Croatia’s capital Zagreb, has many things to offer an immigrating family, student or others considering relocating there. The city is often described as a smaller Vienna as much of the architecture and city plans are a replica of the style of those in Vienna. It is home to a quarter of the country’s population and is situated inland in the north of the Republic. It is a romantic city, characterised by the architecture, parks and couples sitting on benches or walking hand in hand through the city. For those who enjoy a peaceful environment, wandering through the city and a place where everything is in close proximity, you cannot help but fall in love with the city itself.
Accomodation in Zagreb is not difficult to find but may come with a high price tag. At the moment, real estate prices are higher than the average in the European Union. There is a national rumour that because of this, prices will fall when Croatia becomes a member state of the EU. However, a booming tourism industry contradicts this idea and implies that prices will rise instead. The currency is the HR Kuna, which has remained stable against the euro and other currencies for the past five years. One euro can buy you just over seven kunas.
Accomodation rates are usually quoted in euros. You can find a quality dorm room for high school and tertiary education students at a fee of under 200 euros per month, which also includes meals and laundry facilities. Dorm rooms are usually shared between 2 – 4 students and house a single sex only. Shared apartments come at about 200 euros per tenant per month and above, depending on the location, size and quality of the building. Buildings in or around the city center are generally more expensive than those in the suburbs. Since Zagreb is a small city, living in one of the farther suburbs may mean that you are in fact only a fifteen minute ram ride away from the center. Apartments sized at about 50 square may come at a rent of 400 – 500 euros. If interested in purchasing a property, prices come at about 2000 euros per square metre.
There is a large market for low wage employees. Part-time clerks, barmen and waiters are paid around 1500 kunas per month, whilst the same full time employees are paid about 3000 kunas. These jobs are usually taken by students who are given preference to work part-time.
There is a demand for bookkeepers and accountants with foreign experience, as well as translators and interpreters with a knowledge of European languages. Croatian is the official language, although many people do also speak English. Salaries and wages are taxed at a very high rate. VAT is currently charged at 22%. So as to give an idea to the cost of living, a cup of black coffee will cost you 7 to 8 kunas, whilst a capuccino costs between 11 and 14 kunas.
The establishment of two English schools has made it easier for foreigners with school age children who relocate here. One follows the International Baccalaureate Program for Grades 1 to 12. The other is the American International School. Therefore, students need not struggle learning a new language in order to become settled. They may study the national language at their own pace, whilst receiving an education in English.
Provision is also made for foreign university and college students. Each faculty of Zagreb University holds positions open for foreign or exchange students. However, the curriculum at the university is taught in the Croatian language. In order for new students to familiarise themselves with Croatian, a language school is held every summer. Students are taught the essentials and how to communicate and learn before the year begins at varsity.
Croatian is not difficult to learn if a student is dedicated and concentrated. It is a phonetic language so words are written in the same way that they are spoken. There are also private economics colleges which do provide a part of the curriculum in English and are affiliated to schools in the US and UK. The government also makes it easier for Croatian nationals who have lived abroad or students with a Croatian heritage to qualify for entrance at the university so as to encourage them to study there. Current students may also look into transferring if already working towards a degree or diploma. The university recognises ECT points and follows the Bologna system of education.
Once accepted to any of the educational facilities or as an employee, the visa process is simple. Several documents are required for the application of a residence visa, such as proof of income or sufficient funds, proof of your status as a student or employee, proof of residence, passport, etc. The process may take a few weeks to complete so applicants may initially come to Croatia with a tourist visa.
Zagreb has a wide variety of places to see and things to do, both during the day and at night. The city has a cafe culture, with some streets filled with cafes, such as the famous Tkalciceva street and Cvijetni trg (the flower square). Some cafes open as early as 7 am and remain so until midnight. It is also filled with monuments, museums and parks. The largest park is Maksimir, part of which has become the habitat of the animals of the local zoo.
There are also many ibraries and book shops, with large collections of English and foreign literature, as well as a variety of restaurants including traditional, vegetarian, Chinese and Indian. Bakeries are to be found almost in every street of the city. They sell many sweet and savoury pastries, and sometimes even pizza, drinks and sandwiches. That way, you’ll never go hungry exploring the many alleys and streets of the city and you’re sure to find a good treat when you do. Some bakeries used to operate 24 hours a day throughout the week. However, with the introduction of new legislation, most businesses are closed after 2 p.m. on Sundays.
On Saturdays, you may visit one of the flea markets, where you can find many items at reasonable prices and you are always welcome to negotiate with vendors. These markets are also the best places to buy fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits and seafood, as well as home-made products such as honey and sweets. Zagreb is the stroller’s paradise. In a day of walking through the city, one will discover many of its attractions. It would be a shame not to experience this and you’ll find yourself often dedicating a Sunday afternoon to go walkabout. There’s always some little detail, monument, building, park or secret hideaway that you discover you’ve missed.
For the night owls, there are many places to go after the sun sets. Many of the cafes turn into night clubs at 9 pm. There are techno, metal, alternative, hard rock and hip-hop sub-cultures that expose themselves in the clubs on Wednesday and weekend nights. There is also a modern jazz sub-culture, which is emerging with the growing number of jazz clubs in the city. Clubs are usually open until 4 a.m the next morning. However, for those of us that are not quite out for partying every night, Zagreb hosts many festivals throughout the year. These include areas such as fashion, art and film. Films can be viewed for free at the student centres during some of the festivals. Many old theatres showcase classical and theme-based movies throughout the year at very low prices. This can be a more exciting experience than watching new releases at the modern cinemas.
Living in Zagreb is a great opportunity to explore the rest of the country. As Croatia is a relatively small country, it takes only a three to five hour bus ride to visit the coast. Great places to visit include Pula, Split and Dubrovnik. Island hopping is also a must as Croatia is home to many of the most beautiful islands in Europe. Many of the inhabitants of Dalmatia make a living contributing to the wine and fishing industries. Therefore the freshest fish and the finest wines are found in Dalmatia at unbelievable prices. A bottle of the famous Peljesac Dingac or Plavac Mali wines may cost you around 200 kunas in the city, whilst it costs around 20 to 30 kunas on the coast, buying from local producers.
Due to the tourism industry and an increase in immigration over the past years, Zagreb is slowly developing as a diverse culture centre. Millions of people visit the city and some decide to stay longer and make it their new-found home. With this comes the establishment of smaller communities within the city. For instance, groups of Asians, Africans, South Americans and other Europeans are gradually increasing. In the globalizing world, this is a sign that Croatia is also modernising and progressing. Government restraints have loosened on visas and permits, making it simpler and appealing for expats to settle in and call it home.