Doing business in Bulgaria presents numerous opportunities for expats seeking to establish themselves in the country's growing economy. Known for its strategic geographical location, low operating costs and favourable tax environment, Bulgaria has become an attractive destination for entrepreneurs and investors, especially since its assertion into the EU in 2007.
When navigating the Bulgarian business landscape, expats should be mindful of local customs, business practices and language barriers, which may differ significantly from their home countries.
Business hours are Monday to Friday, 8am or 9am to 5:30pm.
Bulgarian is the official language. English is increasingly used in business circles, especially within multinational companies.
Business attire is generally formal and conservative, but business casual and other less formal attire may be acceptable in some industries.
A firm handshake, direct eye contact and addressing people by their titles is appropriate.
Gifts are only given on special occasions, and given the historical context of corruption, expats need to approach gift-giving with sensitivity. It's best to present a thoughtful gift instead of an expensive one. When invited to a colleague's home, it's customary to bring a gift for the host. Chocolates, wine or flowers are acceptable.
Gender equality in the workplace has been a priority of the government for several years. The gender pay gap is lower than the EU average, and Bulgaria is among the EU countries with the highest proportion of women in management positions. Nevertheless, there is still progress to be made towards complete gender parity, even though women and men are largely viewed as equals in the workplace.
Business culture in Bulgaria
Business culture in Bulgaria is informed both by the societal importance placed on relationships and by the historical collectivism of Bulgarian society, which has traditionally prioritised the group over the individual. Relationships built on trust are central to succeeding in local business, but these can take time to develop. Networking is therefore an essential part of doing business in the country.
Businesses follow a hierarchical structure whereby seniors make decisions, but the consensus of everyone involved is sought beforehand. Business hierarchy is influenced by Bulgarian society's tradition of extending additional respect and deference to older individuals.
Communication is formal, with emphasis placed on using appropriate titles. First names are generally reserved for family and close friends.
In line with the importance of forming relationships, face-to-face meetings are highly valued in Bulgarian working culture and are often prolonged affairs. Bulgarians tend to communicate their points directly, but they also use body language extensively to convey their meaning.
Some expats may initially find head shaking and nodding unfamiliar, as these have opposite meanings – in Bulgaria, head shaking indicates a positive, 'yes', while head nodding indicates a negative, 'no'.
Bulgaria continues to address its historical legacy of corruption. Although visible progress has been made in battling corruption, nepotism and bribery are still perceived as being prevalent in Bulgaria's public sector. The country has adopted EU-recommended legislature to help curb corruption.
Dos and don'ts of business in Bulgaria
- Do be punctual
- Do organise meetings in advance and confirm the appointment the day before
- Do address business colleagues by their titles, as first names are reserved for close friends and families
- Don't try to rush things. Business decisions can take time as associates get to know someone to determine their trustworthiness.
- Do remember that head shaking means yes, while head nodding means no
- Do make personal, face-to-face meetings instead of meeting online
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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