Croatia is located at the juncture of Central and Southeastern Europe. It borders Slovenia and Hungary to the north, Serbia to the east, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the southeast, a tiny bit of Montenegro in the very south, and the Adriatic seacoast to the west. With its surface area of 56,600 km², it belongs to the smaller EU members, but it’s still bigger, for example, than Slovakia, Denmark, or the Netherlands.
Its peculiar shape — Croatia consists of a broad east-west corridor in the north, and a narrow strip running from north to south along the sea — explains its diverse geography and climate. Most expats moving to Croatia settle in Zagreb, the capital, which is about 100 km from the Slovenian border.
To the east of Zagreb, you have the low plains of Slavonia. Expats moving to Croatia find the coastal areas feel very Mediterranean, but the hinterland in the direction of Bosnia is often hilly or mountainous. Across this variable landscape, you will find many cave systems to explore.
The scenery can quickly change as you travel from the beaches at sea level to summits like Mount Dinara, with its 1,831 meters. Unsurprisingly, the weather tends to be milder on the coast than inland, especially in the mountains. This is a relevant point to keep in mind if you’re moving to Croatia.
Like so many other countries in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, modern Croatia traces its roots back to the turbulent history of the 20th century. After World War One, it ceased to be a part of the large Habsburg Empire known as Austria-Hungary. Together with Serbia and Slovenia, it formed an independent kingdom, which became known as Yugoslavia in 1929.
Ten years later, Croatia emerged as a more or less autonomous part of this kingdom, but it was occupied by the Axis Powers and turned into a fascist puppet state in the 1940s. Partisan resistance to the brutal occupation soon erupted, and Communist leader Josip Broz Tito from northern Croatia turned into a key commander of the partisan troops.
When the Second World War ended, Croatia became an integral part of the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with Marshal Tito as its new authoritarian president, a role he filled until his death in 1980. A mere decade later, the Iron Curtain fell. A consolidated Yugoslavia united under the banner of Socialism was no more.
The disintegration caused the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, in which Croatia experienced four years of intermittent fighting against Serbia, from 1991 till 1995. The Croatian War of Independence (domovinski rat) left about 20,000 people dead on both sides, tens of thousands wounded or disabled, and ethnic minorities displaced.
On the one hand, the young Republica Hravtska — a unitary parliamentary republic and market economy plus welfare state — still has to deal with the legacy of the hostilities described above. Not only do ethnic tensions linger in some areas, but specialists are still busy removing landmines in several regions. Moreover, the War of Independence and its aftermath partly explain the country’s economic slump and the emigration of its young and/or highly qualified people. Emigration from Croatia is currently higher than immigration to Croatia.
On the other hand, one should not focus on the downsides of moving to Croatia. Croatia’s varied scenery, fascinating heritage, and friendly populace amply justify its reputation as one of the top tourist and travel destinations worldwide. The country has been working hard to leave the strife of the past behind and to join international organizations such as the UN, NATO, and now the EU.
Despite its current economic struggle, the average income is still higher than in quite a few other Eastern European states. The economy is very gradually starting to show signs of improvement, with 2015 being the first year in which the economy saw growth since the economic crisis. Moving to Croatia to look for a job might not be the best idea right now, but foreign assignees or expats working for IGOs, diplomatic missions, cultural institutions, etc. will find plenty to enjoy upon moving to Croatia.
At the time of writing, Croatia had an estimated population of 4.25 million residents. However, the country is trying to cope with a rather low birth rate and an aging, shrinking population. Once the economy fully recovers, attempts to prevent a “brain drain” and to entice the Croatian diaspora to return might be in order, so moving to Croatia as an expat will be a truly attractive option again.
Expats moving to Croatia will find themselves in an ethnically very homogenous state. Over 90% of the people living in Croatia are Croatian, though there are a number of officially recognized minorities living there too. These include mostly Serbs, but also Bosniaks, Italians, Hungarians, Slovenes, Czechs, Roma, and a few other demographic groups.
The main religion is Roman Catholic Christianity, and the official language is Croatian, a standardized variety of the Shtokavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian. Its exact distinctions from Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Serbian have often been a point of nationalistic or linguistic pride, though the spoken languages are mutually intelligible.
If you are moving to Croatia and don’t speak either of these languages, you need not worry. In a survey, over 75% of Croatians stated that they spoke a foreign language, mostly English, but German is also very popular. In northern regions like Istria, Italian is common, too. Obviously, a basic knowledge of Croatian (A2 in the European framework) is extremely helpful and opens many doors for expats moving to Croatia.
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