Lessons from Portugal: Taking Advantage of the Retirement Lifestyle Opportunity

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August 16, 2020 – With a Croatian digital nomad visa discussion taking place at the ministerial level this week, can Croatia also cash in on the retirement lifestyle opportunity?

It has been quite a year already, and we are not finished yet. And it is clear that many things will never be the same again, and that new approaches are required. This also includes tourism, which accounts for more than 20% of GDP in Croatia in a normal year. 2020 has been anything but normal. 

Looking forward, and not back, there are huge opportunities for Croatia to diversify and to attract high-spending visitors without investing very much. Indeed, some simple legislation change could open the doors to new types of tourism and revenue streams which are currently being spent in other countries in Europe, but only negligible amounts. 

We have been writing about the huge opportunity offered by remote workers wanting to combine their nomadic existence with great lifestyle. Nowhere does lifestyle in Europe better than Croatia, and the additional attractions of Croatia’s safety, authentic experiences, great food and wine, natural beauty, affordability, accessibility, good infrastructure and English spoken, make it an ideal destination for an industry which is booming and set to expand rapidly. 

The main thing stopping this from already being part of Croatia’s tourism makeup is our old friend, Croatian bureaucracy, but there are signs that there might be a small shift in thinking. Following an open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong has a meeting with the Minister of the Interior this week to discuss the introduction of a digital nomad visa in Croatia.

There is another opportunity which countries such as Portugal are taking full advantage of, which Croatia is not at the moment. An opportunity with much smaller numbers of visitors but with a much higher spending power. 

The retirement lifestyle opportunity. 

I have lost count of the number of emails I have received over the years, particularly from Americans, who have fallen in love with life in Croatia and desperately want to retire here. 

But they can’t under the current rules. 

I knew one American couple in Split a couple of years ago who felt a particularly strong bond with Croatia and exhausted all roads to find the way to retire here. High spenders, very active in the local community, visited by friends who also fell in love with Croatia. They ended up retiring in Sri Lanka. 

To be clear, we are non-EU (Americans), retirees, with no Croatian family connections, who are already married, so can’t marry a Croatian spouse. We are retired, so not necessarily eager to take jobs or start companies. We just want to enjoy living in this beautiful country, and contribute by paying our own way through taxes, insurance, housing, investments, entertainment, etc. Many of us are even willing to donate our time, knowledge and skills.

You can read more on this topic from the 2018 TCN article Why Croatia is Not (But Could Be) a Top American Retirement Destination.

The emails and Facebook messages kept on coming. Soon after we started the CROMADS Facebook page a couple of months ago, I received a message from an American retiree desperate to retire in Croatia, but accepting the impossibility of the situation and making plans instead for a new life in Portugal:

I suggested to the American Ambassador to Croatia last fall that he pass along the idea of creating a special visa category in Croatia for retired people, such as the one Portugal has (I’m not sure his mission is to get people to leave the USA…lol).  I think the suggestion would be more likely to gain traction with this group as you seem to be getting things done. I love having TCN as a resource. Anyway, I understand the desire to attract young entrepreneurs in the tech industry, but take a look at what Portugal has done. They realize that “old money” spends well, and the economic reach is wider than you might first think. There are many groups in the USA that have formed around the idea of retiring to Portugal. They meet in person and online. When they move, they create a circle of friends and family who want to visit them. These are people with money to invest in real estate and lifestyle. I love Croatia, but I can only come here for 90 days and then the welcome mat is removed.

That’s why I’m moving to Portugal, even though I’d rather be in Croatia. I love Croatia, especially Zadar, where I am currently residing on an extended visa due to COVID-19. I’ll be going back to USA 5 July (if I can force myself on the plane) and making my plans to move to Portugal.  I wish you the best of luck! I will enjoy watching your successful journey!!!

Portugal has managed to attract a sizeable number of foreign retirees, who are enjoying the relaxed lifestyle in temperate climes, and it appears that their simplified bureaucracy is helping to make the decision a little easier. Here is what you need to do to retire in Portugal as a non-EU citizen:

Under Portugal’s retirement residency law, non-EU citizens who want to retire to Portugal will need to apply for a residence permit at a Portuguese consular office in their home country before relocating to Portugal. You will typically need to show a valid passport, proof of income, proof of health insurance and submit to a criminal background check. Non-EU nationals can obtain a temporary residence permit for five years, after which they will be able to apply for permanent residence.

There have been various initiatives and ideas to attract the higher-spending older generation to Croatia, ideas which inevitably come up against the wall of bureaucracy. One of the most interesting a few years ago came from leading eye surgeon, Nikica Gabric, who drew a circle on the map of Europe 500 kilometres from the epicentre of Istria. I forget the number of millions of European retirees drawing Western pension in Gabric’s circle, but it was a lot. With many just a 4-5 hour drive from Croatia, a combination of much cheaper cost of living in Croatia and more temperate winters make Croatia an ideal retirement destination for at least part of the year.

Tourism is changing, and Croatia’s over-reliance on classic sun and sea tourism is not healthy.  Tourism is not just about that summer holiday, but embracing lesser-explored options. By following the excellent examples of digital nomad visas set by Estonia, and attracting high-spending retirees as in Portugal, a rationalising of some aspects of Croatian bureaucracy will easily open up new possibilities and revenue streams.



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