Croatian Returnee Reflections: Katarina Bucic, from Toronto to Zadar

Total Croatia News

Updated on:

My name is Katarina Bučić; I was born and raised in the Greater Toronto Area. I lived in Canada with my parents, who moved to Toronto 30+ years ago from Posušje, Hercegovina, and my 4 brothers for 27 years. I worked as a Registered Massage Therapist in the city and was starting to grow tired of its fast-paced and high-stress energy. After I got married to my husband Josip Bučić in 2016, we decided to move out of the city to slow down life a bit and take our first trip to Croatia together as a married couple, my first time visiting in 12 years. I was so eager to revisit my family and soak in my heritage as I was always raised to be a proud Croatian in a multicultural country and to be connected to my roots.


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.

The summer vacation my husband and I took together in 2017 was the catalyst for us returning to Croatia one day. My husband’s family is from Zadar, and so we spent most of our time there. It did not take me long to fall head over heels in love with Zadar as a city! The beauty, the ancient walls, and the cobblestone streets. The beaches, the sunrises, and the sunsets on the water. The fresh air, fresh food, and moments are created around the dinner table. The slow pace, the laid-back attitude, and the social culture. I can go on for ages about the magic I felt that summer. The entire trip, my husband and I spoke about the Croatian lifestyle and how different it was from our lives back in Canada. We fell in love with Zadar so much that I said if I were ever to have a daughter, we would name her Zara.

When we arrived back in Canada, we both fell into a sort of funk. We really tried to hold onto the energy and vibe of Croatia once we returned to Canada, but it just wasn’t the same. For years following that trip we talked about our dream of moving back to Croatia someday. There were many game plans, pros and cons lists, and bouncing ideas off of our family and friends. Many people didn’t think too much of our conversations because they always assumed it was just a ” one-day” type of dream, but they didn’t know how we felt that summer in Croatia and how we craved that feeling ever since we left. One evening during pillow talk with my husband Josip, having our 1000th conversation about dreaming to move to Croatia, I had finally had enough. ”You know what?! I am tired of talking about this over and over again. Are we going to do this or what?! Let’s decide right now, you and I, should we chase this dream of ours?” Josip looked over at me with a big smile and said,” Let’s do it!!!”. The next day when he returned from work, I said,” Guess what, babe? I bought us one-way tickets. We are moving to Croatia in 2 weeks.” He nearly fell to the floor. Just like that, Josip, my daughter Zara and I were heading on a new adventure!


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

As I had mentioned earlier, our family and friends have heard us dream about moving back for years, but I don’t think anyone thought we would actually do it. Once everyone found out that we had actually purchased one-way tickets, the support had an undertone of sadness. Some people thought what we were doing was the most exciting and inspiring act, others thought we were complete morons and doomed, and those closest to us we so happy for us but sad that we were leaving. In all honesty, I feel like many of our friends in the Croatian community have always dreamt about moving back but had self-limiting beliefs. I think they were hoping for us to fail so that they could reassure themselves that their dream is not attainable. It was quite discouraging to hear comments like ”I’ll see you back here in a year” or ”What are you going to do over there? You know there is no work, right? Even if you find work, nobody will pay you reliably” and the most popular from the women ”You know they treat women poorly there right? Josip will change, and your marriage will suffer”.

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

I supposed we did not do too much research. We did not know any people close to us who have made a move as well, so we didn’t have anyone to ask for their personal experiences. We knew that we would be applying for residency and citizenship upon arrival, so we came prepared with all of our Canadian documents and had them certified and translated. The rest of our perception of reality in Croatia was based on our summer there in 2017. Josip and I were on the same page about what we wanted out of life and what we wanted our lifestyle to look like, and we were both sure that Croatia could provide that for us.


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

We made a move so quickly that it didn’t leave us much time to worry, but rather get things done! As a lovely add-on to the major life change we were about to encounter, 4 days before we left, I found out I was pregnant with my second child, surprise! I immediately began worrying about obtaining health care and what the hospitals are like in Croatia, and what my birthing experience would be like. After arriving in Croatia, I realized that my fear would soon become a reality. When I think about the bureaucracy here and having to get any sort of government paperwork done, the first word that comes to mind is NIGHTMARE. As I continue to meet other expats and even locals, I would say that is easily the biggest problem in Croatia. I cannot tell you how many times I stood in line pregnant and holding Zara for 3+ hours only to be told that they can’t help me and that some completely random and illogical paperwork or process was missing. I had so much anxiety every time I walked into a government building because I never knew what I would hear. That I missed a step in the process and can be issued a fine, that they will kick me out of the country if I don’t get my papers sorted before the deadline, or that I will not obtain public health care before I go into labor with my son. I quickly learned that Croatia is a very ”it’s all about who you know” kind of place. I got practically nowhere to obtain residency and health care on my own. Luckily my husband has many aunts, uncles, and cousins here that were willing to help. They showed up to the meetings with me, spoke on my behalf, showered the government workers with homemade olive oil and chocolates, name-dropped a few people, and VOILA, I was finally getting somewhere. As grateful I was to have those connections and finally have some progress, I was utterly shocked that this is how the system operated and felt deeply sad for the people moving here who didn’t have those connections.


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?

Naively, I had the perception that our return to the motherland would be celebrated by the locals. With the economy in Croatia suffering and many young people choosing to live and work elsewhere, I thought our young family coming to lay roots and contribute to Croatia would have been embraced. I must say there were some wonderful locals who were very proud of us, but the overall judgment, resentment, and outright mocking from the locals really shocked me. Just like many of the people back home, there were Croatian locals who were also laughing about us failing and returning home with our tails between our legs. Luckily for us, we have that stubborn Croatian blood and used that stubbornness to propel us into creating the reality we dreamed of!

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.

The people of Croatia, just like the rest of the world, have been sold the ”American dream”. When they scratch their heads in question about why we would leave the ”land of opportunity” to move to a poor economic country, I would reassure them that their perception of North America is warped. Do not get me wrong; I am so grateful I was raised in Canada and was exposed to such an open-minded and multicultural environment. Although the Canada my parents moved to in the 80s and the Canada I lived in before leaving were two very different places. Josip and I grew tired of the 4 hours on the road everyday commuting, on dangerous winter roads, I might add, the ”it’s never enough” greed that was sweeping our culture, the constant arguing over religion and politics, the unhealthy lifestyles we were leading, and the lack of social life. I was starting to feel ourselves, along with everyone else around us, turn into robots. We only had time for work, sleep, and repetition, and there was no spontaneity left in our lives. Paying your bills and keeping up with the Jones’ was taking over like a plague, and we were sick of it! Since moving to Croatia, our days feel longer, our lives sunnier, and our future brighter. They say Zadar has 300 sunny days a year, and that is exactly how I would describe our life here, sunny! Fewer hours a day spent in Toronto traffic means more time to cook a fresh homemade dinner, stop by a neighbor’s house for a coffee, or our nightly walks through the stunning city of Zadar. People are so much more at the moment here; they smell the air, notice the wind, and indulge in the people in front of them. I have yet to be with someone and have them have their face on their cell phone or be in a daze worrying about work the next day. The magic of living in the moment is so evident here and is truly what Josip and I value the most.


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

I would first like to say that I believe true happiness comes from within. Whether where you are is ”heaven” or ”hell” is all based on your perception. If you have an open mind, a determined spirit, and a passion and love for Croatia, you can do it! There is a massive expat community here that is beyond welcoming and helpful and is a great support system for one another. Our dream of moving here was nagging at us for years, and finally answering the call for change has been the best decision we have ever made for our family. If you are seriously thinking of moving to Croatia, then there is clearly something pulling you to shake up your life a bit! There will definitely be moments where you might, in fact, feeling shaken. I have had moments of frustration and have felt homesick. In those moments, my husband, my children, and I go for a walk in Zadar, watching the most beautiful sunset in the world while the sea organs play and laughter and a sense of calm fill the air, and I immediately feel at peace again. My perception of my life in Croatia with my family is truly my idea of ”heaven on earth”.


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

People all around the world are discovering Croatia and understanding its beauty and the appeal of living here. I have no doubt that the expat community will continue to grow rapidly, and I would love to see them be more embraced here. The problem with the bureaucracy is not one I know how to fix, but it is by far the biggest hurdle people encounter when moving here. Perhaps more information and English-speaking assistance for newcomers would be a good start. As for the tainted mind of the locals and their hesitancy towards expats, I wish for them to understand that we love their country so much that we decided to give everything up to live there! I would love for them to receive us as a compliment and not as a threat. Croatia is a growing and quickly evolving country. I think we can find the balance of respecting its untouched and rooted energy while accepting the open-minded and positive energy we expats bring. Croatia is abundant, and there is enough of her beauty to sustain us all.


The sun is hot on our faces,
our skin becoming kissed.
The sound of birds, dogs and children,
I pinch myself to be sure I exist.
A woman is singing,
she plucks the strings of her guitar.

The old man in the hat watches her
as he smokes his cigar.
These walls have history,
many tales of victories and defeat.
My daughter dances on its ruins,
my son explores the cobblestone in his bare feet.
A castle that was fit for kings and queens
is surely fit for you and me.
Zadar as the backdrop of our story,
the cleansing from the deep blue sea.
My heart belongs to this city,
my family breathes its air.
I wouldn’t have it any other way,
God has answered my prayer.

– Katarina Bučić


Thanks, Katarina!

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’s it like living in Croatia, and where can you get the best survival tips? TCN CEO Paul Bradbury and TCN Editor Lauren Simmonds have teamed up to publish Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.



Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment