Sunday, November 12, 2006

Croatia Online - Expat Life

Unfortunately winter has finally arrived in Croatia, after an Indian summer in late October. However, even now that the cold Bora wind has started to dominate the weather, there are still exceptionally warm sunny days. Having returned from a longer than usual trip to the UK, Croatia Online has plenty of news to catch up on which we will be sharing in future postings. In the meantime below are a few thoughts on expat life while the contrast is still fresh.

BBC Five Live had an interesting feature on living abroad, around the time that recent immigration and emigration statistics were published in the UK. Although there’s much topical focus on immigration caused by the expansion of the EU, there are also quite a few “returnees” to the UK, disappointed or disillusioned with expat life. There are a range of reasons which include boredom, failure to integrate with the local community, inability to earn a living, rising prices, too many other expats, elderly parents back home, failing health, etc. The list is endless and it appears that for every person that finds the good life abroad, there are plenty who don’t.

Croatia has its share of challenges – bureaucracy, a difficult language and tight communities that are reserved towards strangers, to name but a few – but it also has a great deal to offer. Here are a few suggestions on how to approach that life changing move:

Try it First

Take as much time as you can to find out whether you’ll like it. See what life’s like in all the seasons. Your apparently deserted village in May might turn into a hedonistic paradise in the summer or alternatively, if you like to eat out regularly and the cheap restaurants of the summer are a major attraction, you may find everything is closed in the winter.

Talk to People Who Have Done The Same Thing

They’re not too hard to find and all with have stories, good and bad, about how Croatia suits them. Beware however of the persistent moaners. There seems to be a small breed of expats who move from place to place because they are never happy and can’t find anything good to say about their current home. It’s a huge discourtesy to their local hosts to continually criticise their way of life and, nine times out of ten, you’ll find that they left the UK for similar reasons and wouldn’t dream of going back. Every country has its problems and most share the major ones. Don’t expect Nirvana and you won’t be disappointed

Keep a Foothold in the UK Until You are Sure

If you find that expat life is not for you, and have committed all your resources into a Croatian property, you may well find it difficult to get back onto the UK property ladder, even if you can sell your foreign property quickly. It’s easy to find a property to rent in Croatia: there are so many holiday properties that don’t earn their keep in the summer months. Renting may be a strange concept if you are used to owning your own home but its difficult to argue against the logic of renting in Croatia and renting out your UK home, at least until you are ready to break your ties. Financially you’ll probably be earning three times as much in rent for a UK property of similar size as you pay for your Croatian home and the capital risk in the UK may well be lower. The Croatian property market is still very young and correspondingly fragile and volatile. Once you are sure that Croatia’s for you, you’ll be desperate to own your own home and the decision then becomes easy. By that time you’ll know the local property market a lot better and are far less likely to get stung, either on price or on paperwork.

Treat Your Host Country With Respect

Find out what the rules and regulations are and try your best to stick to them. If you buy a house by forming a Croatian company then you need a Business Visa and there are other complications; if you stay longer than three months (and there’s now a cumulative rule which you can’t avoid by taking periodic trips across the border) then you need residency papers. Enforcement might have been lax in the past but that’s changing. Find a lawyer that’s familiar with the practicalities.

Try and Integrate With The Locals

The language is difficult but most Croatians don’t seem to have any objection to speaking English. Any efforts you can make in Croatian will be appreciated but there’s nothing like a local’s view on the things that concern you. It’s very reassuring to know that locals experience very similar problems to expats. The difference is that they normally know someone who can solve them. Tap into that local knowledge if you can but you may well have to make the first effort.

Be Realistic and Thorough

“If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is”. It’s an old cliché but none the less relevant to moving to a new country. The world is shrinking and Croatians are smart people rapidly getting used to foreign investors and tourists. A few are greedy and sometimes you’ll find property and other prices highly inflated. Shop around, stay smart, get good advice, pay for professional translations and read the small print. The era of properties getting snapped up before you’ve thought twice is largely over, so don’t rush into it.

Get Good Professional Advice

Find a good lawyer, accountant and translator. Word of mouth recommendations are best but the good ones are worth every penny.

Read Croatia Online

This site is intended to give you a real feel for what life is really like in Croatia and will help speed up your learning curve. We have links to a wide range of other resources – the best of information gathered over a period of four years. Here’s a sample of previous postings on expat life if you don’t have time to scroll through all the pages.

Croatia Online - The Living is Easy?

Croatia Online - Dogs and Other Pets in Croatia

Croatia Online - Croatian Beaches

Croatia Online - Cost of Living

Croatia Online - Travel Information and Holiday Tips

Croatia Online - Driving in Croatia

Croatia Online - Property News

Alternatively, click on the Postings Index link on the top right hand corner of the main page for a detailed list of postings.

Moving to a new country is not a step to be taken lightly so treat it as the important event it is if you don’t want to be one of the disillusioned returnees.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

schooling in croatia (international junior & high schools) ?

12:35 pm  
Blogger Jane Cody said...

An earlier comment asked for information on schooling in Croatia - a very good point! Anecdotal evidence suggests there is an International School in Zagreb but very little else. We'll be doing some more research on this in the New Year, with a little help from our friends, but I guess the number of foreigners scattered across Croatia may not yet justify to many international schooling facilities. Perhaps this opens up another business opportunity for an entrepreneur with children of school age?!

4:58 pm  

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