Once one of Europe’s biggest tourist destinations, Croatia is relying on digital nomads to dynamically contribute to the country’s economy and revive its pandemic-hit travel industry.
Croatia offers special visas to digital workers outside the European Union, allowing them to stay for up to a year and exempting them from income tax.
American marketing consultant Melissa Paul became Croatia’s first official digital nomad earlier this year and tells AFP why she chose this country.
What should I do to come to Croatia?
“Croatia is beautiful, it’s nice to live here, it’s affordable compared to other places, there’s a good climate, good internet access,” says Melissa Paul.
Melissa was among over 100 people to apply in January, more than half of whom were American and British.
All she had to do to enjoy her new life in Labin, a hilltop town overlooking the Adriatic, was to prove that she works remotely, has housing and health insurance, and that ‘she earns at least € 2,200 (RM11,092) per month.
The Croatian government has so far approved 33 visas and ministers are hoping the idea will take off once travel restrictions linked to the virus are lifted.
Croatia is at the crossroads of central and south-eastern Europe and enjoys a moderately warm, continental climate.
Tourism accounts for around a fifth of the economy of this EU country of 4.2 million people. The number of visitors has increased from 21 million in 2019 to seven million last year.
Revenue fell by more than half to 4.8 billion euros in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Croatia-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong doesn’t believe the country’s reputation for tourism will disappear due to the pandemic.
He used social media last year to call on Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic to introduce the visas – and six months later they have come true.
“Croatia as a whole, especially in the combination of things, offers a very unique experience,” said De Jong, highlighting the landscape, the connections with the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean lifestyle.
But to be successful with digital nomads, adds De Jong, Croatia needed to act “quickly and be competitive”.
Indeed, Estonia launched its nomadic visa program last year and countries like the Czech Republic and Iceland are following a similar pattern.
The Tourism Ministry, which backs De Jong’s idea, sees it as a long-term opportunity to boost the industry rather than a quick fix to the pandemic crisis.
The ministry told AFP that digital workers could become Croatia’s best promoters, spreading the word to their peers.
For Melissa Paul, the visa was her last option. She had lived in Croatia since 2014 and was married to a Croatian, but the divorce left her no legal way to stay.
“It kept me where I love to live,” she says.
Another rhythm of life
Originally from the United States, content creator Steve Tsentserensky arrived in the country after years of globetrotting.
He spent time in New Zealand, Ukraine, France and Italy and worked on cruise ships.
But he fell in love with the Croatian “rhythm of life”.
“It’s not like everyone is rushing,” he told AFP. “You work and you can also enjoy your life. “
Melissa Paul also points out that outsiders will bring expertise and knowledge that could help the community at large.
This idea is what drives entrepreneur De Jong, who hopes the influence of foreign digital workers could help young Croats, many of whom want to leave their own countries.
“They would bring their mindset and experience and can really have a positive impact on the mindset, mainly of the younger generation,” said the Dutchman, father of four.