Who are you?
I’m Gregory Venters, and I’ve been an off-and-on expat since 1998.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I now live in St. Wolfgang in Salzkammergut, fifty kilometers south of Salzburg. This most recent expat experience began right before the pandemic kicked off. My wife and I had decided to move back to Europe (we were living in Chicago) and she being Croatian, we chose Croatia to settle. We bought a traditional house in the north near the Slovenian border and moved her together with the animals over in late September 2019. I wrapped up my work and followed in May 2020. We made the decision to return for many reasons, but primarily because my work was no longer satisfying (she wasn’t thrilled with her job, either), and the prospect of early retirement in the US was unappealing, to say the least.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Our biggest challenges during the move were specific to our circumstances. We had two dogs and a cat to transport across the Atlantic, and the cost and complexity of shipping anything abroad had become exorbitant. Since my wife is Croatian and I have the good fortune of holding an EU passport, we had no issues with bureaucracy – in fact, since we had chosen to live outside Zagreb, my wife managed to obtain the resident visa for me at the local police station before I even arrived. After I did, and since neither of us worked, I paid the annual cost for obligatory medical insurance, which was a new experience for the administrators involved, but it got done. The best bit, practically, was that I received a Croatian driver’s license in exchange for my Illinois license – a decision the police made based on assumed driving experience, considering my age.
Living in Croatia during the pandemic proved to be a godsend. The first two years were obviously quiet – focused on renovating the house (which we managed slowly despite the restrictions), planting fruit trees, establishing a garden, that kind of thing. The downside was that we both struggled to integrate in any meaningful way except with our immediate neighbors, and I had no access to a live instructor to learn the language.
How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?
Unsurprisingly, our cost of living under lock down was significantly lower than Chicago. First, it had been possible to buy our home outright for not a lot of money. Food costs were about 30-40% cheaper (and the quality was often better). And we couldn’t visit local restaurants or spend money on entertainment. After lock-down, we discovered that prices for going out ran about 20-30% less than in the US. Taking into account the international health coverage I arranged for both of us – a kind of catastrophic illness policy – the overall cost of living in Croatia proved to be roughly 40% cheaper than Chicago.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Since my story involves two countries, I’ll wrap up Croatia quickly. My wife found the house for us using a popular online classifieds site with a large section devoted to real estate. She traveled there alone to view the property and close the deal. There are no real estate brokers in the traditional sense in Croatia, so purchasing property is not something I would recommend for the faint of heart.
Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?
Opening a bank account was easy, as is most commercial transactions, like paying bills.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There were no expats where we lived and, I suspect, few overall in Croatia, although the number is growing. My sentiment is that living in Croatia as an expat would be a daunting challenge unless you have a link to the country as I did or have a comfortable fluency in the language.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
In late 2022, my wife and I separated, and I relocated to Austria. Here, life is very different. It is much more expensive than Croatia (yet cheaper than Chicago), although this largely relates to the fact that I now pay rent. I found a small apartment in a lake-side village through a real estate website without an agent. The apartment is one of eight inside a former farmhouse. All of my immediate neighbors are friendly, and the husband-and-wife landlord team have bent over backwards to help me get settled and ensure I’m comfortable. I have already met people and made friends by joining an expat networking organization (InterNations) and expect I will make more as my German language ability improves.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Learning the language is critical, despite the fact that many speak English. However, the challenge is the Austrian dialect. It’s an interesting experience to learn German but rarely hear it spoken. This is probably my biggest challenge living in Austria. And it brings me to my single most important piece of advice: integrate. As difficult as it is for me to learn the language, as often (not very often, in fact) as I experience a hesitancy to deal with a foreigner, it is crucial to make every effort to integrate as much as you can, while recognizing there will always be a limit to how far you can go. Otherwise, I love the place.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m not sure how long I will remain where I am. As lovely as it is, it feels a bit remote from Salzburg, which hits well above its weight in culture (obviously), as well as in things to do generally. So the future might bring a relocation, although the destination remains unclear. Vienna has everything but the nature and mountains Salzburg has, while Salzburg lacks Vienna’s size and cosmopolitanism. Difficult choices ahead. But one thing is clear: Austria is an amazing place to live. I consider myself fortunate to have the privilege to live among these people who work hard/play hard, who embody an amazing historical and cultural heritage, and hold such special affinity with the beautiful nature that surrounds them.
Visit Greg’s blog, ‘American Nomad‘, to read more about his experiences as a solo expat living in Europe.