When we first started our tour of the Balkans, we actually didn't think we'd stay in the region nearly as long as we did (a year and a half in total). We packed up our bags after finished an epic road trip in the Western US and headed to Saranda, Albania.
From there, we really didn't have any plan as to what to do next. We enjoyed traveling around some incredible places in Albania and eventually made our way to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. We were soon hooked on the region and wanted to see more.
I'll be honest, although we had heard that Bihać was a nice town on the Una River, we didn't move here because it was high on our bucketlist. My husband's work visa for Italy was delayed so we needed to buy a little bit more time before driving to Trieste. Since we were already in Northern Croatia, we started looking for places outside of the Schengen Area that weren't too far away.
That search led us to Bihać.
The Basics of Living in Bosnia & Herzegovina
All in all we spent about 6 months in Bosnia & Herzegovina. What was meant to just be a month in Sarajevo led us to discovering some of the most beautiful places to visit in the country and eating some incredible Bosnian food.
In general, the country is under the radar compared to it's Croatian neighbor and most people only know the country's name thanks to the Bosnian War in the early 90s. While that marks an important part of Bosnia's past, especially since it really wasn't that long ago, the country has come a far way since then. If you want to learn a little about the war and Bihać at the same time, I highly recommend the book, The Cat I Never Named.
The people are lively and energetic, spending sunny days outside drinking, smoking, and laughing with their friends. The food is simple yet incredibly fresh. And the landscapes are vast, ranging from Olympic mountains and rolling hills to a small yet lovely seaside.
Even though it's not a tourist country, my husband and I felt incredibly welcomed everywhere in Bosnia, including in Bihać. There are just a few things you'll want to be aware of.
The official language in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Bosnian. Don't make the mistake of calling it Serbian or Croatian when you arrive - that's a quick way not to make friends.
Although all of the Yugoslavian countries have the same root language, there are some slight differences between them. If you happened to know Serbian though, you can speak that in Bosnia just fine. Our same basic phrases, numbers, and vocabulary words served us well in Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Croatia with just a few exceptions.
While learning the language isn't a necessity, many people in Bihać that we came across don't speak English so knowing at least some Bosnian will serve you well. I recommend the app Mondly for learning the basics.
Bosnia doesn't yet offer a digital nomad visa so if you plan to work online while in Bosnia, you'll need to do so under the table. This just means that working online falls into a legal grey zone, that is unless you have Bosnian clients, then it's a clear no-no.
Most nationalities are given 90 days every 180 days to spend freely in Bosnia. We were able to enter back into the country without the reset in our 180 days though so I'm not sure how strict they really are with this. It's something to keep in mind though in case you plan on doing border runs that that's the official rule.
If you plan to move to Bihać and don't just want to spend a few months there, you'll need to sort out a long-term visa in order to do so.
Unfortunately in Bosnia, smoking is still allowed indoors (in most places) and people here take extreme advantage of that rule. The government has been working to change it thus but it's been slow going so with the exception of a few bars and coffee shops, assume people will be smoking inside around you. Even sections of malls allow smoking.
I say this because if you visit Bosnia and Herzegovina in the winter or during bad weather, you'll most likely spend a lot of time indoors. If you're a smoker, rejoice! You've found your people. If you're not, like me, it'll likely become a reason to stay home.
What It's Really Like Living in Bihać
OK, I'm going to be brutally honest here: Bihać is beautiful yet incredibly small and kind of boring.
If you're into kayaking, biking, hiking, and spending time outdoors, you'll love it here....if the weather is good. If you might enjoy these activities from time to time but still enjoy some city amenities like a variety of restaurants and bars, you'll like it here for a short while. And if you wouldn't consider yourself an outdoorsy person or a homebody, I would choose somewhere else.
The thing is, I'm one of those outdoorsy people that was eager to hike and see if the trails here compared to my favorite hikes in the Balkans but the weather had other plans. It rained so much the first 2 weeks we were in Bihać it actually flooded so badly people who lived along the Una River had to be evacuated.
That meant a lot of time indoors and trying to entertain ourselves in the city center. That plan worked for a bit but by the end of the month I felt as though we had seen everything 10 times over again.
It's important to note as well that Bihać is part of the Balkan migration route. Since this town is on the Croatian border, it's one of the gateways to the EU. You'll see a lot of refugees from the Middle East here. There are a handful of NGOs working with the refugees that accept donations (money, food, clothing) or could use a helping hand if you have time to volunteer while in town. Many of these refugees continue on the route but we learned that a lot also decide to stay and enjoy the tranquility of the town.
Deciding Where in Town to Live
Given how small Bihać is, you don't have too many options when is comes to areas to live in. You've got the city center, across the Una from the center, and the outskirts of town. Pretty much anywhere in town is walkable so the exact location you choose should depend on how much you like walking.
If you're in town mainly for the nature, you'll want to have a car. Either drive your own in town or rent a car. We didn't have a car during our stay in Bihać which was fine given the heavy rains but the moment the sun came out, we were grateful our friends drove from Sarajevo to visit so we could explore the area. There aren't any public buses to Una National Park or other interesting places nearby so you have to be able to drive yourself, hire a guide, or forego the adventure. These friends happen to be tour guides in Bosnia and were the perfect people to show us the beauty of the area.
If you fly into town, you'll most likely land at the nearest airport in Banja Luka and will either need to get your rental car there or you can take a bus to the Bihać bus station. From there you should be able to walk to your hotel or apartment but if it's too far, I would ask your host for a ride. There are taxis around but not so many that you can guarantee to have one waiting on you when you arrive.
In this city center, it's pedestrian only so if you live there, you'll be fine without one. You can walk to grocery stores, shops, restaurants, and even a coworking space quickly and easily.
Our accommodation was arranged by a mutual friend but you'll be able to find plenty of options on booking.com or Airbnb. Just make sure the apartment has good, free wifi! Our apartment didn't and we really struggled. Even with a local sim card, our internet was shaky and cut out often. This made working online really, really difficult.
It was like our data didn't work inside. I'm not confident is this is a common thing based on low quality signal and thick concrete walls or if it was just unlucky with the bad weather and the exact location of our apartment.
If you're a digital nomad, which I assume you are since you're here, you know this is our life line. Ask your host to run a speed test before committing unless your job is one you can do with a not-so-great signal.
Worst casing, head to the coworking space in the city center. The internet here was better although their working hours are a little all over the place. We befriended the guy who worked here and he would text us his daily schedule which was really helpful.
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The Best Things to Do In & Around Bihać
Alright, so I know I didn't fully sell the idea about living in Bihać but I started A Way Abroad to give other women the reality of what it's like living and working in places around the world. And, well, that's just how I felt about my time in Bihać. Not bad, not great, a little boring, beautiful when sunny.
But, that doesn't mean I don't recommend it! It just means you need to have real expectations as to what it's like here and then decide if it's the right spot for you. I do think it's well suited for a visit though, especially if you're already in the region.
Whether you're here for a holiday or have decided to try living here for some time, be sure to take advantage of some of the best things to do in town:
- Spend the day at Una River National Park. Go whitewater rafting, take pictures at the beautiful waterfalls, or go hiking in the lush greenery of the area.
- Relax at Japodski Otoci. You can stay the night here or just go for the day. It's scenic for a little walk around and a good spot to grab a coffee or a beer right on the river.
- Go back in time at Ostrožac Castle. This castle is in the opposite direction from Bihać as the other two places but is worth the quick drive. You'll need to pay to enter but it's cheap and worth it for an hour or two.
- Eat at Hotel Kostelski Buk. You'll need to pass right by here to and from the castle so it's a convenient spot to grab lunch. Again, take your time and walk around the property before settling into a nice big meal with a view.
- Take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice is just across the border in Croatia so it's a doable drive from Bihać. It's similar to Una River National Park but in my humble opinion a bit more impressive but again that could have been do the time of the year I visited Bihać and the downpours affecting the color of the river and size of the waterfalls.
Will You Try Working Remotely from Bihać?
If you're looking for a low-key, inexpensive place to spend some time in the Balkans, Bihać has your name on it. For easy access to nature and a low key town, you'll feel right at home here. Just be sure you have your internet sorted and it could be a great place to put your head down and get some work done.
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