Croatia switches to euro currency and joins the 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 destinations. Yet until now it has always felt that little bit more exotic than the likes of France, Spain and Greece, with its own currency, the kuna.

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

Euro banknotes and coins are now circulating in the country, with around 70% of ATMs in the country already distributing euros rather than kuna, according to the European Commission. The rest will follow by January 15.

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

Got spare 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. Exchanging at a bank is free of charge until July 1. Croatia’s 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 ECB 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 euro area, and it succeeded. I congratulate the Croatian people.”

Hrvatska narodna banka, Croatia’s national central bank, now becomes a member of the Eurosystem — the euro area’s central banking system, made up of the European Central Bank and the national central banks of euro member states.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “Welcome, dear Croatian friends, to this shared currency,” as he gave a two-minute address about the move.

As well as changing its currency on January 1, Croatia also joined the Schengen area — the bloc of 26 countries that has done away with border checks 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, taking the full tally to 27 countries and around 420 million European citizens who can travel without borders around the bloc.

Internal land and sea borders had their checks removed on January 1, while internal air borders will follow on March 26. This means that Croatia can now also issue Schengen visas.

What does that mean for visitors? Less friction during border crossing — previously, lines could be long on road borders with Slovenia and Hungary, and on sea crossings from Italy. However it also means that long-stay travelers who max out their 90-day visa-free travel in the Schengen area can no longer cross to Croatia to wait out 90 days until they can return to Schengen.

Croatia’s prime minister, Andrej Plenković, tweeted that January 1 was a “historic day for Croatia.”

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

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

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