As long-term expats ourselves (25+ years already) we have plenty of experience of what foreigners want to know when it comes to settling down in Sofia and we share our knowledge on these pages and in our annual print guide with a wealth of tips and survival advice from other expats. There are of course also several facebook groups focused on Living in Bulgaria( a good one) - others can be more childish in nature as the profile of the expat also changes, and of course you will receive plenty of comments on any question you ask (sadly not always nice comments either)
FormalitiesEntry and visa requirements
European Union citizens do not need a visa to enter and stay in Bulgaria or work here but they do need a residence certificate to stay for more than 3 months from the first day of entry.
EU residence certificates
There are two types of residence certificates for EU citizens: long-term for up to five years, and permanent for an indefinite period of time. Long term residence certificates are issued to those who work or are self-employed; have medical insurance and can provide proof of enough funds, and/or are students. Issued within one day by the migration department of Ministry of Interior within 3 months of arrival. Dependants also need to provide marriage certificate or birth certificate.
You are eligible to apply for a permanent residence certificate once you’ve been here 5 years on a long-term certificate and within 60 days of it expiring.
British Citizens after Brexit
Starting 1st February 2020 Bulgaria will introduce new rules for all UK nationals and their family members.
You can find more information on the website and social media platforms of the British Embassy in Bulgaria as well as here and https://bit.ly/2R8hfQc
The immigration process for non European Union citizens is a three stage process:
A. Work Permit Application - Your employer would apply for your work permit and would have to go through a laborious process to prove no Bulgarian possesses your unique skills though this is fairly easy for managerial positions. Work permits are for 1 year and 3 years.
B. Long-term (Type D) Visa Application – visa applications go through the diplomatic mission of the relevant country
C. Residence Permit Application.
You need a work permit and evidence of accommodation to get a long-term visa which allows you to apply for long-term residence after 6 months; proof that you are commercially active in the country and have created jobs for at least 10 Bulgarians will also do the job. To turn this into a permanent residence permit you should have married a Bulgarian citizen, be a student at a Bulgarian institution of higher education or have lived continuously in the country for the previous 5 years on a long term permit.
EU Blue card
This can be issued in Bulgaria as well as throughout the EU and is aimed at attracting highly educated and qualified non-EU citizens to find work in the EU. Those wishing to obtain one of these within Bulgaria will have first entered the country with a Type D visa before applying for the Blue card on the spot. It takes about two weeks to be issued.
Finding a Home in SofiaIn theory at least, finding a home to rent in Sofia should not be too difficult as there is an abundance of accommodation available for rent, both apartments and houses, in the city and the suburbs. The real problem is finding something that will feel like home away from home. There are several areas popular for rentals with the expat community and the first decision you will need to make is whether to live in town or in the suburbs.
Popular Sofia suburbs are Boyana, Simeonovo, Dragalevtsi, Kambanite and the villages of Bistritsa and Zheleznitsa. They are all to the south of Sofia, at the foot of Vitosha mountain. Luxury properties abound, though the state of the roads during the winter months may leave something to be desired, and a 4 wheel drive is all but mandatory.
Accommodation in town usually means an apartment, either in modern purpose-built blocks or in some of the older grand buildings, which unfortunately may have rather run down communal areas. Living in downtown Sofia is recommended for singles or couples without children who enjoy going out in the evenings. You can easily get by without a car in the centre as everything is so close. The drawback is the traffic noise, dirty streets and pavements and shockingly poor air quality especially in the winter months.
The centre and south/southeastern neighbourhoods tend to be the most sought-after. The area around Moskovska /Alexander Nevsky is pleasant as the buildings are generally grand turn-of-the last century with large rooms, high ceilings and a regal air about them. The common areas may be unkempt but the streets tend to be cleaned every morning as the municipality also has its home here.
The Doctor’s Garden neighbourhood is highly recommended (Oborishte, Shipka, San Stefano streets), surrounding the small Doctor’s Garden park and with plenty of little shops, bars and cafes to give it a lively feel, but it is also one of the most expensive in the city centre.
To the east Iztok and Izgrev quarters were traditionally home to diplomatic residences and are now easily accessible from the city centre via the metro stops at Joliot Curie and G.M.Dimitrov. With easy access to the Borissova Gradina park the neighbourhood has plenty going for it.
To the south of the city centre Ivan Vazov and Lozenets border on the South Park, though parts of Lozenets are looking crowded and ugly these days with narrow streets and not much breathing space between the apartment blocks. Parking can also be a bit of a challenge if you do not have access to a garage space.
Bulgaria Boulevard has seen a lot of new high rise construction with some very luxurious properties leading up to the ring road though the infrastructure is poor and there is no hope of finding a park or anywhere to walk the dog or take the kids if you live here.
The suburbs beyond the ring road hold the promise of better air quality, gardens and peace and quiet (albeit you may have to listen to dogs barking all night!). If you have young children you may decide to send them to one of the many excellent nursery schools in the suburbs and they need never go down to Sofia at all. The villages themselves are slowly beginning to cater to the needs of their new wealthy residents for local shopping, and there are big supermarkets on the way up to both Simenovo and Dragalevtsi. There are quite a lot of gated communities offering 24-hour security, children’s playgrounds and other communal facilities.
Boyana to the West has the advantage of the wide Bulgaria boulevard leading straight into the city, though it gets very congested at peak hours.
The upper road connecting all the villages is lined with houses and compounds all the way to Dragalevtsi and from there to Simeonovo. Both villages have double lane roads into the city centre.
Bistritsa is higher up the mountain – an extra 15 minutes drive from Simeonovo – but is popular for its true village atmosphere and almost constant sunshine.
Malinova Dolina refers to the area where the American College is situated below the ring road and above the ring road between IKEA and Bistritsa. The upper part has little in the way of infrastructure and can be difficult to reach in the winter, though the Sofia Residential Park compound is a foreigner-magnet.
The town of Bankya is in a completely different direction, to the West of Sofia in the Lyulin mountain range. Only 20-30 minutes from Sofia city centre, the town has its own unique microclimate (people with lung ailments are sent here for the air), healing mineral water and many people commute from here to work in Sofia.
Furnishing Your HomeS
Luckily a lot of shops are concentrated in one area compacting the search. The top end of Simeonovsko Shosse towards the Ring Road has a variety of classy imported furniture shops, all along the Ring Road between Mladost and Dragalevtsi there is a whole array of home furnishing shops for people with different tastes and budgets and on the lower level of the Sofia Ring Mall there are several furniture stores, and other home decorating shops.
There is no shortage of choice when it comes to finding technical equipment for the home. Everything from SMART TVs to vacuum cleaners can be found at prices comparable to elsewhere in Europe. Check out Technomarket, Technopolis, Zora (most helpful and knowledgeable sales staff) and Metro Cash & Carry.
Listed here are just some of our go-to places when redecorating or new furnishings are on the agenda
Securing Your Home
Foreigners are attractive targets for burglaries, especially when the property is vacant, although there has been an increase recently in night-time break-ins based on the assumption that the alarms are disengaged when people are home. Alternatives to alarms include living in secure compounds, hiring a guard, or keeping a guard dog (although sadly these are sometimes drugged or poisoned before a break in).
Finding Home Help
Employment OpportunitiesIn recent years there has been a huge boom in young expats in Bulgaria as companies such as TELUS International Bulgaria, 60k, Sutherland and many others have moved part of their operations to Bulgaria, and are constantly looking for staff fluent in German, French, Dutch, and other European languages. Bulgarian is not usually required. Full training is given. Competitive salaries and interesting packages are on offer, the downside - usually sat behind a screen all day long.
Caring for Your Pets in SofiaTaking care of your pets in Sofia is relatively straightforward with plenty of parks in the city centre, some now with special dog areas. The area of South Park directly behind the Hilton Hotel literally is a 'dog park' in the early evenings, with different breed groups gathering in different areas.
As yet there is no legislation in place yet for picking up after your dog in the park areas and rules about muzzles and the like are still very slack. It is however now a legal requirement to have a chip implanted in your dog, and you should carry the dog's passport with you when you take it for a walk so that inspectors can check the info. The fine for non-compliance is 200 leva.
You may be a little surprised to find that most locals seem to prefer 'pure breed' dogs although attitudes about responsibility towards pets have moved on somewhat in recent years and many pet owners in Sofia now have their pets castrated and regularly immunise and worm them. There is a long-standing belief that a female animal needs to give birth at least once, which means they often get pregnant by the local stray and the kittens or puppies are then thrown out to fend for themselves, one of the reasons why the efforts to curb the population of stray dogs have taken such a long time to have any lasting impact..
The municipal ''Ekoravnovesie'' organisation will come and catch stray dogs, castrate them and return them to the same place, if you call or write to them. There are also several charities working at trying to re-home stray dogs.
- 1500 Dog Gang
- Animal Rescue Sofia
- Balkan Pet database
- Blue Cross Animal Hospital (24 hours) and Boarding Kennels
- Central Vet Clinic
- Four Paws
- Street Hearts Bulgaria
- Zoomagazin Dr. Stefanov
Business and Social Clubs for Expats in BulgariaThere's a range of well-established business and social clubs that can provide support and a base for networking for newcomers. Besides those listed here, there are also several new ones that have sprung up via Linked In or facebook and do not charge membership fees, only charging entrance fees to their events.
- British Bulgarian Business Association
- Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum (BBLF)
- Camera di Commercio Italiana in Bulgaria
- Hellenic Business Council in Bulgaria (HBCB)
CharitiesThere are many charities in Bulgaria and also many expats involved in charity work. A poor country, Bulgaria has problems with a high number of children in care as well as many elderly and disabled people stuck out in homes in remote villages. There is a also a major problem with stray dogs and many charities exist to try to help them get adopted. We list a few charities with whom we have worked and can vouch that the money is going to the stated cause.
Education for Expat Children in SofiaThere is a great deal of choice for private English-language kindergarten and preschool education in Sofia, as many new excellent daycare centres have opened in the last decade. Many of these are in the leafy suburbs at the foot of Vitosha mountain, far from the traffic fumes, with just a few options for those that live in the centre.
There are also several German-language kindergartens and schools, as well as a French-language school affiliated to the French Embassy.
After that, English-language education for older children in Sofia becomes a more complicated choice and prices are high, especially where the IB curricular is followed.
Though there are some very good Bulgarian state schools, we would only recommend going down that route if your child knows enough Bulgarian to feel comfortable and you are planning on staying long-term. Other options are private Bulgarian schools, which often teach part of the curriculum in English or German and part in Bulgarian, though again your child would need to know enough Bulgarian to get through the Bulgarian lessons.
Kindergartens and Preschool in SofiaExpats now have a really good selection of English-language kindergartens and preschool centres to choose from. From the original International Children's Creativity Centre, founded in 1997, English-language and other foreign-language kindergartens are now scattered around the city but particularly concentrated in the southern suburbs on the slopes of Vitosha mountain, where many of the Sofia expat families live. Choosing one of these places usually means your child will be in a large house (rather than a school building) with a garden, ensuring plenty of play time outdoors in the fresh air.
Of course, if you choose to live in the centre of town, one of the nursery schools there will probably be a better option as driving out to the suburbs can take a good 30-45 minutes at peak times.
The kindergartens offer preschool programmes such as the British Jolly Phonics, dancing, music, art and exercise classes. They will usually organise ski school once or twice per season. Standards are very high and prices range from 600 - 900 leva per month, including lunch.
We have personal impressions or positive feedback from expats on all of the kindergartens in Sofia mentioned here.
- British School of Sofia Kindergarten
- Creativity Center
- Les Petits Princes
- Little Steps
- Montessori Children's House
- Montessori School Otkrivatel
- Montessori Society Bulgaria
- Uwekind Kindergarten
Schools for Expats in SofiaThere is less choice for English-language schools in Sofia than for kindergartens and the choice becomes even narrower above the age of 14. There are now two fully English-speaking highschools offering the IB programme to expat children. Local private schools are also an option, though at least part of their curriculum is usually taught in Bulgaria, which may be a problem.
Uwekind, a bilingual German-Bulgarian school has recently been awarded the license to teach IB and has also introduced English as a third language.
- American College of Sofia
- American English Academy
- Anglo American School
- British School of Sofia College
- British School of Sofia Primary School
- Montessori School Otkrivatel
- Uwekind International High School
- Uwekind International Primary School
- Victor Hugo French High School
Insurance in Bulgaria
Learning BulgarianThe biggest barrier faced by all visitors to Bulgaria is the language, particularly the Cyrillic alphabet. While in the bigger cities and tourist resorts most signs, street names and menus have translations, and many people speak another European language (English, German and French), a basic grasp of the language and alphabet are a distinct advantage.
Bulgarian is a Slavonic (Slavic) language, closely related to Serbo-Croat and with many similarities to Russian.
Anyone planning on living and working in Bulgaria for any length of time would be well advised to invest in some Bulgarian lessons at one of the many schools offering lessons to foreigners.
Media in BulgariaThere are just a few foreign-language publications specific to Bulgaria aimed at making the lives of those living and working in Sofia (and Bulgaria) easier.
Phones, Internet and Cable TVThis is well supplied in Sofia and your choice of operator will depend on personal preferences and who is most reliable in the area in which you live. Ask around before deciding. In some cases your landlord will have an arrangement for Internet and cable TV. Very few people use landlines these days. There are 3 main mobile phone operators currently licensed in Bulgaria; Telenor, Vivacom and A1. Unfortunately most are good at taking your money - very few actually provide a decent all round service but the most shockingly bad are A1 - in fact they will try to rip you off at every opportunity - so be very careful when making your initial contract. Take a Bulgarian speaker with you of you can.
For Cable TV the basic package is for around 60 stations (mostly Bulgarian or dubbed into Bulgarian) but you can pay more to choose stations from other European countries or international news, movie andd sports channels. Most of the mobile phone operators offer bundle packages for TV, Internet and phone but you might also like to see what Bulsatcom or Net1 have to offer.
Religious Services in Sofia
- Baha'i Center
- Deutchsprachige evangelisch-luterische Kirchengemeinde
- International Baptist Church
- Mladost Baptist Church
- St Joseph's Catholic Church
- The Anglican Church
- The Bulgarian Lutheran Church
RelocatingThere are a number of professional relocation companies operating on the Bulgarian market that can help make your move easier. As well as international names in the relocation business there are also local companies with two decades of experience in relocating and moving expats from one country to another. As well as packing and moving your household goods these companies offer advice on immigration, finding a property to rent, finding a school or kindergarten for your children, language lessons and the answers to many more questions you might have about your new country of residence.
You may want to choose a mover that is familiar to you or to use one of the locally established Bulgarian removal companies.
Supermarkets in Sofia
Working in Bulgaria
Dress Code: Bulgarians are fairly formal in their work attire. Men usually wear a suit and tie and women also wear suits or dresses with high heels and ample make up. In creative and media fields the dress code is much more casual, and many international companies have implemented the ‘dress down Friday’.
Smoking: It is now illegal to smoke in the workplace, though in reality some people still do since there is next to no system for checking it, but most smokers are now resigned to smoking on the street.
Punctuality: Bulgarians are not known for their punctuality and you may find people strolling in late for meetings, often without even apologising. Obviously your reaction will depend on your relationship to the offending party, but if you have arranged to meet in a cafe or restaurant, it may be worth waiting 15-30 minutes before deciding to leave.
Formality: Most Bulgarians are on a first name basis with their colleagues, using the familiar ‘you’ (ti), but will address the boss by his/her full name and the polite ‘you’ (Vie).
Equality: Women in the workplace are treated fairly equally in Bulgaria, but US citizens and other westerners may find male comments sexist. Bulgarian women tend not to get too bothered about this kind of behaviour but if it bothers you point it out firmly and politely.
Accounting in Sofia
Your Health in Sofia
However, if you cannot afford such a policy you will be reliant on the local healthcare service. The general opinion is that there are many good doctors in Bulgaria but the healthcare system as a whole, and some of its practises in particular, are outmoded and not very 'patient friendly'. Certainly those doctors that have studied or worked in the West will be a better bet, and many speak foreign languages. Such doctors can be found working in private health centres, and will often also work in a state hospital. They can also refer you to a state or private hospital.
If you are involved in an accident then you will be taken to Pirogov Emergency hospital (in Sofia). Here the doctors are competent even if conditions aren't great and you may have to get a relative or friend to bring in supplies for you.
Not all countries have reciprocal health care agreements with Bulgaria, and you should check whether you are covered. If you live in Bulgaria, you or your employer should be paying Bulgarian health insurance for you and your family, which entitles you to emergency treatment.