Although the quality of healthcare in Bulgaria does not meet the standards of most Western European countries, the country provides universal healthcare and low hospital fees. Bulgarian health outcomes have steadily increased over the past two decades, and Bulgarian doctors and medical staff are highly trained. That said, Bulgaria's health infrastructure has historically been poorly funded, and many hospital facilities are overcrowded and in bad condition.
A public health insurance scheme primarily funds healthcare in Bulgaria and provides access to medical care through public hospitals and clinics.
Public healthcare in Bulgaria
Public healthcare is managed by the Ministry of Health. Although medical staff in Bulgaria are highly trained, many new arrivals may find the facilities in public hospitals vary widely. Medical facilities are quite modern and well-maintained in urban centres like Sofia and Plovdiv but can be somewhat lacking in rural areas. Expats will also find that English is not widely spoken in public hospitals.
EU and EEA citizens can use their European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) at Bulgarian public hospitals until they become residents of Bulgaria. British expats can also use their GHIC – or, for pensioners, their S1 forms. Once officially registered as citizens, foreign residents will have their healthcare provided for under Bulgaria's compulsory healthcare insurance scheme.
Private healthcare in Bulgaria
Many new arrivals choose to use private healthcare in Bulgaria. The private sector's general healthcare standards and facilities are typically superior to public healthcare services and should provide a familiar standard for EU expats.
Private healthcare in Bulgaria is comparatively cheaper than in Western Europe, and most private doctors are bilingual, which limits language barrier issues for expats. Bulgaria has also grown as a destination for medical tourism, as people travel to the country for cosmetic and dental procedures.
Health insurance in Bulgaria
Expats living and working in Bulgaria are given access to free or subsidised healthcare through the Bulgarian public health insurance system. Contributing to this system is compulsory for all residents in Bulgaria. When granted a residence permit, foreigners contribute to their health insurance through their Bulgarian social security number.
Workers in the country are generally enrolled in Bulgaria's public healthcare system by their employers, and healthcare fees are deducted from employees' salaries.
Many expat retirees are not covered by compulsory health insurance plans. They must secure private insurance to ensure that their healthcare needs are covered.
Polyclinics in Bulgaria
Polyclinics have a long history in Bulgaria, tracing their roots back to the socialist era when they served as primary healthcare centres that provided an extensive range of services to the population. To this day, they serve as an essential component of the country's healthcare system, acting as an intermediate level of care between general practitioners and hospitals.
These medical establishments have traditionally focused on providing outpatient services, including diagnostics, consultations and minor procedures. Over the years, polyclinics have evolved to cater to the diverse medical needs of the local population, often offering specialised care in fields such as paediatrics, gynaecology and cardiology.
Pharmacies in Bulgaria
Expats can easily find pharmacies in Bulgaria's urban centres, and some hospitals also have a pharmacy attached. Some 24-hour pharmacies are available in larger cities such as Sofia and Plovdiv.
Expats can buy many prescription medicines over the counter and have their prescriptions from other EU countries filled in a Bulgarian pharmacy. Pharmaceuticals in Bulgaria are relatively cheaper compared to the prices in other European countries. As brand names change from country to country, expats should take note of the generic names of their medications.
Health risks in Bulgaria
New arrivals will experience few health risks when living in Bulgaria. Despite this, those exploring Bulgaria's famed landscapes should be careful of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and encephalitis. Expats can avoid tick bites using appropriate insect repellent and wearing long trousers.
Vaccinations for Bulgaria
Before they travel to Bulgaria, it is recommended that expats and tourists ensure they have received the appropriate vaccinations to safeguard their health. The following vaccinations are recommended:
- Routine vaccinations – such as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP); polio; and varicella (chickenpox)
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
Emergency services in Bulgaria
Emergency care in life-threatening situations is free of charge in Bulgaria. Emergency rooms are required to treat every patient regardless of health insurance status, nationality or ability to pay.
Public ambulance services are free if urgent care is required, but patients must pay if their condition isn't serious. Bulgaria's government has committed to increasing the effectiveness of the country's emergency services to combat slow response times.
Foreign residents should enquire about ambulance response times in their area, as it might be quicker for expats to make their own way to a hospital in an emergency. Some private hospitals operate their own ambulance services, which foreigners with private insurance should consider investigating.
- EU emergency line: 112
- Ambulance: 150
- Fire department: 160
- Police: 166
►Working in Bulgaria provides insights into employment in the country.
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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