Why this couple left Croatia to live in Turkey
Samir and Lucija have lived in many places during their lives. They thought they had found “home” when they moved to Split in Croatia.
It didn’t turn out that way. Maybe Croatia changed during the 5 years they lived there?
We wanted to find out the story from Samir. We, after all, had our own acrimonious split from Croatia back in 2018.
We also wanted to find out why they’ve decided to make Turkey their new home.
All about that in this post.
Hi Samir! First of all, can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Samir and my wife Lucija and I lived in Split, Croatia for five years. We just recently decided to leave it for Alanya in Turkiye.
First things first, I am originally from beautiful Sarajevo, Bosnia, just turned sixty, happily self-retired. My wife Lucija is a couple of years older. I often tell her she likes them young. Bosnians are known about their self-deprecating humor, often ridiculed, but somehow always outsmart their bashers.
I was a technician all my life, worked in the City Police of Sarajevo for eleven years, hired just before the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. I led a fairly boring life, like most of the Balkans. We are born, live and die within a radius of 10 miles. Sarajevo is a big city, gorgeous, but it doesn’t have the sea. From an early age I much preferred warmer climates and often in summer was spending weeks in Dalmatia, particularly Makarska Riviera, mainly Baška Voda and Brela in the late eighties. I married the first wife, now (thankfully) ex from the island Brač. Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were in the same country, so there were a lot of those so called “mixed” marriages.
Then the war came. I was able to evacuate my ex and young daughter to Brač and stayed behind for what turned out to be almost three years. Long story short, I somehow survived (had a couple of close calls), and in mid ’94 I got permission to visit them in Croatia. We decided not to go back to a war zone and applied for a refugee program. Within a few months we were in California, USA. Within another three months we were separated.
A few years later I happily remarried with lovely Lucija, an American born from a Canadian mum and a Croatian immigrant from Herzegovina.
A lot of my cousins followed me to the US and they sent papers to their families, so at the end I had more family in California and Texas than in Bosnia. I settled into the American way of life—long work hours, two weeks vacations, most of the time we would visit exotic places like Hawaii or Mexico. Of course, we would visit Balkans occasionally, but less and less. I am adoptable animal and became a true American: loved my basketball, football and baseball teams, went to games as often as I could.
In 2015 we visited the Balkans after almost 10 years of not being back. We were impressed how things are changed (among them Croatia being in the EU). We came home all relaxed but Lucija got bad news about her job. She was let go. The decision was made for us – one day we just said to ‘heck’ with it – we are young enough and old enough. Let’s sell everything and go to Balkans, buy a property, possibly start a business. In summer of 2016 we were in Sarajevo in my family apartment, full of enthusiasm, with a lot of plans and unknown future.
Why did you end up in Split? I assume you loved your time there?
The first year we floated between Sarajevo and (mostly) Dalmatia, looked for that perfect location. We managed to renovate the apartment in Sarajevo, so at least we had a home base. In June of 2017 we spent time in Split and decided to start looking to buy an apartment. Lucija was more for Istria, but I argued that Split is a bigger city and has life almost the whole year. I am a city boy, can’t imagine myself going always to same café or restaurant every day and watch the same faces. Let me rephrase that, I get bored quickly, so living in a village or small town would kill me.
Lucija was never truly content with Split, but we built a nice circle of friends of all ages, shapes, and forms. Mainly in their thirties, so they make us look young. We rented three apartments throughout those 5 years, got lucky with our landlords. Had some issues, nothing unexpected. Compare that with some horror stories that we heard from other renters. But my wife was never satisfied with renting other people’s belongings, aesthetics, or odd renovation decisions. She was however able to obtain Croatian citizenship during our years in Split which made life easier for both of us in the long run.
I love Split, it reminds me of Sarajevo in some ways, but the people are bit different and “Splicani” only like to joke on someone’s else account. If you start joking with them, they are not happy about it. Talking bad about their city, only they can do, not foreigners, or God forbids, tourists. Split is welcoming as long as you give. If you ask something back, you will hit the wall. As a Bosnian, I did not have problems adapting, they would just leave me alone, this guy is crazy, so let him be…
So what happened? Please lead us through the events that led you to decide to leave Split (and Croatia) behind.
Now, let us get to the point: why we left Split, which we (mostly I) loved for five years. The short answer is greed. The longer answer requires some explanation.
When in the USA, we watched California housing prices go from normal to absolutely insane. We went to Croatia and could not believe that people that are making 500-600$ a month on average are asking 5000$ per square meter (about 10 square feet). Not justifying the high prices in California, but people at least make more money there.
Throughout five years, in Croatia, I always felt that apartments are way overpriced. Locals can’t afford them, even 90% of foreigners can’t afford them.
We expanded our search to the cities of Šibenik and Makarska, both smaller than Split. But even there we could not keep up with the increasing prices. Even if we found the property that we liked, the papers were not clear. For example, an apartment of 80 m2 would only be registered as 50 m2 in books. As if someone made changes to the layout and failed to register the changes. We were getting closer to looking in Rijeka and Pula but again, prices shot up a lot during Covid (despite me thinking the opposite should happen).
The final straw was in early March this year. We went to see a lovely two-level apartment in Makarska priced at 175K Euros. We took a couple of days contemplating if we should offer 165K or 170K (a little less is common practice), went back to check the ad and photos—and guess what—the apartment was selling for brand new price of 197K! Also, our landlord in Split was telling me that someone offered him 350K in Firule for the 95 m2 flat we were renting. An apartment that needs a lot of work and has zero insulation between floors….
My wife was increasingly getting impatient with me and my indecision. She was sick of renting and refused to continue to do so. I had to act quickly.
Why Turkey? How did you come to that decision?
Alanya came to the rescue. My longtime friend and neighbor from Sarajevo, Mujo, who I’ve known for almost 50 years (and who left for Canada in mid-80s), was telling me that he bought a couple of apartments there. He wanted us to come and visit to see if it is a good fit for us. At the time they were visiting Alanya as well. So we booked our hotel in mid-March and were there for 10 days and in Istanbul for one week.
It was a magical experience and we fell in love immediately.
We almost bought a property right away but decided to return to Split to figure out what to do with five years of stuff one acquires under the impression they will stay in Croatia for the long-haul. We had to figure out how to move all that stuff to Sarajevo in a 13-year-old Nissan Qashqai. Our plan was to return to Alanya ASAP.
In a meantime, we looked intensively online and almost pulled the trigger on a couple other apartments. Ultimately we decided that buying online was not a good idea—for buying shoes, yes, but not for the property that you plan to live in. As we were getting our apartment in Split ready to hand back to landlord, we were watching prices in Alanya also grow at an increased rate and the same scenario from California and Croatia was unfolding right in front of our eyes.
We finally made it back on the 20th of May and by the end of that week (it took 5 days) we become proud owners of an apartment in the center of Alanya. It will need some work, but we’ll have our apartment all tricked up and renovated for a fraction of what we’d pay in Split – we figure that once everything is done it will come out to about 115 K. The official purchase is still in process as the Government Tapu Office (property registry) is slow. But we’ve paid the owner a deposit and have a lawyer taking care of everything (to have a proper real estate transaction in Turkiye you need one).
What’s your lasting feeling about Split and Croatia? Sadness? Anger? Disappointment? Any regrets? Or are you just happy to leave it behind and be moving on with your life somewhere else?
Do I have regrets of leaving Split, of course I do. I like the town. But my regrets are like those when I left my adopted country of the US. We have people that became friends, it’s a beautiful city… but ultimately home is where you hang your hat. It did not happen in Split for multiple reasons. It was not meant to be. Loved my life in California, my friends and family, and left. Why? Because the grass is always greener over the fence, constant pursuit of happiness, all the cliché’s you can throw in. But it’s still not a 100% answer. Who’s to say that we are not going to leave Alanya down the road. As travelers, you pack up and go, going where you think it is going to be better to you. Once bitten by that traveling bug, there is an itch you need to scratch…
To conclude, I want to reiterate that I have no bad feelings about Split. But I think in general they are their worst enemy by making tourism their main industry. We know that it is not sustainable in the long run. The sky-rocketing prices of properties and cost of living is pushing locals to the hinterlands and further away from the coast and the educated youth are rapidly leaving the country. That trend happens everywhere but Croatia specifically lost its manufacturing and farming industries after the Homeland War because of rampant corruption and bad planning. The “communists” they say they hate so much are still ruling the country but just in a different dress. And we could never figure out why the general populace seemed so grumpy compared to those in Sarajevo (or Turkiye).
No doubt we’ll find complaints about our new home. Let’s start with the drivers, the language barrier and inflation. Or that prices in many independently owned stores are “suggestions” (you have to negotiate for everything). But looking on the bright side, it offers many of the same amenities as Split with wider and sandier beaches, a longer season, and waiters with a smile on their faces.
Great interview! Thanks for sharing your story with us Samir!
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A most interesting blog : article.
I have a home in Turkey , about a 3.5 hr drive from Antalya, live there about 8 months a year and come home to Uk for the remaining months,
We love life in Turkey and have made good friendship,
The paradise or ( happy place ) people talk about is mostly from people on holiday or people who pop back and forth,
Expats where I live are treated well and the Turkish people are in the main welcoming , respectful , helpful.
But after many yrs of seeing changes,
The economy, the prices of food? Drink , restaurant s going up daily or weekly , and one feels that this is greed not inflation, the town is just busier all the time from May onwards, Turkish drivers are dreadful and health and safety non existence , the private health care system is excellent , and medical attention is a big attraction compared with Uk , going to the local dr and being treated or going to hospital quickly make Uk seem in the dark ages,
All that said, needs change , situation change,
What was once paradise isn’t always so yrs later.
I completely understand the need to travel and move on explore and have new adventures, is grass greener , I just don’t know ultimately,
I wish you both great success and continued happiness in your travels
Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. Always appreciate feedback from someone with first hand experience.
Thank you Frank, for sharing Samir and Lucija’s Croatian story. We are on the Dalmatian coast at the moment, and we have visited Split the other day. For me, the old town continues to be as fascinating as ever, and even slightly less expensive when compared to the resort towns.
We have started our trip in Istria, Opatija area, and out of curiosity we check the real estate prices. We saw shockingly high numbers in both areas – Istria and Dalmatia, something very hard to explain considering the locals’ income. In the grocery stores, the food is more expensive than in Italy, and you can rarely find a local produce. The vast majority of fruits and vegetables are coming from Italy, Spain and other neighbouring countries. We also saw melon from Brasil. The cost of the bottled water is one of the most expensive I have seen in Europe. It can be as 5x more expensive than in Italy.
I can relate to Samir’s search for a place that we call home, as we started exploring Southern European countries with the desire to find that place. We have started with Greece last year in the fall, and we continued with Italy this spring. We are focusing on the coastal areas and in Italy we explored the Tuscan coast and Liguria, mainly west of Genoa. In the upcoming fall and winter, we are going to focus on France, Spain and Portugal.
It is comforting to see that we are not alone, and it is nice to read like-minded people’s stories.
We love Croatia, and we like to come here for a vacation.
Very interesting to have those comparisons Levente! We noticed that even when we lived in Split back in 2017. Heck, the guy we rented from thought he could sell the apartment for 300K euros! It was a nice place but basically a 1 bedroom with a very basic kitchen and bathroom (to put in perspective, that was the value of my fancy condo in Montreal). Delusional. Needless to say, when we left the apartment sat empty for over a year. I don’t know if he ever managed to sell it.
We noticed the same things you say when we were there. Groceries were not cheap at all and most things are imported. I don’t know how the locals cope with those prices.
I love what you’re doing and I’d be curious what you end up choosing. If you ever want to contribute your own post at some point I think it would be very interesting and helpful to readers.
So no Turkey for you? Or is that just for Thanksgiving 🙂 (Just got an eyeroll from Lissette)
No Turkey for us, not even for Thanksgiving, as we switched to fish years ago 😀. I will keep you posted about our travels. It is a journey for sure, and this year we are traveling with our cat and a sourdough starter. Thanks for the offer about writing a post. I will think about it. It would honour me to contribute to your blog.
Really enjoyed the article, Samir sounds like a fun character.
We’ve been to Split. Loved it but found it more expensive than expected. Sad to hear it’s going in the way of Dubrovnik though where the locals were priced out years ago. Split always had authenticity going for it.
I don’t know if Turkey would be for me. And with the government and the economic situation (Lira down to about 25% of value of where it was a year ago?). Just don’t know where that’s heading.
Best of luck to them! Price sure sounds good in comparison to Split and one thing about Turkey is that there’s a lot of budget flights to a lot of places.
Thanks Jack! Split is a great city and we still have it in our hearts. But so many things don’t make sense in Croatia…
I’m not sure Turkey would be our dream retirement spot either between the language, culture and politics. More of a place to go on a vacation. But it is very affordable, in the center of everything (not just Europe but east and south as well), and they have one of the best airline networks in Europe. Have travelled many times through Istanbul on our way to places, just because Turkish Airlines has a huge network and affordable prices.
So I can see both sides of the equation.