Zagreb, Croatia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/12
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?
First expat experience.
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.; about 15 hours from the East Coast, including a connection in Europe (usually Germany, France or The Netherlands).
3. How long have you lived here?
Just over 2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Worked at U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing for U.S. Embassy personnel is nice. Houses up in the hills are spacious and have yards, but living in one entails a slightly longer commute to the embassy than for those in apartments in the city. The apartments are great. We didn't see a USG apartment or house that we wouldn't want to live in.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty expensive, but it won't break the bank. Most things are available, but it'll take some searching to get a lot of items that are readily available at stores in the US (e.g., cheddar cheese, peanut butter and cake mixes).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mainly food items, like baking supplies and certain spices. If you like ethnic food you should bring some of your staples.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Croatian food is fair. Very good Italian is readily available. There's not much else in the way of ethnic food -- the Indian is horrible, while the Chinese and Mexican joints are slightly better. There are some nice restaurants; our favorite was Trilogija. Not too much fast food. McDonald's is there, but it's the only American chain. Not a big street food presence.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
6. 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?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a few gyms. The U.S. Embassy has a pretty nice workout facility.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
It's safe. Most restaurants and stores accept cards, while many cafes and smaller establishments don't.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. I'm aware of Baptist, Catholic, and Latter Day Saints services in English, and believe there are others.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much at all. Croatians speak English extremely well. In Zagreb there will just about always be someone around who speaks it well enough to help you out. But it of course can't hurt to speak some Croatian, as you will encounter some folks who don't speak English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It could be tough. There are some accommodations, but not to the extent one would find in a larger European city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Both safe and affordable. Public transportation is reliable and makes it easy to get around town.
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?
Any kind is fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Unlimited data plan costs about $60 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes. We found a vet we liked for our cat. I'm not sure about kennels (I imagine they exist), but there are trustworthy locals who will pet-sit for a reasonable fee.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No. It's very difficult to get a job outside of the embassy. It is also hard to find volunteer opportunities, as it's something that's just not part of the culture.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It's a fairly formal society.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. Zagreb has got to be up there with the safest places in the world. One very rarely hears of crimes. My wife felt perfectly safe walking around alone anywhere in the city, even at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No particular health concerns. Medical care is decent, but not up to U.S. standards. For surgery or any very serious issues I would probably try to go elsewhere. People often went to Austria or London for pregnancy-related care.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons. It snows a couple/few times in the winter with a few hot weeks in the summer, but is generally pretty mild. Winters can get a bit dreary with common grey skies.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
Lots of entertaining in homes. There are some bars and clubs, but Zagreb isn't known for its night life.
3. Morale among expats:
High. It's a great place to be. Living is easy and the (embassy) work isn't overwhelming. Some people found Zagreb a bit boring. It's true that it's a slow, low-key city, but between the easy living, the coast, and European travel opportunities, there's plenty to do.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's good for all.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's not a terribly progressive country, but it seems to be pretty good in this regard.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No. It's a predominantly Catholic country, but Croatians tend to get along with those of other faiths or none at all, and I'm not aware of any racial or gender issues.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
As mentioned, the coast is brilliant and it's easy to travel throughout the region. Most things a person would want to do are available in Zagreb, but there's not as much in the way of cultural or social activities compared to larger cities. There are nice, affordable movie theaters that show films in English with Croatian subtitles, a bowling alley and a few decent museums. The Istria region, about a 2.5 hour drive northwest from Zagreb, is beautiful (it looks like Tuscany) and features great Italian food and truffles.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There aren't too many especially unique local items one would want for souvenirs. Naive art is huge in Croatia, but paintings are pretty expensive. Truffles make for good souvenirs, but that's about it.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Croatia is great. The coast is beautiful and is easily accessible on nice (but expensive) highways. Dubrovnik, Split, and Rovinj are beautiful, as are many of the lesser-known towns and the islands - we particularly liked Brac and Rab. Several national parks are well worth a visit; Plitvice Jezera, with its water falls, is amazing. Travel throughout Europe from Croatia is pretty easy and reasonably affordable. Venice, Vienna and Budapest are all around a 4-hour drive from Zagreb, and a fair number of flights connect the city to destinations further afield. Very cheap direct flights from Zagreb to London and Paris are available through EasyJet.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you try fairly hard. Croatia is somewhat expensive and it's easy to spend money traveling, but overall it's not awfully expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
For sure. Croatia is a nice, developed country with amazing natural beauty. Couple this with the easy lifestyle an expat leads in Zagreb and the opportunities for travel throughout Europe, and it makes for a great tour.