Sarajevo

How to Live and Work in Bosnia and Herzegovina

So you want to live and work in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Great! You just spent your the summer in Sarajevo, you became a regular at Kino Bosna, gained 5 kilograms from eating Krompiršua and Ćevapi every meal, and developed an ironic attachment to turbo folk from long nights at Sloga. “Sarajevo is the new Berlin” you declare! You decide you will teach English, sell bracelets on Ferhadija, and push handmade cigarettes in Stup to make ends meet in order to fulfill your bohemian lifestyle. Armed with your new life plan, you only need to find a way to become legal. Well, buckle up. Because I do not have to be your mother to tell you “Okay honey, let me know when you run out of money and want me to buy your flight home”.

But I digress.

Now that you know your place, I will briefly delve into why this is probably not going to happen. But if you do persist, this post hopes to explain some of the options available that will allow you to live in Bosnia for an extended period of time and the process of obtaining a Work Permit in the event that you would like to work here. I will also share some interesting statistics on the demographics of those with Work Permits and some personal insights as someone who managed to successfully navigate the process for becoming a foreigner who lives and works in BiH legally.

Due to the complexity of living and working in BiH as a foreigner, this post will be more concise than my two previous posts on Bosnian Bureaucratic Wonders, How to Get a White Card in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and How to Get a Volunteer Visa in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is also designed to give a general overview on the process of obtaining a Work Permit in BiH and provide a variety of links and resources to set you in the right direction.

How Do I legally Live in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The BiH Service for Foreigner’s Affairs (SPS) website provides a good outline on the different types of visas and temporary residence permits available to foreigners in English. The BiH Ministry of Security (MSB) also provide basic information on the entry and stay of aliens in BiH on their website.

For nationals included in the Visa-free regime, it is possible to reside in BiH for 90 days out of every 180 days. You cannot legally volunteer or work while in BiH as a part of the Visa-free regime. To legally reside in BiH longer than the Visa-Free regime allows for, it is necessary to obtain either a temporary residence permit, or a long stay visa (visa D).

Temporary Residence Permit

A temporary residence permit is usually valid for a period no longer than 12 months, and allows an individual to stay in BiH for the validity period. A brief outline regurgitated from the SPS website on the grounds for granting temporary residence is as follows:

  • Marriage to a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Extramarital community (Common Law Marriage) with a citizen Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Family reunification
  • Education (including volunteering)
  • Employment as specified in an issued work permit
  • Work without a work permit
  • Treatment or rehabilitation
  • Stay in a nursing home
  • Stay for humanitarian reasons
  • Stay based on an international treaty to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a party
  • Stay out of other legitimate reasons
  • Ownership of real estate in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The SPS website provides information regarding the required documents for an application in all of the above circumstances.

Long Stay Visa (Visa D)

A Long Stay Visa, or “Visa D”, is usually valid for a period of 180 days starting from the date of first entry into BiH. Information about the Long Stay Visa can be found on the BiH MSB website.  In general, the Long Stay Visa is issued to individuals who can prove that there is a valid purpose for an individual to stay in BiH a period of more than 90 days within a 6 month period.  The application for this kind of visa is usually based on a “letter of invitation” from a Bosnian citizen or organisation.

How Do I Legally Work in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

To legally work in BiH, usually you must a obtain a Work Permit.  Work Permits can be valid for a maximum of 12 months after being issued, and must be renewed after this period. They are usually obtained on the basis of receiving a job offer from a company registered in BiH.

In some exceptional cases, individuals can obtain a Temporary Residence Grounded on Work Without a Work Permit. This allows an individual to work in BiH without a Work Permit. One of these exceptional cases is being the founder of a company in BiH. You can find out if you qualify for this type of temporary residence by visiting the BiH SPS website here or reading Article 50 through 71 of the Rulebook on Entry and Stay of Aliens.

Who Has Work Permits in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

A comprehensive migration profile report was released by the Ministry of Security (MSB)  for 2016/2017 period detailing various demographic data on issued Work Permits in BiH.

The demographic data pulled from this report displays an odd situation in regard to who typically obtains Work Permits in BiH in regard to industry, age, and qualification level. Around 2500 Work Permits were issued in 2017. The majority of Work Permits in BiH are issued to citizens of Serbia, Turkey, Croatia, and China. The overwhelming majority of issued Work Permits are issued to men. Roughly half of those who receive work permits have a university level qualification. Most people who receive work permits are over 60 years old, and are commonly issued for those who work in the Wholesale/Retail, Vehicle Repair, Processing, Real Estate, Education, and Construction industries.

How Do I Obtain a Work Permit and Temporary Residence on the basis of a Job Offer?

The Foreign Investment Promotional Agency (FIPA) of BiH provide a nice guide on how to obtain Work Permits in BiH. Information on the required documentation for the Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work Permit can be found on the PB-4.1 document listed on the SPS website. A brief overview of the process can also be found in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the SPS website in BHS. The following steps are outlined in these sources:

  1. Receive a job offer from a BiH company.
  2.  Work Permit application is then submitted by the future employer on behalf of the employee to the relevant government employment agency. The employee will be required to provide certified identity documents as well as a nostrification of their university degree if applicable, while the employer will have to provide registration documents as well as proof they do not have any outstanding tax obligations. The employee should be located outside of BiH while the Work Permit application is processing.
  3. Once the Work Permit is obtained, the employee may enter BiH either using their 90 day visa-waiver period (or other applicable short-stay visas) and apply for Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work PermitThe employee may reside in BiH while the Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work Permit application is processing.
  4. Once the Temporary Residence Grounded on Work With a Work Permit application has been processed, the employee may start working.

This entire process typically takes 3 months or more. It is recommended that if the employer does not take care of the process, the employee should hire a local lawyer. In my experience, the whole process costs around 400KM in government administrative fees, and 600KM in lawyer fees when applying in the Kanton Sarajevo.

Conclusion

It is hoped that this post has cleared a few things up and saved time for those thinking about living and working in BiH as a foreigner. While it may have dashed the hopes of those wishing to stave off their early life crisis by becoming professional bracelet and cigarette pushers, it is possible to navigate the visa process and do things legally in BiH when you put your mind to it. Navigating the Bosnian bureaucracy as a foreigner in practice can be stressful and frustrating, and it is recommended to hire a local lawyer when trying to apply for the various visas and permits by yourself.

Photo by @edina.sp

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