If you have skills that are in demand in Bulgaria, then you will be welcome as a worker. Sofia in particular has a strong expat presence. This is because skilled Bulgarians tend to go abroad to seek wages commensurate with their skills, leaving a hole that is filled by skilled expats, who are content to earn less than they might in other countries, but live well thanks to Bulgaria’s low prices.
See the visas section for information on entering, staying in and working in the country.
The National Employment Agency can provide advice on job seeking and hiring, and lets you apply for vacancies listed in government job centres.
There is a flat rate of 10% income tax and 13% social security contributions (pension, health, unemployment etc.), deducted at source. Employers also make a contribution. You will need a social security number to make these payments, but your employer will usually take care of getting one for you. Although you pay in from day one, eligibility for social security benefits doesn’t begin until you have completed six months’ full-time employment.
Your health payment contributions will go to a private health insurance scheme. It is your responsibility to understand exactly what your package provides, and to add anything else you think necessary, e.g. dental care.
If you are self-employed, you should note that a business is expected to pay a minimum wage to its owners as well as its staff. In 2017, owners were expected to be paid at least BGN 460 (£198) per month.
The state pension is currently around BGN 150 per month, for someone who has worked a full 40 years in Bulgaria. A private pension is highly recommended.
Bulgaria has a general shortfall of skilled workers, but the fields of IT and Engineering are particularly in demand.
You will be expected to understand Bulgarian well enough to work at the skill level for which you were hired. Non-native speakers will almost always be asked to complete both an oral and written language test. The Bulgarian alphabet is based on Cyrillic, so this must also be mastered.
If you are able to speak more than one language, this could be extremely advantageous in finding a job, especially if you are looking for a role that involves interacting with non-Bulgarians. For example, if you want to work in customer support and you speak a Scandinavian language, or one of the less well represented European languages (e.g. Dutch,) then you have a good chance of getting a well-paid job.
Bulgaria has a definitive Labour Code that lays down a range of rights in black and white.
Working days are fixed at eight hours, and working weeks at 40 hours. Extended working time is allowed by prior arrangement, and is usually compensated for by time off in lieu.
Paid annual leave, once you have been with one employer for eight months, cannot be less than 20 working days.
Bulgarian wages are not high, even in Sofia. The average monthly net salary is BGN 1,082, which is around £470. A typical expat salary is around BGN 1,960.
There are plenty of empty apartments in Sofia, so finding a cheap one to rent is not hard.
A one-bedroom city centre apartment averages BGN 524 in rent per month. Further out from the city centre, a one-bedroom apartment averages BGN 399 per month. A three-bedroom city centre apartment averages BGN 955 per month, but further out drops to BGN 662 per month. Basic monthly utilities – electricity, heating, air con, water and garbage – for an 85m2 apartment average BGN 168 per month, and a monthly internet connection averages BGN 20.
The following websites are useful for job seekers:
A lot of people use recruitment agencies, which often specialise in particular fields. Large companies will also use head-hunting agencies to recruit professionals and high-level staff. To find an agency, search for ‘employment agencies’ in the Yellow Pages.
Most jobs are not advertised and most positions are filled through personal contacts. Therefore there is no problem with direct applications.
Apply for jobs with a covering letter and CV, written in Bulgarian. This is your first chance to impress potential employers with your linguistic skills. Punctuation and grammar are extremely important.
Your covering letter, which preferably should not exceed one page of A4, should have four sections, as follows:
• Header – this should include both you and your recipient’s address, as well as the date. Where possible, try to address your letter to a named individual
• Introduction – state briefly the position you are applying for and how you found out about it, then summarise in one sentence why you are the best candidate for the role
• Body – go into more detail, highlighting how your skills and experience make you the perfect match for the role . If you can meet a specific need, mention it here
• Closing – show what you expect to happen next, e.g. ‘I look forward to speaking with you,’ then sign off with ‘Sincerely’ followed by your signature
Your CV should not be more than 2 pages, and should include:
• Your personal and contact information, including your name, phone number, address and email, as well as a passport photo
• The position that you are applying for
• Professional experience – for each previous role, include your title, the name of the company, the relevant dates, and a brief description of your responsibilities and accomplishments
• Education – give a basic list of your qualifications, but expand on anything that is relevant to the position you are applying for
• Certificates and diplomas – include anything that is relevant to the position
• Languages – this is very important, so make sure you list the languages you can speak and/or write, as well as whether you are advanced, intermediate or a beginner
• Computer skills – this section should include any relevant programs, applications or internet experience
• Interests – briefly mention your personal interests, which could include your hobbies, sports or activities. Make sure you expand on any that are relevant to the position
• References – unless they are specifically asked for, say that these are available on request
Job interviews may take up to an entire day. Sometimes, they will be in the form of a series of meetings, in which case the longer they go on, the better a sign it is that you have not yet disqualified yourself. Prepare in advance any relevant certificates, evidence of work experience and references.
Employers are not allowed to record interviews, but candidates are.
Bulgaria allows equal opportunities for men and women, and provides legal protection against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. Therefore, you cannot be asked anything that infringes on those topics.
Experience is the most important thing. It does not need to be translated into a Bulgarian equivalent. Bring your certificates to the interview.
All those entering Bulgaria should have at least six months’ validity remaining on their passports, counted from the date they travel. Many nationalities will qualify for entry to Bulgaria without a visa for a period of up to 90 days, whilst for others it may only be up to 30 days, within each six-month period. This 30- or 90-day visa-free period does not entitle you to work, and is intended for tourism, recreation, or short-term visits to friends or family. In order to work in Bulgaria, citizens of most countries will require a visa and work permit.
You may also need a visa before you travel if you’re planning to stay for a period of longer than 90 days, or if your intended visit would mean that you have been in Bulgaria for more than 90 days in the last 180 days. Any separate visits to Bulgaria within the previous 180 days will count against the 90-day limit. As Bulgaria is not within the Schengen area, visits to other EU countries will not count against this total.
For British passport holders, the rules and regulations are subject to change depending on the outcome of leaving the European Union. Therefore, if you are intending to visit any country in the EU in the foreseeable future, make sure you stay up-to-date with any requirements. UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry and exit, as well as airside transit.
Immigration authorities in Bulgaria may ask you to prove that you have sufficient funds for the duration of your stay and/or proof of a return or onward travel ticket. Valid health insurance is required, and it is possible that you may be asked for evidence of this too.
All foreigners visiting Bulgaria are required to register as foreigners at a local police station within five days of arrival. This registration is usually done on your behalf through the hotel or accommodation provider that you are using, assuming you are visiting as a tourist. However, it is worth checking at the reception desk to confirm this. If the hotel confirms that they have submitted this registration on your behalf, enquire whether you can have a copy of the registration slip, in case you need it when you exit the country.
Visa C – Nationals of countries that do not qualify for visa exemption can apply for visa C if they wish to travel to Bulgaria. This is valid for single or multiple entries with stays that do not exceed the 90-day limit within a six-month period.
Visa D – This visa is typically issued to students, long-term business travellers, work permit holders or investors. A personal interview is required in order to obtain this visa. This visa can also be granted to foreigners who have married a Bulgarian citizen permanently residing in Bulgaria. Eligible pensioners can also apply for visa D. Family members, such as spouses, dependent children and, in some cases, parents can qualify, as well as those who work for NGOs and charities operating in Bulgaria.
Visa A – This visa is valid for an airport transfer only, and is for those who do not qualify for visa exemption.
If you are a foreign national wishing to apply for a Bulgarian visa, you will need to hold a valid passport issued within the last 10 years. The passport will need to have a minimum validity of three months beyond your intended departure from the Republic of Bulgaria. It must also contain at least two blank pages for stamps and visas.
You can apply for a visa at your local embassy or consulate, and you should do this no more than three months before you intend to travel.
You should complete and sign your visa application in either English or Bulgarian. If you are from the European Union and wish to extend your application to your family, you can fill in the relevant fields on the paperwork.
For visa D applications, a personal interview must be conducted with no exceptions.
Applications must be accompanied with relevant supporting documents, such as:
• Photocopies of your passport
• Photocopies of your most recent Bulgarian and Schengen visas, and, if applicable, your latest visas to the UK and the US
• Two recent passport-size photographs to passport specifications (i.e. white background, colour photo, clear shot of head and shoulders etc.)
• Proof of medical insurance valid in the EU for the duration of the trip; this will need to state cover of all costs in regards to repatriation, urgent medical care, and emergency hospital treatment; the insurance cover cannot be less than €30,000
• Tickets (both original and a copy) or ticket booking confirmation, or proof of sufficient financial means for the duration of your trip
• If applicable, copies of birth certificates for your children
• Payment of any applicable visa application fees
The Republic of Bulgaria does not issue open work permits. In order to obtain a Bulgarian work permit, you need to have secured a job with an employer based in Bulgaria first. Work permit applications are filed by your employer on your behalf and are issued by the Employment Agency at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.
The employer is also required to submit the following supporting documents in addition to the specific application form:
• A letter stating the reasons for the request
• Three passport-size photos of the employee
• A copy of the company’s certificate of incorporation
• Copies of the employee’s education and qualification certificates
• The employment contract
• A copy of the employee’s valid passport
Bulgarian work permits are valid for one year (on a renewable basis) and allow you to work for a single company/employer. There are exemptions for citizens of the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland, who do not require a work permit to be authorised to work in Bulgaria. This condition is not applicable if you have obtained permanent residence or claimed asylum in another country.
Regardless of the type of permit being requested, you are required to open a bank account in Bulgaria. The bank will then issue a confirmation letter to support your permit application.
A residence permit is compulsory for all foreign nationals, regardless of their nationality. It must be requested within 90 days of your arrival in Bulgaria. There are two types of residence permits, the long-stay permit and the permanent residence permit. The long-stay permit is valid for one year for non-European nationals and for five years for European nationals. The permanent resident visa has an unlimited validity.
Long-stay resident permit
The long-stay resident permit is issued to foreign nationals holding a valid work permit, spouses of Bulgarian citizens, qualifying foreign investors, eligible retirees, family members of visa D holders, children (or grandchildren) of Bulgarian citizens, and full-time foreign students studying at an accredited institution.
An application for the long-stay permit must be made at the Sofia Immigration Office or at your local Police Immigration Department in Bulgaria. For applicants who are nationals of any European Union countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Sweden, the supporting documents you will need for your application are as follows:
• Completed and signed application forms
• A valid passport
• Proof of address
• Employment contract or company registration certificate (whichever is applicable)
• Proof of health insurance, translated into Bulgarian
• Proof of sufficient funds to support yourself and any dependants throughout the duration of your stay
For nationals of other countries, in addition to the above, you may require :
• Proof of accommodation and other facilities during your stay in the country
• Proof of compulsory social or commercial insurance covering you for the duration of your stay in Bulgaria
European nationals have to pay a resident tax upon filing their application form. A temporary resident permit will be issued upon receipt of payment. The long-stay resident card will be issued within three months of application.
The permanent resident permit is issued by the Ministry of Interior. You can become eligible to apply for permanent residence once you have resided in the country for five continuous years. Permanent residence allows you to enjoy the same rights as Bulgarian citizens, except the right to vote. The permanent resident permit must be requested within 60 days of your long-stay resident permit’s expiration date, and it should then be issued to you within two months.
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Expat property owners can rent out their properties in Bulgaria. It is important to know that rental returns usually amount to 2-5% per year. If an apartment is in a new development, owners should consider going through some partners from the leading property management companies in Bulgaria to help them rent the property. In Bulgaria finding the right accommodation can be quite challenging, especially in larger towns.
As a mountainous country, Bulgaria has some significant weather changes during the year, and winter can be quite cold even on the Black Sea coast. This means that it is important to visit a property during the cold season as well as in the summer. It is smart to think about the weather during the whole year and to consider central heating, although air-conditioning is really a luxury.
Central heating systems in Bulgaria are usually powered by electricity, gas, oil, solid fuel or solar power. Most rural properties use fire wood and an electric boiler as a back-up. Whatever form of heating is used, it’s essential to have good insulation. Without it up to 60 per cent of heat generated can be lost through the walls and roof.
In larger towns, houses and apartments are heated by hot water which is pumped by the local heating company. The system is still quite inefficient, although the municipal government subsidises the cost to consumers. It is done mainly to ensure that low-income tenants, mostly pensioners, can afford to keep their homes warm during the wintertime.
Since the country switched to a market economy, electricity prices have substantially risen, and homeowners should prepare around 300 lev (€150) per month to heat an average two-bedroom house in winter, compared to around 100 lev (€50) when using an oil-fired system or 50 lev (€25) when using a wood-fired system. As a result, many Bulgarians have recently switched to wood-fired heating systems to save money.
Electricity prices have significantly risen after the switch to a market-based economy and are now quite similar to those in the UK at 0.17 lev (€0.08) per kilowatt hour (kWh). Night-time rates are lower in most areas. Most people who live in apartments in larger towns use a combination of oil-fired heaters and electricity if not supplied by the district heating company. Off-peak storage heaters are an economical solution for smaller, well insulated properties.
Gas central heating is common in the cities and towns where mains gas systems are available, but in rural areas wood burning heaters are more popular. For those who have access to mains gas, it’s usually the best choice for heating, as it’s clean, economical and efficient. A gas-fired boiler is usually quite small and can easily be mounted on a wall. In areas without a mains gas system, homeowners can use a gas tank installed on their property or use gas that is delivered in bottles. In these cases, additional space for the tank is needed and piping will add to the already considerable cost of a gas tank. This heating system also requires regular maintenance and tends to increase the household insurance.
Heating oil costs have risen along with the worldwide rise in crude oil prices, making it an expensive option for Bulgarians. In rural areas it is not common for people to use oil to heat their homes, mainly because wood is cheaper. Those who live in remote areas or have properties that are difficult to access should be aware that fuel companies may not be able to get delivery trucks to their houses. Roughly calculated, homeowners would require around 1,000 litres of oil to heat a two-bedroom house through the year. At the current price, which is around 1.7 lev per litre, it costs around 1,700 lev (€850) per year.
The gas network in Bulgaria is considered to be small, with only 500km of pipeline, although the process of “gasification” is slowly growing. Only 30 towns are currently served by the gas network. Those are Bourgas, Kyustendil, Pleven, Plovdiv, Ruse, Shumen, Sliven, Stara Zagora, Varna and Vratsa. Villages that are close to these towns can also have mains gas access much more easily than some remote rural areas.
Many rural homes have cookers and some water heaters that use bottled gas. When moving into a new property it is smart to check if the gas bottle is full. Keeping a spare bottle or two can be quite handy if theres a need to change the bottles, which can be quite a complicated procedure.
The water supply in Bulgaria has suffered from years of underdevelopment. For example, the main cities suffer massive water leaks due to ageing pipes, while in the countryside over a third of rural properties aren’t even connected to mains water. Only one in ten towns has a sewerage system. Nevertheless, mains water is safe to drink in the cities, although many people in rural areas choose to drink bottled water and use tap water only for washing up and watering the garden.
Mains water costs always depend on the location of the property, although its usually no more than 25 to 35 lev (€12–17) per month. Homeowners don’t pay water charges for well water or water from a stream or river running through their property.
Taking your pets to Bulgaria
If expats wish to take their pets to Bulgaria, it’s important that they check the latest regulations. They should make sure they have the correct papers, not just for Bulgaria but for all the countries they must pass through to get there.
If exporting a cat, dog, rabbit, guinea pig, mouse or ferret to Bulgaria from the UK, people should have their pets microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and blood tested at least a month after the rabies vaccination, just to be sure that the animal has sufficient protection against the disease. These pets will need to stay a minimum of 30 days in Bulgaria after the blood test to make sure they haven’t contracted rabies. If returning with a pet from Bulgaria to an EU country owners need to obtain a “pet passport”, details of which are available from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Rabies is endemic in Bulgaria, especially in rural areas, so every pet will need evidence of a rabies vaccination to enter this country. Resident dogs need an annual rabies booster and it is recommended that they are also vaccinated against the following diseases:
– Adenovirus or canine hepatitis – an acute viral disease which attacks the liver;
– Distemper – a potentially fatal viral infection;
– Leptospirosis – a bacterial disease which can be transmitted to humans and can be fatal;
– Lyme disease – a parasitic disease carried by ticks which can also be transmitted to humans;
– Parvovirus or Parvo – an intestinal virus;
– Tracheobronchitis – known as kennel cough and one of the most common canine diseases, which can lead to fatal complications.
Bulgarian law allows foreign nationals to buy property in this country with certain limitations. All foreigners can buy apartments in Bulgaria in their own names, but there are some additional terms and conditions. Most of the apartments for sale in Bulgaria are usually sold without parts of the land, so it can be said that in most of the cases buyers would be able to buy an apartment without any limitations. When buying a house with a garden or a plot of land, buyers must know that land cannot be sold to foreign persons and can only be bought by registering with a Bulgarian company.
Exceptions to this rule are now applicable to EU physical and legal persons. These citizens are allowed to buy houses with gardens and regulated plots of land in Bulgaria in their own names as physical persons. The Treaty of Accession of Bulgaria to the EU allowed Bulgaria to keep the prohibition for EU physical and legal persons to buy land in Bulgaria for up to 5 years for land and up to 7 years for forests and agricultural land. This rule applies to houses with gardens, all plots that are within the zoning of settlements, apartments coming with ideal parts of land, offices and other commercial properties. The same regulation applies for citizens of countries from the European Economic Area (EEA). For all foreign persons who are not citizens of EU or EEA countries, the overall restriction to buy land in Bulgaria is still valid, which means that they need to register first.
How to buy property in Bulgaria
To begin with, the best place to look for properties is on the internet, as there are numerous websites with a huge variety of properties. After that it is best to contact the estate agents who are responsible for the listings and they usually advise buyer on any issue related to buying a property in Bulgaria. Once the list of properties is made, the potential buyer should choose a date to view these properties.
After the buyer has made their choice the purchase process starts. It consists of the following steps:
1. The chosen property needs to be reserved and taken off the market. After the unit is selected, as a rule the buyer has to pay a deposit to the amount of 2,000 EUR. Only after that will the property be marked as reserved on the site and will be no longer available for sale
2. After paying the deposit a preliminary agreement with the owner is signed within 30 days. The agreement settles the basic conditions which will later be copied to the Notary Deed. The conditions include a description of the property, the price, conditions and terms of payment, and for off-plan properties, the term for finishing the property
3. Drawing up of the Notary Deed (the same as a Title Deed in the UK) which is considered the legal document certifying the ownership of the property. It is drawn up by the local notary public in the presence of the buyer and the seller
4. The notary public certifies the deed and registers it with the Registry Agency. This is also noted in the notary deed
5. Only for legal persons: a week after receiving the Notary Deed the lawyers enter the legal person – the buyer of the property – in the system of the Bulgarian National Statistics Institute. The property owner (legal person) will then receive a card with a unique BULSTAT number (ID number) under which all issues related to the property will be accounted. Within a two-week period the lawyers will also register the property and its owner (the company) in the tax office.
Annual tax on the property
After buying a property in Bulgaria the owner must consider paying annual property taxes. There are usually two property taxes to be paid: the property tax and the garbage collection, which are paid at the local municipality. The owners have to pay their water, electricity and heating bills on a monthly basis. If they bought a property in a gated development, they would also need to pay fees for security, maintenance and management.
Expat property buying in Bulgaria
In recent years, property buying in Bulgaria is the fastest growing asset in the market. Lately property prices in Bulgaria have increased by more than 25% in general. Some real estate has gone up by 50% in one year, especially in the capital of Sofia, in the Black Sea beach resorts and in some ski resorts.
The improved economic conditions, along with the political and social stability in Bulgaria since entering the European Union have brought a real boom in the prices of property in Bulgaria. Another important factor for the rising property market is the huge tourism potential on the Black Sea coast. There are great natural attractions such as high mountains, the beautiful and clean Black Sea coast, preserved rural areas, minimal urbanization and thousands of years of history. Nowadays Bulgaria is considered to be among the fastest growing tourist destinations in Europe.
Since 2007, Bulgarian laws have been constantly improving and changing in accordance with the laws in other countries of the European Union. Bulgaria has one of the most liberal foreign investment laws in the Balkan region. Foreign investment typically counts on establishing a joint venture with existing companies (state-owned or private), acquiring companies through privatization, setting up a new (green field) venture, or making a portfolio investment. Foreign investors can purchase property in Bulgaria directly or through a local company. Only Bulgarian-resident individuals and entities can own land, while non-residents may acquire only buildings.
The law does not limit the extent or amount of foreign participation in companies like in some other European countries. Foreign individuals and companies can open an unlimited number of accounts in Bulgarian banks, in any currency.
Some useful information about the current prices of properties in Bulgaria can be found on the following websites:
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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QUICK LINK: Bulgaria health insurance
State health insurance is mandatory for employed expats and you will pay into the national scheme (NOI), thus becoming eligible for medical and dental reductions or free treatment. You will need a residence permit, but provided that you are paying into the system, you and your dependents will be able to access GP visits, referrals to specialists, and reductions for your prescriptions.
Bulgaria now has a two-tier system, but its socialist origins mean that this is a fairly recent phenomenon. The Bulgarian National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), based in Sofia, is the only organization which deals with public healthcare insurance. It remains a socially organised system but healthcare generally is being revised in order to provide a higher standard of care for Bulgaria’s population.
Healthcare is funded by compulsory health insurance contributions, taxes, and out-of-pocket payments, in addition to voluntary health insurance premiums, corporate payments, donations and other funding.
Once you are registered with a National Revenue Agency office you will be issued with a Bulgarian National Health Insurance Card. You must take this with you to any medical appointments to prove your eligibility.
If the hospital is part of the NHIF, your treatment will be free at the point of delivery. After being discharged, you will be entitled to a maximum of two examinations as part of your outpatient care.
Before you receive treatment, check that your provider is contracted to the NHIF: if you are asked to pay costs upfront, it is likely that you have found your way into the private rather than the public system and those costs will be non-refundable. Take particular care if you have been booked in to a doctor’s appointment or a hospital visit by a hotel or a tourism representative.
You might be able to queue-jump in public clinics if you offer to pay. This costs around 20 lev per visit.
If you have to take a prescription to a pharmacist, make sure they are contracted to the NHIF as well: if they are, then your medication will be free, but if not, you will have to pay for it and that cost will be non-refundable.
Check whether your doctor speaks English – some do, but this may vary across the country. Bulgaria still uses the Cyrillic alphabet, so familiarize yourself with this, at least to a basic degree, before arrival.
You will qualify for free at the point of delivery, or reduced, treatment if you are paying national insurance contributions. You will also be eligible to access Bulgarian healthcare if you are an EU national and if you have an EHIC card, but not otherwise: most countries outside the EU do not have a reciprocal arrangement with the country.
Your employer should organize healthcare for you. You might also want to check if some insurance cover is already provided by your bank, if you are looking at a short stay in the country.
After the banking crisis in Balkans in the mid-1990s, a Banking Consolidation Company was set up in 1996 in order to restructure and consolidate Bulgaria’s banking sector. All state-owned banks went private in 2000, while smaller commercial banks were either taken over by larger Bulgarian corporations or bought out by new foreign banks. Commercial banks in Bulgaria provide a full range of banking services. There are currently 28 commercial banks, more than 90 % of which are foreign-owned, and there are six branches of foreign banks as well.
The largest Bulgarian bank is Bulbank, which was taken over by Italian Unicredito in 2000. The second largest is DSK Bank, which is owned by the Hungarian OTP Bank. The National Bank of Greece holds a majority stake in United Bulgarian Bank, which is considered to be the country’s third largest bank. The Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) is the authority which sets interest rates and regulates other banks.
Post Office Banking
As in many other countries, the most popular banking facility and the bank with the most branches in this country is the Post Bank. It is jointly owned by the American insurance group AIG and an international private bank, EFG. The Post Bank has 30 branches and a presence in more than 2000 post offices. In rural areas, where the nearest bank is often many kilometers away, many people choose the post office for banking services. Another advantage of the post office is that many branches are open for longer hours than regular banks. Post office accounts provide the same services as bank accounts, including international money transfers, which can be made by post and Western Union telegraph, and payment of bills. The Post Bank also offers internet banking.
There are many foreign banks with a substantial presence in Bulgaria, which include the French banks Société Générale and BNP Paribas, Austrian Raiffeisen Bank, Dutch bank ING and American bank Citibank. There are also numerous Greek banks with branches in Bulgaria, including the National Bank of Greece and Piraeus Bank. Those who travel abroad often or carry out international business transactions may find that the services provided by a foreign bank are more suited to their needs. These banks are also more likely to have staff that speak English and other foreign languages.
The popularity of internet banking in Bulgaria is growing, but it is still limited by the poor quality of the telecommunications network. A number of banks offer online banking services, but the range of services available and the cost varies from one bank to another. Some banks allow clients only to view their account balance. When registering for internet banking, clients’ access details are normally posted to them in about 7 days, so they need to be in Bulgaria for at least a week or have someone who can collect their post.
In general, bank opening hours are from 09.00 to 16.00, Mondays to Fridays, although some banks may open any time between 08.00 and 10.00 and close between 15.00 and 17.00.
Opening an Account
Expats can open a bank account in Bulgaria whether they have resident or non-resident status. It’s advisable to check which banks have branches nearby and whether they have staff that are able to speak foreign languages. This is not so common in some smaller towns, so expats usually choose to open an account at a bank’s Bourgas, Plovdiv, Sofia or Varna branch. To open an account in Bulgaria, clients need only a valid passport and evidence of their address in Bulgaria, if they have one. It is usually enough to have a utility bill. There’s no particular charge, but all new clients must make an opening deposit of at least a few Lev or Euros.
Most banks offer the choice between the Lev account and the Euro account. It is also possible to open both accounts at the same time. Those who wish to transfer money using a foreign exchange dealer will need a Lev account, because many dealers can deposit money only in the local currency. Euro accounts are often used for paying larger sums such as management fees or building work invoices, and for handling some rent payments. It is quite easy to transfer money from the Lev account into the Euro account if necessary. Bulgarian banks commonly charge for everything including for withdrawing money, so shopping around for the best deal is a good idea, looking for the lowest fees and an interest-bearing account. Internet banking fees may vary from one bank to another, but it is best to check with banks directly.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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The Republic of Bulgaria, an Eastern Balkan nation, is situated on the Black Sea, bordering with Greece and Turkey and three other states. Bulgaria has a fascinating and complex history, being for some 500 years part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
Bulgaria is one of the most biodiverse countries in Europe, with many park and nature reserves. Most of the population now lives in urban areas, and the economy is based on manufacture with capital spending directives concentrated on science and technology. Corporation tax is low, which encourages some foreign investment.
Bulgaria’s population is under seven million, roughly 85% of whom are Bulgars, with sizeable Turkish and Roma communities making up almost all the rest. Interestingly the population is in long-term decline, due to a high death rate, a low birth rate, and continued emigration, mainly of the young. This is fuelled by the poor performance of the economy over decades, and the concomitant low wages.
The official and native spoken language is Bulgarian, part of the Slavic group, and the Cyrillic alphabet is used. Turkish and Romani are spoken within their respective communities.
Education standards in general have fallen in Bulgaria this century, due again to the relatively poor economy, but Bulgarian children may be taught at least one other language in school and university, although this is more likely in the specialist language schools, where English, Greek, Turkish, French and German would be among the languages most commonly taught.
However, in common with most other countries in the region, English is only spoken to any degree of competence by roughly a quarter of the population. If you are moving to Bulgaria to work or retire, or to explore the rich history and diverse culture, you will need to consider the ease with which you are able to communicate.
Learning at least some of the local language is one of the best ways for an expat to integrate and begin to feel more at home. Even a few words will make your hosts feel that you are making an effort.
Linguistic experts generally recommend an immersive learning experience as the quickest way to attain fluency in any language. If you are planning to go out as a couple, it is a good plan to make a pact to speak in Bulgarian together as often as possible. Immersing yourself in Bulgarian language television and newspapers is also highly productive.
For self-teaching the Bulgarian language, there are a large number of courses available on the internet – many free. It is better that you try to gain at least some knowledge before you go, but these courses can still be very useful for your continued linguistic development on arrival. There are many international language schools throughout Bulgaria which offer a wide range of courses in Bulgarian. These can be found on the internet.
In Bulgaria it is wise to rely on your own knowledge and a good phrasebook, rather than digital translation. Also, whilst internet connection throughout the country is generally more than adequate, there are mountainous regions where wifi blackspots are inevitable. Furthermore, in some of the more sparsely populated regions, the locals and older population are generally far less likely to be able to communicate in English.
There are jobs available in Bulgaria, quite a few of which do require fluency in English. These include IT, banking, engineering, mining and tourism, and you may find English being used, or at least spoken to Anglophones, in the workplace in some international companies, but this cannot generally be counted upon.
Another very popular sector of expat employment in Bulgaria is teaching English. Several international schools offer language teaching posts on yearly contracts. These are available to anyone with a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate.
Please note that it is always easier to get work in international education if you have at least a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Most language teaching jobs would be in the capital, Sofia, with some in Plovdiv or Varna. Rates of pay vary considerably, but are mostly quite low. If you are intending to stay long-term you need to factor in the cost of living, and your own desired lifestyle, but for a working holiday, you should be able to live reasonably comfortably.
If you intend to teach English in Bulgaria, it is preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality or medical English. You are most likely, however, to find work in either public schools or private international institutions. You should be paid more in the private educational sector.
There may also be some demand for translation or interpretation services between Bulgarian and English, for instance in translating newspaper articles into English, if you have a high level of proficiency in both.
State education in Bulgaria is well developed and well regulated, and has historically been amongst the best in the world, although it has suffered somewhat from the ongoing demographic pressure of a reducing population, particularly in the area of vocational training.
That said, Bulgarian literacy rates are still amongst the highest in the world, at around 98%. Furthermore, Bulgaria ranks high amongst OECD reporting countries on the percentage of GDP spent on education, at over 4%.
In Bulgaria schooling is free and compulsory for all children up to age 16. College and universities are fee-paying. Medical school fees are relatively low, attracting many foreign students to the country to study in the field.
Pre-school can start at age three or four in kindergartens, but the two immediately pre-school years are now compulsory and thus also state-funded.
Many primary schools now have pre-school facilities, but primary schooling proper starts at age seven, with a Certificate of Primary Education given at age 11.
Middle school takes a further three years, where a graded Certificate of Elementary Education (CEE) is obtained.
Secondary education will be at selective/comprehensive schools, who will use the CEE grades as a major factor in their admission criteria.
For those deciding not to continue their studies through the general school system, there are many vocational colleges, where training can be from one to three years’ duration depending on the profession or occupation chosen. For those attending the vocational colleges or taking apprenticeships, there is also the chance of further advancement through technical universities, and there are many institutions for professions such as teaching.
For those continuing their studies in the state system, an exit exam in Bulgarian will be taken at age 18.
Bulgarian universities are run on the familiar three-level model – BA/BSc, MA/MSc, PhD. Colleges and specialized high schools are available for those who may not achieve the grades necessary to go to university.
State education will be in Bulgarian throughout, and additionally uses the Cyrillic script, which can be an extra learning block for expat children, although most children pick up languages in a new country far more rapidly than their parents!
Homeschooling is an option in Bulgaria, but the authorities do not really recognise it. Children will be expected to take all state exams, and the state has the right to insist that students go into the state system at any time. As a result of this lack of official recognition, there are probably no more than a few hundred homeschooling families in the whole of Bulgaria. Thorough personal research and contact with other homeschoolers here is therefore vital if you are considering this route for your own children.
There are a growing number of private schools in Bulgaria, a few of them denominational. Over seventy-five private schools offer tuition at the various levels, catering for about 1.5% of the student population. Their curriculum will be closely aligned to the state system, with additional classes and activities depending on the philosophy of the individual school.
There are also a significant number of fee-paying international schools catering more specifically for expat children of all ages, some with day care for infants, and separate pre-school kindergarten (ages 3-6) is also available privately in some of the larger cities.
Here are a few international schools situated in the capital, Sofia:
• The Anglo-American School of Sofia runs a full International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB), and accepts students from 4 years of age to 19. Instruction is in English.
• St Georges International School and Pre-school runs a Full British curriculum and the IB.
• The American College of Sofia caters for ages 13 – 18, again offering an American curriculum and the IB.
• The British School of Sofia offers an English curriculum and the IB, and accepts students from age 2 to 18.
• American English Academy is for students from ages 3 to 18, is geared strongly to the American education system, and includes a wide range of extra-curricular activities – notably sports.
• Meridian 22 High School takes students from 13 – 18 years of age, teaches in English, and aims pupils at the IB.
• International School Uwekind caters for a full range of ages from 3 to 18 – IB, taught in English.
• Zlatarsky International School of Sofia is the largest IB school in Bulgaria, ages 10 -18, teaching in English.
• Oktrivatel Montessori caters for ages 14 months to 12 years of age, teaching in English and Bulgarian.
Fees will be variable, and it is always important to read the small print. Additional expenses can mount up: for example, many schools have additional contributary capital funds for improvements/repairs.