My name is Darrin Best and I am based near the Albena resort and Balchik town, in Bulgaria, about 35km from Varna airport. I moved in 2004.I just wanted to do something different and adventurous, something new.
I faced many challenges during the move. Not only the language and the alphabet, which is in Cyrillic, but also people are very Slavonic and even ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are basically reverse nods to the west. Bulgarian bureaucracy was, and is, a nightmare! For example when I first came here you had to register with the police and were only allowed a 30 day stay without a Visa. If you wanted to stay long term you had to get a 90 day visa and then apply for long term residence. Now all this has gone since we entered the EU in 2007, but still anything to do with the government takes time and many civil servants have a soviet mindset i.e. slow and jobsworth.How did you find somewhere to live?
Via a Bulgarian connection for £9.200 in 2003, I came out with an acquaintance who had already bought and, through a Bulgarian he knew, I found a place in a village 5km from Albena, but with loads of renovation needed. The buying process was nerve racking, involving company set up etc. It is important to have good reliable connections in this country. At the moment you have to have a company to own land/property in Bulgaria, only then can you buy.
In Bulgaria they have a French style public Notary system, you go there with the vendor and the agent, and the Notary checks everything and then it is all done in front of you. Normally you have to employ a registered translator to be present. In a foreign county this can seem stressful, especially after getting the company set up. You simply see an Advokat (solicitor) for that.
It is important that you plan your finances, as taxes are paid by the buyer and can add up to 6% of the purchase price, you then have to factor in renovation and set up costs here i.e. a car etc and your day to day spending.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Less so, a lot have gone now. I think that many came here with unrealistic budgets based on too much ‘A Place in the Sun’ type logic and too little day to day planning.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We get along well, based upon the fact that we give them some employment, especially out of season.
What do you like about life where you are?
Being near to the coast and it is pretty cheap here, and being creative for business opportunities here, and the hot summers and the cafe culture.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The cold winters and the fact that there is little work unless you are in certain professions in the winter. Also the expat community can be small and incestuous. It is better to make Bulgarian friends and enjoy the culture of the cities in the winter, or travel.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
I am from London, its just a case of walking out and doing, here you have to drive everywhere, unless you are in a town, but the towns are great! So much to do, nice restaurants, supermarkets, and Varna has a great Opera House.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
It’s mega cheap here. A restaurant meal can be 40-50lv for two people, a pint is 50p.A weeks shopping for 2 120lv. Petrol is nearly UK prices though. There are very few big stores though many more than before: we have Kaufland,Billa, Mr Bricolage and Carrefour, but most of the day to day shopping will be done in the corner shop, and ranges are somewhat limited elsewhere. Clothes are generally expensive here.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The food is ok here and very cheap it is basically a salad starter followed by meat and potatoes or rice and always rakia and wine.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Research carefully, think of your budget and have a concrete business idea if you do not have a pension or private income.
What are your plans for the future?
I have the Real Estate and Building Company, I write my blog and I teach. I also have an interest in the Clothing Industry acting as agent for companies seeking to have men and women’s fashion apparel made for the mass European clothing market. This has taken a long time to establish so if you are thinking about a business here budget for a fair while for success.