Two idyllic weeks on a Croatian beach is very different from the realities of full-time living. So what is it really like to live in Croatia as an expat? In a new series on TCN, we meet expats who have lived here for 5 years or more, to find out from them the good, the bad, and the ugly of 12-month living in Croatia. Next up, Kimmy Chan from Hong Kong!
1. Tell us firstly how you came to Croatia? What motivated you to choose this slice of paradise and how long have you now been here?
I am Kimmy Chan, from Hong Kong, and have been living in Split for 9 years. I received my Croatian citizenship last year. I came to Croatia in 2007 because of an internship through an international student exchange program. Back then I had to choose between Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine, and honestly, I had no idea what Croatia is like, so I Googled it and the first photo I saw was the iconic golden triangle of the Zlatni Rat Beach on Brač Island. “It’s BEAUTIFUL and I have to see it!” I said to myself and that’s how I started my story in Croatia. During the internship, I met the love of my life through a friend and we had a long-distance relationship for 5 years. In 2012, I relocated to Split from Hong Kong and got married the year after. Now I have 2 daughters and 2 bunnies
2. Looking back, what were your perceptions and expectations?
I actually experienced a lot of cultural shocks when I first came to Split in 2007. The first shock I had was on the very first day of my arrival. It was a Saturday and the supermarket back then closed at 2 pm on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. From that moment, I realized that Croatia is a country that cared more about family or rest time than money. The second thing that shocked me was the very limited choices for foreign cuisines. I remember there were only 1 Mcdonald’s, 1 Mexican restaurant, and 1 Chinese restaurant in Split in 2007. Moreover, the menus in the fast-food stores and konoba everywhere were almost the same, and I wondered why people didn’t find it boring. Nevertheless, the biggest shock of all was the inefficient administration which is a well-known problem even for locals. I expected more European standards, working hard, diversity and open-mindedness in Split.
Despite the cultural shocks, I have been constantly amazed by how much Croatian people love their country, sports (especially football of course), jokes, and history.
3. After 9 years here, how have those perceptions changed. Do you now view Croatia differently?
In the last 9 years of living in Split, I have witnessed improvements in terms of touristic offers, acceptance of foreigners, and administration. It is exciting to see that Split/Croatia is advancing, slowly but surely. I would say that having some of my perceptions or expectations changed is not only because of the city/country’s endeavor, but also because I got to know more about the culture, lifestyle, and historical reasons, and I tried to embrace and accept them. Moreover, I have children now, so the “pomalo” and simpler lifestyle in Split which I used to find too slow is now great for me and my family.
4. After your time year, the 3 things you love most about Croatia?
Water – I genuinely find the water in Croatia is very clean and I love drinking tap water in Split which is sweet and tasty. And of course, the Adriatic Sea is a gem.
Safety – Croatia is a very safe country. I feel safe walking alone at night, even on some quiet streets.
People – I am very impressed by how much Croatians love their country and how they are proud of their culture, food, nature, national teams, and so on. I met many Croatian families and they are all amazing hosts, always give the best to guests and make you feel welcomed. It may not be easy to be friends with locals at the beginning, but once the friendship is developed, they keep you dear to their hearts.
5. And the 3 things you would like to change.
The culture of “using connection”. Ever since the beginning of my life in Croatia, I have heard so much from the locals about how everything is done through connection. From getting a place in public kindergarten to getting a job in government, many people find it normal to use connections to have shortcuts or even get the deal directly.
Parking issues in Split. There are not enough parking spots in Split. It is always a headache to find parking, especially in the center. There are many “creative” drivers who like to leave their cars somewhere they are not supposed to.
The real estate prices in Split are crazy for both rental and buying.
6. Given your experiences, what advice would you give to any would-be expat thinking of making the move?
Look up information from expat groups on social media and expatincroatia.com. They are very helpful and informative.
The administration and paperwork is complicated, so be patient and it is very likely that you need a native Croatian speaker (e.g. lawyer, translator, local friend) to help you deal with it.
People from different regions in Croatia have different mentalities and work styles. In the southern part (Dalmatia), people, in general, are quite relaxed and less organised, so it is important to manage your expectation and find a place where you feel comfortable staying or work in.
7. The most beautiful place in Croatia, and why?
I love Istria. Love the sea, the green, and colour houses. Istria is not very big but it has a lot to offer.
Your favourite moment of your time in Croatia?
One of my favourites is the sunset dolphin-watching tour in Rovinj. The sunset was romantic, the host was friendly and so passionate to share homemade liquor with guests, the dolphins were lovely and Rovinj is a beautiful town. The tour was a very special experience.
Are you an expat who would like to be featured in this series? If yes, please contact [email protected] Subject Expat
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