Croatia opens its doors to digital nomads with special visa
From her home in the hilltop town of Labin on Croatia’s scenic Istrian Peninsula, Melissa Paul runs her own US-based business as a brand storyteller, social media manager and blog writer. She can also claim a curious distinction: the country’s first official digital nomad.
On January 1, Croatia became one of the few European countries to welcome digital nomads thanks to the introduction of a long-stay visa. New legislation covering the residence of this category of remote foreign workers was introduced in December 2020 as part of the reforms of the law on foreigners.
How to obtain a “digital nomad” visa?
New legislation defines a digital nomad as a person outside the EU working in the field of ‘communication technologies’, either as a remote employee or through their own company registered abroad .
Provided they do not need a tourist visa to enter Croatia, remote workers can apply for a residence permit for one year after arrival. According to the terms, they are not allowed to provide services to Croatian businesses and are not subject to income tax.
The new ‘digital nomad visa’ has the potential to attract visitors year round and hopefully boost Croatia’s burgeoning tourism industry. Tech-savvy newcomers are seen as a boon to the local economy as consumers of local goods and services, including tourist apartments and villas which are typically empty during the winter months.
As one of the few EU countries open to tourists in recent months, Croatia has already attracted many remote digital workers from the US and other countries who have arrived to await the end of the pandemic while while enjoying the good weather and the relaxed atmosphere. Many hope to be able to stay thanks to the new visa.
Meet Melissa, Croatia’s first digital nomad
American entrepreneur Melissa Paul became Croatia’s first official digital nomad on January 15. Paul had already been living in Croatia since 2014, when she moved here with her Croatian-American husband.
Following their divorce in 2018, she found out that she was no longer eligible for permanent residence due to her marriage to a Croatian citizen. Despite this, she got an extension of her temporary resident permit, but as it expired in January 2021, she realized that she was not eligible for a further extension.
With the introduction of the digital nomad visa, Paul learned that she could apply as a digital entrepreneur. “When the visa was announced in December, I was very excited because it gave me the opportunity to stay longer in Croatia,” she says. “As a third country national, the options are actually quite limited to live here for the long term. I saw that the conditions of the new visa applied to me since I have my own business and I work remotely.
“The officials at my local police station weren’t sure exactly what was needed and how to interpret the requirements because the process was new to them,” says Paul.
“There was a lot of back and forth with the ministry in Zagreb. I needed a lot of written statements: what I’m doing, where my business is based, the company’s incorporation documents, proof that it is in good standing, and even an employment contract with myself. , and of course an official stamp. One thing I have learned is that public servants love stamps.
Why did Croatia decide to start hosting remote workers?
The idea of the digital nomad visa was actually started by Jan de Jong, a Dutch entrepreneur and investor. De Jong first pioneered the idea of attracting digital nomads as long-time tourists in April 2020 as a panel member of a virtual conference exploring how to make Croatia a year-round destination. .
He then promoted the idea on LinkedIn, write an open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. There, he highlighted the potential economic benefits of attracting highly paid remote workers via a digital nomad visa similar to the one introduced in Estonia in June 2020.
“Shortly after, I was contacted by the Interior Ministry and invited to a meeting,” says de Jong, a longtime resident of the city of Split on the sunny Dalmatian coast. “I presented the idea to them and they immediately saw the potential.
At the time, changes to the Aliens Act were being considered and they believed the initiative could be implemented quickly. I also met the Prime Minister himself and he fully supported the vision of Croatia as one of the first countries to introduce a digital nomad visa.
De Jong was consulted during the process, which did not lose sight of the need to be competitive with other countries introducing similar digital nomad systems. This included measures on the proposed length of stay, application fees, and income tax and health insurance requirements.
The expert in Croatian bureaucracy
Since the new law was passed in December 2020, the best online resource for remote workers wishing to travel to Croatia with their laptops was a detailed blog post on the Expat in Croatia website.
“ How to apply for the digital nomadic residence permit in Croatia: guide for 2021 ” has had thousands of pageviews since its publication in mid-December. In terms of popularity by country, 18 percent of foreign traffic comes from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, North Macedonia and Canada.
American Sara Dyson launched the website as an information resource in July 2013, a year after moving to Croatia. She describes herself as an “expert on Croatian bureaucracy”.
“I make it easier for people to travel and live in Croatia,” she explains. “I also offer personalized, personalized advice to help people move here and apply for citizenship effectively.”
Services like the one offered by Dyson have seen a surge in inquiries. “I received over 100 personal inquiries from most Americans, followed by Brits, Canadians and Australians,” she says. “Many are already in Croatia and wish to switch to this permit because it is more favorable than the one they currently have.”
Hotels in Croatia have taken advantage of the digital nomad trend by offering discounts for extended stays during the winter season, when many hotels typically close. Meanwhile, locals who rent private tourist accommodation have found long-term tenants.
In recent years, young Croatian graduates have increasingly left the country in search of better paid work opportunities elsewhere in the EU. With the rise of the lifestyle of digital nomads, the country is bound to witness a sort of reverse phenomenon of well-paid foreign workers.
Aside from the exemptions, most travelers wishing to enter Croatia must have a recent negative PCR test or pass one within 48 hours of entering the country.
If coming from the UK, travelers will also have to self-isolate for 14 days, which will be halved if a negative test is obtained after 7 days.
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