When you think of living overseas as an expatriate, Croatia might not be the first country that pops into your head. However, this small European country along the Adriatic Sea is worth a look. You get all the charm and luxury of European beaches without the corresponding crowds you’ll find in more popular tourist destinations along the Mediterranean.
You’ll find that some places in Croatia are better places to live than others, as is the case pretty much everywhere. Keep in mind that it’s not just about the cost of living. It’s also about safety, how easy it is to move about various cities, and other factors.
How many people are familiar with Croatia, though? We’ve put together a little guide on the five best places to live in Croatia to help you decide where you want to go.
- Croatia’s coastal areas have a tropical climate, while the interior parts of the country have hot summers and cold winters.
- All Croatian cities have populations under one million.
- As of 2019, Croatia was the seventh-safest country in the European Union, behind Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, and Austria. It beat out Denmark by one spot.
- The most common types of crime across Croatia involve corruption and bribery.
- There are fewer than 400 American expats across all of Croatia.
- Cost of living depends heavily on where you choose to live but is generally lower than that of the United States.
- Croatia is a non-Schengen country, meaning you need a special visa to travel between European countries in the Schengen Area and Croatia.
The 5 Best Places to Live in Croatia
Which part of Croatia is best for expats? Where do most people live in Croatia? Which cities are the most walkable? What are the safest areas in Croatia? Check out the cities listed below for the answers.
Split has some breathtaking scenery and a friendly population to go with it. Located in southern Croatia, Split has a little bit of everything: mountains, beaches, parks, jogging trails, and more. It’s a very seasonal area, so you’ll see many tourists during the high season in July and August. The crowds thin but don’t go away until around October.
During the low season, otherwise known as winter, the weather’s colder and wetter, and tourists aren’t anywhere to be found. This is the best time to experience Croatia as an expat so long as you’re okay with tourist spots that are closed due to lack of traffic.
Split is home to Marjan Park, which is about the size of New York City’s Central Park, and during the low season, you, native Croatians, and other expats will have it all to yourselves. Depending on where you come from in the United States, the weather may not bother you all that much, and you can enjoy the park without the crowds.
In general, it costs half as much to live in Split as it does to live in New York City. Rent in Split is over 80 percent cheaper than that of New York City, so you can get by on a lot less there than across most of the U.S.
- Walkability: Taxis are unreliable with drivers who are sometimes unethical. While there are some places in Split where walking from place to place is easy, you’re better off either driving there yourself or taking the bus. Split’s bus system is good, but it only runs between main city centers.
- Crime rate: Like most of Croatia, Split has a very low crime rate. However, it’s been on the rise over the last three years. The crimes you have to worry about the most include drug deals and petty crimes. Split has problems with bribery and corruption as well, but as long as you stay out of politics, you shouldn’t have to worry about those.
- Number of expats: Unknown, but given Croatia’s overall number of American expats, there are likely very few, if any, in Split.
The capital of Croatia and its biggest city, Zagreb, has a population of only 800,000. The top three most populated cities in the U.S. are New York City (8.6 million), Los Angeles (3.9 million), and Chicago (2.7 million). You can get a big city feel in Zagreb without the oppressive feel of a megalopolis.
One prominent feature Zagreb has is the dramatic difference between the old city and the rest of the city. The city center has streaks of strong Hungarian influence with its art-nouveau architecture, but outside the city center, you’ll find wide boulevards and the blocky, functionality-over-aesthetics architecture reminiscent of the Soviet Union.
Even though Zagreb is Croatia’s capital, its overall cost of living is about 15 percent lower than that of Split and over 60 percent lower than what you’ll find in New York City. Rent in Zagreb is 81 percent cheaper than that of New York City.
- Walkability: If you’re in the city center, you can walk pretty much anywhere. Zagreb is quite walkable even though you see a lot of cars and problems with pollution. You can walk between tram stations and take the tram pretty much anywhere in the city center if you don’t feel like walking. In the Soviet area, tram stations are farther apart, and walkability drops, but it doesn’t disappear.
- Crime rate: Zagreb’s crime rate is meager, to the point where you can feel safe walking alone at night. While crime has increased somewhat over the last three years, you can walk anywhere alone safely during the day or night. The only problem crimes are bribery and corruption, which will affect you indirectly but not directly as long as you’re not involved in politics or the law.
- Number of expats: Unknown. Zagreb isn’t a very touristy place, but it is bigger than any other city on this list. Where do most people live in Croatia? Outside the capital city, but there are probably more expats here than elsewhere.
Located in the southernmost part of Croatia, Dubrovnik has become popular over the last decade due to its association with the popular hit show “Game of Thrones.” Dubrovnik is small and very laid back and sits right on the Adriatic sea. You get a warm, seaside community with gorgeous scenery and a slow pace of life.
Like elsewhere in the Balkans, Croatia is still developing its own identity following the breakup of Yugoslavia. You’ll notice that more in smaller cities like Dubrovnik because it makes up part of a vibrant tapestry of history. Foreigners can learn a lot about the entire area by simply paying attention to Dubrovnik’s culture and history.
Everything moves slowly in Dubrovnik and Croatia at large compared to the fast pace of life in much of the United States, and it can take some adjusting. What might take a few days in the U.S. can take a few weeks in Dubrovnik.
You can expect to pay a little more in consumer prices in Dubrovnik than elsewhere in Croatia, with costs that are just 20 percent lower than those of New York City. However, rent is 76 percent lower, which helps keep Dubrovnik’s overall cost of living down.
- Walkability: Dubrovnik has taken the unique step of restricting cars to preserve the streets in Old Town. They prohibit cars on the historic streets altogether, making Old Town a place where you can walk everywhere. Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so preservation and restoration are quite important.
- Crime rate: Like most places in Croatia and across the Balkans, bribery and corruption is the worst crime you’ll find in Dubrovnik. Overall, Dubrovnik is very safe even with the slight increase in crime over the last three years. If you want to go for late-night walks, you’ll be safe doing so.
- Number of expats: Unknown, but probably higher as a percentage of the population than other cities in Croatia. The population is roughly middle-aged, making it an excellent place to retire.
If you want to live on an island, Hvar is one of the best places to live in Croatia. Not only do you get a mild climate with quaint seaside neighborhoods, but this place is also an up-and-coming spot for retirees.
Locals refer to Hvar as “Croatia’s premier island.” You can drive from one end of the island to the other in 90 minutes or so, and even in the center, you’re only a few miles from the sea. If the beach isn’t your thing, there are ancient caves, old castles, and fascinating ruins to explore, along with a UNESCO site and many other activities.
Hvar has two seasons: Fishing and tourism. Both are the heart of the economy there, with the summer months filled with beach-going tourists and the winter months filled with tranquility and community. Winter is when the locals in Hvar hold their festivals and other traditional celebrations, and foreigners are more than welcome.
The cost of living here is considerably more expensive than in Zagreb but still cheaper than in New York City. Hvar’s low rent offsets some of its other living costs.
- Walkability: Mild weather contributes to how walkable Hvar is. However, the most walkable area on the island is Hvar Town. While you can walk the entire island, it takes a large chunk of the day to get from one end to the other. You’re better off having a car to travel the length of the island.
- Crime rate: Hvar’s generally pretty safe, but, as a tourist destination, crime is on the rise. The biggest crime problems you’ll run into there are your own. Hvar has begun to put many restrictions on what tourists can and cannot do, like bringing alcohol to many areas or having picnics in the city center.
- Number of expats: Unknown but growing. People who have gone to Hvar for several weeks have found themselves drawn back to there as a place to live. You’ll find groups of expats there that serve as support structures.
Despite primarily serving as a fishing port, Rovinj has recently gotten popular with tourists and, thus, expats. It’s an integral part of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, but the town feels more Italian than Croatian and shows off Italy’s historical influence on the area.
Even though tourists are increasingly attracted to Rovinj, it doesn’t draw as many as other places in Croatia, so you’ll have fewer and smaller crowds there even during the summer months. If you love beach life and aqua waters but not tons of people, you get an excellent combination in Rovinj.
Old Town is replete with cobblestone streets and has a beautiful cathedral with an amazing view from the bell tower. You can also sample many different types of food in Rovinj’s ubiquitous restaurants and find tasty, healthy snacks and souvenirs in the farmer’s market, making it truly one of the best places to live in Croatia.
- Walkability: Rovinj is small and, thus, quite walkable. Whether in Old Town or not, you can walk pretty much anywhere in Rovinj within half an hour, and there isn’t much traffic to contend with. Out of all the cities we’ve listed, Rovinj is probably the most walkable, just ahead of Dubrovnik.
- Crime rate: The crime rate in Rovinj is low, but you might not be as safe walking alone at night as you are in other cities. With the tourism industry growing, especially nightlife, nighttime crime grows, too.
- Number of expats: Unknown. Because Croatia, in general, doesn’t have many expats, Rovinj likely has very few. Even so, you can look for expat groups in Rovinj that might lead you to American expats living there.
If you want to immigrate, you have a lot of great options for the best places to stay in Croatia, to say nothing about living there. Croatia has beautiful weather, a rich and vibrant history, and everything from beach towns to mountain enclaves. It’s also home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
There aren’t many American expats in Croatia, but that’s okay. The people are friendly and what expats there are often form groups for friends and support. All in all, Croatia’s an excellent place to be an expat.
Related: 21 Interesting Facts About Croatia