The Department of Foreign Affairs strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before travelling to Bulgaria. You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.
Irish Citizens should note that the Irish Government does not provide funds for emergency medical repatriation or for repatriation of remains.
Large protests are currently taking place in major cities in Bulgaria. The biggest demonstrations are in Sofia. The protests are generally peaceful but attract the attention of extreme groups who can provoke violence. Avoid large crowds in city centres and follow local media and the advice of the local authorities. Demonstrations may affect public transportation as well.
Irish citizens do not require a visa to enter Bulgaria. However, children require an individual passport for entry into the country. For any stay longer than 90 days you should register with the local police and obtain a temporary resident’s card.
For holders of a “British Subject” passport, a visa is required; queries should be directed toward the nearest Bulgarian Embassy.
Foreigners may export and import Bulgarian banknotes and coins to the amount of up to BGN 8,000 (or the euro equivalent; 1.956BGN = 1 euro). Sums exceeding this must be declared to Customs, or the money may be confiscated and you could be charged with a currency law violation.
Safety and Security
Bulgaria is generally a safe and secure country to visit. As with all travel abroad, it is strongly recommended that comprehensive travel and health insurance be obtained before you leave.
As is the case in any urban area, visitors to Bulgarian cities should be vigilant for pickpockets. Sofia and other urban centres in Bulgaria are generally quite safe but petty crime can occur. We advise that you exercise caution in displaying large amounts of cash or valuables in public.
You are advised to be careful with personal belongings with visiting bars, restaurants and discos. In the ski resorts, you are advised not to leave ski and snowboarding equipment unattended and, similarly, in the seaside resorts do not leave personal belongings unattended on the beaches. Do not leave windows open and doors unlocked when leaving rooms unoccupied.
There have been a number of high profile violent incidents in the past involving those reputed to be involved in organized crime. These incidents rarely affect foreigners but it is advisable not to get into confrontations where at all possible, particularly in bars and night clubs.
Increasing numbers of Irish citizens own property in Bulgaria. It is recommended that you take steps to properly secure your property, particularly if you leave it unoccupied for significant periods of time.
Reporting a Crime
If you are unfortunate to need to report lost or stolen items, or a more serious crime, while in Bulgaria, you should report it to the police station nearest to where the incident happened. You may find that the duty officer will have little or no English and you may have to wait for the assistance of an interpreter. However, increasing attention is being given to having police officers with language skills in the police stations in tourist areas.
If you wish to report a lost or stolen item, you may be asked to fill out a form giving details of the incident. These details will be translated and a report will be written based on the information you have been given. You will be given the report after a fee of BGN2.50 has been paid by bank transfer. The Embassy has been informed that it may be possible to pay this fee at Sunny Beach police station if the report is required at short notice and out-of-hours.
If your passport is lost or stolen, you should report it to the local police station and obtain a statement of loss from them. The Embassy can help you get a replacement travel document that will allow you to return home. You will have to travel to Sofia to get this document.
If you are reporting a crime that requires further police investigation, and possibly the involvement of the courts, please be sure to give full contact details, including a postal address, so that the police or prosecutor may contact you if there are developments on your case. If you do not leave sufficient details, the police may not be in a position to return retrieved items or contact you if your case is due in court.
If you require the assistance of the Embassy at any point, please call +359 2 985 3425.
For all types of emergency (Fire, Ambulance, Police) you can dial 112, anywhere in Bulgaria, at no charge from a landline or mobile. Please bear in mind that in some small villages there is no police station and therefore if you need help from the police it may not be available straight away.
The mountain rescue service in Bankso can be called on +35974988132, +35974988133 or +359887100241.
Local Laws and Customs
Bulgaria’s language is based on the Cyrillic alphabet, and outside major cities information signs may not to be translated into English. A good guide book will provide some basic language advice and tips.
Natural Disasters and Climate
Bulgaria is in a seismically active zone. Tremors are recorded regularly but are rarely noticed. The most recent major earthquake (7.2) to affect Bulgaria happened in southern Romania in 1977. During the night of 21-22 May, an earthquake of 5.8 and several aftershocks struck the region around Sofia – its epicentre was west of the city. There were no major injuries or damages reported. This was the first sizeable earthquake since 1977 but it is impossible to predict when the next one will be. Therefore, it is recommended to citizens to familiarise themselves with sensible precautions and reactions in case of a quake. The following links may be of some use:
The advice, if you are inside a building, is to take cover under a table, desk or in a strong corner. Do not stand in doorways, near windows or by outside walls. If you are in bed, it is recommended that you stay there until the shaking stops. It would also be a good idea to have a torch within easy access. If you are outdoors, try to stay away from trees, power lines or tall buildings. Crouch down and cover your head and neck with your arms. If you are in a car, pull over and stay in it until the shaking stops.
The Bulgarian government is responsible for assisting foreign nationals in the aftermath of an earthquake. Citizens are advised to cooperate and follow instructions of the authorities and emergency services in the interests of their own safety.
Additional Country Info
The Bulgarian Lev is the currency used, and cash is still the most widely accepted form of payment. Credit cards are becoming more widespread but cannot be relied on to work everywhere and are not accepted in some outlets. ATMs are also widely available, and Irish cards are accepted by most of those affiliated with the larger banks.
Euro can be changed into Lev in most banks and in street exchange bureaus for normal rates. However, take care to examine the rates offered and only use licensed bureaus. It is recommended that you use currency exchange bureaus in banks if at all possible. You should check the exchange rate on your receipt before signing for the transaction as exchange rates may differ from those displayed, depending on the amount of commission being charged.
Caution should be used when approached on the street by anyone offering to exchange money for you as these individuals tend to be con artists intent on scamming tourists. You should take care when using ATMs as you would do in Ireland as instances of card skimming have been known to happen. The Bulgarian police has requested that anyone who experiences problems with exchange bureaus, ATM fraud or credit card fraud report it to the nearest police station as soon as possible. Delays in reporting can hamper investigations.
Public transport throughout Bulgaria is generally good, although the standard of buses and trams in the cities is varied. Tickets can be purchased in bulk from ticket kiosks or for single journeys on the tram or bus. In Sofia, a single journey costs one lev. Automatic ticket machines are being introduced on some trams and buses. If you buy your ticket from a kiosk or the driver, you must validate it when you get on. Sofia has a metro system that runs east to west through the city centre and work is ongoing to extend the system. A single journey on the metro costs one lev.
Travelling by bus or air within the country is cheap and reliable. There are internal flights between Sofia, Plovdiv, Bourgas and Varna which are quite accessible. The bus network is quite extensive. Train travel is less popular and the quality of the service is not as comfortable. Car hire is also possible, with international companies such as Avis and Hertz operating in Bulgaria as well as other local companies.
Caution is recommended for anyone intending to drive while visiting Bulgaria. Road conditions in Bulgaria can be dangerous, with roads (and pavements) often poorly maintained, poorly lit and full of potholes. Drivers are recommended to avoid driving at night time, especially outside major cities. Winter driving in Bulgaria can be difficult and drivers should be adequately prepared. Legally, headlights must be switched on from 1 November until 31 March.
Bulgarian driving tends to be aggressive and it is recommended to avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers. There can be a large number of trucks and lorries on the major roadways towards Turkey and Greece. It is not unusual to encounter slow-moving cars and animal-drawn vehicles on the roads. Equally, high-speed driving is common and drivers should remain alert.
To travel on the roads between cities in Bulgaria, cars must display a “vignette” or road tax sticker. These can be purchased from large filling stations, post offices, DZI bank offices and at the border points and ports. If you plan on bringing your own car into Bulgaria, you should ensure that you have your driving licence, all original registration and ownership documents and valid insurance. If you are bringing a hired car into Bulgaria, make sure to have the original contract document. The document should state that the car can be brought into Bulgaria.
At crossings where there is no signal or clear indication, right-of-way belongs to the driver coming from the right. Exercise caution at such junctions. Speed limits in Bulgaria are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways. For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways. Police checkpoints are common, particularly as you leave a town. On-the-spot fines can be charged for minor violations. There are, however, reports of police officers attempting extortion through fines. The Irish learner’s permit is not valid for driving in Bulgaria.
Taxi drivers sometimes overcharge travellers, particularly at airports/ train/ bus stations and from outside hotels. It is recommended that travellers use reputable taxi companies with cars that have meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windscreen. Travellers should check these rates to ensure they represent value for money.
There are two taxi companies licenced to operate from Sofia Airport: “Ok Supertrans” (ОК Супертранс in Bulgarian) and “Taxi S Express” (Такси С Експрес in Bulgarian). The companies have desks inside the arrivals hall and taxis can be ordered at these desks. There are several companies that mimic these two companies with names that appear similar and these have been known to overcharge. The standard rates normally range between BGN 0.57 and 0.70 per kilometre (slightly higher off-peak). From Varna Airport ‘Stil’ Taxi and from Bourgas Airport ‘Srebrin Argirov - ORAK’ companies are the companies licensed to operate.
Taxi meter rates in the Sunny Beach/Nessebar municipality area have been set at a maximum rate of BGN3.00 (peak) and BGN3.50 (off-peak) per kilometre. Prices should be displayed and should not be higher than the official maximum level. Meter “pumping” has been known to happen in the Sunny Beach area. If you suspect that you are being overcharged, you can contact the traffic police (KAT) through the 112 emergency number. Alternatively, you can bring the receipt and details of the driver’s registration to the Sunny Beach JSC resort management company.
Medical staff in Bulgaria are generally well-trained but hospitals and clinics are often poorly resourced. Irish citizens should obtain the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which replaces the E111 form. The EHIC entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. The EHIC does not cover medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. Also, some private hospitals may not accept the EHIC so you should check with the hospital administrator beforehand. EHICs can be applied for online at www.ehic.ie.
Irish citizens staying in resorts should take particular care to check if the medical facility is public or private and ensure that they are covered by insurance or can afford the treatment if they choose a private facility. We recommend that you take out comprehensive medical and travel insurance.
There have been recent reports that illegal ambulances are operating in the Bansko ski resort, charging tourists hefty fees for transfers to the local hospital. Incidents such as these should be reported to the local police.
Marriage in Bulgaria
Bulgarian marriage legislation requires that at least one of the couple is either a Bulgarian citizen or has residency in Bulgaria. If you are considering getting married in Bulgaria, please contact the Embassy for advice on this requirement.
To get married in Bulgaria, you will need to present a Certificate de Coutume. The Certificate can be applied for through the Embassy in Sofia if you are resident in Bulgaria, or through the Consular Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. A Certificate obtained in Dublin will have to also be apostilled by the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to meet Bulgarian requirements. The Certificate will have to be presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia to be stamped. For requirements for Certificates de Coutume please consult “Marriage Abroad” on the Department of Foreign Affairs website. For advice on the process, please contact the Embassy in Sofia.
Property in Bulgaria
Bulgaria has become a popular location for property investment in recent years. If you are considering investing in property in Bulgaria, we strongly recommend that you get an independent, English-speaking property lawyer to give you advice before making a purchase. It may seem to be convenient to use a lawyer recommended by the seller or the developer but independent legal advice is invaluable. The process of achieving legal redress in Bulgaria can be protracted should something go wrong. We cannot get involved in legal proceedings between two private parties, nor can we take become involved in steps to recover any investments in individual property deals.
Many foreign-owned properties in Bulgarian are left unoccupied for periods of time. The Bulgarian police recommends that owners put security arrangements in place during this time.
DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR MISSIONS IN BULGARIATop