Moving to Croatia to Live, an Englishman’s Perspective

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I have been married to a Croatian lady for over 25 years. She came to the UK as an au-pair at the age of 19, where up till last year, she has spent most of her working life. During that time, we have returned to Croatia many times to visit family and have holidayed in different coastal resorts. We love the people, food, climate, and local culture and hoped that one day we would retire here.  

The Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit pushed us to reflect on our future and last year we decided to sell our house and move to Croatia to live full time.

So, what has it been like living in Croatia? 

Osijek, a hidden gem 

Currently, we live in Osijek, where we have a small flat which we purchased some 10 years ago. Osijek is a lovely place to live, apart from the cold winters and mosquitoes in the summer which just love me. The people are friendly and easy to engage in conversation, even in English as my Croatian is not yet very good. My goodness, Croatian is such a difficult language to learn.

I love the way Osijek is still very family-centric and a safe place to live. There is a general feeling of friendliness, people always say hello, they smile and like nothing more than to talk, especially in the café bars.   

Culturally, Slavonians have some lovely, if not quirky, things they love to do. They love to celebrate, whether it’s about sport, a saint’s day, the arrival of a baby, or getting married. Any excuse and they go for it. I have attended a few weddings here and, believe me when I say, it is an experience not to be missed. I hope to attend many more parties after the pandemic is over.

Osijek itself is a gem of a place. Very open, lots of green spaces and everything one would like in a town with a good theatre, cinemas, shopping and places to visit as a local and tourist. There are good schools and an excellent university.

The town has a Lido, which is in the process of being refurbished, and an indoor swimming pool and of course an excellent football team with a new stadium being built. 

The riverside is a lovely place to take a stroll. There are lots of cycle lanes and provisions for dogs to run free off the lead. There is a definite emphasis on health, with most of the open spaces having facilities for children to play and adults to exercise. 

The local council, considering their limited financial support from the Government, do their best to keep the town a clean and pleasant place to live. The open spaces are well kept, transport is clean and regular and with several recycling centres, getting rid of household rubbish is easy and free. 

Since being a resident here, we have had several tradespeople in to do work. Starting early and normally finishing late in the afternoon, whatever the job, they were hard-working, knowledgeable and the workmanship was of good quality but finding the trades was extremely hard.

Osijek seems to be a forgotten town when it comes to investment. Taking a train to Zagreb takes longer now than it did when I first came here in 1993. There is an airport that could easily become a hub for the airlines, not to mention providing cheaper flights overseas instead of having to travel to Zagreb. And then, there is a River Danube that could become a major tourist destination and commercial port. 

A new IT business park is currently being built but I have wondered why the likes of Amazon, Ikea, and other logistics companies have not set up here? The area is ideal for a logistics hub with plenty of labour, the motorway, an airport, the river port, and the space to build. I think a good opportunity is being missed. 

A lot of investment in the town is happening, but I have a concern Osijek will become a beautiful place but without the investors in jobs it will end up with lots of empty buildings. They could consider making the County a free trade zone, a gateway to the EU. 

It’s all about the paper

One thing is for sure, living in Croatia means filling in many forms! Getting my OIB number, health insurance, driving licence, and registering my residency with the local police was not difficult but frustrating at times. Some local officials did not understand the rules even though the information was very clearly defined on the government website, that is until Article 75 came along and in my case, I had to re-apply using the same paperwork, the same photo, have my fingerprint retaken and pay again. Surely if the civil service had all they need to issue the first residency card then it surely would have taken less people’s effort, time, and money to re-issue the electronic card with the information already held. We even had another visit from the Police to check we were genuine applicants!!!

I don’t know who was more embarrassed by their revisit, us or the police. I should say that our local officers who handled our case were excellent and very helpful.

Health services

We have found a good doctor, vet, and dentist who are all most competent with high standards. 

The health service, which unfortunately I have had to use, I have found exceptionally good. OK, it’s not as streamlined as the NHS, for instance, I had to have four blood tests where one should have been sufficient, but it seems every department wanted their own test done and one has to get used to the paperwork! But the people were very helpful and as dedicated to giving the best care as any I have come across during my life. 

During my stay in the hospital, I was made to feel very welcome and they went to great pains to make sure I understood the medical procedure and the treatment I was receiving. Even the food was acceptable albeit different from what I am used to. I have to say the beds were certainly more comfortable than in the UK. 

The hospital in Osijek is old, but I am told work should start this year to build a new one.


Like the rest of the world, Croatia has had to contend with the issues and problems managing the Covid pandemic. Here in Osijek, most people have been sensible, following the guidelines and rules set by the county. In my opinion, they have done their best in difficult times. Part of the reason we came to Croatia when we did, was because we liked the way the county was handling Covid. We both thought it would be a safer place to be. Unfortunately, my wife and I have both had Covid and recovered without any major issues, thank goodness. 

The EU as a whole has not been that great at getting enough of the Covid vaccine and it does appear that Osijek is not getting the fair share it needs to protect the local population when compared to other parts of the country. My doctor has a list of 300 vulnerable people including myself where the vaccine certainly would have saved a few lives and the heartache of losing someone. Yet, she only received 60 doses of vaccine so far.

Entrepreneurial mindset

What is very noticeable is how many young people have emigrated looking for work and better opportunities. Sad, but not unsurprising as finding a job here is very difficult and the remuneration is often below the government guidelines.

There is a clear need to create opportunities for young people to stay in Croatia and start businesses, but starting a business here is anything but easy. Although there are clearly a number of business opportunities in this beautiful country, what is lacking is the entrepreneurial mindset. 

Starting a business here is a nightmare. By this I mean, the paperwork, the fees you have to pay not only to the government but to trade bodies, local chambers of commerce, people you don’t even understand why they should be involved and of course you must have lots of permits and certificates and a couple of spare trees and a filing cabinet for all the paper. All before you even started trading or making any money. 

The government and banks really need a shove up the backside. Getting started in any business should be encouraged and supported by the financial sector and the Government. It seems to me that the opposite here very much applies. So much so, we are reconsidering starting a business.

Things are changing, but in my opinion slowly. All these antiquated rules and laws that stop people from taking the risk to start a business should I hope be a very high priority for not only the Government but the local officialdom who seem to have their own interpretation on how things must be done.

I was told people here are negative but, as far as my experience goes, I don’t think they are negative but many have given up trying to change things as it is so difficult. Bureaucracy is rife and much more depends on who you know and your position when trying to get things done. I am sorry to say, I have also come across some very incompetent people as well. 

Future is digital, to a point

The broadband we have is very good, reliable and fast. In our case, we get 160mbs which is excellent. 

But I cannot believe how bad most of the websites are and e-commerce is very underdeveloped. We are used to buying a lot of goods online, but here, not only finding what you want is difficult but most websites are not optimised for mobile. Goodness, that is not acceptable. It’s not that Croatia does not have the skills and people to develop and manage an e-commerce website, it appears no one wants to invest in their online future. 

Customers are looking to shop online but it isn’t easy to find what you want at a good price. Sadly the answer has to be ‘No’. It is the business mindset that needs changing. Businesses could sell much more if their websites were professional and usable. You try finding things using the search facility. Don’t bother, they don’t work, you are forced to find the link to open a catalogue and then spend hours looking for what you need. No wonder no one bothers.  A good example of how to get it right is the parking app I use. I can park and pay anywhere in Croatia just by pressing a few buttons. Fantastic. 

Could do better 

Are there any downsides? Yes, of course, no country can claim to be perfect. I do understand Croatia has a small population and the government limited resources but I think they should re-look at the economic model. There is too much reliance on tourism. Supporting business start-ups, foreign inward investment, and effective regulations should be the focus post-Covid. Croatia is famous for its beautiful food and wine but only exports to a very limited market when there is scope to do more and better. 

There is a definite lack of serious competition between supermarkets. All seem to have high prices and special offers. Perhaps they should offer lower prices and compete on the quality of the products and service rather than their special prices. The supermarkets and larger outlets must be laughing all the way to the bank. Osijek County (Slavonia and Baranja) has acres of fertile land so why is it you can’t buy local good quality produce except in Lidl and the markets.  

It is expensive here. Food, electricals, services, etc are all VAT rated and at 25% is high by the world’s standards and for local earnings. Cars are very expensive with import duties unrealistic compared to what people here can earn. It appears most loans have to be over a very long period to buy what is considered “luxury” goods. 

Don’t even start me on estate agents and their deplorable marketing with huge fees, especially on the coast. Are some breaking the law by charging the seller and buyer and in some cases even asking for the buyer to sign a contract and charging to arrange a viewing?  Looking on the government website, to be an estate agent, it is very clear what they should be doing in the way of contracts, marketing, and setting a fee for their service. 

For me personally, the hardest thing about living in Croatia is the language. It is very hard to learn and speak as it’s totally different from my native English. Despite that, I love it here. We are making friends, enjoying the café culture and even our dog has relaxed into the Croatian doggy lifestyle. In fact, he has more friends to play with than we do. Was it a good decision to move? Yes, very much so but like anyone who lives abroad, I do miss being able to see family and friends. Although covid has stopped that happening. Things can only get better. 

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