What is it like to move to Dubrovnik, Croatia? To start a new life in a foreign country?
In the Ask an Expat series I interview people living all over the world but outside of their own country. I hope to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share tips for other (future) expats and share information about what to see and do in the city, town or country the expat now calls home.
Expat life in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Location: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Name: Alexandra Schmidt
Home town: St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
“In my junior year of college I decided I wanted a break from being a city-girl in Chicago to study abroad in Dubrovnik. I had never been to the country; I didn’t speak the language; I didn’t know anyone. When I first stepped off the plane, it truly felt like home. Little did I know, I was starting a completely new chapter in my life.
I studied diplomacy at Dubrovnik International University, conveniently located in the famed Dubrovnik Old Town. I made lifelong friends, who were both Croatian and American. I had the opportunity to explore Croatia, while also traveling to other European countries.
What became a game-changer was that I fell in love with a Dubrovnik local, my classmate and Croatian tutor. Throughout the semester we became quite serious, and by the end we had to decide if we would continue to see each other. The realist in me said that it would never work, but the romantic in me said it was the adventure of a lifetime I couldn’t let go. The romantic won.
Then after a long year of long distance, I returned to Dubrovnik after graduating college. Shortly before coming, I started a travel and lifestyle blog, The Mindful Mermaid, to document my journey. I then spent almost six months living with my boyfriend and his family. I began to work part-time as a freelance writer, and began to write for several Croatian publications about my experiences as an American living in Dubrovnik.
After spending about a year living in Dubrovnik, I am actually now heading off to Ireland, but will be returning again to Dubrovnik in the spring for a short time. No matter where I am, I can easily say that this place has become my second home.”
Why did you move to Dubrovnik?
“I was originally drawn to Croatia because of my heritage, since my family is Croatian. Ever since I was a young girl, I was fascinated by my grandfather’s stories and family history and knew I would someday visit.
I was drawn to Dubrovnik specifically, because the orange roofs of the gorgeous Old Town next to the sparkling Adriatic Sea caught my eye. I’ve always felt truly at home next to the sea, so as cheesy as it sounds, it felt like Dubrovnik was calling to me.”
What do you like about Dubrovnik?
“It’s easy to say that I love the scenery in Dubrovnik, because just by looking at the place, who wouldn’t! But I also really love the laid back mentality. Compared to the United States your worth is not defined by what you do for a living. People really do appreciate the little things in life, and are very genuine.
I also love that Dubrovnik has such a rich history. The city has been through so much, especially the recent breakup of Yugoslavia less than 30 years ago. I’ve really grown to respect Dubrovnik’s culture the more I learn about its past.”
What do you dislike about Dubrovnik?
“Being a small town, Dubrovnik is truly like one big family, which can be a good and bad thing. It’s great because it’s so safe, but it can be frustrating as an expat. For one, locals are very kind, but it takes a lot of energy to get an “in” with them. You do have to put in a lot of energy to make friends, as it can be easy to feel like an outsider.
Also, compared to the United States, things can move very slow here. It takes a while for projects and bureaucracy to move along, and that was a huge culture shock coming from Chicago.”
What is your favorite thing to do in Dubrovnik?
“My favorite thing to do is to go out and explore the outdoors. There are hundreds of things to do in the area, and some of the best aren’t even in the historic Old Town. I love to explore the various beaches, go out on a boat with friends, and listen to live music somewhere.”
What is your favorite place to hang out (restaurant, bar, etc) in Dubrovnik?
“I love Art Café in Dubrovnik, because they play the best house music and have the funkiest decorations. I also really love the vegetarian restaurant Nishta in the Old Town and another restaurant in the Lapad area called Chihuahua. Dubrovnik is filled with cafes and bars, so really there’s a ton of places to choose from!”
What is the expat community like in Dubrovnik?
“I would say most of the expats in Dubrovnik are middle aged, as it is a great place to retire. Almost all expats end up here because they married someone from Croatia or Dubrovnik. There aren’t many expats, but there are a few expat groups that meet regularly, which are a great support system to have.”
Any tips for moving to / living in Dubrovnik?
“In all honesty, Croatia in general is an extremely hard place to be an expat, especially if you are not an EU citizen. If you are preparing to move to Dubrovnik, I would be prepared to spend a significant amount of time and money to sort everything out.
It is easier to come as a student or if you want to just live here on temporary residency, but there is a lot of red tape in order to work here without citizenship. For example, I had a job offer for a local newspaper, but unfortunately as an American, it was impossible to do in Croatia’s quota system.
Some people have found ways to open their own businesses, or somehow found a way to work for a foreign company with offices in Dubrovnik or Croatia. Some people find ways to work remotely while on temporary residency, which is similar to what I did.
Again, it is a lot easier to come to Dubrovnik as an EU citizen, but speaking from an American perspective, it was very difficult to find work, especially since the job market is not booming. However, it’s worth the work and time if you want to live in paradise!”
Any resources you found useful during the process of moving to and/or building a new life in Dubrovnik?
“Most of my resources were through word of mouth, since there still isn’t a very large expat community in Dubrovnik. I also worked with the local police station in Dubrovnik, and I even know some people who hired lawyers to help with the process.”
Is there something you just have to see or do when you are in Dubrovnik?
“The obvious thing is that you have to see the city walls because it has the best view of the old town. You also have to eat fresh seafood and try some of the strong Rakija alcohol. Lastly, you must take a trip out of the Old Town area, either to Cavtat, Konavle, Peljesac, or the island of Mljet. There are seriously infinite amounts of places to visit in the area, with beauty you truly have to see to believe.
It may be challenging becoming an Expat in Dubrovnik, but for the incredible scenery and the Croatian culture, it’s a rewarding endeavor.”
About Alex – An expat in Dubrovnik
Alex was born with a fiery spirit in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, and later chased her dreams of becoming a city girl in Chicago. She studied at Loyola University while studying abroad twice in Nice, France for a summer and Dubrovnik, Croatia for a semester. Not only is she a globetrotter, she is also passionate about sustainability and living a conscious lifestyle. Her blog, The Mindful Mermaid, is a platform for her to share experiences while promoting mindful travel and living.
Dubrovnik is a city in southern Croatia on the Adriatic Sea. It is known for its distinctive Old Town, encircled with massive stone walls completed in the 16th century.
Dubrovnik is nicknamed “Pearl of the Adriatic” with tourism being the most important industry.
Dubrovnik’s architecture is simply gorgeous and on top of that it boasts spectacular churches, monasteries, museums, and fountains.
Dubrovnik is also a perfect location from where to explore the surrounding area. Some recommendations: The Elaphiti Islands, the attractive town of Cavtat, the Konavle valley, Mljet Island, Korčula Island, Ston, and Peljesac Peninsula. The neighboring town of Kotor in Montenegro or Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina also make for great day trips.
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