Croatian Returnee Reflections: Eugene Brcic Jones, from Sydney to Zagreb

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My name is Eugene Brcic Jones, my parents migrated to Australia in 1969 and I was born in Sydney. I’m probably an entrepreneur, but I’m still waiting to cash in on some ventures like a hotel and resort ordering and payments app RoomOrders, or a self-diagnostic kit for viruses, VIBAC. I’m also going to try and build prefab villas on the island of Ugljan if I don’t get ripped off by the Chinese. Prior to doing all these lofty pursuits, I was a business consultant and longtime journalist.



1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane?

I moved back to Zagreb, Croatia in 2017 with my Aussie wife Michelle, who has a Ukrainian and British background, and two little girls Eden and Emerson. I had previously lived in Croatia during the 90’s war and early 2000s, so it was a return to the old haunts.

We grew tired of the mortgage rat race and wanted to buy back time and a more substantial social life for our young family. We went on a long holiday two years before making the move, travelling all over the place to fall in love with the idea, so there was some leg-work, before coming. However, the main ingredient was developing an infatuation with what we saw and wanting to experiment with a new life.


2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?

They thought we were bonkers and would be back in less than a year. It’s now over 5 years and we seem to be adjusted to this extraordinary place. Luckily, other nutters felt the same and the community of fruitcakes is growing fast. I’m clinging to the notion that over time, we will be declared visionaries or at least pioneers.


3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?

I had previously lived here, I was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press for many years, so I got to know and understand the harsh, yet quirky mentality. I had a fair idea of the pitfalls.



4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and what was the reality of what you found?

Money. We didn’t want our adventure to make us bankrupt and starve to death. We know work is hard to come by in Croatia, so we had to devise a better plan than a 9 to 5 job. The kids are small, so we knew they would fit in easily, but we needed to be financially secure and that was a major concern that grated on our nerves.

Our biggest fear was that we would not find out footing with finances and that we would bleed money. Of course, that’s exactly what happened. Our tenant in Australia left prematurely and we were vacant for five months, making us sh#t our pants with mortgage repayments from our savings rather than from rental income. To make matters worse, I planned some remote work before slipping into a role with potential business partners and all those opportunities also went pear-shaped.

The reality is that Croatia is a tough place to wing it and even well-laid-out plans can easily go up in smoke. On the other hand, it teaches you to live spontaneously, day-by-day, like the rest of the folk. I still don’t understand how they survive or where their money comes from, especially loads of people driving fancy cars and trendy labels.



5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

My perception was that everybody here really knows how to live, while we from abroad only really know how to work. My reality was exactly that. They make the most of what they got, which usually comes down to sitting down for a coffee and relaxing, having a smoke or two.

Sure, nobody in the world whinges and whines like Croatians, but the mystery remains, how the bloody hell do they live off their meager incomes? It’s almost a form of art – making just enough money to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.


6. You are still here, so obviously the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don’t like.

 I love that Croatia is moving forward despite all the corruption and complaining. It’s the perfect place to raise a family and socialize often with friends. It’s safe and has the ideal amount of tradition and contemporary sophistication. I personally love spending winter in Zagreb and skiing with friends and then spending summer again with friends at the seaside. In between there are little getaways, to break the routine. The weather is stable, cold in winter, hot in summer, warm in spring, cool in autumn. The ultimate feeling is the daily relaxation with coffee and conversation. No stress.



7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making the move from the diaspora?

Don’t be a tight-arse, chicken. Take the plunge. Take a sabbatical. If it doesn’t work out after a year, just go back, you will lose nothing, and gain everything. People should take a lesson out of the pandemic, don’t just be alive, live.


8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?

Forget about such illusions. Croatia cannot even help itself. It’s a basket case. There are some initiatives like remote working visas for digital nomads that stand out from the malaise. Regretfully, the country and its bureaucracy are still too corrupt and inept to formulate campaigns to benefit everyone with Western money and people. The EU is helping develop structure and functional institutions through various programs and funding, but I would focus on keeping your pants on because the government and crooks will try and take your shirt off if you come here like a naïve deer stuck in the headlights. 



Thanks Eugene, and good luck with

You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.

Would you like your returnee story – positive or negative – to be featured in this series? Contact [email protected] Subject Returnee.


What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email [email protected] Subject 20 Years Book


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