August 15, 2019 – A comprehensive digital nomad guide for Croatia, with a special emphasis for female digital nomads, as Tanja J. Polegubic joins the TCN team.
We are delighted to welcome Tanja to the TCN team. One of the pioneers of the digital nomad revolution in Croatia, Tanja’s first piece is an exhaustive guide of everything you need to know about the digital nomad scene in Croatia, from every conceivable angle, and with an emphasis on information for female nomads. She has also written an ebook which you can download at the end of the article. Welcome, Number 138! If you would like to write about the Croatia, Montenegro or Slovenia where you are, contact us on [email protected]. And now, over to Tanja…
The 4 Hour Work Week, Pamela Slim’s Escape From Cubicle Nation, Eat Pray Love. Titles like these were novel on release, what with their promise of hammocks and laptops, starting side hustles and bouncing from Rome to Bali as a modern woman ‘finding’ herself. Now, these themes are all mainstream and have empowered a wave of remote working and living the digital nomad lifestyle – especially for women, and increasingly in Croatia. Add smart devices, cloud storage, unlimited data, online rentals of, well, everything from rooms to electric bikes to an address. The last decade has given us all the tools needed to be a digital nomad. Especially now in Croatia, which may have been unimaginable 10 years ago. I had certainly never considered it as a place to live and work. Things have changed, and are changing. As reported in TCN, the humble digital nomad can bring many benefits to Croatia.
And the way things are going, there’ll be 1 billion of us digital nomads by 2035.
With this growing wave, and the magnificent option of nomading in Croatia, here’s a 4 part guide on what to expect as a female digital nomad in Croatia, focused on Split specifically. Guys, it applies to you too – in most parts. As a coworking space owner in Split, I meet women who choose this country for many of the same reasons. Safety. Location. Mediterranean mindset. You can see my story and the stories of Chris, Gillian, Christi, Barb, Julie and Nicole, women all living the digital nomad lifestyle full or part-time, as featured on TCN.
If you’re looking to nomad on Croatia’s coast, this guide is for you. We’ll cover:
- CROATIA for DIGITAL NOMADS: Why, What, When, Where.Etc.
- GETTING PERSONAL: Dating, Friendships and Finding Yourself.
WORK: Being a Digital Nomad.
First, establishing what kind of digital nomad you are (or want to be) helps you see yourself in Croatia. There are 5 main types:
- An employee.
- A consultant or freelancer.
- An entrepreneur.
- In Transition: Finding your path, a new side-hustle or change of scenery.
- The ModernSabbatical.
The Digital Nomad Trend is On Your Side
If you’re an employee, convincing your employer to let you work from somewhere else is easier than ever, and hopefully the norm in the next few years. All the more, to choose Croatia as a nomad destination. (See Part 2).
More companies realise letting their teams work remotely helps retain staff and looks good to new recruits. Ernst & Young in Australia now offers 3 months of “Life Leave”. If you’re at a career crossroads, are uninspired by your colleagues, or find 10 vacation days per year (US) isn’t enough. Or, the ‘same ole’ is making you miserable – but can’t up and quit just yet, it’s time to get your digital nomad shoes on.
Working in a new environment, with the bonus of incidental travel, is now a reality for millions of digital nomads. No more waiting and saving. No credit card debt waiting for you. Freedom.
Before you take the leap, know the Digital Nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Women especially may experience some issues – from the confidence to go out solo, to the choice being supported by family, partners, clients, managers and colleagues. The good news is, Croatia has many benefits. The high level of safety, English speakers (locals and expats) and internet speed means you can be productive, make friends and feel at home in a beautiful country. You’re joining a growing number of digital nomads arriving daily. Here’s some tips if you’re looking to make the leap and need help how to go about it.
- Suggest a short term trial first. This works for both sides. You’ll see if the lifestyle suits you. Your employer will know it’s not necessarily permanent and hopefully be more open to it. Especially if you’re the first in your office to ‘go nomad’ on the team.
- Use a project management tool. Perfect for remote teams. We like Trello.
- Consider the timezone. Pick locations where the timezone works for calls and meetings. Being on a call at midnight, and then again at 8am, can be hard to keep up. Set boundaries and communicate them in advance, or adjust things as needed.
- Find a workspace. Show you will have a reliable internet connection and productive setting around other professionals. This one is highly recommended, not only as a coworking space owner, but as someone who would rather paint my nails and do the washing when at home than get to some overdue admin. You feeling me?
- Use a lifestyle service. A what? Think of it as a hybrid of a travel and real estate agent and friend-of-a-friend in a faraway city. There are companies serving women travellers who work and travel as they go. They help with everything from finding accommodation to a yoga studio, to people on the ground you can meet. Coworking space members are also a great source of connecting. Reach out to us at Saltwater and ask about events, accommodation, the best brunch spots and our community.
- Mention other benefits. Do you do business in Europe and benefit being closer to these cities? Can you attend conferences or training in the region – while still getting work done? Find as many perks as you can. And ask for the coworking desk to be paid for at the company’s cost – always negotiate UP! A challenge many women find – and thus never even ask. Seek out a friend or book an online negotiation coach to help you put forward your case if this is not one of your strong points.
- Find a digital nomad buddy. Convince a friend to join you, or post online to see who else is travelling around the area you are interested in. Note – avoid committing to the long haul until you’ve met and tried out at least a few days together. Applies to strangers and friends.
CONSULTANTS and FREELANCERS
Well, you’ve got it made, haven’t you? Off you go.
For those aspiring to enter this style of working, there’s plenty of resources out there. Find a good podcast, coach or invest in something like Seth Godin’s online freelancer course. Find a mentor in your desired field, and see how they did it. Once you’re in motion, also try these:
- Offer your services online. Build an online presence and list on freelancer websites or through coworking space communities you join and even local collaborations.
- Inform clients you’re on the move. Arrange to shift any face-to-face meetings to video calls, instant messaging, and also advise them the timezone you’re on. It’s good to add this to your email signature, or social media updates and bio information.
- Work out payments in advance. If you’re charging in a different currency, fees and transfer times should be taken into account. Also research the tax implications of being abroad and any visa requirements if taking up local work. Croatia does not as
yet offer Revolut or N26, but services like TransferWise are handy for payments. For visas and other information about staying in Croatia, review the information on TCN.
Again, as your own boss, it’s an easy one as you’re the one in control of when and where you go. Still, leaving your local base and managing in-person activity is harder from the other side of the world. How much you can keep operating depends on your type of business and who you have to rely on back ‘home’. If you’re shipping products, or run a hospitality business, who is there if things go wrong? How will you monitor progress? What do you need to have authorised while away? You may need an online video monitoring system if you have physical premises. Even if it’s just your personal property, there are many inexpensive and advanced systems which offer HD video, alert replays and an intercom.
Maintaining your business. TIPS:
- Build a support network. If you’re a solo operator, get a pool of friends, colleagues, or even recruit someone and give them a run-down of operations before you go.
- Inform suppliers and clients you’re on the move. And let them know who to contact or how to contact you while away.
- Prepare for business transactions and calls while abroad. Have you got SMS authorisation for your banking (and will be changing your SIM card over)? Will you need to renew a contract while away? Can you divert a phone number to a virtual answering service? Check any expiry dates on cards and permits, ensure someone will open your mail. Anything which blocks a bank account or new business can be anticipated. A local phone number service such as Local Phone is handy when internet drops out during a call – or your bank has a landline you may need to call. This has saved me while making online transfers or a blocked card issue.
Looking to start or expand your business – in Croatia.
“Those who do not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground”. Sun Tzu
The value a reputable, well-established, connected local (or expat) can bring you in Croatia is immeasurable. This place is very much “who you know” and many have jumped hoops and wielded machetes through the paper jungle ahead of you. Find them. And if you’re used to a North American, Western European or Down Under way of doing things… buckle up!
- Attend networking events or join a coworking space. This is a great way to get a read of the territory by speaking to people already operating in the area. Many business owners will happily share their grievances, what’s worked and what hasn’t. Further, you will find it easier to connect to someone in your chosen industry. Face to face goes a long way.
- Make friends with locals and established expats. Remember to give, as well as take here. If all you’re doing is asking, or needing a lot of help – this can wear thin. In this case, hire a professional to provide these services or offer to barter your skills.
- Offer an exchange. If you can mentor or add value to a business, you can continue working (noting local employment laws) and benefit the local community, while learning new skills and building on your body of work.
- Speak at or host an event. There’s a bunch of meetup groups, everything from fitness and meditation, to business networking. Contacting the hosts and offering your services will likely be very welcome. Events are usually free and a lot of work on top of regular business, so if you can prove you’re capable of delivering – you’ll be a welcome addition to the local business sector, and readily accepted as you’ve “given” rather than just “taken” information. You’re not the first new arrival with the groundbreaking idea of how to make things better here. Skin in the game goes far.
- Do your research. If you’ve got a particular industry in mind, ask around. Try things out. Croatia doesn’t have a lot of information online about.. most things. And what it does, tends not to be in English. A reputable local contact and online english language portal like TCN are invaluable when getting a grasp of things.
Most of all, be discerning. Be wary of who you do business with. Be patient and persistent.
One of my favourites. You’re finding your path, a new side-hustle or change of scenery. You could still be any of the above, but it’s a restlessness which nomading can help cure. If there even is a cure to this modern form of The Travel Bug. The Mediterranean is a great place for it. The pace puts the brakes on the fast treadmill setting you’ve likely been on. Coffees are slow and social. No more rushed cups by yourself staring at the screen. (Yes, it’s still cool to take coffee at your screen sometimes).
Observing the local ‘slowcoast’ lifestyle, while frustrating at times, teaches you a lot. Being among a mix of affluent European holidaymakers (think superyachts) while next to people collecting plastic bottles for half a kuna, makes you reassess things even more – and your place in the world. Perfect for anyone in the “finding yourself” phase. You’ll value things you’ve left behind while also appreciating simplicity and even the struggle of where you are. It inspires you to find a happy middle ground to best match the opportunities to enjoy the place you’re in – a young country still healing and even rehashing old wounds, battling everything from corruption to a brain drain, to mental health stigma and unaddressed PTSD. All while trying to assert its identity and being part of the EU.
If you’re looking for a change in where you’re going, this is a great place to reset and reevaluate. Epiphanies usually arrive during sundowners somewhere. Croatia mixes the sophistication of Europe, with a very relaxed seaside setting. Draw from those what you will.
- Connect. Find other digital nomads. You’ll likely find, “it’s not just you” feeling the way you’re feeling. Hurrah! Far from home, wondering where you’re going or where you’ll return to. Read the stories of Chris, Gillian, Christi, Barb and Nicole for inspiration. Women just like this are around all the time. Our workspace is great if you’re looking to meet people and need a friend.
- Step outside the comfort zone. This is the point, right? No one sees the layers you’re perceived to be wearing back home. Nobody knows you here. Try new (safe and legal) things. Ask someone out to dinner. Sunbathe topless. Learn to sail. Etc.
- Work out your ‘Why’. Easier said than done, but again, plenty of resources. Try Simon Sinek. Pamela Slim’s Body Of Work. Jen Sincero’s Badass series. Marie Forleo. Pema Chodron (WOAH!). Get a coach, especially one in the EU, the likes of Anna Anderson and Ginny Krauss, who are part of the Saltwater family and have been part of the transition and empowerment of our members.
THE MODERN SABBATICAL
A Break From the 9-5.
You’re finally writing your book. Your kids have moved out. You’re newly single. You’ve got a personal interest website to build. You’ve got a dream to follow. Etc… but it would be great to also make money while doing it.
Being a digital nomad, especially at 30 plus, allows space for over-neglected passion projects. Taking advantage of the gig economy, it’s easy now to build your own team of remote freelancers to build a website, get a publishing coach such as Jodi Brandon Editorial, or any other niche skills you need to bring your idea to life.
Rather than waiting for the right time, saving, or returning ‘home’ to credit card debt, working along the way helps you follow a dream, and perhaps even reveal the unexpected. All while keeping finances replenished along the way.
- Rent out your place. Many home-owning nomads rent out their homes as an additional source of income while away.
- Find paid gigs by asking your network. Tell people you know you’re looking for any paid gigs. You’d be surprised what skills and small, but paid tasks are needed by busy people. Are you a spreadsheet whiz? Love words? A hobby photographer? Basic photo editing using affordable software is in demand from professional photographers on multi-day shoots. Explore forums to see what people are asking for, and put yourself out there. Start low, and build up a body of work to get more streams of income – a trend we all need to go, and something the Dalmatians do well!
- Get a seasonal job. This can be your ticket to staying in Croatia through a work permit. 3 months working and living on a vineyard can buy you time in the region if you’re not an EU national. And goodness knows our smallholder farmers need it.
Workers in demand in Croatia, on the coast in particular, include:
- Hospitality &Tourism.
- Agriculture. Vineyards, olives and other Mediterranean produce duringharvests.
- Construction (usually outside of thesummer).
While the pay will be lower than you’re used to, (construction aside), the skills shortage could be the ticket to a work residency permit to allow you to stay in Europe. It’s valid for 12 months, and most of this work is seasonal, meaning it’s only a few months and can help you cover some costs, gain new skills and perspectives, and keep up the digital nomad work.
Negotiate for accommodation or meals where you can, and honour your passion to boot!
CROATIA for DIGITAL NOMADS
Top 10 Reasons for nomads (especially women):
- It’s safe.
- High English speaking population.
- Fast internet and good mobile coverage.
- A growing digital nomad and expat community.
- Natural beauty: mountains, sea, islands, national parks.
- Active: hiking, climbing, sailing, free diving, sea kayaking, sports.
- Cultural and historic treasures: Early Stone and Bronze Ages, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian and Austro-Habsburg eras.
- Strong cafe culture. Taking 5 … that’s up to 5 hours, for a coffee, is the norm.
- Gastronomy. A range of Mediterranean and regional delicacies such as olive oil, truffles, seafood with influences from the entire region for abroad experience.
- Wine. Craft Beers. And other spirits, including rakija (herb and fruit) and award-winning gins made from the local botanicals.
Croatia is easy to get around. Most cities are connected by new highways with regular buses. The islands are all within an hour or so ferry ride from the mainland or each other – unlike our closest Mediterranean equivalent, Greece, which will take you half a day. Island hopping really is a breeze, here. There are also regular flights to many European destinations, with more carriers in the summer period. Rideshares are also gaining popularity and taking the sea-route, rather than land is a wonderful way to travel.
WHERE TO WORK AS A DIGITAL NOMAD IN CROATIA:
Clearly the winner. Reliable internet. Privacy and professionalism for calls and video conferencing. A community and a bunch of regulars to collaborate, soundboard, travel and dine with.
Convenient for short periods. Note, if you’re solo, you’re taking up room of paying customers and in high season, is frowned upon. In cooler months, this is more accepted, but if you’re a non-smoker, the enclosed cafe environment will have you surrounded by more ashtrays than digital nomads.
Most accommodation rentals will have wifi and air conditioning. A desk setup may not always be available, but the dining table or a balcony if you’re lucky is ideal. Could be a little lonely… so breaking up the work-from-home by getting out is an investment.
Most cities have a local library. Probably dwindling in popularity, these spaces also host local speaking events and presentations (usually in Croatian).
Co-Living Spaces and Hubs.
Coming to the Croatian coast in March 2020. Stay tuned to TCN for locations.
WHAT TO DO:
Food + Wine
The #1 ranked Mediterranean Diet is all around you. Try local made wine, seafood and regional specialties. Either served to you, or part of catching and preparing the meals.
Active + Nature
Sailing, Hiking, Cycling, Swimming, Kayaking… you’re in a 200km radius of some pristine nature. This pristine status is also under threat. A clean up is
Every city has a range of celebrations – mostly religious. There’s also a growing number of music and dance festivals.
If you’re of Croatian descent (well over 4 million people from around the world are), explore your origins, family tree and the language.
History + Culture
Ancient and Roman settlements, Byzantine, Ottoman. Pick a date in history and go explore.
Look up a ferry timetable, find a local attraction or idyllic beach and get thee over to an island.
Meditation, yoga, seasonal harvests… Here there’s also 4 hour lunches or 3 hour coffees. Om out, in nature or a slow coastal cafe.
As a digital nomad, you likely wear many income-generating hats. Start or find business here. Note the local requirements to work here – and respect the locals who abide by local requirements, permits and associated taxes and high costs in running a business.
When to come?
JULY + AUGUST
This is peak season and you’ll pay the highest prices for everything during this time – except maybe budget flights. If you don’t mind the prices and lots of people, this period sees Split at its most bustling.
The weather is warming up, places are reopening after being closed for the winter. This is an affordable time and the staff are full of energy.
SEP + OCT
School has restarted and the weather is gorgeous, Mediterranean harvests are underway – wine, olive oil and truffles. The perfect time to travel.
A festive time with Advent celebrations with tolerable outdoors weather (bring a coat)!.
JAN, FEB, MAR, NOV
The quietest times on the coast. Most places close, there is less on offer and limited flight connections. It is however a great time to experience Croatia without any crowds.
The average budget of digital nomads coming to our space is €2500 per month. This includes accommodation, coworking, meals (a mix of dining out and self-catering) and recreation.
In Split, expect to pay approx €500 in the centre for a 45m2 apartment. Considerably more for short term.
Food + Entertainment €1500 per month
Dining out will cost 50 HRK for a vegan burrito to 250HRK for a fine dining experience. Self catering at the local markets is about 100 HRK for a full day of veg and certain types of seafood.
We offer dedicated desks for €249 euro or €16 per day. Less for long term plans. In a cafe: A flat white is €3.
If you’re drinking 1 per hour in a working day to ‘buy’ your seat, it racks up to €24.
Get reliable wifi, ergonomic seating AND 2 coffees for that price. Coworking is a cost-effective option.
If you take the bus or ferry twice a week to see a new destination on day trips, expect to pay 60 euro per week. Cabs extra.
Adding an extra €1000 per month allows for indulgences such as retail therapy, 1-2 nights accommodation per week and other recreation.
TIME TO GET PERSONAL
Dating, Friendships and Finding Yourself.
I’m occasionally asked by nomads about dating locals in Dalmatia. Thankfully, destiny stepped in for me and I dodged the ‘dating-in-Dalmatia’ bullet. While no veteran, there are things I’ve observed as recurring themes specific to cultural differences.
- Lives with mum. Many unmarried, or even married Dalmatian men, still live at home. Even beyond age 50. It’s the same in Italy, where 60-year-old men still get their shirts ironed and pasta on the table daily. Loans are usually avoided at all costs – and to be fair, wages are low and moving out is not a financial option. Shared housing isn’t very common either, except for students and only during school terms. Be understanding. And get used to a mother-in-law who will worship your guy, especially if he’s the only son.
- Earnings. The wages here are among the lowest in the EU, so as a financially independent female, you just being you may be intimidating – or worse, a target. This is rarely the case, but one lady I know of was threatened to be sued for causing ‘emotional distress’ after not wanting to go on further dates.
- Different views. Attitudes on gender and sexuality will likely be more conservative than most digital nomads are used to. If your values differ on some fundamentals, it may be best to call for the bill.
- Divorce. As a very Catholic country, divorce was a last resort, but this, like everywhere else, has changed. A friend I have was ghosted, twice, after sharing her history.
- Making the First Move. Asking a guy out here is smart, as you may wait forever. Having said that, consider how long you’re here. These are small towns, you will probably run into the same person during your stay. Use your best “is he into me” judgement.
A special note about looking for love as a digital nomad.
Whether it’s Dalmatia, Northern Croatia or Chiang Mai – the growing number of digital nomads (with more screen than in-person interaction) makes forming bonds tough. Add in the prospect of finding a spark and then… you leave. If relationships weren’t tricky enough, being a nomad adds to the complexity. Understandably, anyone will be hesitant about getting their heart broken.
Nomads have chosen a lifestyle where mobility is key. Going for a local may cause disappointment – not only for them, but for you if you’re sacrificing your mobility overnight.
Consider also the numbers. Most working relationships come about through recommendations by friends, followed by the workplace, shared interests, then online.
PS I know a delightful circle of eligible men (and women) who are locals or regular nomads in Split. Another perk of using a coworking space – see point above about meeting at work and through a recommendation.
As women, we tend to talk things through. Not having your bestie there in person can prove one of the hardest things when living the nomad life. It took me several years to realise the importance of the friends who knew my backstory, and it still impacts me not being able to fully express what I’m going through, especially when on the move. Video calls and instant messenger are a blessing, but there’s something about a person right in front of you.
As noted above – you’re usually not alone in your ‘digital nomad’ quandary, if you’re going through one. Reaching out to someone – hopefully empathetic – is a way to form bonds, and unburden yourself on what can be a lonely journey.
Knowing this, you can prepare ahead by doing things you know help such as journalling, lining up times to call and chat to your friends or a long walk and uplifting podcast.
Soundboarding about colleagues or a work project is also a bit harder, so processing these thoughts – a local therapist service or counsellor, is recommended. Whatever you do, reach out. You’ll find other nomads have experienced similar issues, and can help you through.
This is where this guide ends, and your own answers come in.
Your reasons for being a digital nomad could be any number of things. Whatever they are, the hope for you is that they are fruitful, you find some other great nomads and experience along the way – and add Croatia to your nomad list. We’ll be here waiting for you at Saltwater, and the TCN resources will keep coming.
Happy nomading! And consider Croatia, especially in the off-season.
Tanja has written an excellent and very helpful ebook on being a digital nomad which is available here, and you can also visit the Saltwater Workspace website, her coworking space on the Split riva.
You can learn more about being a digital nomad in Croatia with the Total Croatia guide.