In 2021, Croatia introduced its new digital nomad visa, designed for remote workers who’d like to spend up to a year exploring the country. So, after my plans and visas fell through in Switzerland, I headed to the little country that I’ve always liked so much to be one of the first to attempt the digital nomad visa process.
I’m happy to say I succeeded! Below, you’ll find what my experience looked like, step-by-step. And if you’re looking for more in-depth info on the visa, this article has you covered.
Please note that I applied for my digital nomad visa while in Croatia. The process may be different if you are applying from an embassy outside the country.
Step one: gather everything you need
The digital nomad visa is made for remote workers who want to spend their tourist dollars in Croatia (smart, right?). To get it, you need to prove that you are a remote worker, that you have the funds to support yourself, that you have health insurance, etc.
This means the first step to applying is to gather up proof of those things. Now, a couple caveats here:
- The online form seems to be changing often. I’ve compared notes with a few other nomads and we all seemed to submit different things. I’ve also seen people post screenshots of the form with questions I don’t remember being on there. So, come into this with an open mind, understanding that my process outlined below might shift a little by the time you apply. There may be more or less requirements, so consider this guide a starting point and get ready to roll with the punches.
- There are file size limits in the form download area and they are tiny. Some of my documents couldn’t be compressed low enough to send, so I sent them in a follow-up email. (So don’t panic if this happens to you.)
So, what did I have to submit to apply for my digital nomad visa?
1. Completed application
2. Proof that you’re a digital nomad/remote worker
This can come in several forms (outlined very succinctly here). I included a copy of my LLC’s formation confirmation and I was not asked for any further documents on this.
3. Proof of health insurance
This must cover the entire duration of the permit you’re applying for. This can be a bit irritating (if your health insurance doesn’t expire soon, sometimes they won’t let you renew early), but unfortunately it’s a requirement. I created a two-page PDF showing my current insurance (which expired in two months) and the new plan (which picked up on the expiration date and was good for one year).
4. Proof of income/funds
At the time of this writing, Croatia requires proof of at least $2600 per month for digital nomad visas (though your cost of living probably won’t be that high outside high season in prime spots, unless you’re living extremely large). I included a recent bank statement in the initial application and was not asked for any additional information.
5. A copy of your passport
If submitting online, you’ll need a picture/scan of the main page with your photo, passport number, etc. Since I have been living in Estonia, I also sent them a follow-up email with a PDF that had the two passport pages dedicated to my Estonia visas.
6. Proof of accommodation
I used proof of my two-month Airbnb rental. Keep in mind that you’ll need to notify the police if your address changes and the average digital nomad visa seems to take 8 – 10 weeks to be approved (and another 3 – 4 before you can pick up your ID), so you may want to book a full 90 days ahead of time (and you’ll probably need to stay in one place for that period).
7. A government-issued background check
This must be from the country where you have resided for the last year. So if you had a previous visa for a stay of one year or more, you’ll get the background check from the country where you previously had your visa. If not, you’ll need it from your country of citizenship.
This will need to be apostilled. Depending on which country you’re getting it from, this process could take a long time. Plan ahead as much as you can. Here are two background checks I’ve personally gone through:
If you are getting your background check from Estonia…
The Estonian Criminal Records Database will provide your check by email (secure, encrypted, electronically signed) typically within a couple days. It’s free of charge if you’re requesting your own file (though costs money if you are doing a background check on someone else).
In Estonia, any notary can provide an apostille, so you’ll need to find a notary to get yours. You will likely need your background check translated as well and may be able to find a service that does both the apostille and translation.
Overall, a very simple process, especially when compared to the antiquated pain that is the USA…
If you are getting your background check from the US…
Plan as far in advance as possible, because hoo boy this process is an unnecessary doozy.
First, you’ll need to get fingerprinted for your FBI background check. If you’re abroad, contact your embassy for a list of locations where they can do the fingerprints (it’s not every police station). And make sure you have the right FBI-approved fingerprint sheets printed out (contact the FBI or an official channeler like Accurate Biometrics for clear, up-to-date instructions).
Next, you’ll need to submit your fingerprints to the FBI or to your channeler. We used Accurate Biometrics to expedite our process, as wait times from the FBI were up to four weeks at the time and our results would have to be mailed to a US address (meaning forwarding could cause another delay). It was expensive, but fast and trustworthy.
The third step is to get your apostille. Unfortunately, the only way to do this is through the Office of Authentications in Washington, D.C. See their website for current instructions and call them if you have additional questions. When I inquired about this, the wait time listed for the apostille was a staggering 2 – 3 months (though mine took about 6 – 7 weeks.) To get the apostille, you need to send a printed version of your FBI criminal history, a check or money order for the processing fee, and an application with additional data. If you need your apostilled copy to be mailed abroad, you must also include a pre-paid DHL envelope already addressed to your address abroad. Alternately, you could ask a friend to send and receive for you and then forward the final copy on to you at your address abroad.
8. Letter of intent
Now, there is no place for this in the current application, but I wrote a letter anyway and contacted them after submitting my application to include the letter and my Estonian visas (which there was also no place for).
The letter I included introduced me and provided additional context for all the pieces I attached to the original application. This included information about my health insurance, my career (that I’ve been freelance for 10 years and nomadic for almost that long), how much money I make per year, and where I’ve been a resident for the last year+ (since this matters for the background check).
9. Passport photos
They won’t ask for this with the online application, but you will need them for your residency card, so best to get them ahead of time. I was only asked for one, but I always keep a couple handy just in case.
Step two: figure out where you need to apply
If you’re applying in Croatia, you’ll need to figure out which police station handles your area. If you are applying from your home country, it’ll be handled through your Croatian embassy or consulate office. Currently, you can also choose to apply online (see above for the link to the online application).
Step three: get things translated and stamped (if needed)
In my experience, documents can be submitted in English or Croatian… So if any of your docs aren’t in one of those two languages, make sure you get them translated (in my case, this meant making sure my Estonian background check was officially translated to English).
Now, some of the people who applied early on said they were also asked to translate everything into Croatian and get it all apostilled. In my own experience (happily), my documents were accepted in English.
Step four: apply!
Okay, now you have everything you need. Time to apply! I submitted the online form and then sent an email (there’s an email address at the bottom of the confirmation page on the form) with a few additional documents there was no space for.
Step five: waittttttt (and wait and wait)
My approval took about seven weeks, but in talking to others, 8 – 10 weeks seems to be the norm. I think I was able to bump myself up in the priority list by emailing polite follow-up emails regularly.
Keep in mind that two things might happen during your wait. First, they may email or call you for more information. The police asked me to provide more details about my landlord and accommodation via email (which was great because that’s how I got the email address that I started regularly following up with). Second, the police may visit the place you’re living to confirm that you live there (this did not happen to me, but it did happen to several others I spoke to, so I think it’s hit or miss).
Step six: approval!
About seven weeks after I submitted my application, I emailed to follow up (yet again) and was told to come in and bring my passport and photos to finalize the process. I took this (correctly) as confirmation that I’d been approved and was about to go into the get-an-ID-card step of the process.
When you are asked to go in and finalize the process, make sure to:
- Clear your schedule. My process took me from about 8 to about 11 a.m. Depending on how busy they are, there can be a lot of waiting. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time.
- Bring all your info. When I arrived, I was asked to fill out a paper application (very similar to the online one I’d already submitted). I actually had to run home to get some information because I hadn’t brought everything with me (since I assumed they had it all already – ah, naive, Gigi).
Once I’d filled out the paperwork as needed, the officer in charge of my case gave me an OIB number (an ID number here in Croatia that you use when paying for things like water bills or vet visits), a confirmation paper, and a couple payment slips so that I could pay my application fees.
The next step was to take the payment slips to the post office (in my case, luckily, it was in the same building) and pay the fees and buy 70 kuna stamps. My total came out to 671 kuna (about $109 at the time of this writing).
Once I had my payment slips and stamps, I returned to the original officer’s office and he took the confirmation he needed and gave me back what I needed for the final step. Down a couple flights of stairs to another office, I took a number and waited to complete the process for my ID.
This included having my fingerprints taken (biometrically) and handing over stamps, photo, and payment confirmation.
I was given a temporary ID (a piece of paper) and told to come back in one month to pick up my ID. Make sure you keep the temporary paper somewhere safe because you’ll need it and your passport to pick up the final ID.
Step seven: get your long-term ID card
3 – 4 weeks later, you’ll return to get your residence permit. You’ll need to have your passport and that little white temporary card in order to get it. I waited about an hour for mine, so plan to spend some time here.
The process in a nutshell
Though this visa was made for digital nomads, it’s actually a bit of a lengthy process (Estonia’s D visa, by contrast takes 2 – 3 weeks; Malta’s takes 30 days). Since Croatia’s process takes a bit more time, make sure to base yourself somewhere you’d like to be for awhile as you apply (or apply before you arrive in Croatia).
Overall, the process is pretty straightforward and my experience was positive. The one potentially big frustration for USers will be the criminal background check since the apostille in the US is such an unnecessarily lengthy process. If you want to avoid this headache, plan far ahead. I’d say expect that part of the gathering process to take at least three months. (Which means for USers, this isn’t a great last-minute visa option unless you already have an apostilled background check at the ready for some reason.)
I was lucky to have lived in Estonia and be able to get a background check from there instead of waiting for one from the US in this particular case and I saw at least one person in the digital nomad Facebook groups talking about giving up because of the background check part of the process.
Should nomads apply for a digital nomad visa in Croatia?
It depends on your situation.
After getting my ID card, I was informed that Croatian residence means temporary residents (including those on the digital nomad visa) can only travel outside Croatia for 30 days at once or 90 days total during their year-long stay (see article 87, point 5). So, if your nomadic life involves a lot of last-minute trips and lengthy stays in other places, this visa isn’t a good choice. After all, you can already hop in and out of Croatia on a tourist visa (the rule is 90 days in, 90 days out). So if you’d rather not be limited to a single country for the whole year, best to jump in and out as you explore other places.
Similarly, it’s important to note that Croatia requires you to re-register with the police every time you move apartments. This means paying an additional fee and having a new ID card made (a multi-week process). So if you wanted to fast-travel through Croatia, hike or cycle a long-distance trail, only book apartments a month at a time, or otherwise move around frequently, get ready for some extra hassles and costs. In this way, the visa is not very nomad-friendly and is really made for people planning to have a single (or just a couple) home base(s) for the duration of their visa.
That said, I do think the visa is great in a few circumstances, including my own, and I’m glad it exists.
Some examples of people who can benefit from the digital nomad visa:
- Nomads hunkering down to ride out a global pandemic.
I had a visa in Estonia when the pandemic hit and having a home base when borders are uncertain is an incredible relief.
- People exploring a relationship.
If you meet someone in Croatia and are willing to forego traveling to be with them, this visa is the easiest way in. I met multiple people taking advantage of this.
- Nomads hoping to apply for a long-term visa someplace else.
If you want to settle down somewhere in Europe, chances are, you’re in the sticky situation of having to return to your “home country” to apply for long-term visas in places like Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc. The only way around this is to become a resident – even temporarily – somewhere else so that you can apply from your country of residence. The Croatian digital nomad visa gives you residence in Croatia, which means you can settle in, gather what you need, and apply for your next visa while enjoying Croatia – win, win.
- Very slow travelers.
If the idea of having a year-long home base on an extremely pretty coastline is a dream and you didn’t really want to move around or travel much anyway, this was made for you.
Again, in any of these scenarios, don’t expect to travel outside Croatia for more than 30 days at once during your digital nomad visa. And understand that even moving around within Croatia will require some additional hassle.
Now, to you: If you’ve applied, has anything changed? What was your process like? Any other notes people should be aware of?