Navigating culture shock in Bulgaria can be an interesting and challenging experience for expats as they immerse themselves in the country's rich history and diverse cultural landscape. The impact of the post-Soviet era, marked by a period of instability, has contributed to the complex tapestry of Bulgarian culture.
The essence of Bulgarian culture lies in its reverence for nature, close-knit family bonds, and a collectivist approach to life. Bulgarian society places great importance on group harmony, often prioritising communal interests over individual desires. Moreover, respecting one's elders is deeply ingrained in the local customs, showcasing the value placed on age and wisdom.
For expats arriving from more developed nations, adapting to Bulgaria's infrastructure could be a bit of a hurdle, as it sometimes requires maintenance and improvements. While progress is being made, the bureaucratic system has a history of issues of inefficiency and corruption. Nonetheless, many expats learn to navigate these challenges, enabling them to embrace Bulgaria's breathtaking landscapes, warm and welcoming people, and budget-friendly lifestyle.
Communication in Bulgaria
Bulgarians tend to be formal and polite upon first meetings. Greetings are often initiated with a handshake, while close friends might kiss each other on the cheek.
Bulgarians are known to be direct and may express their views vividly. Bulgarians also convey much meaning in their hand gestures and facial expressions. Expats may experience some initial confusion, as head shaking in Bulgaria may convey the opposite meaning of what expats might expect. In Bulgaria, nodding the head indicates 'no', while shaking the head indicates 'yes'.
Language barrier in Bulgaria
Although English is increasingly spoken, especially by Bulgaria's younger generations, the majority of Bulgarians don't speak English. Some Bulgarians can speak Russian, French or German, which is advantageous for expats with knowledge of these languages.
Knowing some Bulgarian will be helpful to expats, as many bus drivers, police officers and government officials don't speak English.
Bureaucracy and corruption in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is taking active steps to combat corruption in the public sector, following the EU's recommendations. Nevertheless, corruption persists in various forms, such as civil servants requesting bribes or doctors expecting extra payments for improved care.
Navigating the country's administrative system can be challenging for expats, given its convoluted and inefficient bureaucracy and the differing policies implemented across regions. This can be particularly taxing for those immigrating to Bulgaria or planning to open a business, as a significant amount of paperwork is required.
►Transport and Driving in Bulgaria provides expats with information about getting around.
►Healthcare in Bulgaria provides an overview of the healthcare system in the country.
"Bulgarian is a difficult language to learn, and we’re far from being fluent even after many years of lessons. So if you’re planning to move to Bulgaria, start learning the language before you come.
"Most things take longer in Bulgaria than they do in the UK. For example, buying a car takes many hours and a notary is required to witness the transaction. Registering a car in my name took half a day and involved a trip to Sofia. I’ve had to accept that everything will take longer than I estimate, so I’m learning to be patient. I’m still learning."
Read about Claire, a British expat, and her move to Bulgaria.
Are you an expat living in Bulgaria?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Bulgaria. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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