The oldest country in Europe, founded in 681 AD, Bulgaria boasts rich natural diversity and a storied history. The country's gorgeous countryside is made up of mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, beautiful hot springs, and an extensive coastline along the Black Sea.
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 or for investment purposes head to Bulgaria thanks to its low cost of living, scenic countryside and proximity to the rest of Europe.
Living in Bulgaria as an expat
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.
In terms of jobs for expats in Bulgaria, there is a particularly high demand for English teachers. Other thriving industries include agriculture, tourism, IT and construction, but salaries in Bulgaria tend to be low compared to other EU states.
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 is essential.
The quality of healthcare in Bulgaria is mixed. Medical staff are generally extremely well trained, but 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 top-quality facilities is comparatively low.
Cost of living in Bulgaria
The cost of living in Bulgaria is low and, as a result, it is popular for foreign investment in property and business. Housing and international school fees will be the biggest expenses for expats living in Bulgaria, with other everyday costs being extremely affordable. While salaries aren't as high as other countries in the EU, the cost of living is low enough for people to enjoy a high standard of living.
Expat families and children
Although the quality of public education in Bulgaria is of a high standard, the language of instruction is Bulgarian and many expats therefore opt to send their children to one of the several international schools in the country. While the fees at these schools tend to be exorbitant, children are taught in an international language of their choice.
Skiing and water sports are popular pastimes for the whole family to enjoy in Bulgaria. Expats who are more interested in shopping and nightlife will need to head to Sofia, as entertainment facilities elsewhere tend to be somewhat minimal.
Climate in Bulgaria
While the climate along the coastline of the Black Sea is Mediterranean, the rest of Bulgaria has a continental climate typical of Central Europe. With warm summers and cold snowy winters, expats can really experience the best of both seasons in Bulgaria. While thunderstorms are common in the warmer months, the colder seasons are populated with clear but crisp sunny days.
Ultimately, expats moving to Bulgaria will need to be open-minded and have a sense of adventure. Bulgaria’s infrastructure has improved markedly over recent years, but 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 filled with potential.
Population: Just under 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. Plug types C and F are used in Bulgaria. Plug type C has two round pins and plug type F has two round pins with two earth clips on the side.
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: Driving is on the right-hand side road. Drivers from EU countries can use their national licences while drivers from non-EU countries can't 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.
►See Accommodation in Bulgaria to find out about your housing options.
►For information about schooling, read Education and Schools in Bulgaria.
"Firstly, get out and see more of the country. We love Sofia, but it’s not really representative of the rest of the country. To get a sense of just how different Bulgaria is, you need to head to the mountains, visit beautiful old cities like Plovdiv, go to the monasteries, and wander around tiny villages where the old folk still keep sheep and goats. It’s such an interesting, beautiful country and we’ve barely scratched the surface, even after seven years.
"Also, be patient. Things happen more slowly here. But isn’t that the whole point?" Read more advice about moving to and living in Bulgaria in our interview with Claire, a British expat.
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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