What is it like to live in Croatia?

I live in Croatia. A while back I stumbled upon a Quora answer which answers the question "What is it like to live in Croatia" perfectly. The answer has, for some reason, been deleted since but I've archived it here and am reposting it verbatim, save for some corrections of typos and phrasing. None of it is satire or exaggeration, it's all very true.

Life in Croatia

As with any place, there are a few pros and a number of cons. Most of my experiences are derived from living and working in the country. A bird’s eye view if you like.

At a high level, to continue with the bird theme, Croatia has an attractive climate with four distinct seasons. There is a proper coast line with plenty to choose from in terms of places to go and hang out during the summer. Its countryside is quite beautiful. The country’s infrastructure generally works due almost entirely to EU largesse. Commercially there is a reasonably educated work force that is sadly bereft of opportunity. Relationships with Croats are generally transactional and individual success is punished.

Economics and Business

Taxation rate is a whopping 61% with employers having to add an additional 17%. The effective impact of this means, with the best part of 80% going to income based taxation, there is a thriving cash or black market system and it functions as a massive disincentive for local companies to employ people. Madness, right?!

The government has the largest stake in the economy at circa 60%. This has the effect of perverting the economy wholesale. The legal profession is also not to be trusted as Croatian lawyers from opposite sides will conspire with each other against their clients to maximise fee yields. As government is the biggest direct and indirect consumer of legal services, lawyers can and will be coerced;

Croatian labour market pool is not deep where decent talent is concerned because talented people leave and have been doing so in droves. Capability is not rewarded, only who one knows. This means the labour market, whilst educated, Neolithically reduces itself to the lowest common denominator. As a consequence, Croats are generally good at working to well defined structure and process. Employees are not good at creativity, independent thought/initiative, work ethic is very low, they have a sense of undeserved entitlement and demonstrate low levels of loyalty;

For some bizarre reason, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, the Croatian Forrestey Commission are all funded directly by the taxpayer. Quite literally so. When the employer signs off wages, the portion of the tax take that leaves their bank account in the name of the employee, goes directly to these non-governmental organisations. There is also another raft of direct and indirect parafiscal taxes that adds to the taxpayer burden. This is before one considers the consumption based taxes starting with VAT at 25%;

Establishing and maintaining a corporate entity is difficult and expensive. The efficiency of the UK Companies House, for instance, is galaxies away from the Croatian system where everything takes longer and costs much, much more. The bureaucracy is positively breathtaking in its complexity and opaqueness that collectively conspire to create a system for business prevention. Everything is overtly paper based and requires a notary because individuals, in essence, have no contracting capacity in their own right. Basic administrative changes, such as rotating directors on and off the boards, requires a commercial court submission and notarial fees that can run into several hundreds of euros if your corporate entity is unlucky enough to have a decent balance sheet. This is because fees and costs are usually scaled to one's ability to pay, not based on the nature or quality of service delivered;

If you’re lucky enough to have made money through plain hard work and diligence, it is assumed you’re corrupt. Success is punished. Croats will expect you to pay for everything and even then, you shall be subject to extreme forms of covert derision. It is worth remembering in business that even if you’re between two Croats that do not know each other from Adam, they will always be closer to each other than you;

The banking system is incredibly expensive. If you hold EUR currency and a EUR payment card for EUR purchases in, say, Spain. The settlement process is as follows: Croatian bank will convert your EUR into local currency (Croatian Kuna - HRK) and settle the EUR transaction in HRK. This means paying a spread to convert EUR to HRK and than back to EUR to settle the transaction with an additional fee on top of it. With two retail currency spreads and fee it’s like compounded interest going the wrong way!! If visiting Croatia (or any foreign country for that matter) always settle credit/debit card purchases in your home currency, never local;

Tourism

As there is very little manufacturing, the economy is largely services based but, perversely, they don’t understand what service actually means. Most Croats dislike foreigners and those in hospitality would prefer tourists to stay at home and just send money;

Croatia has the benefit of being a comparatively safe jurisdiction which means its tourism numbers have grown quite dramatically in recent years. This is not because there is anything particularly special about the place, but the usual destinations in the likes of North Africa becoming unsafe. This is changing and there are now better value for money options elsewhere. Croats have, for some time, regarded tourists as merely targets to rip off. In some places, like Split, they even have a two-tier pricing system for the locals;

The seaside is very good and makes up for a lot of everyday rubbish and pestilence one has to deal with. If living and working in Zagreb, you can get to a lovely beach inside 90 minutes during summer and there are a lot of cool places to hang out in the countryside during the ‘in between’ seasons. Most of the best skiing in Europe is directly and easily accessible from Zagreb. Needless to say, having a car is a must;

Corruption

There is very little commercial activity that doesn’t touch the political system at some level. When it does in some material way you will be approached... rather, blackmailed into paying a corrupt facilitation fee. In some tourist destinations for example, where there is a pressing demand for more accommodation that would have a beneficial impact on the local economy, leisure projects are routinely frustrated or stalled mid-construction until local government officials receive their bribes; There is no actual economic plan for the country as the very nature of government is entirely self serving, incompetent and tactical. Politicians and governmental officials are only concerned with using their positions and time in office to feather their own putrid nests. The interests of their countrymen and women are subordinated wholesale to this objective which is why there is so much understandable voter apathy;

The Croatian public sector performance and corruption ranks only just above Venezuela, which is at the very bottom of this particular scale. Things certainly have to be tragic for neighboring countries like Bosnia and Serbia to be ranked higher than an EU member country that is Croatia. There is a tendency for Croatians to parade their EU membership as a way of taking a nasty swipe at their neighbours or when holding out the begging bowl for EU grants and subsidies and being able to traverse Europe but, in practice, it means very little else to them;

Property

There is real value for money for property right across the country and particularly in premium locations. If it was anywhere else in Europe, one would need to pay between 150%<350% more

Lifestyle and People

The prevalence of English is widespread through to mid-30s and then it drops off markedly. Most Croats 45+ have very limited to no understanding of English but good German comprehension. If you’re lost or need directions, use Google or look for a young person;

If you have the benefit of earning a western income outside of Croatia, the cost v quality of life dynamic then works very much to your favour. Everything becomes easier and very affordable. Access to naturally grown food, for one, is better and much more affordable than other parts of Western Europe. There is a local wine industry that produces reasonable quality wines. Regional produce such as olive and pumpkin oil, prosciutto and other cured meats, cheeses, poultry and seasonal veg/fruit are all excellent;

There are a number of international private schools. Day care for working parents is safe, accessible and cheap compared to the west;

There is a choice of places to eat out. Seafood is plentiful and much less expensive than the west when buying for home from local fish markets. In the various tourist traps, it becomes much more expensive as everything is then ‘priced up’. Having said that, it’s still considerably cheaper to eat out in Croatia than in most parts of Western Europe (as an aside, Serbia is much better value and more diverse on this and most other lifestyle fronts than Croatia) Being kind, polite or considerate is wasted on Croats generally as this tends to be confused with weakness and you’re derided as a stupid foreigner. Best to be assertive and direct in your dealings as only perceived strength and power are respected. Being anything else only sets you up as a target;

It is therefore difficult to make friends with Croats as they operate in narrow social cliques and generally only socialise with foreigners for commercial/financial gain. Some folk might even describe Croats as being quite mean spirited: Austro-Hungarian cultural hangover perhaps? There are some good expat networks though;

Westerners are generally left alone and the streets are safe. Children can roam pretty freely without interference and lone women at night do not attract unwanted attention.

In summary, there are certainly better alernatives if you’re planning to relocate to another country for work and lifestyle. There are very limited work/career options/prospects in Croatia. Having said that, if you have the benefit of earning elsewhere in Europe through a non-Croatian contracting entity, Croatia may then be an interesting option.

If you’re doing okay financially, make sure you stay away from as much governmental related crap as possible and put some effort into keeping a low profile.


 

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