April the 26th, 2023 – Croatia joined the borderless, passport-free Schengen zone on the 1st of January this year, but that doesn’t mean things are simpler for absolutely everyone. With people entering the country from EEA countries, Schengen countries and third countries, let’s look into just how Croatian border checks actually work.
Schengen accession took place on the very same day as Eurozone accession (January the 1st, 2023), making the Republic of Croatia the first country to have ever entered both of these zones and deepened its EU membership even further on the same date. While the Eurozone meant the scrapping of the kuna and the alignment of Croatia with the rest of the EU countries using the single currency (the euro), Schengen entry meant the dropping of Croatian border checks within the Schengen zone.
What is Schengen and how does it function with regard to Croatian border checks?
The Schengen countries have free movement, meaning travel between them is treated as if it was domestic travel within a single country, and there are no border checks for anyone travelling between them. This means that on the 1st of January 2023, the Croatian border crossing with Slovenia was sent to the history books, and hopefully the painfully long (and now rather infamous) queues of cars during the hot summer months have gone with it.
Along with the Slovenian border, Croatian border checks with neighbouring Italy and Hungary have also now been abolished. This is because all of those countries are also part of the wider Schengen zone. People entering Croatia from Slovenia, Hungary or Italy also do not face any checks when entering Croatia.
While Croatian border checks on the land were abolished on January the 1st, 2023, border checks at airports were only scrapped on March the 26th for flights operating within the Schengen area.
Do I need to be an EU national in order to be able to travel freely within the Schengen zone and avoid Croatian border checks?
No. The Schengen zone permits the free movement of over 400 million people. You just need to be legally present in the European Union in order for this to apply to you. This may mean you need a visa, so check that based on your citizenship.
What if I have permanent residence in Croatia but I am a non-EU national?
If you hold permanent residence in Croatia and can prove that (by holding a residence permit), then you are free to live and work in Croatia indefinitely without being subject to any requirements. You are also free to come and go as you please (there are some restrictions depending on your status and nationality).
Whenever you go through Croatian border checks, such as if you are travelling from Croatia to a non-Schengen country, or vice-versa, you need to make sure you proactively show your residence permit along with your valid passport. Do not assume the border officer somehow knows you’re a permanent resident otherwise. They don’t.
As a permanent resident of Croatia, your time in Croatia is considered time at home and is not part of the number of days you can spend in another Schengen country. You can spend a maximum of 90 days in any 180 days in any other Schengen country outside of Croatia. Make sure you have your passport Croatian residence permit with you at all times because random checks can and do sometimes still occur.
Not everyone requires a Schengen visa, so make sure to check if you do. The answer will be based on your citizenship whether or not you already live in the EU could have some bearing on it. If you do need a visa and you have entered an EU country with a valid Schengen visa, you can travel throughout the Schengen zone for as long as your visa remains valid, and for a maximum of 90 days during any 180 day period. You will not need a separate visa for each Schengen area country and you will not need to show your passport when crossing each internal border.
The EU and Schengen are different things
The borderless Schengen area currently includes 27 EU member states. If you wish to travel to an EU country which is not part of Schengen for a short stay (meaning less than 90 days), you must obtain a separate national visa from the authorities of that particular country. If you wish to travel from an EU member state that isn’t part of the Schengen area to the Schengen area, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa to enter.
The EU, the EEA and Europe are different things, as well
This sounds insultingly obvious, but it’s amazing how many people mix up the continent and the bloc called the European Union. EU law applies to 27 European countries. It does not apply in certain European countries which are not EU member states, such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, while they do apply in the Republic of Ireland, which remains a member state.
Certain EU laws also apply in non-EU member states which are part of the EEA (European Economic Area), such as Norway, Iceland and the Principality of Liechtenstein. In the case of Switzerland, which is not an EU member state but is instead aligned by numerous bilateral treaties, it has adopted numerous provisions tied to EU law in order to have access to and to participate in the EU’s large single market.
The external border refers to the external border of the Schengen zone. This means that when exiting Croatia and entering neighbouring countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, which are all non-EEA countries and also not part of the Schengen zone, or entering Croatia from them, you will be subject to Croatian border checks. This is also the case if you’re flying out of Croatia (or into it) from a non-Schengen country, such as the United Kingdom.
If a person does not require a Schengen visa or holds a valid one entitling them to free movement within the Schengen area for no more than 90 days in any 180 period, then Croatian border checks are carried out in order to determine the following:
– The identity and the citizenship of the individual attempting to cross the Croatian border
– The validity of their passport or other government-issued travel document
– The validity of their Croatian residence permit if they present one
– Various checks against different relevant databases
– Time already spent in the Schengen zone as of January the 1st, 2023
– Whether the Schengen visa (if applicable) is valid
– That they aren’t an individual for whom an alert has been issued for the refusal of entry into the country
Third country nationals who do not hold valid residence in Croatia and as such cannot present a Croatian residence permit with their passport
Third country nationals (individuals entering who do not old the citizenship of any of the current EEA/EU member states and who do not present a valid Croatian residence permit) are subject to thorough checks upon entry and exit. In addition to the aforementioned checks, additional checks are also carried out, including the calculation of the time that individual has previously spent in the entire Schengen zone as of January the 1st, 2023 (the day of Croatia’s official accession). They will have their passports stamped by a border officer.
Third country nationals who do hold valid residence in Croatia and present a Croatian residence permit with their passport
Third country nationals who hold Croatian residence permits are not treated in the same way as those who do not possess such a status and as such cannot present such a permit when arriving at the Croatian border (be that entering or exiting).
Within the meaning of the Schengen acquis, a third country national is any person who is not an EU citizen, who is not a family member of an EU citizen exercising their right to free movement, or who is not a third country national or their family member, whatever their nationality, who enjoys rights of free movement equivalent to those of EU citizens. In short, if you hold a valid Croatian residence permit, your free access to enter and exit Croatia is facilitated as detailed previously in this article. Their passports will not be stamped.
Schengen border checks and as such Croatian border checks can be introduced temporarily at any time in certain situations.
Carry your passport and Croatian residence permit with you (if you have one) at all times, just in case.
For more on moving to, living in and travelling to and from Croatia, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section. Keep an eye out for our How to Croatia articles which tackle a different aspect of doing things here and which are published every Wednesday.