Is the digital nomad visa in Croatia becoming a reality? It seems so.
Beginning of August this year Estonia was first in the EU to issue a visa for remote workers living in the country but employed by foreign companies. Unlike similar visas issued by Germany and the Czech Republic, this visa does not require a ton of paperwork and assures a one-year residency in the country without any headaches.
Croatia decided to follow this example. Or at least, this is the rumour. Croatia does not issue these visas yet, nor has the Parlament discussed it.
There was only a tweet.
Jan de Jong, a Dutch ex-pat, lived in Croatia long enough to realize how much-unused potential the country has. He contacted the Prime minister Andrej Plenkovic with an open letter. The letter argues that facilitating life for Digital nomads would benefit Croatia.
The salaries those digital nomads earn, they will spend in Croatia – resulting in an enormous boost of our economy through consumer spending.Jan de Jong
This sentence was enough to incite the curiosity of the prime minister, who met with him on the 28th of August to learn more about this new opportunity. On the same day, he issued a tweet stating that Croatia will be one of the first countries facilitating the residency of “digital nomads”.
Something called “The Institut of Digital Nomads” will be incorporated in the draft of the Foreigner law still waiting to be discussed in the parliament.
Several articles came out as a reaction to the tweet; their purpose was mainly to explain what a digital nomad is. However, those who knew the term were aware of what it would mean if Croatia opened up to the new breed of workers.
The countries GDP relies solely on seasonal tourism, and the season this summer was exceptionally short – so any hint of a new possible income is wholeheartedly welcome. Welcoming foreign workers who would spend their salaries here without creating any new jobs seemed like a perfect formula for a country facing a crisis.
Safe to say that remote workers around the world are rejoicing about the idea. Here is why.
Croatia is breathtaking
Let us get the most obvious reason out of the way. Croatia is one of the most stunning places on Earth. Clean turquoise sea, more than a 1000 islands, wild forests, a wealth of clean potable water and rivers, massive mountain chains, and vast scarcely inhabited areas for those in search of solitude.
The diverse nature is perfect for all kinds of nature sports: wind and kite surfing, kayaking, bouldering, sailing, paragliding, or simply hiking.
Besides the natural riches, Croatia prides itself in a long cultural heritage. Balkans were always on the crossroad of worlds. Remnants left by Romans, Greeks, Turks and Venetians throughout the centuries are there to prove it.
Everyone speaks English
Everybody does speak English at a very high level. The older generations are often fluent in German, and in Istria, Italian is the second language to most people.
The reason behind so many Croatians speaking English, and often another language, may lie in the size of the country and the language. Since Croatian is small, and not widespread, learning English is often necessary for the citizens of this tourist country.
Subtitled and undubbed foreign tv programs are also a big factor. Constant exposure to foreign languages from an early age certainly helps to grasp it as an adult.
A lot of sunny days
With the average of 2600 hours of sun per year, the Croatian coast is one of the sunniest parts of the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean climate guarantees long periods of warm, pleasant weather. However, the two winds Bura and Jugo are undeniable forces that affect life and are impossible to ignore.
The cold Bura wind can blow up to 125 km/h, and more. It has been known to pull out trees and creates an unpleasant feeling during the night. But the houses are built with Bura in mind, and they are incredibly safe. The wind doesn’t usually last longer than three days, and it thoroughly cleans the air and leaves blue skies.
Jugo, on the other hand, is warm, causes headaches and brings stormy weather, but just as Bura it doesn’t last too long.
Still cheaper than most of EU
While Croatia has become too expensive for a Croatian salary, it is still cheaper than in other west European countries. Let me use my favourite metrics to prove my point – a beer is still mostly two euros and a kebab three. Prices in the supermarket are very similar to those in Germany, understandably so, since most of them are German or Austrian.
When compared to Portugal, the European hot spot of the moment the result is tied.
Here is a table comparing the cost of living in Split and Lagos in the Algarve region in Portugal taken from numbeo.com:
Consumer Prices in Lagos are 8.92% lower than in Split
Consumer Prices Including Rent in Lagos are 4.57% higher than in Split
Rent Prices in Lagos are 57.67% higher than in Split
Restaurant Prices in Lagos are 6.27% lower than in Split
Groceries Prices in Lagos are 21.79% lower than in Split
Local Purchasing Power in Lagos is 71.28% higher than in Split
Groceries and restaurants are slightly cheaper in Portugal, but the rent is significantly higher. Croatia is more affordable.
Plenty of living capacity
As I mentioned, the Croatian economy relies on summer tourism. The number of tourists visiting the country is four times the population. Also, people visit usually scarcely inhabited areas. To give you an example, the town where my parents live has less than a 1000 people in January and 4000 in August.
This means that this town has four beds per inhabitant. There is more than enough living capacity – except in summer. Renters on the coast have a terrible habit of kicking subletters on the street in June, only to take them back in September. If they decided to rent out the apartment to someone all year round, they would have to raise the rent to make up the loss of the tourist season. Digital nomads could probably afford it, but this would inevitably lead to gentrification – one of the most important issues for which the Government should have a resolution if they decide to go ahead with a digital nomad visa in Croatia.
A good internet connection
Research conducted during the last few years has shown that, although the mobile internet connection was relatively fast and stable ( 35.9 Mbit/s in average) In 2017 the broadband internet was testing slow in comparison to other European countries, only 7.5 Mbit/s in average.
Lack of infrastructure may be the reason. In July 2019 the leading telecom provider T-com announced that they had implemented infrastructure even in the most rural parts of the country, guaranteeing a broadband connection of at least 30 Mbit/s for most households. The company made it clear that in the forthcoming period, the third of the household will have a connection faster than 100 Mbit/s.
The food is amazing
The coast is famous for its Mediterranean cuisine, considered the healthiest in the world. A menu composed of olive oil, fish, and plenty of vegetables accompanied with a glass of red wine is what you will often find on most dining tables on the coast, and in the recommendation from the World health organization.
And to make it even better, the fish is freshly caught, and the vegetables and fruits are locally grown. However, the local farmers are not keen on bio farming – it is not profitable enough. The potential of a sustainable model of agriculture is there, but there is no will. The arrival of a bunch environment aware vegan hipsters with money to spend should help the local growers become motivated.
Being a digital nomad often implies being illegal. Getting a tourist visa for three months than making the so-called “visa runs” to another country and back to reset the clock on the duration of your visa.
Estonia was the first to introduce a Digital Nomad Visa, and it allowed remote workers to attain a one-year residency without too much bureaucracy. Croatia is aiming for the same model, with the added value of a warmer climate.
Be part of a positive change
Attracting digital nomads to the country will take more than a visa and the sea. A lot of aspects of everyday life would have to be adjusted to foreign workers; starting with language assistance in institutions, laptop-friendly cafés and 24-hour co-working spaces.
Digital nomads bring the world with them: trends and habits which could be implemented in everyday life of the smaller towns. Locals can also benefit from industry knowledge nomads bring in the form of workshops and lectures.
A remote working expert Tanja Polegubić tackles the topic beautifully in her Medium article.
However, being a massive fan of the easy-going way of life in Croatia, I believe that it shouldn’t change too much, but everyone would benefit from healthy symbiosis.
Part of the EU, gateway to the Balkans
Croatia is often the first step in the exploration of many young travellers. Countries like Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania are cheaper and equally stunning states, but with a lower standard than Croatia.
Although the area of ex – Yugoslavia had a turbulent history, the countries are still very bound by history, language and culture that the EU border almost seems unnatural for a person visiting the area. But after some time spent here the subtle and less subtle differences will become more clear.
If you are living in Dalmatia, Sarajevo and Mostar are only a short bus ride away, and if you are in Dubrovnik going to much cheaper Montenegro or Albania may be more logical than going to Zagreb.
Croatia still has a way to go before it becomes as “Laptop friendly” as countries in West Europe or SE Asia, but the judging by the positive reactions that followed the Prime minister’s tweet, it is not crazy to be optimistic.