Croatian Returnee Reflections: Kristina Svalina, from Melbourne to Sinj

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I feel like I can’t sum up my life in Croatia in 1 paragraph, so I won’t lie and say I’ll make it one, rather I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. I feel like I should be in a Nicholas Sparks novel at times, that’s how it’s all been. 

I moved to Zagreb when I was 21 from Melbourne, Australia. I came in July, and I was soon to find out that is the worst time to come to do paperwork and uni/school enrolments. I wanted to enroll in university, but one of the papers I needed to go to the enrolment test was Crotistika. This is a Croatian language test. On the door of the office, it said holidays until the 20th of August. From that day, we would go every single day to the office and call, and there was no one. We finally got them the day before the test, and we said where have you been? They said we decided to extend our holidays for 2 weeks. My partner said, but the uni test is tomorrow, and we need the Crotistika test. They said sorry bad luck! Then to get my high school diploma verified, I spent 8000 kuna on nothing. No one knew what I need to bring them or what I was bringing them they all told me something different. 

In the end, we were so mad, and after 2 months of being here of going door to door for paperwork, my boyfriend said you know what let’s get married. I said what? He said what’s the difference now or in a year’s time I love you, and I think you love me, so let’s get married. So, I said, “ajmo ća”! And after 2 and a half months after being here, we married, and I got my papers.

We got married and don’t worry; we are still together 16 years later.


The biggest thing in Croatia is word of mouth, even to find an apartment if it’s in a smaller town, but in Zagreb, it’s ok you have the oglasnik (trading post).

I came here I must say Croatia is very much who you know and how much you are willing to push to get something done. It was a lot harder back then as not so many tourists and people coming to Croatia as they are now, so I am sure they are more switched on and in tune with what papers you need. I came here with no fear I decided 2 months before I came that I would go try uni here, I didn’t do any research. Maybe a bad decision, so you recommend searching all the places you are in need of where you are here. 



The cons of living here are how long it takes to make any document. Going to the police station is a nightmare. You can never do anything in one trip, so be prepared, but as I said, don’t give up because, in the end, I would never trade this life for a life back in Australia. Also, everything is old when someone sends me photos from Australia or Australian parks, I’m like, WOW! Also, everything takes time here, even building a house. One thing I will never get used to is swearing and littering. I still tell strangers off for this as I think it’s beyond a joke and quite sad. 


I have 5 kids (Kaja 14, Eva 12, Nikola 10, Sofija 6, Vida 3). And you can’t put a price on the fact that they walk to and from school on nice days. They go play basketball at the school on weekends; they hang out until midnight in the village with the neighbors over the summer holidays, they go with friends out for pizza and to the movies, and their freedom is the main factor I love Croatia. Australia never gave me that freedom, and I see how much my kids enjoy it.

Kids here are more serious about school and education, and kids are very hands-on here. 

My husband is a winemaker and a professor at the uni in Knin, and my kids know all the mushrooms that are edible they go out a pick wild asparagus, or they help with the planting in the garden. Right now, there are outside helping pick the plums and walnuts last weekend; it was the apples.

I never knew where a potato grew, but my kids are very independent and have such a broad knowledge of life skills. I never got that living in the suburbs.


I recently opened up an orbit (business), and I got funding from the government to pay for my super and taxes for the next 2 years and to buy all new equipment.

Croatia right now has so many opportunities to get funding for someone opening up a business, so use it! The best thing here is to make sure you have a kickass account that is switched on and knows what she is talking about mine is a start, and she has not missed a beat. So if you don’t have a kickass account in Croatia and you thinking of opening a business,  get one!

My parents even sold everything after me being here for 5 years, put it all in a container, and made the move; my mum loves it here. She goes to mass every day she has no rush, no worries like what she did in Australia. But my dad, so so. He is finding it hard to adjust to the unorganized system, and I think he misses his long-time friends. 

For anyone thinking of moving here, don’t be scared to rely on family here if you have them. It takes a village to raise a child, as they say, but it also takes a village to help you make a move.

They can help with work, telling you where to go for what papers, and everyone always has some connections, so use them when you need to unless it’s morally wrong, I’m sure you know where to draw the line. Also, find a good understanding doctor. I am so satisfied with Knin hospital, and we got there as soon as we need something, not to Split. 


Also, it’s hard to find work for someone who does not speak Croatian well, so I recommend Upwork. I was blessed to find work for an Irish company, and I have been there for 2 years, and I am the manager there now it’s great. Would not swap it for any Croatian job. I work remotely; I am able to watch my kids, do school pick ups drop offs, and take them to train. It’s amazing. I have always said to myself that rather regret something I have tried rather than regret something I didn’t try at all. So just do it if you have nothing to lose, get on that plane, move here and try. We are all different, but when I see how relaxed life here is. The freedom my kids have an easy-going lifestyle, and there is always time for coffee. Then I’m staying right here.

You can’t put a price tag on all of the above. Anyone who does not believe me, come see for yourself. I miss my family in Australia, but Sinj is where I call home. 



Thanks, Kristina!

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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