Croatia, which is suffering from demographic decline, has become a “hot destination” for digital nomads – mostly young, highly educated and wealthy foreigners. There are thousands of them in the country, but a small number of those who want to stay have to manage because the law does not allow them to stay longer than a year.
Closing the laptop in Thailand and starting the next working day on a Costa Rican beach is a possible scenario for an average digital nomad’s working day. Although this phrase – digital nomad, was popularized back in 1997, today, with around 35 million digital nomads globally, we can talk about a trend that is growing year by year. According to some estimates, their number in the world will reach one billion by 2035.
On the list of favorite destinations of digital nomads, in competition with exotic countries, world metropolises and locations that many will see only on postcards, Croatia ranks high. Although the data varies depending on the source of information and research, according to the one conducted by the Nomad List platform, Croatia is the first favorite destination of digital nomads – globally.
Croatia is a small country, but it has a diverse offer and thus attracts different groups of digital nomads, points out Jan de Jong, founder of the Digital Nomad Croatia Association. In 2020, this Dutchman with a Croatian address instigated legal changes thanks to which, among the first in Europe, Croatia introduced a visa for digital nomads that allows citizens of third countries to stay in the country for up to a year.
In Croatia, 10 thousand digital nomads per month
De Jong points out that one of the main reasons for coming to Croatia – apart from the infrastructure, which mainly includes the need for a good internet connection and the already established community of digital nomads – is the lifestyle that Croatia offers, which, in addition to all that, is extremely affordable for them.
And it seems it is, as the average digital nomad earns around €6,500 per month, according to NomadList.
In Croatia at the end of January this year, there were 595 valid visas for digital nomads, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior, but this is not even close to the actual number of digital nomads in Croatia, as it only applies to citizens of third countries who stay there for more than three months.
For a complete picture, one should take into account EU citizens who can freely and indefinitely stay throughout the territory of the Union, including in Croatia, but also add a large number of digital nomads from third countries who stay in Croatia for less than three months.
MUP says that it does not keep special statistics on the stay of the two latter categories of nomads, so the numbers can only be estimated.
Following the trends for individual cities – Zadar, Split, Zagreb on the Nomad List platform, de Jong concludes that approximately 5,000 digital nomads come to Croatia per month. If it is seen that every digital nomad stays in Croatia for two months, it can be said that there are about 10,000 of them in Croatia every month.
In the meantime, after Croatia was one of the first European countries to introduce this visa, other European countries did the same.
In addition to the basic conditions – that they work remotely, or are self-employed and have a certain minimum amount of monthly income, which, for example, is 2,300 euros per month in Croatia, and over 6,000 euros in Iceland, the maximum possible length of stay is also prescribed for nomads.
Croatia is one of the more rigorous countries, because if the nomads like it and want to stay longer than a year, they must leave the country for at least six months in order to be able to apply for a visa again. On the other hand, in other European countries it is generally possible to extend the visa, depending on the place, for example, in the Czech Republic, for a period of three years in total.
The purpose of the visa is to promote the country’s tourism
Although de Jong comments that the digital nomad visa was never intended to allow permanent residency, he says there are a number of those who turn to the association for advice on what to do if they want to stay in the country.
When asked whether, in any legal way, that visa can be extended, in case someone wants it, the Ministry of Interior answers that there is no extension option. It cannot even be combined with a permit for an extended tourist stay.
MUP explains this by the fact that the purpose of the visa for digital nomads was nothing more than tourism promotion of the Republic of Croatia.
Steve Tsentserensky, a native of Ohio (USA), a copywriter who was among the first to successfully obtain a visa in Croatia, found himself in such a legal limbo. He fell in love with Zagreb, where he was staying, so much that after the six-month period expired, he decided to return there for a longer period of time.
When asked how, because the law limits how long he can stay there, unless, for example, he marries a Croatian woman, opens a company or gets a job, he says that he will do what works to regulate his status there, and probably re-apply for the same digital nomad visa. However, he points out that it would be good if it could be extended for a longer period of time. Without necessarily leaving the country, because everyone has the option to apply again after the expiration of the six-month period, and the conditions are exactly the same, says this expert in advertising texts. Tsentserensky, who is of Slavic origin, says that the cultural features of the Croats he met there reminded him of his childhood.
His compatriot, who wished to remain anonymous, shares the same opinion. This digital nomad is in Zagreb after the expiration of her visa, in Croatian style – she reached out to the connections she quickly acquired during her one-year stay there. She did not want to leave the country and return to it again, so, although she kept the same job for which she receives an American salary, she found a solution in fake employment.
Someone offered me a work permit, she says cautiously. She thought about other ways – starting a company, they also advised her to get married, but she thinks that with the work permit she also managed to find a way to contribute to the community where she lives by paying taxes, because as a digital nomad, she didn’t need to. She doesn’t feel, she says, as if she cheated anyone.
Both Americans similarly fell in love with Zagreb – for drinking coffee, socializing and a lifestyle in which people, in their opinion, devote a lot of time to leisure and to each other, which is why they want to stay there for a short period of time. How long – they do not reveal, but the American woman says that she is actively learning the Croatian language and is not thinking about leaving the country.
Caroline Hornstein-Tomić, a researcher at the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, talks about the characteristics of this group and points out that digital nomads are mostly highly educated people, mostly in their 30s, who are also excellent consumers.
Digital nomads, if they decide to stay longer, become a kind of immigrant, he points out, and adds that there is still no research in Croatia on how digital nomads affect local communities, but that the influence undoubtedly exists. They encourage tourism, but also other economic branches – they encouraged the development of infrastructure, the establishment of numerous hubs, but also services that respond to their needs for finding their way in a new country.
Interviewing some nomads who went to live on the Dalmatian islands, she says she had the opportunity to hear about positive experiences with the local community.
– Those who have decided to stay longer are also interested in local employment or business development, or are involved in volunteer work. So, in addition to financial resources, they also have knowledge that they like to share, says Hornstein-Tomić.
De Jong, the founder of the association, also referred to the demographic potential of this group, which keeps pace with new trends, that they no longer emigrate to those countries where they are better paid by work, but go to places where they like the lifestyle and their well-paid jobs. they bring with them.
– I think that this remote work revolution will never reverse, this revolution will remain, he says.
And that trend can be the biggest opportunity for Croatia, which has been left by about half a million people in 10 years in search of better-paid jobs, says de Jong, who himself has lived in Croatia for the past 16 years.