Croatia switches to euro currency and joins Schengen area

Croatia switches to euro currency and joins Schengen area

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(CNN) – With over 1,000 miles of coastline and over 1,000 islands and islets, Croatia is one of Europe’s most idyllic summer travel destinations. But until now, with its own currency, the kuna, it has always felt a bit more exotic than France, Spain and Greece.

All that changed on January 1, when Croatia joined the eurozone and replaced its historic kuna with the euro. It is the 20th country to join the single currency.

Euro notes and coins are now circulating in the country, with around 70% of ATMs in the country already dispensing euros instead of kuna, according to the European Commission. The rest will follow by January 15th.

The kuna can still be used until January 15, although those paying in kuna will get their change in euros. The exchange rate has been set at 7.53450 kuna to 1 euro.

Do you have kuna left over from your last trip? You can exchange them for euros at any Croatian post office until June 30, and at any Croatian bank until the end of 2023. Exchange at a bank is free until July 1st. The Croatian National Central Bank will exchange Kuna banknotes free of charge until further notice and coins until December 2025.

“I welcome Croatia to the euro family and to the Governing Council table in Frankfurt,” said Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, in a statement.

“Croatia worked hard to become the 20th member of the eurozone and it succeeded. I congratulate the Croatian people.”

Hrvatska narodna banka, the national central bank of Croatia, will now become a member of the Eurosystem – the central bank system of the euro zone, consisting of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of the euro member states.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “Welcome dear Croatian friends to this common currency” as he delivered a two-minute address on the move.

Croatia not only changed its currency on January 1, but also joined the Schengen area – the bloc of 26 countries that has abolished border controls within Europe, making it the largest border-free area in the world. It is the 23rd of the 27 EU member states to be part of Schengen. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are also part of the area, making up the total of 27 countries and around 420 million European citizens who can travel through the bloc without borders.

Controls at inland and sea borders were removed on January 1st, with internal airspace borders to follow on March 26th. Croatia can now also issue Schengen visas.

What does this mean for visitors? Less friction when crossing the border – in the past, queues could be long at the road borders with Slovenia and Hungary and at the sea crossings from Italy. However, this also means that long-term travelers who have exhausted their 90-day visa-free trip in the Schengen area will no longer be able to enter Croatia to wait 90 days before returning to Schengen.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković tweeted that January 1st was a “historic day for Croatia”.

“We are the first country to join Schengen and the eurozone on the same day,” he added.

“With the introduction of the euro, our citizens and the economy will be better protected against crises.”