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Croatia: Destinations and Accommodation

When moving to Croatia, you are going to settle in the newest member state of the European Union. This makes relocating easier for many expats. But more on entry requirements and permits for moving to Croatia later — first, we’ll introduce you to this beautiful country, its culture, and its people.
Foreign property owners often buy vacation homes in coastal cities like Split.

Croatia consists of 20 different counties (županije), which include more than 125 cities and nearly 430 municipalities (i.e. small towns and villages). The capital city, Zagreb, forms a county of its own. It also houses Croatia’s biggest expat community, although you can find quite a few expats in other major cities, especially Rijeka, and the coastal region, particularly on or near the Istrian Peninsula.

Zagreb: The Capital and Main Expat Location

Zagreb is not only the capital, as well as an entire county, but also Croatia’s most populous city. In 2014, the population of Zagreb was estimated to be just under 800,000 across its 17 districts, and over one million in the larger urban area. Metropolitan Zagreb stretches beyond the city limits into the suburbs and villages of Zagreb County (colloquially nicknamed the “Green Ring of Zagreb” for its location and shape).

The capital covers a fairly spacious area, stretching about 30km from east to west and approximately 20km from north to south. Most districts border or run parallel to the River Sava, a tributary of the Danube, but a few reach the Medvednica (a mountain north of the city). Just like Croatia itself, Zagreb, thus, has a pretty diverse geography and distinct landscape.

While the eastern and southeastern parts of the city house several industrial zones, the center of Zagreb showcases its historical and cultural heritage. The city center includes the two districts Donji Grad (lower city/downtown) and Gornji Grad (upper city/uptown), where you’ll find plenty of historical buildings and tourist attractions.

As Croatia’s political and administrative center, Zagreb is the obvious destination of choice for members of the diplomatic corps, as well as foreign correspondents and international journalists. The capital is also the financial and business center of Croatia, in fields as diverse as high-tech, pharmaceutics, tourism, trade and commerce. Assignees of international companies or business people cooperating with Croatian enterprises settle in Zagreb for this reason.

The country’s best-known and oldest academic institution is the University of Zagreb, which has a student population of over 72,000. As well as its degrees and courses offered in the Croatian language, there are a selected number of full degree programs in English. Moreover, almost all of its faculties and academies deliver individual courses in English and various other foreign languages, which is particularly attractive to international students. Since the University of Zagreb is an important institute for scientific and scholarly research in Croatia, it is of interest to foreign academics, too.


Rijeka is the third largest city in the country. With around 130,000 inhabitants, though, it is noticeably smaller than Zagreb. It is mostly a regional center of Primorje-Gorski County in northeastern Croatia, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Slovenian border. Rijeka is also one of Croatia’s principal seaports, and an important location for the national ship-building industry. The shipyards of Rijeka have traditionally been a large employer and significant economic influence.

However, in order to join the EU, Croatia had to restructure and privatize its shipbuilding industry. Thousands of jobs have been lost across the country, a situation which has only been made worse by a relatively stagnant market. Although this has been a tough blow for Rijeka, the city has transformed from an industrial city into a city dominated by the service sector with a particular focus on urban tourism and the city’s transport links to the rest of the country.

Dalmatia: Dubrovnik and Split

There are some smaller expat communities in Dalmatia along the southern coast, especially in the picturesque town of Dubrovnik and the far more populous city of Split. Dubrovnik is mostly famous as a prime tourist attraction. It has become particularly popular since the beloved HBO series Game of Thrones aired, as quite a few parts of the show are filmed on location in Dubrovnik.

But, Dubrovnik isn’t just a tourist location. It is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in the eastern Mediterranean. Both Dubrovnik and Split offer plenty of sunshine and renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Dubrovnik has its medieval fortifications, and Split boasts the Palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Unlike quaint Dubrovnik, Split is Croatia’s second largest urban center, with just under 200,000 people living in the city and over 300,000 in the metropolitan area. The city is a balance of tradition and modernity and is also the place to go if you want to travel to the islands of the Adriatic.

Just like Rijeka, Split has a struggling shipbuilding and manufacturing industry, with high unemployment among former factory workers. It is also trying to focus more on logistics and trade, on sailing and leisure tourism, as well as on reviving its traditional industries, e.g. wine-making and fishing. Although both Dubrovnik and Split attract numerous visitors every year, the number of long-term residents from abroad is lower than in Zagreb.

The Croatian Property Market: Putting Down Roots in Croatia

No matter where you are going to live, you will need suitable housing soon. Despite several restrictions applying to foreign property owners, an estimated 70,000 people from countries like Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, or the UK owned real estate in Croatia in 2014. However, they use their local properties mainly as vacation homes, in areas like Istria, the region around Rijeka and on Krk, or the Dalmatian coast near Split.

If you are interested in obtaining a home for your vacations in Croatia, you should read up on the state of the Croatian real estate market. Since the end of the local property boom in 2009, housing prices have been dropping although they seem to be beginning to grow again. As fewer people can afford to invest in real estate, there are fewer building permits and fewer new properties. Those Croatians who still have the means to purchase property often use the real estate sector to “park” their assets and protect themselves from financial difficulties.

Another issue to contend with, and one that Croatia has to deal with in becoming a fully-fledged EU member, is the problem of multiple ownership claims. Many ethnic Serbs fled Croatia during the war, some leaving legally owned property behind, which has since been illegitimately resold by third-parties. Other problems stem from the inheritance of property by multiple siblings or under-the-table, paperless property transactions to avoid taxes and fees. Ensure any property you buy in Croatia has the appropriate paperwork to back up the legitimacy of your ownership.

But if you don’t mind either looking for a while or the fairly high transaction costs, you might be in luck. Nonetheless, property in Croatia is not for those interested in making a quick profit.

There are restrictions on who can buy property in Croatia and what type of property they can buy. Unless Croatian nationals are free to purchase property in your home country, you will not be able to purchase property in Croatia unless you plan to settle there permanently. You are also unable to purchase agricultural and forest land and protected cultural monuments unless given permission by authorities. This is in addition to the process for securing consent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the sale, which can take up to six months.

Finding Rental Accommodation Can Be a Struggle

Obviously, not all expats want to own a second home on the Adriatic Sea, nor can they necessarily afford the investment. The average expatriate probably wants to rent a house or apartment for a few years and then relocate without much hassle. The long-term rental market — i.e. accommodation not aimed at tourists — is comparatively small and mostly limited to larger cities like Zagreb, Dubrovnik, or Split.

However, there is also a fairly large “grey” rental market. Property owners rent out their flat or sub-let a room unofficially, without a contract. They do it to avoid paying taxes on rental income, and these offers may make it easier for some to quickly find a place to live. Please be aware, though, that it is not legal. In case of a dispute with your landlord, you will have no rights whatsoever and might even get in trouble.

The largest real estate portal for (official, legal) properties is Centar Nekretnina. However, though the site is available in several foreign languages, not all landlords offering places to let may respond to enquiries in English.



We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Paul Zimmerer

"The InterNations network helped me transition from a study abroad student to a resident of Zagreb."

Emma Baxter

"The InterNations network helped me get in contact with other expats and internationally minded people in Zagreb."

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