Chris is an American expat who now lives in Croatia. This is his first experience living long term in a foreign country. He moved to Croatia with his wife and adult son in 2019. They enjoy walking around in the city and encourage other expats to explore as much of the city as possible.
Read more about expat life in Croatia in our Expat Arrivals Croatia country guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I'm originally form Omaha, Nebraska. Just before moving to Croatia, my family and I lived in Houston Texas for three years.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Zagreb, Croatia
Q: When did you move here?
A: June 2019
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes. I have been out of country for work before, but only for a few weeks at a time.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved to Croatia with my wife and adult son.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I am an IT consultant, and had just finished a contract at Shell Oil in Houston. I moved to Croatia for my job. My current assignment is helping with an installation of new code for Mercury Processing.
Living in Zagreb
Q: What do you enjoy most about Zagreb? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: Being in another country has been a nice experience so far. The food and history of Zagreb have been the best experiences so far.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Finding basic stuff has been challenging. At home I would go to Walmart and get everything I needed. I had no idea where to find basic stuff like aspirin and hydrogen peroxide. I don’t speak any Croatian, but luckily most people I've run into speak English. However, going to the store has been interesting. We've only just found out what cornstarch is called here. It also took a couple of trips to the grocery store to figure out how to get hamburgers.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The thing that has shocked me most is the bureaucracy in the country. The amount of paperwork to do everything is crazy.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in your host country?
A: I lived in a really low cost of living area in the U.S. The prices here in Croatia are about the same.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Zagreb?
A: We haven't had to use it yet. We walk everywhere we go or we use Uber.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Zagreb? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?
A: The costs are lower to see the doctor and to get prescriptions than it is in the USA. There was a longer wait to get tests done, but it was not such a big deal. I have a high-paying job, so I am taxed heavily for healthcare. I was paying a lot of money for premiums in the States, the taxes I pay here are comparable to those premium. However, the premiums in the States came with high deductibles. I also had to pay a big fee to get my son and wife enrolled into the healthcare system – the equivalent of a whole year's premiums for each of them.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Zagreb? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Zagreb is very safe city. We have not had any issues at all.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Zagreb? What different options are available for expats?
A: Since we weren’t sure how long we were going to be here, we went with a furnished apartment. We didn’t want to get a house or unfurnished apartment where we would have to deal with getting rid of everything when we move on. The apartment is nice and the neighbourhood is pretty good. We are close to the city centre where we love wandering around a lot.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I think expats will be fine anywhere in Zagreb.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Zagreb?
A: The Croatian people are great. They do not seem to make any preconceived notions on what foreigners are like. We get treated just fine by everyone. We have never experienced any problems or discrimination. Most people here speak some English or at least enough to communicate. If there is any type of discrimination, I haven’t seen it.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: We tend to just stick with each other. We have met a few people that are a bit more than acquaintances, but it would be a bit of a reach to call them friends.
Working in Zagreb
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: My company had an advisor that did the work for me. Though, I had to pay them to help my wife and son with the process. The bureaucracy is something I am not used to, so I am glad I didn’t try to do it myself. I couldn’t believe the amount of paperwork that was involved.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: In my experience, the work culture is the same as it is back home.
Family and children
Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: My wife decided to take up painting to occupy her time. There is an expat spouses group here, but my wife does not belong to it.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: My only child here is an adult son who seems to be loving it.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: We just love walking around the older parts of the city. The architecture is wonderful.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Zagreb or Croatia?
A: When in Zagreb:
- Learn some basic Croatian. It will help find things in the store.
- A good translator app, like Google Translate, will help when you see a sign written in Croatian.
- Walk around the older part of the city, called the Centar, and don’t forget to visit the upper city as well.
- Enjoy the coffee shops, they are everywhere.
- Always have kunas (Croatian currency) on hand. You cannot tip using a credit card.
- There are plenty of weekend bazaars and farmers markets all around the city. The food is excellent. The produce is fresher than I am used to in the States.
- Don’t be surprised if you see a couple of Croatians getting loud when they talk. It sounds like they are getting ready to fight, but it is completely normal.
- If you are in the mood for a hamburger, make sure to check the type of meat the restaurant is using when you order. Some places use kebab meat for their hamburgers. It tastes okay, but it has the consistency of a sausage patty.
- If you go to the coast, pay attention to the speed limits. Some roads have cameras that will take your picture if you speed, and then send you a bill later.
► Interviewed October 2019