The Beautiful Croatian Bureaucracy – How I Opened a Business in Under Six Months

Total Croatia News

All images: Stuart Jameson

UK expat opens obrt – develops a kidney stone in the process.

It has been almost one full trip around the sun since I first returned to these shores to ply my trade as a freelance writer, so I thought it was high time I took stock. Over the course of the past several months, I have visited my old home in the UK for the first time in a number of years, took a trip to the States to shit myself at the prospect of meeting the rest of my partner’s family, moved house due to the unreasonable demands of a psychotic landlady actually living in Italy, tried and failed miserably to learn the Croatian language, developed an excruciating kidney stone and just about managed to set up an obrt. I am as yet undecided as to which of these experiences has caused me the most pain.

Life choices

I’ve also discovered, at 38-years-of-age, that I’ve been shaving incorrectly since I first noticed some patchy bumfluff on my cheeks circa 1998 (I was a late bloomer with an unfortunate requirement to hide my quivering, hairless genitals in a school gym shower room until well into my teens). For nearly two decades, fearing I might cut my face to ribbons, I’ve been terrified of trying a safety razor, instead hoodwinked into throwing money down the drain on whatever Gillette Mach number we’re up to now. Recently, I got tired of the exorbitant amount of money it costs for replacement blades, and I grew some balls. Figuratively. As long as I live I’ll never buy a cartridge system again and feel I have finally reached manhood. When you combine purchasing a set of real razor blades with a pack of extra-large condoms and a can of Brut – that attractive DM cashier knows exactly what’s going down. However, it is the obrt experience that I wish to regale you with today, as I have since forwarded my first ever writing invoice, and when one learns how to shave properly and finally sends a legal request for payment a certain level of maturity has been realisedwhich is cause for celebration.

Now, first of all, I should point out that this process has been covered before in two separate articles by TCN writers Tash Pericic and Dragana Niksic, both of which contain useful (if somewhat confusing) tips on how to go about it. I draw your attention to the fact that it is the process and not their writing that makes you want to tear your hair out, and you’ll probably find this article to be no better. For those in too much of a hurry to endure the story, I have provided a handy ”too long; didn’t read” section (tl;dr) at the bottom of this article. However, as everyone’s journey through this life is unique, I thought I would pen my experiences as a UK expat, jumping through the Croatian bureaucratic hoops like a frightened, gormless baby dolphin.

All my worldly belongings shipped to Zagreb – yes, it’s a Christmas tree – don’t judge me.

Where to begin? Our journey gets underway in early October 2017 whereupon I returned from a summer job in Zadar. We had just moved into our apartment on Klaićeva with dreams of a brighter tomorrow and a new chapter in our lives. It was then I tentatively began the process of setting up an Obrt, and my first port of call was to establish a business address. With our landlady at the time already making our lives unnecessarily difficult (and she was based in Italy anyway) I decided using my “home” address was out of the question. I asked a very good Croatian friend if I could use his instead, in exchange for the occasional pint. The property was in his wife’s name, but she kindly agreed and together we visited a notary to get this contract legalised. I paid 50 kuna for the privilege and I had a legal business address. I was off!

A wizard I am not. Clearly having an amazing time at Warner Brother’s Studios.

For the half term holidays, I made a return to the UK to visit my twin sister, a few friends, my parent’s place of rest in Scotland and then found myself subsequently dragged to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London as a ”treat” for my 38th birthday. During our mini-vacation, we arranged for a dog-sitter to look after our pooch Margot for the short time we were away. Our landlady – in trying to sell the property – had viewers round in our absencebut they couldn’t gain access. She then blew a gasket because she was utterly convinced we’d changed all the locks. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in a long line of unreasonable and borderline psychotic interactions that resulted in us pulling the plug, nipping our subjection to her absurdist behaviour in the bud. We managed to find a new place to live which we could move into following a trip to the US at Christmas. It therefore made sense that all obrt activity would temporarily cease until I actually had a legitimate place in which to live.

A visit to Lake Superior at Christmas – I usually get naked for these photos – but it was -28 degrees.

After what seemed like an eternity of running all over the globe and shifting our accumulated belongings across town in Zagreb, we were finally settled early in the New Year. It was time once again to begin the obrt process, but first I had to make sure I was legally allowed to stay in the country. I paid the first of several visits to that delightful police station on Petrinjska ulica.

It was here I had my first experience of the traditional Croatian passage from pillar to post. With my partner’s logistical process all covered by her school with little fuss (there was still fuss – just considerably less fuss than my fuss) I was left to my own devices to ensure I wasn’t going to be thrown out of the country anytime soon. I was informed by a nice but sombre chap in an office with lighting that hurt my eyes that I was required to ”obtain an obrt in order to obtain a permit for an elongated period of time”. The obrt office then informed me I needed to obtain a permit in order to obtain an obrt. Ahhhhh, I see how it is. I believe we had come to something of an impasse.

This is where Rainbow Bright, My Little Pony, Roger Rabbit and the Care Bears live.

Confused by the amount of information in those previous TCN articles on obrts and all the advice I had already been given, I’d decided to make a tentative solo visit to the obrt office one chilly January morning. I hoped that someone would speak English, or, at the very least, give me an idea as to the documents required to set up my obrt. I cycled down to Zapoljska ulica and waited outside a little office door with a key dangling in the lock. A number of people came and went before me as I sat for several minutes. Realising I just needed to walk in and announce myself, I was nonetheless quite hesitant to do so. This is entirely the fault of British indoctrination into a fascination with queuing. I apprehensively slid my terrified head around the door and established it was indeed the obrt office, but without a translator, I had a torrid time trying to explain why I was there in the first place. Jabbing my chest and repeating the word obrt eventually won out, and in spite of the significant language barrier I came away with what I wanted – a list of all the documents I required to open the damn thing. Proof of residency was one of them – so I returned to the windowless soul vacuum on Petrinjska.

I pleaded my case, eventually figuring out I could have a temporary residency/stay permit until the obrt was opened and I could then be offered a work (stay and work) permit instead. I was required to open up a Croatian bank account and prove I had enough money to sustain me for over 12 months, as well as confirming I had adequate health insurance. To my dismay, I realised my European Health Insurance card had expired three years previous, sometime when I was getting my nose broken in a bar fight in Kotor while wearing a kilt during the world finals of the water polo championships. I would like to take this opportunity to say Kotor is a wonderful place.

I bought some crappy, month-long insurance cover for a few bucks and opened the bank account, the process of which had me signing my name more in the space of an hour than I’d ever done in my entire lifetime – the final example of which appeared not too dissimilar from Guy Fawkes’ autograph after he’d been tortured on the rack. I returned to the police department and they gave me a stamped piece of paper apparently saying I was legal to live here – for now. Having learned my lesson previously, I then put feelers out for a translator to assist when I returned to the obrt office, and it was another TCN contributor who stepped up to help me out.

Iva Tatic very kindly accompanied me back to the obrt people with what I hoped was everything I required. Passport, proof of residency, OIB (personal identification number) proof of my business address, and a receipt that said I’d paid 270 kuna cash into some faceless bureaucrat’s bank account. I had everything – I was all set. I was told to phone in the next day whereupon I would be given a caseworker. Iva did this on my behalf and learned that in seven days I would be granted my obrt. There was only one slight problem. The proof of my business address should not have been notarised. As it stood, my friend’s generosity in allowing me to use their home was going to be rewarded by paying tax. I had to get that document annulled, and then produce exactly the same document which didn’t have the notorised stamp on it. Back I went to the notary a few days later after arranging to meet my friend to re-sign a new, unstamped document.

It was 15:00 on a Friday afternoon when I arrived at the notary and discovered I’d forgotten my passport.  

I returned with my friend on the following Monday and paid 90 kuna to cancel the previous document which I trusted they would forward to the tax office. I then went back to the obrt office where I handed over the unnotarised business address document. The following day I received a phone call from a lady who didn’t speak English, and because I’m constantly inundated with unsolicited, cold sales calls for someone to clean my carpet – I hung up.

It turns out she was my obrt case worker. My obrt was ready.

With glee I returned to the obrt office for what I hoped to be the final time – once again in heavy snow – yet utterly convinced there would be further hurdles. Upon arriving I realised I’d forgotten my bike lock, and gingerly propped the machine up against the window next to the security officer’s booth – reasoning that such a location was enough of a deterrent for it to be pinched. The office was on the top floor, and I bolted upstairs, willing the interaction to be little more than a document hand over. To my utter astonishment, this is exactly what happened. Barely saying a word, a lady thrust two papers into my hand and I had my obrt. My bike was in exactly the same place, albeit covered in snow. Bet you didn’t expect that, did you?!

I have an obrt!” I triumphantly exclaim to my editor. I can get paid!

Do you have a business bank account, have you sorted your tax at the tax office, handed in your pension information, submitted a form for medical cover and do you have a company stamp?


It seemed there was still some way to go. I then developed a kidney stone – which at the time of writing, is still nestled somewhere inside me, even though every time I pee I’m doing so through a metal tea strainer. Order coffee if you come round to my house to visit.


Still in my Star Wars PJs and ironic T-shirt, I was rushed to hospital – a story for another time.

Hampered by the fact that I was now in regular bouts of excruciating pain, I set about attempting to finish off the odyssey. A few days later, while in-line for my 2-year residency permit back at the police station, I suffered a particularly painful attack in the waiting room while watching those horrifically graphic, seat-belt warning videos, and what appeared to be endless re-runs of a bad sit-com about online sexual predators. I staggered out of that place clutching my permit vowing never to return.

In the wake of my condition, I was perturbed at the prospect of negotiating my way around all these extra governmental offices, filling in forms, potentially taking weeks if not months to sort out, all while trying to pass a kidney stone. Then in a passing conversation, I was casually informed that all these documents can be obtained from Narodne Novine! As luck would have it, there’s a branch right at the end of my road, so I set out in the snow once again, paid 6 kuna for the forms, and was in touching distance of being 100% legal. Which isn’t as insalubrious as it sounds. Meanwhile, I’d instigated a heated debate on the Facebook expat page about whether or not a company stamp was still required. I decided not to bother – and so far, so good.

A small forest was harmed in the making of this Obrt. Incidentally, the title of that Yankee Candle is “a calm and quiet place.” I needed more than a smelly bit of wax to calm me down.

I don’t like to put myself upon people if I can avoid it. In fact, I often struggle with asking for help, but after spending five minutes attempting to fill these forms out using google translate I admitted defeat and emailed some translators. At the same time, I emailed some accountants – knowing full well I would need one to assist me in getting up and running. Self-assessment tax in the UK in a system and language I understand is hard enough.

However, I have yet to hear back from any of the services I approached. Perhaps it’s because I’m too small-fry, but it often seems nobody wants any business here and finding someone who is willing to answer an email is often harder than putting your whole fist into your own mouth. Luckily, my partner’s school colleague offered to assist and then guided me through all the form filling, while Iva once again helped me with an afternoon delivering said forms to the various offices scattered across the city. And then, just like that, it was done. It was all over. I had my obrt, all my documents were in place, I was a legal resident in the country for a minimum of two years, and I could now apply to a hospital to get a CT scan to locate this bastard kidney stone and not have to pay 165 euro for the privilege. Isn’t it nice when the system works?

Margot doesn’t give a shit that I’ve got a kidney stone – she just wants daddy to take her for a walk.

In the grand scheme of things and for the actual length of time I spent in relevant offices – this didn’t take as long as it might first appear. As promised, for those wanting the tl;dr gist of it all, please refer to my handy little guide to opening an Obrt below.

What you will need:

Valid passport.

Proof of residency/permit in Croatia.

Name of Business. Obviously.

Business address if separate from home address which must be legally in your name or with a document allowing you the use of said address.

Business bank account.

270 kuna fee.

Where you need to go:

Take all these documents with a translator if required to Zapoljska ulica, office 403 on the top floor. You will be giving an IBAN number to pay the fee at a local post office. Return with that receipt and if everything is in order they will hopefully tell you it will be ready in a week.


The tax form can be found here. You will need to locate the correct tax office for your Obrt in order to hand it in. Don’t do what we did and visit several locations before finding the right one.

The health form and pensions M1 and M11 form are available at Narodne Novine. When you’ve filled them out, take them to the locations below:

Pensions: Trpimirova 14.

Health: HZZO Jukićeva 12.

Optional extras but highly recommended:

An awesome Croat who doesn’t take any shit. In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following people in the production of this obrt, without whom I would have been found floating face down in the Sava. Iva Tatic, Nikolina Demark, Lauren Simmonds, Paul Bradbury, Martina Salluzzo, Alex Mentele and Lovro and Kristina Novinc. Plus, anyone who had a drink with me to help me through this whole process – which is actually more or less the same people.

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? It’s almost as easy as learning how to shave.


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