guide people during consulting sessions on the best residence permits for their situation, I always start by asking what their goals are – specifically, how long they want to be in Croatia and what do they want to do here. It’s important to know the endgame before getting started.
Usually, people always want to stay forever – even if they’ve never stepped foot in the country before. That is the kind of pull Croatia has.
The below permits give you the best chance of staying in Croatia forever, if that is what you desire.
#1 For EU/EEA citizens and their families
An EU/EEA passport is a tremendous asset if you wish to live in Croatia – or anywhere in the EU. That’s kind of the whole point.
As part of EU membership, EU/EEA citizens and their family members are entitled to the same rights as Croatian citizens – mainly living and working freely.
While there is still a residence application process, approval comes immediately and is accompanied by a 10-year temporary residence permit. After 5 years, citizens can then apply for permanent residence – which is again, an entitlement.
Family members of Croatian citizens can get temporary residence for 2 years at a time and apply for permanent residence after 4 years.
#2 For permanent residents in another EU/EEA member state
If you have permanent residence already in another EU/EEA member state, you can also benefit from freedom of movement. In 2022, Croatia added a new residence program specifically for people already “vetted”.
EU/EEA permanent residents can apply for and obtain temporary residence based on that permanent residence.
This permit is granted for 1 year at a time and allows you to work freely, just as an EU/EEA citizen. After 5 years, you may apply for permanent residence in Croatia.
#3 For those coming here for work
Now, we’ll dig a bit deeper to look at the options for those without EU/EEA rights inherently – my people, the third-country nationals.
The best option for living long term in Croatia as a non-EU/EEA without any familial ties is to move here because of your job. This visa is called a "Work and Stay" permit. Having a Work and Stay permit can be obtained for 1-2 years at a time and can be obtained year after year without gaps.
These benefits make this type of permit at the top of the list for most third-country citizens. And, of course, it is the hardest to obtain.
There are 3 types of Work and Stay residency permits:
· Working for a company you don’t own
· Working for a company you don’t own as a Blue Card holder
· Working for a company you do own
It’s important to make clear that you cannot apply for a Work and Stay permit without a job. The job comes first, and the permit second. Although there are other visa requirements that will depend on the job, the most notable is to get hired.
Once you are offered a job, your employer must request the Work and Stay permit on your behalf.
Given this, many think “I’ll just open a company and hire myself. That’ll be easier.” Oh, if only that were true. This path involves hiring 3 full-time Croatians and investing 200.000 kuna in the business, which is a deal breaker for most. Minimum salaries are also higher in this scenario.
Regardless of work type, you can apply year after year (if there is a contract to match). After 5 continuous years, you may apply for permanent residence. Once you hold permanent residence, you can work freely without the need for a Work and Stay permit.
#4 For digital nomads
This is the residence permit of the moment. Dozens of countries around the world are bribing enticing remote workers to set up shop in their jurisdiction if they can spend money work from their laptops.
Currently there are 31 countries offering freelance visas or digital nomad visas. Croatia is one of them.
In fact, Croatia’s digital nomad residence permit has become the most popular in Europe, and with good reason. It comes with a tax exemption on working income, family reunification, and the nomad is not required to sign up for state health insurance.
For all these reasons, it is the most favorable permit for non-EU/EEA citizens in Croatia right now.
And now, for the catch…
The digital nomad residence permit (called the “digital nomad visa” in other countries) is for a maximum of 1 year at a time.
Per the Law on Foreigners, a nomad must wait 6 months from the expiration of a permit before applying for the permit again. This catch is intentionally structured to prevent continuous stay, which is a requirement for permanent residence.
This doesn’t mean the digital nomad permit doesn’t “count” towards permanent residence. It absolutely does. It just means that you must be a bit creative if you want to leverage the time you’ve accrued to stay continuously.
Thankfully, we have figured out a few creative ways to get around this limitation.
Through our years of experience working with immigration lawyers and the Croatian government, we have found avenues that may allow you to stay continuously and then apply for permanent residence. If you want to know if this may work in your scenario, contact us.
Worst Residence Permit Programs to Live Long-Term in Croatia
I feel the need to clarify the characterization of “worst”. If you want to live in Croatia for short periods of a year here and there, then these are great programs for you.
If you want to live in Croatia until the end of time, these are not the right choice. However, it is possible to combine the below programs, with a program from above to be in Croatia longer than 1 year.
Okay, let’s dig into this batch…
#1 For those studying at a university
Being a student is a fairly easy way to slide into any country. All you need is valid enrollment into a qualified institution and you’re good to go.
You can apply for this permit year after year as long as you are enrolled.
But, of course, there is a catch.
The catch is that it only counts half-time towards permanent residency. For example, if you study for 1 year, then only 6 months of that year will count towards permanent residency. You’d need to be here twice as long as anyone else to apply.
#2 For those here for other purposes
“Other purposes” is a catch all for a variety of programs offered at the discretion of the Ministry of the Interior, called MUP (pronounced “moop”) for short.
The most common programs (which are all exactly how they sound) are:
- prepayment of rent
- ownership of property
- language study
For prepayment of rent, you must prepay your rent for the period of time you wish to live in Croatia up to 1 year at maximum.
For ownership of property, you must purchase a residential property and live in it. For this purpose, you can only get a residence permit for 6 months per year.
For language study, you must enroll in a qualified Croatian language study program - like Croaticum, for example. This will allow you to gain residency for up to 1 year at a time.
The disadvantages of these visa options are:
· None of the time you spend on these permits will count towards permanent residency
· You must wait 6 months in between permits. To clarify, you must wait 6 months and 1 day from the expiration of your permit before you can apply again. In practice, this means you must leave Croatia for 90 days, then you may return as a tourist before starting a new application.
If permanent residence is not your goal, and all you want is to stay in Croatia for a few years, these programs can be combined with others to stay long enough to satiate your desire.
#3 For volunteers
In my early days of living in Croatia, residency based on volunteering was quite common because it allows you to stay year after year, back-to-back.
To get residency based on volunteering, you must have a volunteer contract with a non-profit organization (called “udruga”).
You get to give back to the community and in exchange you can stay in Croatia long-term. Sounds pretty attractive, right?
Well, the catch is that this time doesn’t count towards permanent residency at all so it's only a valid option for those who want to stay a handful of years.
How to Get Started Living in Croatia
Has Croatia piqued your interest?
If so, here is a check list of what to do next:
- Pick your residency program. Here is a full list including step-by-step guides.
- Prepare your requirements. There are several documents you should obtain before leaving your home country.
- Inform yourself about what to expect, cost of living (especially rental prices) and where you wish to live. Most expats love living in Split.
- Join some expat Facebook groups so you can get a feel for the community and connect with others. Croatia runs on Facebook.
- Learn some Croatian. You don’t have to be fluent but knowing some basics will go a long way to making your life easier and bonding with Croatians. We recommend the University of Zagreb program, which has a free online course for A1 and A2. The perk about learning this language is that it's very similar to what they speak in Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia so you'd be able to travel much of the Balkans with relative ease.
- Move to Croatia and start your application for residency.
- Enjoy every moment and live your absolute best Croatia life possible. There's so many great places to visit in Croatia, you won't run out of new places to see for quite some time!
Your life in Croatia is within reach, no matter who you are or how much you have traveled. Many of those we speak to have never lived abroad before – some have never even traveled abroad – but they chose Croatia as their first stop.
And, I understand why. I came to Croatia with no familial ties, no Croatian blood, and absolutely zero knowledge of the system, the people, the language, or its culture. It didn’t take long to fall in love and I am over-the-moon to share that I never have to leave ever again. It’s my home and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
I hope you’ll join me. :)