Digital Nomads, a 2-year success story in the Croatian bureaucracy

In 2003 I bought a property in Croatia whose lawyer insisted he had blank papers. Nineteen years later, we are moving towards ownership.

A little over 2 years ago, an article quoting me in the Croatian media got me sued. The next hearing will be in November and it will likely take another two years before the case is resolved.

Such is the nature and speed of Croatian bureaucracy. Although these examples may seem extreme, they are by no means atypical. The cogs of Croatian bureaucracy tend to move slowly.

But occasionally – incredibly, refreshingly – an example of Croatian efficiency pops up that gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what the future could look like, and how well Croatia could work with everyone pulling in the right direction.

I’ve been writing about the Croatian digital nomad opportunity for over 3 years now since it first appeared as a strategy for Croatia at a conference, and as part of my suggestion Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On.

But the day Croatia’s digital nomad journey really got going, celebrated its 2nd anniversary this week, with the catalyst being an open letter on LinkedIn from Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong to the prime minister. Andrej Plenkovic on LinkedIn, requesting the introduction of a digital nomad visa in Croatia.

What happened next was truly astounding, at least for this longtime resident of a country where bureaucracy is king. Less than 6 months after this open letter, de Jong had not only met with the Prime Minister, but had also worked with 5 ministries on the details, with the end result that on January 1, 2021, Croatia introduced its Digital Nomad Permit, only the second of its kind in Europe after Estonia. After introducing Jan to the concept of the digital nomad, he kept me updated on the progress made during these months (and which we reported step by step on TCN), and the determination of Jan and his entourage, coupled at the willingness of public officials to push this attacker was a joy to report.

It also raised questions that if it was possible to go from LinkedIn’s open letter to amending the Aliens Act and Tax Code and introducing a new permit in less than 6 months, what d else could be achieved if the people who run this country thought about it? And if the Croatian bureaucracy could be solved for a case like this, what would it take to make the digital nomad bureaucratic roadmap a standard for the rest of the Croatian bureaucracy?

But that’s a discussion for another time.

The past two years have seen immense progress for Croatia in what is perhaps one of the greatest potential growth areas for tourism in this country. Remote work may not be a typical tourism sector, but as the world changes and we look for more sustainable solutions beyond peak season beach overtourism, the work boom shows no signs. of slowing down. A brief summary of the needs of this new tourist niche shows that Croatia is in pole position to take advantage of it – Lifestyle: NomadList shows why Croatia is the most popular remote work destination in Europe.

What happened next was a bit unexpected. Barely 5 months after Jan’s publication, the first claim from an industry insider that Croatia has the potential to become the world’s leading digital nomad community was made at the first-ever conference dedicated to nomads in Croatia in October 2020 – Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads, organized by Saltwater Nomads, Dubrovnik Tourist Board, City of Dubrovnik and TCN. The assertion of Kashlee Kucheran from Travel Off Path certainly helped the Croatian pioneers with encouragement and conviction.

Kashlee might have been ahead, but it wasn’t alone, with Croatia featuring as the second most popular destination for nomads in the influential NomadList 2021 AND 2022 surveys. And there was more good news under the big titles, with Zagreb listed as the 5th most popular destination in the world (and number 1 in Europe), as well as the fastest growing remote work center in Europe over the past five years.

An absolute key to Croatia’s success has been the excellent public-private partnership on so many levels, a partnership that is often commented upon by visiting nomads, as such a thing hardly exists in other countries. Most of the initiatives have come from the private sector, but they have been enthusiastically welcomed by the public sector, the digital nomad permit being a prime example.

But there have also been some great regional collaborations, and the award-winning Zagreb Digital Nomads Week (Saltwater Nomads, TCN and Zagreb Tourist Board) and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence (Saltwater, TCN, City of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik Tourist Board) are among several projects that have really contributed to increasing Croatia’s global visibility.

The same goes for the formation of the world’s first association of digital nomads, DNA Croatia, which was founded by de Jong, Tanja Polegubic of Saltwater and Karmela Tancabel, and really pushed by its first director, Michael Freer, to build an umbrella and a community to serve and advocate for the needs of incoming digital nomads. DNA Croatia has also inspired similar associations in other countries. It is fair to say that Croatia has definitely arrived as a global voice in the distant world, which was evident in the rich list of international participants in this year’s Dubrovnik work. Square. Culture. conference.

DNA Croatia has also signed a partnership with the Croatian National Tourist Board, which is great news, allowing public and private institutions dedicated to the development of this sector to work in tandem.

And the community grows and becomes more integrated. A very nice ecosystem is developing and the mindset is slowly starting to seep into Croatian society. With emigration often being the number one priority for young Croatians seeking opportunities, the arrival of a growing number of successful and happy international workers, who choose Croatia for its lifestyle and opportunities, is food for thought. .

These were two incredible years of positive change and great energy. The power of a social media post, public-private partnership and community to effect change. Much has been achieved in just two years. Fasten your seatbelts, because the next two years are going to be even more exciting.

For more news and reports on digital nomads in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.

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