Expats moving to Bulgaria will find a former Soviet satellite state that has had its fair share of political instability, economic upheavals and corruption since its first democratic election in 1990. However, and especially since joining the European Union in 2007, the country has stabilised. With a growing economy, there's been a marked increase in its expat population.
Property is the driving force that brings expats from Western Europe to this Balkan state. Expats looking to purchase holiday homes on the Black Sea coast and those looking for investment properties head to Bulgaria, thanks to a low cost of living in Bulgaria, scenic countryside and the country’s proximity to the rest of Europe.
Although unemployment levels have decreased, unemployment is still an issue in Bulgaria. Consequently, the state offers incentives to those who are looking to start businesses and boost the country’s economy. There is a particularly high demand for English teachers in Bulgaria. Other thriving industries include oil, translation, IT and construction. However, salaries in Bulgaria tend to be low compared to other EU states.
New arrivals may have difficulties with the Cyrillic alphabet and overcoming the language barrier. Although the use of English is growing throughout the country, expats will find it beneficial to hire a dedicated relocation specialist to assist in navigating Bulgaria's complicated bureaucratic procedures. Those planning on settling down in Bulgaria should also consider taking a language course. Even a basic knowledge of the Bulgarian language will help expats integrate with the local community.
Transport in Bulgaria, although extensive, is limited to buses and trains. While those moving to the capital, Sofia, or other major cities in Bulgaria may be able to get by without a car, expats relocating to a coastal town or rural area will find having their own car essential.
Skiing and water sports are popular pastimes in Bulgaria. Expats who are more interested in shopping and nightlife will need to head to Sofia. Entertainment facilities elsewhere tend to be somewhat minimal.
The quality of healthcare in Bulgaria is mixed. Medical staff are generally very well trained. However, many expats find public healthcare facilities aren't up to the standards of Western Europe or North America. Private hospitals are of a much higher standard, and Bulgaria is fast becoming a popular destination for medical tourism because the cost of accessing top-quality facilities is comparatively low.
Ultimately, expats moving to Bulgaria will need to be open-minded and have a sense of adventure. Bulgaria’s infrastructure is steadily improving. However, expats should be prepared to leave their comfort zone and initially give up a few luxuries in return for a bright future in a country that is full of potential.
Population: Over 7 million
Capital city: Sofia
Other major cities: Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas and Ruse.
Neighbouring countries: Greece, Turkey, Romania, Macedonia and Serbia.
Geography: Bulgaria has a widely varied topography, including the Balkan Mountains in the east, the Danubian and Thracian plains, as well as a long stretch of coastline along the Black Sea.
Political system: Parliamentary democracy.
Major religions: Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam.
Main languages: Bulgarian, Turkish and Roma.
Money: The Lev (BGN) is divided into 100 stotinki.
Tipping: Tips of 10 percent of the bill are customary in restaurants. Hotel porters and taxi drivers expect visitors to round up the bill for good service. With non-metered taxis, expats needn't add a tip to the fare agreed upon beforehand.
Time: GMT+2. Daylight saving is observed from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October.
Electricity: 220 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs and schuko plugs are in use.
Internet domain: .bg
International dialling code: +359
Emergency contacts: Dial 112 for all emergencies (multiple language options are available including English). Additionally, dial 150 for medical emergencies, 160 for fire emergencies and 166 for the police.
Transport and driving: Drive on the right-hand side. Drivers from EU countries can use their national licences while drivers from non-EU countries cannot use their licences for longer than a year. The driving age is 18 and seat belts are compulsory. Bulgaria has a low-cost rail system, as well as a relatively fast bus system. Be aware that many tellers, drivers and operators will only speak Bulgarian. Bicycles are a popular mode of transport among locals.
"Life runs at a totally different pace here. Everything is much more relaxed than it was back home, which is both a blessing and a curse for an impatient person like me. Bulgarians really seem to prioritise family life and friendships – there’s always time for coffee and a chat with friends and neighbours." Read more about Claire's experiences in Bulgaria, here.
"If you need to work over here, try and come already equipped with a skill – jobs for unskilled workers are far and few between and there is a lot of competition for them." Lorraine shares her thoughts on living in Bulgaria, here.
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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