- Normal precautions
- High degree of caution
- Avoid non-essential travel
- Do not travel
- Safety and Security
- Local Laws and Customs
- Additional Information
- Embassy Contact
General Travel Advice
Bulgaria is generally a safe country with a low level of crime. In major urban centres, like Sofia, English is more widely spoken, but not universally so. Outside of urban centres, English is far less common and may not be spoken at all. Please bear this is in mind when planning any journeys.
Irish citizens need a valid passport or passport card to enter Bulgaria.
Irish passports do not have a minimum validity requirement while travelling to the UK or within the EU. When travelling within Europe with an Irish passport, it should be valid for the duration of your stay.
Irish citizens do not require a visa to enter Bulgaria. However, if you are staying for longer than three months, you must register your presence with the Ministry of Interior.
Visitors to Bulgaria are advised to follow the guidance of national and local authorities and stay fully informed of what's going on by monitoring local news and social media.
Citizens can also follow the Embassy on social media (Twitter @IrishEmbSofia and Facebook) to ensure access to relevant updates and alerts.
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, including the police, the fire brigade, and the ambulance service.
Our tips for Safe Travels:
- Get comprehensive travel insurance that covers all your planned activities.
- Get a European Health Insurance Card.
- 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
Safety and Security
Safety and security
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.
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.
Bulgaria generally has a low level of crime. However, pickpocketing and petty crime is common in tourist areas, particularly around the Black Sea coastal resorts, and transport hubs, such as airports and bus terminals.
Take care with personal belongings, especially on public transport, and around tourist attractions, markets and shopping malls. Do not walk around with your passport or wallet in the back pocket of your jeans. Do not keep your valuables in a bag/pouch which someone else can open without your noticing. Keep valuables stored in a secure location, such as a hotel safe. Be alert to possible scams. If you are approached in a busy area, this could be an attempt to distract you while you are robbed.
If you wish to report a crime, you can contact the local police on 112.
Taxis in Bulgaria are generally a reliable and cost effective way to get around. However, there are some taxi drivers who overcharge, particularly at airports, train and bus stations and from outside hotels. To avoid this, use a taxi recommended by your accommodation provider or tour operator. Always check that rates per kilometre and other charges are clearly displayed on a sticker on the car window and that the taxi meter is working.
At Sofia airport you should use an authorised taxi, either by booking at the taxi desk in the arrivals hall or going to the official rank just outside the end of the terminal (to the right as you come from the arrival gate in Terminal 2). Do not take a taxi with anyone who approaches you at the terminal offering a taxi service. Alternatively, it is possible to take the Metro directly from Terminal 2 to the city centre.
If you suspect that you have been overcharged by a taxi driver, you can contact the traffic police (KAT) through the 112 emergency number. In Sunny Beach, you can bring the receipt and details of the driver’s registration to the Sunny Beach JSC resort management company.
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.
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
Local Laws and Customs
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 drug use carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms.
The Bulgarian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet and outside major cities information signs may not to be translated into English.
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. The Department of Foreign Affairs cannot 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.
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 will also need a Certificat de Coutume, otherwise known as a Certificate of Freedom to Marry.
If you are an Irish citizen, you should apply for this either through the Embassy of Ireland covering your country of residence (i.e. the Embassy in Sofia if you live in Bulgaria) if you live abroad, or through the Consular Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin if you live in Ireland. A certificate obtained in Dublin will have to also be apostilled by the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to meet Bulgarian requirements. Find out more information about authentication of documents here. In both cases you will have to present the certificate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia to be stamped.
Comprehensive travel insurance can save you and your family a lot of money if something goes wrong during your holiday. Even relatively minor incidents or illnesses can result in bills of several hundred euro at private health centres in Bulgaria. For more serious matters, bills can quickly run into thousands of euro. A medical evacuation or repatriation of remains to Ireland can cost thousands more.
If you buy an appropriate travel insurance policy before you leave, these costs will be covered provided you haven’t broken the terms and conditions. You should know that most insurance policies will not cover drink- or drug-related incidents. Insurance also cannot be taken out after an incident or treatment has occurred, and in most cases must be bought before you leave home.
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.
The Embassy cannot pay for emergency medical repatriation, repatriation of remains, or for expenses as a result of a personal emergency while you are abroad.
As well as all medical care abroad, your travel insurance policy should cover:
- your entire trip, from departure to return - consider an annual multi-trip policy if you’re making more than one trip in the year;
- emergency treatment including evacuation by air ambulance, any costs associated with an unexpected longer stay due to medical issues, and repatriation of remains;
- 24-hour emergency service and assistance;
- 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);
- personal liability cover (in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property);
- lost and stolen possessions;
- cancellation and curtailment.
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 in public healthcare facilities on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. The EHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance and doesn’t cover most treatment in private clinics (where the majority of tourists have treatment), medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. Always check with the hospital/clinic administrator beforehand whether your EHIC will be accepted. You can apply for an EHIC on the HSE’s website.
Medical staff in Bulgaria are generally well-trained but hospitals and clinics are sometimes 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 your EHIC, 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 by calling the standard emergency number, 112.
Check with your doctor a minimum of eight weeks in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for Bulgaria.
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.
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 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 with four lines that run through the city centre.
Travelling by bus or air within the country is cheap and reliable. There are internal flights between Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas 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.
Please note that if you require assistance in the case of an emergency while the Embassy is closed, contact the main Embassy number, +359 2 985 3425 to receive further information on emergency consular assistance.
Embassy of Ireland
Platinum Business Centre
26-28 Bacho Kiro Street
Tel: +359 2 985 3425
Fax: +359 2 983 3302
Monday to Friday, 09:15 - 16:45
Get travel and medical insurance
Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you 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.