Croatia’s Foreign Entrepreneurs: James, from London Homeowner to Zadar Mechanic

Total Croatia News


As many young Croats emigrate in search of economic opportunity, some foreigners are moving in the other direction and starting businesses in Croatia. Continuing our look at Croatia’s foreign entrepreneurs on November 30, 2017, meet James, who sold his home in London to start an auto service business in Zadar. And is doing very well. 

1. First and foremost, why Croatia?

My wife is Croatian from Zadar, we visited here for the first time in 2010 when we met. I am a Londoner, and my wife was living and working in London when we met. We flew into Trieste, Italy in January and drove down through the mountains into Zadar. I couldn’t believe what fantastic open, wild and beautiful countryside it was, and that trip through the side of the mountain as you emerge from Sveti Rok is breathtaking. After a few days in Zadar I was in love with the place. It reminded me very much of my childhood years in the late 70s spent with my Grandparents who lived in Majorca. I couldn’t wait to return in the summer as everyone kept telling me how much nicer it is then and they were correct. Every member of my family and all my friends (mostly from London) that have visited all comment on the beautiful countryside and how much they enjoy swimming in the sea here as it just seems so much cleaner and nicer than anywhere else they have been.


INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do?

My wife and I run an Autoservis garage in Zadar.

2. Tell us about some of the differences of your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality.

The main thing that still stays with me every day is how kind, supportive and helpful everyone has been towards us starting a business here. The motor trade in the UK is pretty hard, and relationships between opposing garages are few and not usually pleasant. I have found the opposite here. I have asked for help from other garages, we have questioned them on prices we should charge, parts suppliers, waste management companies and everyone has been helpful and enthusiastic towards our business, especially the local Teknički Pregled centre, our landlord and our parts supplier Szakal Metal. Everyone from suppliers to customers to government officials has been understanding regarding my terrible Croatian language skills and, on occasion, going to the trouble to bring their own translators. In a nutshell, the general population of Zadar have welcomed us with open arms and supported us to get a very successful little business.


3. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

I would like to say we really didn’t have any issues, but my wife deals with almost all of that. I should imagine that without a Croatian national on your side it may be harder to get all the documents in order and possibly more expensive, but again our dealings with official offices have been brisk and pleasant. I have met some other expats who have left because things didn’t work out for them but that in my opinion was because they didn’t research the environment they were trying to do business in. We spent four years planning our move, we found premises 6 months before we opened and saved the money in the UK to support ourselves and our business for a year if we didn’t make any money. It turned out that wasn’t necessary as after six months we had enough work to pay our bills and wages.


4. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

I am told regularly that people feel that a mechanic who has been trained and worked in the UK is held in higher regard than a Croatian mechanic. I can’t really see any reason for this, other mechanics I have met, small business owners like ourselves seem to be intelligent, hard-working and conscientious. Generally we have been welcomed, and it has been a very enjoyable experience moving here.

5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

My wife’s family were against the idea, sceptical if our business would be a success and unsure if I would be able to fit in. I think this was nothing more than family concern, we had a very good life in London, owned our own home and both had good stable jobs. I think it is difficult for Croatians to see a reason to leave that behind because that’s what most people want, but I was convinced we would be successful here I just hadn’t expected such a warm response from the community. My friends and family in London were all supportive of the move.


6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

For me personally it is the language, it bothers me that I am not able to communicate fluently and with passion to our customers in Croatian, however most of the people speak a little English and between us we are able to express opinions.

7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

Absolutely, in fact I have no intention of ever living back in London. We have sold our home in East London and have just purchased a piece of land and are trying to get enough money together to build a house.


8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia?

The mountains that can be seen from the sea, the open and free lifestyle it offers my children, and the smattering of islands that litter the coast.

9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia?

Perhaps to encourage people to open new businesses a tax break for the first year of business would be good. I understand that most Croatians wouldn’t have been able to get together the money we did to start a business and support yourselves through the first difficult months.

Less focus on tourism and more on farming and agriculture. This is maybe only reflective of where we live and as I haven’t been in Croatia long enough to experience it all this maybe an uneducated statement.

European competitive minimum wage.


10. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

I don’t really have any experience other than working with my wife currently. She is magnificent.

11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

Plan, save, research and make friends. Having friends in Croatia is very important, much more so than where I come from. I get the impression having your own business would be very difficult here if you were not liked. Word of mouth is the best and only business news that really matters, certainly in our business anyway.

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