September 17, 2022 – Whisper it softly, but more and more people from the diaspora are moving to Croatia. In a new TCN series, we catch up with them to find out how they’re coping and what advice they have for others considering making the switch. Next up is Ljubica Tomić, who moved from Hong Kong to Istria.

My name is Ljubica, I was born and raised in Croatia, in the beautiful region of Samobor. Being a teenager in the 90s in Croatia, I always thought that there must be a less toxic place where people are positive and accept differences. I tried very hard and took the first possible opportunity, which brought me to Hong Kong when I was 30 years old. A few years later, I gave up the for-profit business and started afresh in the aid sector, where I spent almost a decade on and off, alternating work and traveling around the world…until in 2017 when I decided to give up a nomadic lifestyle and move to Croatia, Istria.

1. You went to Croatia. Tell us a bit about the decision process and how long it took you to get on the plane.

In my thirties, I thought I could settle in several places in the world that I loved, but after having visited more than 70 countries and about a dozen in which I have lived, I thought that the Mediterranean was the place where it needed to be – weather, food, culture, nature, lifestyle, safety… with family here and Croatian passport in hand, choosing Croatia made sense.

2. What did your family and community think of your decision at the time?

Croatia was still my main homeland and important people were happy that I finally came back.

3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia before coming?

I stayed in touch and saw progress, which was encouraging.

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4. What made you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear and what was the reality of what you found?

Growing differences with my existing community in Croatia and, on the other side, a lack of differences (diversity) in Croatian society.

Being away for more than a decade, even though I regularly made huge efforts to meet everyone I could each time visiting Croatia briefly, I knew it would be different when I returned. Dating got harder and some of those relationships just got diluted… which was pretty normal and okay, being in our 40s and realizing that all we need is “mali krug, velikih ljudi” ( small circle, big people).

On the other hand, I love meeting new, different, and interesting people who also travel the world, embrace differences, cherish what they have, and grab life by the balls (rather than complaining). The growing expat community is great news, so I managed to connect and make new friendships.

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5. Think back to the days before you arrived. What were your perceptions of Croatia and how were they different from the reality you encountered?

Although I was well aware of the possible obstacles, I was disappointed by the seriousness of the inefficiency of the Croatian administration and regulations. I could have easily chosen any place on the planet to live, but I decided to come back to Croatia. Being in the prime of life, educated, experienced, focused, persevering and with money to invest, I struggled for 3 years to launch my project. A small retreat on my one acre plot in Istria was the idea.

The legal and administrative hurdles were insane. One issue was the ping-pong between the municipality and the county, where each said “go ask the other”. No clear statements and guidelines. Another was that for such a project, I had to please three different ministries with their regulations while the regulations of each ministry are ambiguous and then contradictory between these three. Numerous meetings and e-mail correspondence with high-level officials also did not help. Sometimes when I contacted a relevant person, I thought that person was stuck in their 80s and had no experience or ability to do their job.

… This brings us to the next worst obstacle – many (not all) people working in government offices, in addition to not being professionally equipped, have a very common (and very bad) approach – and who behave as if we We were here because of them, not the other way around. Our famous “uhljeb” model.

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6. You’re still around, so obviously the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don’t.

I like being able to show up at my neighbor’s door to borrow a few eggs. I love when the pet store staff sits with my dog ​​when I go shopping. I love how we trade and share goodies in the village. I love that visiting amazing and diverse places across Croatia only takes a few hours by road. I like the fact that I can leave my house key (in case of an emergency) with a neighbor when I travel. I love hosting my visiting international friends, all of whom, without exception, find Croatia amazing. Because it is.

What I don’t like is already mentioned in the article but in general what hurts the most is that we have a country with incredible opportunities, and we just can’t manage all these incredible resources That we have. But, I believe in the younger generation and I am convinced that they will make changes as soon as the old jerks retire.

I fully support young people leaving Croatia and discovering the world, learning new skills and opening their minds, but we have to find a way to bring them back. It was easier for me because I was single, but if I had my own family, I’m not sure Croatia would be the final choice…

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7. What advice do you have for those considering leaving the Diaspora?

Be aware of the administrative burden and equip yourself with a lot of patience. As much as you would think you should be invited and welcomed with your qualities in the country that clearly needs “fresh blood”, there is a massive lack of prospect for community benefits. It mainly depends on the individuals and their personal interests. Unfortunately, Croatians are known to be very tolerant of corruption, but please don’t support this.

Another is very common around the world – as most of you would probably come from more developed countries and with capital to invest, many locals will think you have an unlimited budget. Do your research before closing deals. Not just to avoid getting ripped off, but simply because paying more nonchalantly (just because you can) means an overall price increase, which can badly affect local people with fewer resources.

8. How do you think Croatia can best help those seeking to return to their homeland?

Easier investment opportunities in every way. It is abnormal that once you have paid the full amount, you have to wait ten months for HEP electricity connection, even with regular follow-ups through all possible channels. Cut heavy administration, which, if done well, should make it more efficient. We don’t need “uhljebs” who actually serve their own purpose while making people’s lives harder with their incompetence and lack of professionalism

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Thank you Ljubica!

You can follow more stories in the series Reflections from Croatian returnees in our dedicated TCN section.

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