Travel to Croatia During Coronavirus: What It Was Like

Obojena Beach in Split, Croatia in August
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Visiting Croatia is always a good idea. It’s a beautiful country – full of dramatic mountains and waterfalls, white pebble beaches with water so clear and azure it looks fake, and friendly people. And it’s one of the few places Americans can travel to right now. While visiting is allowed, it’s not easy – travel to Croatia is definitely complicated in the time of coronavirus. But it’s worth it. Read on for all the details about getting in and staying here. 

*Please note, this is just a description of my experience. I recommend you seek the advice of a doctor before you travel anywhere, and follow all rules, regulations, and recommendations of your home country and Croatia. 

Why I Traveled to Croatia in 2020

As part of my wandering life, I am always on the lookout for a base for a few months. Croatia has become a popular destination for digital nomads . It’s not expensive, the quality is life is high, and the weather is perfect for my summer-loving self. 

And this isn’t my first visit. I’d visited Croatia in 2019 as part of my year of traveling the world, and fell in love in just three weeks. The food is great, it’s very safe for women traveling alone, and getting around is easy.

It’s been off the tourist path for Americans until recently (thanks, Game of Thrones!), because it’s still not too easy to get here from the US – there are no direct flights currently. Plus it’s part of the EU but not in the Schengen Zone yet, so I can save my time to go live in Greece. I had planned to spend April here (plans? In 2020? lol) but instead I’m here in August. 

Split center at sunset – the historic heart of the ancient city.

How I Traveled to Croatia

Since Croatia isn’t part of the Schengen Zone, it currently has more leeway to use whatever rules it wants for non-EU visitors. The country opened up in July to visitors from everywhere, as long as you get a negative PCR test for COVID-19 no less than 48 hours before you arrive at the border. If you don’t have one, or have an older one, you can still enter but you need to quarantine.

The full updated rules are here (check them as they change frequently, like everything else in the world right now). Several other European countries, including the UK, have a Croatia travel advisory in place right now, so do your research carefully!

Getting Ready to Travel

After my 2-week quarantine in London, and another week spent housesitting for a tiny little cat in Wimbledon, I was ready to be off again. With cases rising across Europe and flights being canceled en masse again, I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in expensive, chilly England for the winter.

So I booked a cheap EasyJet flight and a very expensive COVID test. How expensive? 250 pounds (that’s $341!!!). I almost screamed. But getting results back within 48 hours was a pricey proposition anywhere in London, and it also seems to be nearly impossible in the US.

I swallowed my horror and got a deep, long throat and nasal swab at a private London clinic. I cried (which my nurse sister-in-law told me meant they did it right!) and almost threw up but I got the negative results and a certificate less than 24 hours later. 

What the Flight Was Like

Then it was time for my flight. I hopped on the Tube and a bus to Luton Airport, wearing my N95 respirator mask the whole time for safety. One of the big downsides of traveling anywhere right now is that everything is less frequent, so I ended up at the airport 3 hours early with not much to do. I wrote and drank tea and marveled at how full the airport was.

Boarding my flight was like something out of a time portal – only a cursory glance at my passport as we got onto a very full plane full of shouting people. I had paid extra to sit up front so I had my row to myself, but the back of the plane was packed in like sardines.

EasyJet requires masks on all flight and the flight attendants kept reminding everyone to properly wear them over the PA system, but it wasn’t great. One of the flight attendants kept pushing her mask down to talk (ah), everyone took off their masks to eat and drink (AH), and most people didn’t cover their nose a lot of the time, congregated in the aisles, and talked loudly a lot (AHHH).

I kept my mask on the whole time – it was only a 2-hour flight so I was fine without water – and stayed the hell away from everyone as much as possible. It was a lot. 

Getting Into Croatia

We landed in Split early and deplaning was orderly – we all got up row by row. The border guard looked at my passport, asked if I was American, checked my negative test certificate, and told me I was all set. That was it! You’re supposed to need confirmation of paid accommodations and a return flight, which I had gotten and printed out, but he didn’t ask for any of it. (Very different than my intense grilling from the Irish border guard on my layover into London.) 

Then I boarded the bus to Split center, where we waited almost an hour until the bus was completely full and then headed out. Also not a lot of properly-worn masks, also not great, and everyone was very close. I was really thankful for my N95 mask once again. 

But once I got off that bus and onto the seaside promenade, I felt much better. I have a tiny studio apartment that’s all mine in the center of the historic old city. I’m going to cafes outside to write and walking around eating pistachio gelato in the midday heat and swimming in the warm clear water of the beach outside town.

beach outside Split, Croatia with blue skies and green pine trees
Beach bum life from here on.

I don’t have to get on a bus or a plane or be inside at all, except for brief trips to the grocery store where masks are required (as they are in all shops). 

Is It Safe to Travel to Croatia?

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say with any certainty how safe it is to travel to Croatia right now. Ask your doctor, please! Don’t rely entirely on travel bloggers for health info, guys.

Overall, the experience was… okay. I wasn’t expecting so much crowding – when I made it to the UK, both my flights were quite empty and distancing was easy. Croatia is full of tourists right now – mostly Europeans on their August holidays – so I knew I would need to be quite cautious. And while cases remain very low in the UK, they’re on the rise here, especially in Split, so all the crowding on the plane and the bus felt concerning. 

I can’t stay home anyways – I don’t have a home. I’m planning to stay here at least three months, so that was the last flight I’ll take for a while. And with my N95 mask, I knew I stayed safe even when others weren’t being careful. But personally, it’s not a journey I’d take for leisure right now.  

For me, it remains a journey worth taking. I feel safe being here now, in a place that’s designed for outdoor living pretty much year-round. New restrictions are being put into place to reduce spread (no big weddings, more cautious indoor dining) and I’m being ridiculously careful as I have been since March. 

Ultimately, the choice is up to each individual person. We’ll probably be living with this virus for at least another year, and restrictions and regulations change fast. But I’m delighted to be settled for a while into the beautifully slow pace of life here, and eating my body weight in pizza whenever the stress of being alive and abroad in these times gets to me. 

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