Zagreb, Croatia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/23/18
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?
Yes, Zagreb was our first post as expats.
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?
Lived in Washington, D.C., prior to moving to Zagreb. From there, travel time (with layovers) can take anywhere from 15 to 20 hours. Unfortunately Zagreb does not have direct flights from the U.S. yet.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. 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?
A detached house in the Hills (north of the city). Luckily we live on a bus line that goes downtown, which is a 20 minute ride. The bus fare is pretty affordable, although I know some Americans do not like using the public transportation. We also use Uber a lot to get around, and other people enjoy using the Eko Taxi app.
Public transit to work would be 1.5 hours, so we drive every day. If we leave around 7:00 am, we can get to the embassy in 30 minutes. However, any later and it takes closer to 35-40 minutes. Commutes home take much longer, depending on traffic and construction.
Many houses in the hills have yards and places to park (some with garages). Since the American International School is moving out of the hills, Embassy housing is moving closer to the new location in Novi Zagreb, just south of the river. These houses would have better commutes to the embassy.
Other locations for Embassy housing include Velika Gorica (5-minute drive from the Embassy but far from the Center) and Downtown. Many people love living downtown, although in some places the noise can be a bit high.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There is pretty good availability of items, although a few we have not easily obtained are: ranch dressing, PAM cooking spray, large jars of peanut butter, beef jerky, weed spray for the yard, heartworm medicine for the dogs, and Velveeta.
Vegetables and fruits are very seasonal here, which is nice because it makes you feel like you are eating healthy. When you just crave fresh green beans and cannot get them 10 months of the year, it does get a little frustrating.
Ordering through Amazon or Walmart is good and typically takes 10 days through DPO (although it could take longer).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Since we do not have a commissary, and the nearest one is at Aviano Air Base or Vicenza Army Base, I wish anything in a spray can (PAM cooking spray) or in large jars over the shipping limit were available.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
U.S. chains here include McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and a Subway (at Arena Centar). The website Pauza.hr is amazing because it tells you delivery options based on your address. Many restaurants here are great, and prices are not bad. Groceries are cheaper than the U.S. but I would argue that restaurants are about the same.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Just ants and spiders in the house. With no screens on windows, you also have to be careful that wasps and bees do not enter the house.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO/DPO/Pouch. The mailroom in the embassy is super helpful. They can provide you boxes to ship, but you must buy your shipping online and print it before sending it; they do not sell stamps or process shipping.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is usually about 50 kuna an hour, which is about US$7.50 an hour. Many people hire house cleaners and gardeners. Those with kids hire nannies and babysitters. The problem for many is that 1) the household help may not speak much English and 2) the good help goes quickly. We have had some families struggle to find help. in our experience, it seems like some of the help does not feel comfortable working for families of color.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small gym available, and many employees use it. It can get a bit crowded, but people seem to find a time that works best for them.
The city also has many gym and fitness class options, although they seemed a bit expensive to me. For classes, there are some in English available (such as yoga).
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?
Most places accept credit card, but check first. I was surprised at some of the cafes and bars that are cash only. And they do not split checks here, so have a plan for paying when going out in groups. ATMs are super safe and plentiful.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I know there are, but I have not attended them.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A post-language instructor is available for those who can. There are also affordable tutors in town, like Cro2Go. Plus, there are language schools in town.
I would say it is not necessary to speak Croatian, no, but it really helps. The times when I found it most helpful were when I was using a service. For example, not all taxi drivers speak fluently (although they speak it, just not confidently) and sometimes your request at the meat counter in a grocery store get lost in translation.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Many buildings do not have elevators, sidewalks are not always even (if they are on the street at all) and the hills would make it hard to get around.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes and yes. The ZET Info app is great for looking at schedules for the buses and trams.
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?
The smaller the better, because many roads and parking spots are small. Be prepared for some dings or scratches. Friends who have larger cars make it work, but if you get a second car here make it compact.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Depends on where you live. If you live in a place that already has fiber installed, your internet is not too bad (but not as good as in the U.S.). However, if you are still on DSL, speeds can be miserable. The internet shares a line with phone and cable, and even without phone or cable your download speeds can be around 5 Mbps or less.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy provided SIM cards that we just pay monthly and that we will return once we leave. Plans are cheap compared to the States, although if you go over your data the throttle is brutal. Overage charges are cheap, but the speed is virtually zero.
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?
No quarantine, and there are many vets and pet stores. There are also many great parks that are perfect for walking a dog. Be aware that many owners, though, let their dogs walk off-leash. Their pets are usually well behaved, but if yours are not, just be aware.
The city has some kennel services, but most people have friends or their dog walkers watch their pets as needed.
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?
There are currently ten positions in the Mission for AEFMs (including two EPAP jobs), but it is competitive. It seems right now most people want part-time work. The hiring freeze was rough on morale, but now that we have all of our positions full with people still wanting to work, there is still some grumbling.
A couple of spouses work remotely for their U.S. companies, and a few others freelance for clients. If one really wants to work and cannot find the above options, I found that there is ALWAYS an opportunity tutoring in English, for kids and adults. Just network a bit and you will find people willing to pay you for that service.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The International Women's Club is a great way to socialize and volunteer (it is a non-profit). The Community Liaison Office (CLO) at the embassy also has opportunities for volunteers. Other places include the Red Cross (who work with refugees), the Center for Autism, and local churches.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
For officers it is business professional. Many AEFM roles wear business casual or sometimes dressy casual (jeans and nice top). In the summer, the Ambassador typically has a summer dress code; last summer it was casual Fridays and this year it was no ties.
When out in the city, you will see people (especially women) dress up for everything, from going to the grocery store to going to the club. People are super stylish, which is why there are so many hair salons and clothing stores. Shorts and flip flips are not as common here as what you would see in the States.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Super safe. People tell you to watch your purse at the markets and when sitting outside to avoid pickpockets and beggars, but I have never had an issue. As a woman, I feel safe going home from downtown late at night on my own. Kids can explore the city and you see them using public transportation throughout the day.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Seasonal allergies for humans and dogs. Most cases of medevac are for maternity reasons.
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?
Good, although pollen can be bad at times. You get a nice manure smell at the embassy when the wind blows just right, too.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you have food allergies, you need to be careful going to restaurants. Be clear in what you need because there is probably cross-contamination in the kitchen. The same can be said for those that are kosher or for those who do not eat pork/meat.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The winter can be long and gray. Small trips in the region help fight that off, as do attending social events at the embassy or language training at post.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
All four seasons. Cold in winter and hot in the summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American International School Zagreb is the post school. I do not have kids there, but I hear mostly good things. It is small, classes are small. It does not seem super diverse.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I believe so, yes. For testing, though, kids medevac to Vienna.
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?
There are preschools available in English, including at the International school. They seem be a little pricey, although not more than what you would pay in the U.S. for childcare.
The school does not have before or after school care, which is a concern for families that have both parents work. Some parents are working to change that at the school. For now, many families have a nanny that watches the children after school.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, many in Croatian, though. The school offers a limited number of activities after school, but other kids find a program in Zagreb to attend (karate, gymnastics, etc.).
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I have nothing to compare it to, but the expat community here is active and fun. Most people seem to love their time in Zagreb, both because of Zagreb and because of its proximity to so many great places (Italy, Slovenia, Hungary).
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?
International Women's Club (IWC), which is a non-profit that also offers clubs such as book club, language clubs (Croatian, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish), kids club, walking or hiking club, mahjong or bridge. They also have events such as Breakfast with Santa and an adult Christmas party.
Expat Meetup (last Thursday of the month) is networking at local bars with other fun expats. Professional Women's Network Zagreb (PWNZ) is for those wanting to make business connections and learn professional skills
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I would say this is super family-friendly. It has been fun as a couple as well, mostly because it is safe and affordable to travel and go out. For singles I hear this is a pretty quiet place to go out, but I think people of all family compositions can make this post an amazing time.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is getting better, but does not seem to be the most comfortable place to be out.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
With more than 90% of the population being Catholic, there is not a lot of diversity in the country. Like in other big cities, here you see Croats working all types of jobs, including driving the cab and working in the corner store. I do not hear of many racist incidents, but I have heard of two involving trying to hire household help and racial slurs in the international school.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling to the Croatian coast, Northern Italy, Budapest, Vienna - being able to travel around this region by car has been amazing.
We have also experienced a ton of hospitality from the Croats. Once you get to know them, they will do anything for you. They love to bring you gifts, usually fresh fruit or veggies from their garden or a baked treat.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The museums in Zagreb are cool, to include the ones like the Museum of Broken Relationships, Torture Museum and Museum of Illusions.
The only Michelin Star restaurant in Croatia is also a wonderful place to splurge. It is in Rovinj, which in of itself is worth a trip.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
When I was shopping for Christmas souvenirs, it was a little hard to find something that was explicitly Croatian. Croatian Ties are iconic. We have found some great artwork that is affordable here, but you need to visit the shops - there are not a lot of stands that sell things like that.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Affordable, safe, located in an amazing part of Europe, not as congested as other capitols, many green spaces, pet-friendly
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I would have known how much I would love it. I also wish I would have better established my work-from-home business. It is not easy starting from scratch here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Introverted self, as there are so many ways to get involved and integrated, but you must put in a little effort to get involved. Weapons as Zagreb is pretty safe.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen - the Adriatic sun is brutal.
Car - Although many people easily (and affordably) take buses all over this region, we have loved hopping in the car and exploring this part of Europe.
Thirst - local wineries and craft breweries are amazing.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
For a bit of background on the 90s war, read, "Girl at War." For differences between American and Croatian culture read, "Chasing a Croatian Girl."