Zagreb, Croatia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/20/23
Personal Experiences from Zagreb, Croatia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Thailand (various cities) and Kigali.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
U.S. There are still no direct flights from the States to Zagreb (only to Split and Dubrovnik), so you'll be connecting somewhere in Europe (there are a number of options). Total itinerary from the East Coast is around 14 hours or so.
3. What years did you live here?
2020 - 2022.
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
New apartment in quiet neighborhood in the hills (north of the city center). Modern but small bathrooms, bedrooms, fridge/freezer. Commute to the embassy in the summer when everyone's at the coast can be around 30 minutes. The rest of the year, it's more like 45 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries (mostly shopped at Super Konzum) were really affordable, and they had a wide range of items. We didn't really feel deprived grocery-wise (restaurant cuisine was a different matter).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing that I can think of.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The food delivery system was good (unless it was during "rush hour" and/or on the weekends), but the restaurant scene was really lacking in diversity for us. If you like meat, Zagreb's your place. If you want anything else besides Croatian food (i.e., meat), there are a handful of restaurants offering different options, but only a few are actually good. Other people were happy with the restaurant scene, so take this with a proverbial grain of salt.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch and DPO. Easy to send and receive mail through the embassy.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small gym, and there are other gyms in town (not sure about prices, equipment, etc., though). There's a nice track downtown, as well, that's open to the public, and some basic equipment there for pull-ups, etc.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
CCs are widely accepted and safe to use, and ATMs are available and safe.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most young people speak English well, especially in Zagreb. We started learning Croatian but stopped when we realized we could easily get by with English, and that the locals usually had good enough English that they almost seemed annoyed with us trying to speak Croatian. (No, Croatians are very friendly, but for efficiency's sake, they just moved on to English). I'd say that learning at least greetings is good, and also how to say you don't understand or that you don't speak Croatian, unless of course you do/are learning it.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Maybe. Cars park half on the sidewalks, and those are often uneven anyway. Seems like a number of two-story+ buildings have only stairs as well.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yup. Affordable local transit and easy to use.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Small is best. Streets can be narrow, and parking spots even narrower. Burglaries/carjackings were not risks; Zagreb (and Croatia in general) is really safe.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It's easy to install after arrival and inexpensive (~ $25/month). There are a couple of options, but we were happy with A1.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Using a local provider is also easy and cheap.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Croatia is super dog friendly, so there are numerous pet stores, vets, etc. Not sure about quarantine rules.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a couple dog shelters that would likely take volunteers, and the CLO and/or local embassy staff likely has information about more/other volunteer opportunities.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At the embassy, it's business or business casual, depending on the office. In public, if you're a guy then you can wear joggers and t-shirts and fit right in. Local women, however, seem to get dolled up even to take their dogs for a walk around the neighborhood.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, Zagreb (and Croatia) is very safe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Basic medical care is good, and inexpensive. Most surgeries are going to require a medevac.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
The air quality is fine. Not pristine Austrian Alps air, but just fine. Maybe seasonal allergy problems for some? Zagreb is pretty mild year-round (not extremely cold, hot, dusty, rainy, snowy, etc., any time of the year).
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I'm aware of, but maybe there are mild cases of SAD in the wintertime?
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mild year-round. Zag has four distinct seasons, but nothing extreme.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale was mostly fine. We were there still during pandemic times, so things were strange/off/distant for a while. The expat community wasn't nearly as close-knit as it was in, say, Kigali.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
One of the easiest ways to socialize with locals and/or expats is getting your "coffee on" at pick-any-of-the-countless-cafes-in-the-city (i.e., meeting up for coffee at a cafe). Or dining out. Or maybe taking a hike together in Sljeme or a walk around Jarun Lake. Or hanging out at friends' houses.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I would say it's pretty good for singles, couples, and families because if you can't find something to do in Zagreb, there are a lot of great places outside the city (both in Croatia and in neighboring/nearby countries) to explore and enjoy. There are a lot of bars/cafes/restaurants in Zagreb, and things like trivia night, dance classes, etc., so singles should have a fair number of options for fun outside the house.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
If you're white, you'll fit right in. Croatia is incredibly homogenous, and the locals are very proud of that fact, or at least of having a predominantly ethnically Croat population, so being white is a good start to at least "looking" like you "should" be there. A friend of a friend of a friend kind of thing who was not white (but was American) dealt with prejudiced cops simply because of his skin color, so that was unfortunate.
Otherwise, I'd say it can be easy to make friends with the locals because, racism and prejudices aside, they are a friendly lot (I hope I'm not coming off as snarky; I'm just trying to be honest.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Due to complicated and longstanding issues with some neighboring countries (ahem, to the east), Croatians definitely have prejudices against people of certain ethnicities.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling regionally (especially to Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Vienna, Budapest, and Kotor) and going to the coast (highlights were Mljet, Dubrovnik, and Rovinj--anywhere in Istria, really).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Hiking in Sljeme is nice. Maksimir is great for easy walks in the woods and/or to take your dog out to play/meet other dogs. Jarun Lake has baseball fields, paved paths on which to walk/stroll/rollerblade/bike/run, picnic areas, and more.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really a shopping post, I don't think.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The ease in which to access great nearby cities/countries/regions, and of course the coast.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How long the commute from "the hills" are to the embassy; we would've pushed harder to be closer to the embassy (as in the hills, you're still not really within easy walking distance to downtown, so you're just kind of away from stuff).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bicycle. Some claim that Zagreb is bike-friendly, but outside of Novi Zagreb, it is not a bike-friendly city at all.
4. But don't forget your:
Hankering for cigarettes, coffee, and cevapis! Okay, so if those aren't your shot of espresso, then maybe your swimwear (for the coast during shoulder season), and your interest in exploring outside of Zagreb.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War; The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia