Bulgaria shares with the rest of Europe a threat from international terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets.
Most consular cases involve petty crime, lost or stolen passports and car theft. Beware of young pickpockets in city centres especially in crowded areas e.g. buses, trains and busy streets. Keep valuable belongings in a hotel safe where possible.
We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. Please see: Travel Insurance.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Bulgaria shares with the rest of Europe a threat from international terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets. Please read Security and General Tips and Risk of Terrorism when Travelling Overseas for further information and advice.
Organised criminal groups are active in casinos, nightclubs, prostitution and elsewhere. Most local crime, including the occasional shooting and car bomb attack, is the result of turf battles between criminal groups. People unconnected with these groups have not been targeted, although there is obviously a risk of accidental injury from such incidents. You should beware of groups of young pickpockets (often children) in city centres, especially busy shopping areas and underpasses. Thieves and pickpockets also target holidaymakers at Black Sea coastal resorts. You should leave passports and other valuables in a hotel safe or other secure place. (You are strongly advised, however, to carry a copy of the information pages of your passport as proof of identity).
Car theft is commonplace. Thieves target prestige and four-wheel drive models, but any unattended vehicle is at risk. If possible, you should use alarms and other visible security measures.
Please be aware that many local authority officials and police officers do not speak English.
Most cities and larger towns have cheap and extensive public transport. There are regular bus services between most major towns in the country. There are several car-hire companies, including Hertz and Avis. It is possible to fly between Sofia and the two major towns on the Black Sea coast, Varna and Bourgas. If travelling on a domestic air flight, you should have your passport ready for inspection.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap by UK standards, although vehicles may not be in very good condition. Seat belts are rarely present or used. Most taxis are metered, but these may be rigged and foreigners are often subject to overcharging.
If travelling by train, you should check with operators on the availability of sleeping compartments and whether bicycles can be taken on board. This may vary between regions, and there may be additional charges. Thieves operate on trains, so take particular care that documents and other valuables are safe.
Take care when driving, particularly at night. Many roads are in poor condition and road works are often unlit or unmarked. Driving standards are generally poor. Avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers who may be armed. You should observe the speed limit and ensure that your vehicle is roadworthy. Spot fines are charged for minor violations. Car-jackings are becoming more frequent – these tend to occur outside built-up areas, usually at night, and there is some evidence that foreigners are being targeted. Some criminals even impersonate traffic policemen to flag vehicles down on major routes, especially near international border crossings. If you are crossing Bulgaria by car, you should try to travel in daylight hours.
LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS
If you enter Bulgaria in a private vehicle, you must have your driving licence, all original registration and ownership documents (including logbook) as well as evidence of insurance valid in Bulgaria. If you have hired a car you must have the original contract document, which should state that the vehicle can be brought into Bulgaria. Border officials will impound your vehicle if they are not satisfied that you own it or have permission to use it in Bulgaria.
Since 01 January 2005, tolls have been charged on motorways and main roads out of town. These are payable in Euros. The rate for cars is currently 5 Euros for a one week vignette/12 Euros for one month. Rates are much higher for freight vehicles and coaches for eight or more passengers. Vignettes can be purchased at ports and border points, and are also available from post offices and DZI bank offices Fines will be charged for those without the appropriate vignette.
If your vehicle is stolen while you are in Bulgaria, you will be considered liable for import duty and related taxes. If you cannot pay, you will have to sign a declaration on departure confirming that you will pay the due amount. We strongly recommend that, if possible, you take out insurance to cover this.
Currency regulations are strict. If you enter Bulgaria with cash of any currency amounting to the equivalent of Leva 8000 (2 Lv is roughly 1 Euro) or more, you must declare it to customs officials (ie the red channel at the port of entry). If you do not, the money will be confiscated, and you may possibly be detained and charged. Please be aware that banks and bureaux de change do not accept Scottish pounds.
The Bulgarian authorities treat all drug-related (including possession) and or sex offences very seriously (the age of consent is 16). Custodial sentences can be expected for any foreigners convicted of such offences. Offences relating to drunken, disorderly behaviour and hooliganism may also be treated more seriously than in the UK.
Homosexuality is no longer illegal, but Bulgarians tend not to be very open about the subject and the gay community generally keeps a low profile. There are a few gay bars and clubs in Sofia.
Be careful if you are taking photographs in security-sensitive areas such as airports. If in doubt, ask permission.
You may enter Bulgaria as a tourist without a visa for up to thirty days only in any 6 month period. Prior to travelling you should ensure that your passport has a validity of three months beyond the end of your intended stay. You may not be allowed to re-enter Bulgaria after the initial thirty days have expired if you have not spent the requisite period outside the country Please note the immigration authorities are enforcing this rule more strictly now.
If you wish to visit for longer than thirty days, and/or reside in Bulgaria on a more permanent basis, you should contact the Bulgarian Embassy in London and arrange for an appropriate visa. Dual nationals of Bulgaria and any other country should enter and exit Bulgaria on their Bulgarian passports. It is always advisable to carry your Bulgarian travel document with you as well as that of your second nationality.
You may exceptionally be able to extend your stay in Bulgaria beyond 30 days (normally only for urgent or compassionate reasons) by applying at the local passport office. However, switching 'status' is no longer allowed. For example, if you enter as a visitor then decide to establish a business, or stay on a more permanent basis, you will have to go back to London and apply for the appropriate entry clearance at the Bulgarian Embassy.
With effect from 1 January 2006, all children entering Bulgaria will need to have their own passport. Children included in parents' passports will only be allowed in if the passport also contains their photograph. Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting children to leave the country. For further information on exactly what will be required please contact Bulgarian representation in the UK.
Although some initial emergency medical treatment may be given free, as a British national, you are likely to be charged for the majority of medical expenses incurred whilst in Bulgaria (including tests and investigations, medication and overnight stays in hospital, whether state or private). We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance to cover the full period you will be in the country, and which includes medivac to the UK if necessary. (You should be aware, however, that most insurance companies will not authorise medivac to the UK as a matter of routine, or because local hospitals are not up to UK standards). You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. Please see: Travel Insurance. Facilities in most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned compared to those in the UK. Standards of medical care are acceptable, although specialised equipment/treatment may not be available, and most hospital staff are unlikely to speak English.
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
There has been a confirmed case H5N1 Avian Influenza in wild birds in the Vidin area in the north-western region of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian authorities have taken measures to contain the outbreak including restricting access to surrounding. No human infections or deaths have been reported.
The risk from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low. As a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
You should read this advice in conjunction with the FCO’s Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet, which gives more detailed advice and information.
For further information on health, check the Department of Health's website at: www.dh.gov.uk.
Bulgaria regularly experiences earth tremors. These are normally relatively minor (up to 4.5 on the Richter Scale) and do not have any major impact on the country
If things go wrong when overseas, please see: What We Can Do To Help.
The British Embassy in Sofia does not issue full passports. Before setting off, you should ensure that your passport has sufficient validity and a plentiful supply of unused pages. Applications for new passports are accepted in Sofia for forwarding to the British Embassy in Vienna for processing, but this may take up to six weeks. If a courier is used, the cost will have to be borne by the applicant. If you lose your passport, the British Embassy can issue a temporary/emergency passport to enable your return to the UK. You should keep a photocopy of your passport with you at all times.
The current exchange rate is approximately 3 Bulgarian Leva to £1.00. You can buy Leva from Thomas Cook branches in the UK. There are many exchange bureaux that normally exchange good condition American Dollar bills and other major currencies. However, you should be very careful when using them – they are known to dupe customers with misleading rates of exchange, and hide behind small print when complaints are made. This unfair practice does not seem to be illegal. Where possible, you should change money in banks or in large hotels. If you have travellers’ cheques you may need to go to a bank anyway.
There is now a large network of automatic teller machines (ATMs) that accept standard international credit and debit cards. Check with your UK bank/card provider whether you will be able to use these machines to draw Leva.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Credit cards are not yet very widely accepted, though they may be used in major hotels and, increasingly, in restaurants and retail outlets.
Country Profile: Bulgaria
Address: British Embassy
9 Moskovska Street
Telephone: (359) (2) 933 9222
Facsimile: (359) (2) 933 9219 Chancery
(359) (2) 933 9250 Management
(359) (2) 933 9289 Defence
(359) (2) 933 9279 Commercial
(359) (2) 933 9263 Visa/Consular
(359) (2) 933 9233 (DfID)
(359) (2) 942 4344 British Council
firstname.lastname@example.org Visa Section
Office Hours: GMT: