Dos and Don’ts In Croatia- What Not To Do and Cultural Mistakes To Avoid in Croatia

09/11/2021

QUICK SUMMARY- Dos and Don'ts In Croatia

  • Learning a few phrases in Croatia helps.
  • It's expected to tip at restaurants, but not at bars.
  • Avoid the summer peak season if possible.
  • Don't miss the delightful Croatian wineries.

Croatia has been known as a tourist destination since ancient times. Today, tourists flock to Croatia every year because of its beautiful beaches, picturesque cities, delicious food, friendly locals, and affordable prices. However, like any other place around the world, Croatia also has its fair share of cultural differences that can embarrass a new arrival. Here are just a handful of common mistakes first-time expats make when living in Croatia.

Here are some cultural dos and don'ts in Croatia.

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Quick Croatia Dos And Don'ts

Don't use Euro. The best way to save money in Croatia is by using Wise to transfer money and make payments in Croatia Kuna. Wise offers you the best exchange rates and lowest bank fees.

Do Get Travel Health Insurance. Your home insurance will not cover emergency healthcare overseas, but you can find affordable travel insurance for less than $50 that will cover your medical bills in Croatia.

Do learn some basic Croatian phases. 49% of Croatian people speak English. Learning some basic Croatian language helps. Get a FREE Language Lesson using the same learning technique used by the US State Department, FBI, and overseas military.

Don't stay more than 183 days in Croatia. Staying long-term may trigger income tax in Croatia. Get a FREE consult with an expat tax specialist to understand how taxes in Croatia can impact you.

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The Ultimate Guide To Living In Croatia For Expat Retirees and Digital Nomads
The Cost of Living in Split- $1400 a Month To Live a Mediterranean Dream In Croatia

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Croatian Cultural Dos and Don'ts- Social Etiquette And What Not To Do Or Say

Don't rush your coffee

To a Croatian person, going for a coffee with friends is akin to having apéritifs in Italy. It's less about drinks and more about the act of getting together. If a Croatian person asks to meet up for coffee, expect to spend at least an hour or two sipping and socializing at their favorite local cafe.

Cafes are like a local pub in England, a place to mingle and chat with friends. Especially in towns with a Riva (what a Croat would call a seaside promenade), going for a cup of coffee means sitting in a cafe by the Adriatic and hanging out for a few hours.

Do make local Croatian friends

Don't Worry if You Don't Speak the Croatian language

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, many people here speak another foreign language. Don't let the fear of a language barrier stop you from enjoying your time in Croatia.

RELATED POST ON EXPAT LIFE IN CROATIA

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dos and don'ts in Croatia include not learning the language

Making friends in Pag Novalja Zrce Beach

Do pick up some basic Croatian phrases

Making friends and acclimating is always easier when you learn the local language. You don't need to be fluent. If you learn a few phrases, locals will appreciate the effort.

I understand more than anyone that learning a new language when you are older isn't easy. Here is the "Secret" method that the US State Department, FBI, and overseas military uses to learn new languages quickly and effectively- The Pimsleur Method

Avoid hours doing mindless repetitive vocabulary. Pimsleur focuses on quick, easy-to-digest organic learning to get you conversational as fast as possible.

 INSIDER TIP : In my time living in Croatia, I found close to half of Croatians spoke English. The younger the person I was talking to, the higher the odds. Also, anyone that worked in the tourist or expat industry had no problems communicating in English.

The exception to this rule was anyone that worked as a government bureaucrat. Finding English speakers in a government office was always a challenge, even if the office dealt with foreigners.

Don't Bring up the War with Serbia

Croatia's independence has been hard-fought. The country's war against Yugoslavia was only in 1991. Millennials may think the 90s were ages ago, but any Croatian person older than 50 likely suffered and possibly served in the military during the war. It's best to leave that subject alone.

Don't Turn Down a host's invitation to share any Croatia refreshments

First, in Croatian culture, offering to share some rakia (a homemade liquor popular in all Balkan countries), food, or coffee is a welcoming gesture. Rejecting a host's hospitality outright is considered rude. Have a sip or taste, and then you can start to say no gracefully.

Don't insult Catholics

While religion here doesn't have the same political polarization as in the United States, Croatia is still a very Catholic country. Croatia is officially a secular country, but religion is still heavily interwoven with Croatian culture. With over 85% of Croatians identifying as Roman Catholic, it's best not to be overly blasphemous or hyper-critical of the church.

 INSIDER TIP : When dining out with a Croatian group, pause before you start eating. It is common for someone to say grace and pray before the meal. If not a full-on prayer, you may see some make a quick sign of the cross and a quiet amen. Either way, it's polite to wait and see before you start shoveling food into your mouth.

Don't suntan topless

Not every Croatian beach is a nude beach. Topless sunbathing is possible on some Croatian beaches in the north, as Istria is a tad more liberal. But Dalmatia and the southern part of the country are more religious and conservative. Don't free the nipple.

Not every beach in Croatia is family friendly

Financial Dos and Don'ts- Tipping, Scams, and other Money Matters in Croatia

Do leave tips at restaurants for good service

Especially in coastal towns during the peak season along the Dalmatian coast, upscale restaurant servers expect 10% of the bill from tourists dining in.

I have only been to a few high-end restaurants that add a service charge automatically to the bill. It's not common, but it is worth confirming if the check includes a gratuity.

RELATED POST ON COST OF LIVING IN CROATIA

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Don't tip at a bar

Unless you are at a club, bartenders don't generally expect tips. However, if you are out partying during Yacht Week or at a festival in the summer months, rounding up to the nearest Kuna bill is more accepted.

 INSIDER TIP : Note that, unlike the US, when paying with a credit card, you will need to tell your waiter how much to add BEFORE they run the credit card. There is no "Tip Line" to fill in the tip after you pay.

Don't use Euros in Croatia

While the country is a part of the European Union, Croatian currency is the Kuna, not the Euro. Restaurants and shops in the major cities and tourist hubs may allow you to pay in Euros, expect a terrible exchange rate.

Croatia uses the Croatian Kuna (HRK) for currency. At the time of this writing, the currency exchange rate is 1 US Dollar = 6.31 HRK. For reference, 1 Euro = 7.49 HRK.

Don't use a taxi unless you have to

Taxis should be your last choice if you need a ride. Like many countries in Eastern Europe, taxi drivers in Croatia do not have a sterling reputation. While not as notorious as the taxi scammers in Bulgaria or Serbia, you still need to be wary. Plus, taxis are expensive, while city buses and public transportation in Croatia are cheap. A city bus monthly pass in Split is only $61. The public transport pass in Zagreb is 400 Kunas / $63.

Though maybe not up to Western European standards, you'll find the bus service in Croatia clean, efficient, more convenient, and many times cheaper than a taxi. For example, the city bus from the Split International Airport to Diocletian's Palace in Old Town will cost less than $3. Compared to the ~$30 fixed price Uber charges for pick-ups from the airport.

Ride-sharing apps are another option, but Uber only operates in the major cities (Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, Zadar, etc.). You won't be able to use Uber in smaller towns or on any Croatian island. You'll also find Balkan ride-sharing apps Bolt and Cammeo available.

RELATED POST ON CROATIA SAFETY

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Travel Tips, Dos And Don'ts, and Places To Avoid in Croatia

Don't skip Split

Many first-time visitors use Split as a simple transit point to other Croatian beaches and islands. But Croatia's second-largest city is my favorite affordable city in Croatia. Split's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an amazingly preserved 4th century Roman archeological site in its city center. Diocletian's Palace, the retirement home built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian, is the best example of Roman architecture outside Italy.

young woman retire to Croatia Split Diocletian's Palace

Don't miss Diocletian's Palace in Split

Do take the time to visit Zagreb

The Capital city is another hidden gem. One of the most affordable EU Capital cities, Zagreb has a growing reputation as an expat hub, a burgeoning Digital Nomad tech scene, plenty of nightlife, and a low cost of living.

Don't rent a car

For a day trip or weekend road trips out of the city, cars are great. Croatian roads tracing the Balkan coastline, with the Adriatic Sea and a beautiful beach in the background, are a fantastic drive. However, if you live in Split, Zagreb, or worse, Dubrovnik, you'll find that having a car is not worth the hassle.

No parking is available if you live in the trendy neighborhoods in Old Town. The city centers are also slammed with traffic jams during peak season, especially in the Adriatic Sea beach towns.

Don't make Plitvice the only National Park you visit

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site with terraced lakes cascading down to several waterfalls. Plitvice National Park is one of Croatia's natural beauties and a stunning backdrop for any Instagram pic.

However, the park is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations during the summer months. What you hope to be an idyllic walk through nature is, in reality, a parade of tourists. The good news is this beautiful country has several fantastic nature parks.

Skip the lines and crowds and visit Krka National park, Paklenica National Park, or North Velebit National Park instead.

Do know that Croatia Not Schengen

While part of the European Union, Croatia still falls outside the Schengen zone. Getting a visa in Croatia has no impact on using a Schengen visa in another European country.

Americans visiting as tourists can enter Croatia without a visa for 90 days out of every 180 day period.

RELATED POST ON CROATIA VISAS

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Don't expect a sandy beach

Croatia is known for stunning beaches with a backdrop of clear turquoise waters. But Croatia's beaches are not known for powdery white sand. Most of Croatia's beaches are pebbles at best and jagged rocks at worst. Actually, I take that back; the worst are the spiky sea urchins that booby trap the rocks close to shore.

Be prepared and pack some water shoes or sandals. You might think that water booties look goofy, but what looks worse is watching someone painfully tiptoe for 10 minutes as they shuffle into the sea.

Don't move to Croatia during the summer

Especially if you want to head to Split, Zadar, Dubrovnik, or any popular coastal town, peak season is a hot mess.

  • First, the surge in tourists encourages landlords to raise rents by 300%. 
  • Second, the crowds slam popular attractions like the city walls of Dubrovnik or Diocletian's Palace in Split with people.

Do stay for Winter

There is more to Croatia than just sunshine and beaches. For all reasons, I say to avoid Croatia during the summer, consider visiting in the off-peak months. Life slows down for Croatians after the peak season. Everyone becomes more patient, understanding, and friendly. The hustle is less about the tourists and more about reconnecting with friends.

croatia dos and don'ts include not visiting Croatia in the winter

Enjoy Dubrovnik Old Town and ancient city walls in the off-season to avoid the tourist crowds

 EDITOR'S NOTE : Christmas in Zagreb is a winter wonderland spectacle.  In December, Ban Josip Jelačić Square embodies the Christmas spirit, complete with old-fashioned carolers, sparkling decorations, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and stalls full of local artisan gifts. This beautiful city was voted as Europe's best Christmas market, beating out the more popular markets in Germany or Vienna. 

Don't forget your health insurance

Expat life in Croatia can mean fun fill days adventure sports and bungee jumping, or relaxing on a glass of wine while cruising the azure waters on a yacht. Don't let a minor injury or major sickness derail your time in this amazing country. Make sure you keep proper travel insurance coverage. 

 INSIDER TIP : Healthcare Coverage Abroad- Most health insurance will not cover you for any injuries sustained outside your home country. To get protection while living abroad, there are two options:

  • Travel Health Insurance- This will cover you for unexpected medical issues while overseas. However, the coverage requires you maintain insurance in the United States or your respective home country. I pay roughly $50 per month for complete coverage with no deductible.
  • Expat Medical Insurance- If you retire abroad, expat health insurance is a more complete option. Expat Medical Insurance is the "normal" insurance you are familiar with to from home. Coverage is built for people who live in a country versus traveling. While more expensive than Travel Medical Insurance, premiums are still cheaper than the US. 

Don't forget your passport when visiting Dubrovnik

Ready for a road trip to see the city walls of King's Landing? Don't forget to pack your passport. Bosnia and Herzegovina own 12.5 miles of what could be Croatia's Adriatic coast. A 17th-century Ottoman treaty divides the Croatian coastline in two. Road trips from Split to Dubrovnik require passing two border checks, as there is no direct link from Dubrovnik to Split without chartering a boat.

Food and Drink Dos and Don'ts- Tips on Croatian Cuisine

Do eat local Croatian dishes

Take advantage of local specialty dishes. Croatian food is heavily influenced by its Italian roots, Balkan neighbors, and proximity to the Adriatic Sea.

Risotto with squid ink is a favorite in any of the coastal towns

Istria, in Northern Croatia, has some of the best truffles in the world, including a Truffle Festival hosted by a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Family vendors fill Croatian markets, like the Green market in Split, with fresh caught seafood, organic straight from the farm fruits, vegetables, and Croatian olive oil that is cheaper and tastes better than produce found in a supermarket.

The Adriatic Sea delivers daily fresh caught goodies to Croatian markets.

Don't skip lunch

Croatian people eat big lunches and tiny dinners. To a Croatian person, gablec (loosely translated to mid-day lunch or brunch) is the most important meal of the day. Gablec is traditionally a worker's primary meal, so many local restaurants have a special gablec menu of low-cost meals between $6- $8, consisting of a main dish, vegetable side, and soup or salad.

Don't pay for bottled water

There is no need to kill the environment or your wallet with bottled water costs. Croatian tap water is safe to drink straight from the faucet with no boiling necessary. Or better yet, try a local bottle of wine instead.

The rare exception is after a VERY HEAVY storm. The storm drainage system can be overwhelmed, and dirty water (dirt, not pollution or sewage) can contaminate the water supply. It happens once or twice a year in Split but clears up in a couple of days after the rains stop.

Do have at least one (or two) glasses of Croatian wine with dinner

Winery at a UNESCO site on Hvar island

Croatia's unforgiving Mediterranean climate, summer sun, and sandy soil make for ideal wine grape conditions. As Croatian wines lack the global popularity of nearby Italy and Greece, you get a unique chance to taste unique varietals unavailable outside Croatia.

You'll find several delicious, underrated, and affordable wine tastings throughout the Dalmatian region.

For white wine, try the tart and aromatic Grk Bijeli from Korcula island.

For red wine, Croatian oenophiles will preach the virtues of the bold-flavored Plavac Mali from Hvar.

 INSIDER TIP : How to "cheers" in Croatia-  when drinking wine, rakia, or any other alcoholic drink, look the person in the eye, raise your glass, and say "živjeli" (zheev yay lee)

FAQs: Dos And Don'ts In Croatia

Do I need a lot of money in Croatia?

No, you don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy a high quality of life in Croatia. Many major attractions that make this beautiful country famous are free. The country's scenery, tasty cuisine, and affordable living cost make it an attractive expat destination. Americans can even enter the country visa-exempt for free.

Do I take a guided tour or explore Croatia on my own?

I recommend uncovering Croatia on your own to see all attractions that you want and allow more time to explore. Discovering ruins, wandering through Old Town, lounging on the beach, or sipping a glass of Croatian wine on the Riva are not things that should have a time limit or strict itinerary.

Do you think visiting Dubrovnik is worth it?

  • Yes, because the city's historic center is stunning and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Yes, if you are a Game of Thrones fan and want to see Kings Landing.
  • No, if it is peak season, and you don't want to deal with huge crowds of people.

Do you recommend living in Croatia long-term?

Here are some of the ways to get citizenship in Croatia:

  • Jus sanguinis (Latin for Right of Blood)- If at least one of the parents is Croatian, you may be eligible by descent. 
  • After 5-years as a permanent resident, you can apply for Croatian citizenship. The catch is getting permanent residency is highly unlikely unless your immediate family is Croatian (parents or spouse).

Note: Neither the Temporary Residency Permit nor the Digital Nomad Visa have an upgrade path to permanent residence or citizenship. 

How can I get Croatian citizenship?

Yes, if long-term to you means less than one year. Croatia is both affordable and beautiful, and there is plenty of culture, natural landscape, and history to experience in a year.


The answer is No if you are looking for a permanent residence. The country's visas make living in Croatia for more than one year impossible for most people without a Croatian family (parents, spouse, or kids).


About the author

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old. I have traveled the last five years to over 40 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, Huffington Post, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Best Life, CW Network, Dr. Wealth, and others. [view press...]

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