In 2014 I decided to move to Croatia. I never looked back or regretted that decision since.
As with every change, you want to make sure you have all of your components figured out, mainly work and life quality wise. So before I fully relocated, I moved temporarily to Split, Croatia in 2016, to see what it has to offer and if someone that’s been in the US for 20 years could make it here.
Below is my take on the advantages and disadvantages of working in Croatia as a business owner in tech.
A good community is the backbone of any successful organization, or even city. Coming from Salt Lake City, we have a bustling community spanning the valley, and I hoped to find something even a fraction of that size in Split, Croatia. When I arrived to Split, I researched local meetups ranging from marketing, to data science, to general technology groups; and I was pleased to find people in all of these.
Each of the groups was welcoming and open to visitors, especially potential members. This put me in contact with the local individuals whom I am friends with to this day, and a few I’ve been able to do business with. The local IT scene has greatly developed in the past decade, Split Tech City has a growing community of both locally focused businesses and a few leading the pack on the international stage.
This healthy environment of drive, entrepreneurship and technological savviness was the first step in making sure Croatia is a place where a tech business can thrive. When you have local companies who invest in their people’s growth, it means you’ll have people who have the knowledge to pass on to others around them.
Having a healthy space with tech talent was one thing, making sure the infrastructure is in place to be able to start a company, is another. To be able to set up a great team for success, the infrastructure has to be in place to support the internal efforts and goals. To me, important infrastructure in Split was transportation, building quality, local university programs and internet speeds.
Split is a central location in the country that is well connected for transportation with highways, ferry connections to both islands and international locations, an international airport with great lines and bus routes to regional, as well as international destinations. Being able to get to another location quickly with a few different options made Split the most outstanding location in Croatia for business.
In terms of building quality, I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t all just remnants of the Communist era and 90’s architecture. It will be a pleasant surprise that some of the most beautiful buildings designed in Europe are now cropping up along the Split neighborhoods, from Bacvice to Firule and everything in between. Modern, stylish and safe, this was a plus for any visiting partners.
Graduation rates in local universities, as well as the college degrees they offer went into the infrastructure research for the future. Split is now the second biggest university in Croatia for graduates from a variety of fields, including technology & engineering. FESB, PMF, Aspira and Kopilica are some of the schools with modern curriculums ensuring a stable supply of skilled talent for years to come.
Last, but not least, internet speeds. Wow! I have better internet speeds here than I had almost anywhere in the US. At better prices as well. New investments from the European Union and rebuilding of the country has enabled it to have one of the most modern internet infrastructure in Eastern Europe. Split has offered me speeds of 30-40 Mbps on average, back in the US I only had that in our corporate office, and even then it was ranging from 20-40 Mbps.
Any tech business lives and dies by the internet stability and speeds they can get. In Split, the competition isn’t stuck to two providers, so you have plenty more options, all with pretty solid dependability.
Social circles here are a lot more personal and intimate than what one would be used to in the US. With sprawling cities, most of my friends worked across various sections of the city. This meant that we would have to plan well in advance of when and where to meet, usually over the weekend, and downtown or somewhere with a few bars nearby. It is way more different here.
In Croatia, your social circle is maintained by being able to decide to grab lunch with someone within 30 minutes. This is only possible by the hundreds of cafes spread throughout Split. Instead of a hindrance, these local cafes are a convenient meeting place to stop by for 30-90 minute coffee breaks, catch up with friends, and to discuss business. Recharging the social types whenever we need it.
Instead of having to plan a meeting 1-2 weeks in advance, you can take a break, and either walk or get a short cab ride to a nearby location convenient for both or all parties. To an American, this is freedom and convenience.
In addition to the coffee, you have great locally sourced fresh food, fresher than I’ve ever tasted in the US, even comparing things I bought from Whole Foods or Sprouts. So meals have a lot more flavor, especially if you are sharing it with friends, colleagues or business partners.
Lastly, there is a lot of options to be active in Split with the great outdoors, outdoors that is a lot less polluted than even the most pristine of our national parks in the US. If you’re on the coastal region, you always have the ocean, if you’re a bit away from the coast, you still have mountains to hike, rivers to explore and forests for camping. It’s rare to be able to swim somewhere in October, then go to a ski resort 2-3 hours away in November/December.
You don’t have to be on your computer all of the time, as you have an always willing social network to get out of the house with, even if it’s just 60 minutes for a coffee. For longer getaways, you can take your laptop to the beach, mountains, canyons or forests, and still be connected due to the mobile hotspot supporting infrastructure.
People make the world go round. Nowhere is that more true than here. When I first got to Split, I remember asking a local, “how do people find things here if they’re not on Google?”, she answered, “you ask your friends”. A lot more businesses have gotten on Google since then, and even though I found the answer funny, it’s just what works here.
If you’re stuck on something, you ask people you know, and they will guide you through what you need to do, or not do, based on their experience. The helpfulness of individuals in the region will depend on who you surround yourself with, and whether they have experience in what you’re looking to accomplish. If they haven’t done it, they’ll ask around for referrals.
This can go in the good and bad columns, as you can’t really get much done if you don’t know the right people. Most of us in the US are already tuned to needing a pack instead of being a lone wolf to reach success. You have good people to choose from to fill your pack with here, just remember that there are few wolves in sheep’s clothing, most are wolves in wolf clothing.
The Bad – Government Burocracy
In every good, there is bad. I wouldn’t be doing the reader of this article justice if I did not go into an issue you’ll run into while doing business here. Burocracy is the bane of all businesses, wherever you are in the world. Croatia is no different in that manner. As an American however, there is going to be an uphill battle, which will test your nerves and dedication.
This is where your community will come into play, as when you start off, there is going to be a fair amount of hurdles to go through, then it gets easier – hopefully. The system is set up to make it difficult to get some permits, not all, just depends on what kind of business you’re doing. This might sound counter intuitive for a place that is trying to encourage entrepreneurship, and it is, however, this barrier to entry is also something that will keep those who do not want to be here enough out.
Various groups and individuals are lobbying the local Split government to make it easier for foreigners and non-citizens to run a business out of here, which in turn has seen outside companies coming into the area and setting up shop. It’s a problem that is in process of being fixed, yet still has a bit of a ways to go.
The beauty in traveling is seeing new places, tasting new food, meeting interesting people and enjoying new scenery. For me, that traveling brought me to Split, 22 years after I left, only to rediscover what I’ve been looking for all along – work-life balance, business infrastructure, a great community and a place in Europe with potential.
This is not for everyone, nor will it work for anyone, but I do encourage each person interested in being here to try it for a year, then decide if you can live the rest of your life without being here. We all have your back, from previous ex-pats, to the local population that wants to see a change for the better. Now it’s on you to bring it.