(Editor’s note: Too few expats consider Eastern Europe as a practical destination. Full disclosure: neither did we till this summer. But we’ve had several posts about Bulgaria and Romania, and look forward to exploring other countries including returning to underrated Macedonia.)
By KALINA VARBANOVA
When I read Terry Boyd’s ” ‘I’m outta here’: Trump is elected, and questions about escaping to Europe pour in,” my first thought was, “Why not to invite American ‘refugees’ to Bulgaria?!”
I am not kidding!
Any expat from the United States can feel quite comfortable if they decide to come to visit or even to live here.
In Bulgaria there are already an estimated 8,000 English expats, who prefer to buy village houses and live in calm and picturesque villages.
So, it’s your choice – live in a city and visit cultural events or live in a village and have a farm!
By the way, as we posted earlier this year, Bulgaria is still an incredible value for expats earning dollars, euros or pounds. But trust us … it won’t always be that way. So you’d best check it out now ….
Let’s take a detailed look at our country:
Bulgaria has been a member of European Union since 2007. But that’s not all. Bulgaria is the oldest state in Europe – founded in 681. In fact, you could make an argument that we have the longest record of civilization in Europe.
Bulgarian history is impressive – from prehistoric times dating to the beginning of civilization! To this day, all over across the country, prehistoric sites are found. Hellenic, Roman and Thracian relics and ruins are scattered across the whole country.
The remains of ancient history can be seen in the biggest cities – Sofia (Ancient Serdica), Plovdiv (Ancient Filipopolis), Varna (Ancient Odessos), Burgas (Near Burgas there are Sozopol – Ancient Apollonia and Nesebar – Ancient Mesembria).
And yet, this is an increasingly modern, increasingly prosperous country. The EU and International Monetary Fund project Bulgaria’s economy will grow between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in 2017, equal to or better than most Group of Seven countries.
• Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. The city has a population of 1.26 million, while more than 1.5 million people live in its urban area. The city is located at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country, less than 50 kilometres (31 miles) drive from the Serbian border. Its location in the centre of the Balkan peninsula means that it is mid-way between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, and Aegean Sea and Greece are just to the south.
This location – fairly far south and close to the Black Sea – translates into some of the best weather in Europe. So, it’s no coincidence Sofia has been inhabited since at least 7,000 BC. As Bulgaria’s primate city, Sofia is a hometown of many of the major local universities, cultural institutions and largest commercial companies.
Since 2014, Sofia has emerged as one of the Top 10 best cities for start-ups in the world, especially in IT and high-tech. On the 2016 European Digital City Index, Sofia is ranked No. 50, just behind Vilnius and ahead of cities such as Rome, Krakow and Dresden.
Sofia is Europe’s most affordable capital to visit as of 2013. And of course, Dispatches checked it out for real this summer.
Here’s the official tourist guide for the city.
• Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria with a population of 341,567 as of 2015, while a total of 544,628 live in its urban area. It is an important economic, transportation, cultural, and educational center. And believe it or not, it’s older than Rome, Athens or Jerusalem.
Plovdiv has evidence of habitation dating back to the 6th millennium BC when the first Neolithic settlements were established. The area is continuously inhabited since 4000 BC and it is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Plovdiv was known in the West for most of its recorded history by the name Philippopolis (Greek: Φιλιππούπολη; Turkish: Filibe; “Philip’s Town”) as Philip II of Macedon conquered it in the 4th century BC and gave his name to it.
Plovdiv is situated south-central Bulgaria on the two banks of the Maritsa River. The city is built on seven syenite hills, some of which are as much as 250 metres (820 feet) high. Because of these hills, Plovdiv is often referred to as … wait for it … “The City of the Seven Hills.”
Plovdiv is host to cultural events such as the International Fair Plovdiv, the international theatrical festival “A Stage on a Crossroad” and the TV festival “The Golden Chest.” There are many remains preserved from antiquity such as the ancient Plovdiv Roman theatre, Roman odeon, Roman aqueduct, Roman Stadium, the archaeological complex Eirene, and others.
The oldest American educational institution outside the United States was founded in Plovdiv in 1860, which later moved to Sofia – today’s American College of Sofia.
In 2014, Plovdiv was selected as the Bulgarian host of the European Capital of Culture for 2019.
• Varna is the largest city and seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, with a population of 334,466 as of 2015. Almost 418,000 people live in the extended urban area.
Varna is a major tourist destination, a business and university centre, seaport, and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine fleets. In 2008, Varna was designated seat of the Black Sea Euro-Region by the Council of Europe.
The oldest gold jewelry in the world, belonging to the Varna culture, was discovered in the Varna Necropolis and dates to 4600 BC.
More about Varna is here on the official tourist guide. And you can see more about Varna here.
• Burgas is the second largest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast and the fourth-largest in Bulgaria after Sofia, Plovdiv, and Varna. Burgas has a metro population of 211,033 while 277,922 live in its urban area. It is the capital of Burgas Province and an important industrial, transport, cultural and tourist centre.
The city is surrounded by the Burgas Lakes and located at the westernmost point of the Black Sea, at the large Burgas Bay. The LUKOIL Neftochim Burgas is the largest oil refinery in southeastern Europe and the city’s largest industry. The Port of Burgas is the largest port main Bulgaria, and Burgas Airport is the second most important in the country. Burgas is the center of the Bulgarian fishing and fish processing industry.
These are the four biggest cities in Bulgaria.
You can get more info on Burgas from the official tourist guide here.
More about Bulgaria is on the official tourism portal – Bulgaria travel.
Of course, there’s a lot more to life in Bulgaria. And don’t forget that Bulgaria has some of the best skiing in Europe!
In Bulgarian cities, we live mainly in apartments. There are many newly built blocks of apartments, so housing shouldn’t be a problem. There are houses, of course. Some of them are architectural monuments built in the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century.
There is now an ongoing campaign to restore and preserve these houses. Of course, these are simple houses … and it’s not so popular to live in a house in the city.
The prices of real estate differ widely.
Here’s a good place to start your search.
For British citizens:
Brits don’t need a visa to visit Bulgaria. If you want to stay in Bulgaria for longer than 3 months, you will need to register with the police and apply for a residence permit. You can find more information on how to register at the Ministry of Interior website
Here are the requirements for U.S. citizens per the U.S. Embassy website:
American citizens do not need a visa for Bulgaria for tourist stays of up to ninety (90) days and are admitted on the basis of a valid U.S. passport. American citizen tourists may remain in Bulgaria for up to ninety (90) days during any six-month period from the date of the first entry. Bulgarian visas are required for holders of U.S. diplomatic and official passports.
Bulgarian immigration authorities ask all foreigners to declare the purpose of their visit at the border and to provide their intended address. All foreigners receive an entry stamp in their passports. Foreigners who do not have an entry stamp in their passports will encounter difficulties when they try to leave Bulgaria. When entering Bulgaria by car, if the vehicle has been recorded on the passport, the owner may not leave the country without the automobile. Sometimes vehicles are erroneously recorded on the passport of passengers in the car, who then have problems trying to leave the country without the vehicle.
U.S. citizens intending to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within six months (or more than six months within a year) must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival. As of July 2008, U.S. citizens must apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian Embassy/Consulate in the country where they are legally resident. U.S. citizens residing in the United States must therefore apply at the Bulgarian representative office (either the Embassy or a Consulate) nearest their home. If an American citizen residing in the U.S. is already present in Bulgaria — having entered as a tourist, for example — and wishes to obtain a “D” visa to remain for an extended period, he or she will have to return to the U.S. to do so. Additionally, an American citizen married to a Bulgarian national must present his/her marriage license when applying for “D” visa at a Bulgarian Embassy or Consulate. You may find additional information on entry requirements and stay in Bulgaria on the Country Specific Information website.