This page provides brief answers to frequently asked questions about Bulgaria divided into three convenient categories: About Bulgaria, Visiting Bulgaria, and Moving to Bulgaria. Many of the answers include links to addition resources for further information.
If you don’t find what you are looking for, post a question on Help4Foreigners, our free help forum for expats and travelers.
Bulgaria is located on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. It is bordered by Romania on the north, Greece and Turkey on the south, Serbia and Macedonia on the west, and the Black Sea on the east. See a map of Bulgaria
Bulgarians speak Bulgarian, which is a south Slavic language. It is similar to other Slavic languages such as Russian, Serbian and Czech. Bulgarian speech is at least partially understood by other Slavic language speakers, and vice versa.
The Bulgarian currency is the lev, plural leva in Bulgarian, and frequently levs in English. One lev is made up of 100 stotinki. Banknotes are available in denominations of 2,5,10,20,50 and 100 leva. Coins are available for 1, 2, 5,10, 20 and 50 stotinki, 1 lev and 2 leva.
The 1 lev and 2 leva banknotes have been replaced by coins, but remain in circulation. They may be found occasionally, but sightings are rare as time passes.
Bulgaria joined the European Union on January 1, 2007. The immediate benefits of membership are funding for infrastructure and other projects, participation in European political structures, and fewer border restrictions for Bulgarian travelers.
Bulgaria is not yet a member of the Eurozone, which requires several administrative control steps to be passed before a country can adopt the common currency. The process of euro adoption is likely to last several more years.
Bulgaria joined NATO on June 1, 2004. Entry into the alliance has opened up opportunities for Bulgaria to host NATO training and exercises, modernization of military equipment, and participation in NATO operations around the world.
Bulgaria is a very old state tracing its history in the Balkans back to the second half of the seventh century. In 681 a relatively small army led by ethnic Bulgars upset the powerful Byzantine Empire on the battlefield, winning recognition as a sovereign state in what is now northeastern Bulgaria.
Bulgarian fortunes waxed and waned for 600 years, climaxing in a golden age during the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. In 1396 the last of Bulgaria fell under domination by the Ottoman Turks, and for the next 500 years Bulgarians lived under what is commonly called the Turkish yoke.
In 1877 Russia invaded the Balkans to liberate Bulgaria in the name of pan-Slavic brotherhood, expelled the Turks, and set the course of development for the modern Bulgarian state. In the 20th century, Bulgaria found itself on the wrong side of both World Wars, then fell under communist rule for the duration of the Cold War.
In 1990, a peaceful overthrow of the communist regime ushered in the present era of democratic government. Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007.
Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic with democratic elections since 1990. There are three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.
The executive branch is led by a Prime Minister and his appointed Council of Ministers. They are responsible for carrying out state policy, managing the state budget and maintaining law and order inside Bulgaria.
There is also an elected President who is the nominal head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. He schedules elections, represents the country abroad, signs international treaties and may reject proposed legislation by returning it to the legislature for further debate.
The legislature is a unicameral body of 240 members, or deputies, called the national assembly. They enact laws, approve the national budget, schedule presidential elections, select and dismiss ministers, declare war and deploy troops, and ratify international treaties.
The judicial branch operates independently and is ruled by a Supreme Judicial Council, whose members are elected and/or appointed by a combination of bodies in the government. The court system includes regional, district and appellate courts, plus, three courts at the federal level. The Supreme Court of Cassation is the highest court in the land and the final court of appeal for all cases brought before it. The Supreme Administrative Court is the highest court for adjudicating administrative matters. The Constitutional Court reviews the legality of laws brought before it and monitors their compliance with international treaties and agreements.
Bulgaria has a broad variety of terrain. There are four major mountain ranges, large, fertile valleys, many rivers and a significant coastline along the Black Sea.
The Balkan Mountains are the largest geographical feature in the country, forming a spine that runs down the center of Bulgaria from west to east. Negotiating this territory has been an important factor in many of the critical events in Bulgarian history. The Rila Mountains in the south center include Mount Mussala, the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula. The Pirin Mountain in the southwest includes the Pirin National Park, home to a fragile alpine ecosystem and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mining in the Rhodope Mountains in the south and southeast is an important part of the national economy.
The Danube river valley in the north is a fertile farming region. The Dobruzha in the northeast has been contested territory for much of known history, principally due to its richness as an agricultural region. The long, hot summers of the central valley are ideal for raising roses and growing grapes. Bulgaria is one of the largest rose oil producers and the fifth largest wine producing country in the world.
Bulgarians enjoy four season weather, so each area has multiple attractions depending on the time of year. The skiing resorts at Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo are popular winter destinations. The Black Sea coast is lined with summer resorts.
Bulgaria is a small country with a lot to offer the curious tourist. The natural beauty of the region There are nine locations listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include physical and cultural landmarks, including Rila Monastery, Magura Cave, and the Kazanlak Thracian tomb. Read our article describing all nine sites, with links to additional information on individual locations.
The Bulgarian Tourist Union runs a special program highlighting the top 100 tourist sites around the country. Passports are available at each site for a symbolic price of just one lev. Visitors collect stamps in their passports at each site and win awards by visiting 25, 50 or all 100 locations. Read our article describing this program, with links to additional articles describing individual sites.
According to the National Statistical Institute, the official 2009 year end population was 7,563,710 people. This shows a decline of 42, 841, or 0.6%, from the previous year. Population decline is a major social issue facing Bulgaria in the 21st century. 51.6% of the Bulgarian population are women; there are 1067 women per 1000 men. Bulgaria is also an urban country. At the end of 2009, 5,401,214 people resided in Bulgarian cities and towns (71,4%); 2,162,496 lived in villages (28,6%).
Additional population statistics are available from the CIA World Factbook.
By constitution Bulgaria is a Christian nation according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The state church is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Generally speaking, to be born Bulgarian is to be born Orthodox, regardless of personal conviction. Most Bulgarians celebrate Orthodox Christian holidays and rituals as a matter of cultural affinity independent of religious faith.
About 82% of Bulgarians claim Orthodox Christianity as their religion. An additional 1% claim other Christian affiliations. About 12% of the population is Muslim. All other religions, as well as no religion, make up the remaining 5%.
The Bulgarian constitution guarantees religious freedom and all registered faiths hold the rights of affiliation, assembly, worship and religious instruction.
Visa regulations vary by passport country. Citizens of EU countries and selected others, including the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand enjoy visa free travel in Bulgaria for up to 90 days in any six month period. Check with your local Bulgarian Embassy, Consulate or the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry visa requirements chart to find out the specific rules for your country.
Bulgaria is still mostly a cash based society, although credit cards are making inroads into daily life. It is best to assume that cash will be necessary for most expenses. Even locations that advertise credit or debit card acceptance often have difficulty processing foreign cards.
Cash is available from banks and ATMs all around the country. Some ATMs accept only local cards, so be sure to use a machine clearly labeled with the international symbol of your card company.
Foreign cash may be exchanged in change bureaus, banks or hotels. Banks and Hotels generally charge commissions or offer slightly less favorable rates, but change bureaus carry the risk of hidden fees that can be exorbitant. Ask a trusted local for advice before changing money in a change bureau, or have them do it for you.
The Bulgarian Lev is pegged to the Euro in a fixed exchange rate of 1.95576 Leva to 1 Euro. For other exchange rates, use this converter:
Bulgaria is a relatively safe country with very little crime against person. Old world hospitality is still alive and well in most parts of the country. People tend to be friendlier to foreigners, especially those in need of help, than they are to their own countrymen.
It might be difficult to communicate outside of the cities if you do not speak Bulgarian or another Slavic language.
Generally speaking yes, although there are certainly neighborhoods in the big cities where you would not want to be out on foot. Check with your hotel or friends to make sure you avoid dangerous areas.
There is more English being spoken every day. In the major cities, you can almost always find someone who speaks a little English. In Sofia, almost all young people understand some English, even if they are shy about speaking. English is a rarity among the older generations, and less common outside the major cities and resorts. It is not uncommon in towns and villages to have no English speakers around.
The Bulgarian police are like professional services everywhere – generally well meaning, although not always able to help. In the few instances when we have needed policemen we have found them to be courteous and helpful towards foreigners.
There is a special police hotline that operates in English.
Traffic police and border guards have an exaggerated reputation for corruption. Their salaries are meager, so it is only human nature that some will take advantage of the right situations to line their own pockets, but not all of them will attempt to take money from foreigners. Good manners and a friendly smile can help you get out of almost any minor scrape without too much hassle.
Bulgarians are proud of the high quality of their drinking water and are usually offended by foreigners who filter tap water for no good reason. There are many public springs and faucets which are almost always OK to drink. If you are unsure, ask a local for advice.
Accordion item 2 content goes here.
Driving in Bulgaria is not for the faint of heart. A strong orientation towards defensive driving is required.
Bulgarians often disregard simple rules and etiquette in order to gain a small “advantage” against other drivers. Tailgating, passing on the right, and frequent lane changes are to be expected. Bulgarians do not stop for pedestrians or yield the right of way without a fight.
Bulgaria has 4 seasons. Most of the country enjoys lengthy spring and fall seasons, and short but intense winters and summers. Winter is longer at high elevations. Weather forecasts are available online.
There are at least three kinds of beggars in Bulgaria. Most common are professional beggars who seem to have assigned places on the streets. They often sport props to tug at your heartstrings, such as a baby or a small animal. Some are physically handicapped. Others simply fake it.
Beware crowds of children who surround you, especially around public transport, as this is often a ploy to distract you while one in the party picks your pocket.
Young people washing windows at major intersections can be pushy. They tend to prey on women who they can pressure into giving them something, so be sure to issue a clear no if you do not want to be bothered. A useful maneuver is to leave enough space in front of your car so that you can quickly drive forward a bit when the beggars approach. They usually accept this refusal and move on to the next car.
One thing all of these beggars have in common is that they are part of a professional staff and they collect money for their employers. If you want to help the individual, carry granola bars or other snack food in your car and offer them a treat instead of money.
The second type of beggar is the genuinely poor who has nowhere else to turn. You will often see them rummaging in the garbage bins. Older people sometimes stand on corners or outside stations with an outstretched hand. Use your own discretion when considering how to respond.
The third kind of beggar is the bold opportunist who simply stops you on the street because they can see you are a foreigner. It is not uncommon for people who have a little bit of English to simply ask you for some change. Sometimes they offer a reason why they need money, such as for medicine or for a ticket to travel home. These people are almost always in it just to take your money, so the best course of action is to steer them towards the local police. A refusal of help to find the proper authorities is almost always a dead giveaway of ill intent.
Bulgarians famously shake their head sideways for “yes” and up and down for “no.” This is confusing for foreigners and can lead to many amusing misunderstandings.
Visit our Bulgarian Customs page for a more complete list of helpful hints for proper behavior in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian cuisine is relatively simple and delicious, packed with fresh foods, cheese, yogurt, and many regional specialties. Here are some of the most common foods you will find around Bulgaria:
Banitsa. A hand formed pastry usually filled with feta cheese. Can also be filled with leeks or spinach. Sometimes filled with pumpkin or apple as a special treat. You can find it sold on the street or at shop windows fresh from the oven.
Shopska Salad. The shopi region is the area around Sofia, but this salad is popular everywhere in the Balkans and is offered at almost every restaurant in Bulgaria. It consists of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and peppers, garnished with a mound of shredded feta cheese piled on top.
Moussaka. A baked dish similar to shepherd’s pie. Made of ground meat and potatoes covered by a blanket of cream and eggs. Sometimes offered using eggplant in place of ground meat.
Lyutenitsa. A delicious pepper and tomato spread used as a condiment with various meats and as a topping on bread or toast.
Shkembe Chorba. Tripe soup. A classic Bulgarian meal served warm with garlic,vinegar and hot peppers. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely a must try culinary experience for the intrepid traveler.
Tarator. Cold yogurt and cucumber soup. Served with dill and often garlic. A refreshing lunch staple in warm weather, it can be found all year round.
Kebapche. Grilled mincemeat shaped like a cigar. Often sold in multiples of 2 or 3, served in an oblong bun. Sometimes garnished with lyutenitsa, salad, or other condiments. Very popular among children and students.
Accordion item 2 content goes here.
Tipping is slowly catching on in Bulgarian life. Restaurant tips up to 10% of the bill are common in better restaurants, possibly a bit more in the finest restaurants catering to the expat community. In everyday restaurants Bulgarians usually just round up to the next banknote. For example, normal practice would be to leave 30 leva to cover a 28 leva bill plus tip.
A small tip, called bakshish, given to someone who does you a good turn is not uncommon and always appreciated.
Bulgaria has many different beverages of local and regional interest.
Bulgarians do not have the hard drinking reputation held by some of the other Slavic peoples, but they do like their alcohol and have a long tradition of homemade beverage production. Nowadays almost every rural family makes their own wine and rakia which they share liberally with neighbors, friends and travelers passing through. It is not unusual for strangers to offer you a glass of something as a sign of good will when you visit their town or village. If you are lucky they might even present you with a small bottle of your own as a gift before you depart.
Rakia. A high alcohol content brandy, usually made from grapes. Can also be made from plums, peaches, pears or cherries.
Wine. Rural families commonly produce homemade wine for their own use, and sometimes have enough production to sell or share with friends.
Beer. There are many regional breweries around Bulgaria. Even in an age of globalization and large scale production, Bulgarians maintain a fairly strong affinity for their local brands.
There are a couple of non-alcoholic drinks which are popular:
Ayrian. A yogurt drink modified with water and salt to taste. Often served together with banitsa.
Boza. Sometimes described as liquid bread. Boza is a lightly fermented wheat drink served cold and sweet. Usually thought of as a drink for pregnant women and toddlers, it is also consumed alongside sweet pastries and banitsa.
Bulgaria has no legal minimum age for consuming alcohol, but you must be 18 years old to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Bulgaria has one of the highest percentage of smokers in Europe. Efforts to curtail smoking in public places have encountered resistance and opposition from local merchants, restaurants, and pubs who consider such regulations either intrusive or pointless. Nevertheless, the Bulgarian government continues to implement restrictive policies favored by the EU.
There are high fines for smoking in public buildings and other non-designated places.
Moving to Bulgaria
EU Citizens can move freely to Bulgaria. The registration process is relatively easy, and Welcome to Bulgaria can help you complete the process if necessary. Contact us for more information or assistance.
The combination of high unemployment, underemployment, and relatively low wages make for a difficult expat job market in Bulgaria. Foreigners with business experience may be better off starting their own company than trying to find a job in an existing enterprise.
Bulgarian companies rarely hire expats for positions that could be filled by a Bulgarian. In any case, the hiring process is usually long. Processing a work permit for non-EU citizens frequently takes from 4 to 8 months, and must be issued before an application for a long stay (D) visa can be started. That adds another 3-4 months to the process, so the entire enterprise can consume as much as an entire calendar year.
Bulgaria has one of the lowest costs of living in Europe, about 1/3 the cost of western European countries. This fact alone could be misleading, however, because the average wages in Bulgaria are even less than 1/3 of western Europe, so life is tougher in Bulgaria than it is in many other places.
There are three major components to the Bulgarian tax system which affect the daily life of all foreigners: Income tax, other employment taxes, and value added tax.
Basic medical care is readily available in the major Bulgarian cities, but less so in the rural areas. Most medical personnel are sincere in their efforts to help and well trained in their specialties. Access to equipment, medicine, and the latest procedures cannot be guaranteed.
We recommend all foreigners planning a longer stay in Bulgaria to carry international medical insurance including emergency evacuation services.
Short term visitors should carry enough of their regular prescription medications to last the duration of their stay. Long term residents should make formal arrangements to guarantee a regular supply of their medications from abroad.
Bulgarians receive free basic care through the national health system. Expats generally use private clinics which are relatively inexpensive and prefer to receive cash on delivery of services. Be sure to ask for the appropriate forms to file with your foreign insurance company for reimbursement.
There is a relatively simple and straightforward process for bringing pets with you when you move to Bulgaria. You can find the requirements here.
In addition to personal preferences, the decisions you make concerning childhood education in Bulgaria will depend on the ages of your children, how long you intend to be in Bulgaria, and your language of choice for their educational environment.
If you are only planning to be in Bulgaria a short time, it is probably safer to just rent a property rather than buy one. Longer term residents, and those who can afford to wait out adverse market conditions, may invest in residential property if they are so inclined.
Totalization refers to a series of agreements between the United States and selected foreign countries for the purpose of avoiding double taxation of income with respect to social security taxes. These agreements have significant ramifications for American citizens residing in countries covered by such agreements. If you are an American citizen planning to reside overseas for longer than five years, please consult a tax attorney for more information.
As of 2015, there is no totalization agreeement in force between Bulgaria and the USA.
Pension contributions made in Bulgaria are not recognized for American social security purposes.