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Bulgaria - Banking

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.

Foreign Banks

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.

Internet Banking

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.

Opening Hours

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.

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