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Bulgaria

If you’re travelling to Bulgaria, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), available by contacting the Health Service Executive, and that you also obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Security status

We advise you to take normal precautions.

Emergency Assistance

The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems, try talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.

You can contact the emergency services in Bulgaria by dialling 112. Specific emergency numbers are:

  • 166 for police.
  • 150 for ambulance.
  • 160 for fire department.

Our tips for Safe Travels:

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities.
  • Get a European Health Insurance Card
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly if there’s an unforeseen crisis like a natural disaster or a family emergency.
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates.
  • Read our ‘Know Before You Go’ guide.

 

 

Safety and security

Terrorism

Although the threat from terrorism in Bulgaria is low, there is still a global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by tourists and expatriates.

Protests

We strongly advise you to avoid protests and not to take photographs. Keep up-to-date with local media reports and follow the advice of the local authorities.

Taxis

Taxi drivers sometimes overcharge travellers, particularly at airports, train and bus stations and from outside hotels. We recommend that you use reputable taxi companies with cars that have meters and clearly-marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windscreen. Check these rates to make sure you’re getting value for money.

At Sofia airport you should use a taxi from OK Supertrans at the official rank by booking at their desk in the arrivals hall.

In tourist resorts such as Sunny Beach use a taxi recommended by your tour operator or accommodation provider.

If you suspect that you’ve been 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.

Driving

If you’re planning to drive in Bulgaria, you should be extremely careful. Road conditions can be dangerous, with roads (and pavements) often poorly maintained, poorly lit and full of potholes. You should avoid driving at night time, especially outside major cities.

Bulgarian driving tends to be aggressive and we recommend that you 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.

Winter driving in Bulgaria can be difficult and you should make sure you’re adequately prepared. Snow chains must be carried from 1 November until 1 March and used when the relevant sign is displayed. Winter tyres are compulsory for vehicles registered in Bulgaria during wintry road conditions.

Legally, you must drive with running lights or dipped beam headlights throughout the year, even during the daytime. It’s compulsory to carry the following equipment in your vehicle: fire extinguisher (not required for 2-wheeled vehicles), a first-aid kit and a warning triangle (not required for 2-wheeled vehicles). A reflective jacket must be used by anyone who steps on to the road in a breakdown or emergency.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driving license and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance.
  • If you’re bringing your own car, make sure you have all original registration and ownership documents.
  • To travel on the roads between cities in Bulgaria, cars must display a ‘vignette’ or road tax sticker. You can buy these in large filling stations, post offices, DZI bank offices and at the border points and ports.
  • Be aware of Bulgaria’s traffic laws, such as speed limits. These are: 50km/h in the cities and towns, 90km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways. For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities and towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways.

Police checkpoints are common, particularly as you leave a town, and on-the-spot fines can be charged for minor violations. There are, however, reports of police officers attempting extortion through fines.

Vehicle hire

If you’re hiring a vehicle in Bulgaria, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

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.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or even illegal

Illegal drugs

Illegal drug use carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms.

Language

The Bulgarian language is based on the Cyrillic alphabet, and outside major cities information signs may not to be translated into English.

Buying property

Bulgaria became a popular location for property investment in recent years. If you’re 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.

Getting legal redress in Bulgaria can take some time, if things go wrong. We can’t get involved in legal proceedings between two private parties, nor can we take get involved in steps to recover any investments in individual property deals.

Many foreign-owned properties in Bulgaria are left unoccupied for periods of time. The Bulgarian police recommend that owners put security arrangements in place during this time.

Getting married

To get married in Bulgaria at least one of the couple must be either a Bulgarian citizen or have residency in Bulgaria.

If you meet these criteria, you’ll need a Certificate de Coutume . You can apply for this 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 and Trade in order to meet Bulgarian requirements). You will then have to present the certificate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia to be stamped.

If you’re considering getting married in Bulgaria, please contact the Embassy in Sofia for advice.

Find out more information about authentication of documents.

Health

Vaccinations

Check with your doctor a minimum of eight weeks in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for Bulgaria.

Medical facilities

Medical staff in Bulgaria are generally well-trained but hospitals and clinics are often poorly resourced. If you’re staying in resorts, be careful to check if the medical facility is public or private and ensure that you’re covered by insurance or can afford the treatment if you choose a private facility.

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. If you come across any incidents such as these, you should report them to the local police.

European Health Insurance Card

We advise you to get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel to Bulgaria. This card replaces the E111 form and entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals.

The EHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance and doesn’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing 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. You can apply for an EHIC on the HSE’s website.

Travel Insurance

We can’t pay for emergency medical repatriation, repatriation of remains, or for expenses as a result of a personal emergency while you are abroad. If you buy an appropriate travel insurance policy, these costs will be covered, provided you haven’t broken the terms and conditions.

Buying comprehensive travel insurance can save you and your family a lot of money if something goes wrong. It will also ensure that you get the medical attention you need, when you need it. Hospital bills can quickly run into thousands of euro, and a medical evacuation back to Ireland can cost thousands more.

Not all policies are the same, and the cheapest one might be cheap for a reason. Make sure your policy covers all the activities you plan to do on your trip. Insurance Ireland recommend that you purchase a policy that provides a minimum medical cover of €1 million.

Emergency expenses

Your policy should cover:

  • All medical care abroad, including evacuation by air ambulance, or other emergency procedures, and any other costs associated with an unexpected longer stay.
  • Your entire trip, from departure to return. Consider an annual multi-trip policy if you’re making more than one trip in the year.
  • 24-hour emergency service and assistance.
  • Personal liability cover (in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property).
  • Lost and stolen possessions.
  • Cancellation and curtailment.
  • Any extra activities you intend to do that are excluded from standard policies (e.g. water sport activities such as jet skiing or other extreme sports).

Exclusions: You should know most insurance policies will not cover drink or drug-related incidents.

Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

Irish citizens don’t need a visa to enter Bulgaria. However, children need an individual passport to enter the country. If you’re staying longer than 90 days you should register with the local police and get a temporary resident’s card.

Health

Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for Bulgaria.

Medical staff in Bulgaria is generally well-trained but hospitals and clinics are often poorly resourced. If you’re staying in resorts, be careful to check if the medical facility is public or private and ensure that you’re covered by insurance or can afford the treatment if you choose a private facility.

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. If you come across any incidents such as these, you should report them to the local police.

Currency

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 can’t 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. We recommend that you use currency exchange bureaus in banks if at all possible. 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.

Be cautious if you’re approached on the street by anyone offering to exchange money for you as these people 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 request 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

Public transport throughout Bulgaria is generally good, although the standard of buses and trams in the cities is varied. You can buy tickets in bulk from ticket kiosks or for single journeys on the tram or bus. Sofia has a metro system that runs east to west through the city centre and work is ongoing to extend the system.

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.