Expat Essentials

Retire in Europe, Pt. 3: Bulgaria offers a high quality of life AND a low cost of living



Forget those Iron Curtain images of cigarette-smoking politburo-dispatched spies in Bulgaria trailing you through dark, winding alleys, bugging your room and confiscating your papers.

The city of Sofia is warm, historic, inviting – and cheap!

So you’ve reviewed all the retirement-in-Europe options we’ve given you, from the history, sun, epicurean delights and glamour of Portugal and Spain to the history, sun, epicurean delights and glamour of France, Italy and Greece.

Is there anyplace else worth considering? More sun and glamour? 

How about Bulgaria?

Not joking. Sometimes, those Balkan countries get overlooked in the West because of their history of political turbulence … from the Communism of the Iron Curtain era to the ethnic cleansing violence of the 1990s.

Or because they don’t necessarily reek of charm and romance.

But Bulgaria is the cheapest country in Europe in which to retire. Also, unlike some of those landlocked Balkan countries, Bulgaria has a coast on the Black Sea – a beautiful coast. Back in the day, it was known as the Red Riviera.

Bulgaria’s biggest city, Sofia, is also the cheapest capital in Europe in which to retire. To say nothing of being one of the more beautiful and alluring.


According to the web site Check In Price:

Sofia is the cheapest capital in the European Union, and especially when it comes to rent. You can get a 2-or-3-bedroom flat in the center of the city for less than US$400. There are many options on the seaside as well, but since these places are seasonal, prices vary a lot from winter to summer.

There’s far more to Sofia than simply a low cost-of-living. It’s an historic place, with remnants of the Roman city that existed there nearly 2,000 years ago.

A happenin’ place where your money goes the farthest



There are dozens of beautiful parks, and hiking and skiing on Vitosha Mountain, the highest of the various peaks surrounding the capital.

There’s also plentiful, and affordable ballet and opera. Some of the performances are outdoors, and a ticket can cost less than $10.

And here is the best part, for retirees: You can easily get by on a budget of $500 per month. The average salary in Bulgaria as of 2015 was just above $400.

As of last year, American Social Security beneficiaries can take advantage of international direct deposits. All you’d have to do is sign up for direct deposit in a Bulgarian bank, and your payment would show up just as reliably and promptly as it does in your local Chase bank.

You have to establish a bank account in Bulgarian leva, the local currency. (Bulgaria is a European Union country, but it hasn’t adopted the euro.)

Then fill out the form (SSA-1199) to sign up for direct deposit, and send it to the American Embassy, Federal Benefits Unit, in Athens (91 Vas. Sofias Avenue, GR-10160 Athens, Greece).

You would need private medical insurance, but medical fees are low, the quality of care is quite good and a comprehensive policy can be had for around $250 a year.

According to Dianne Thomas, writing on the Retirement and Good Living web site:

A dream home can conjure up the imagination of a country abode with acres of land to wile away the hours growing your own fruit and vegetables, and preserving your efforts for a cold winter. Alternatively, a coastal apartment could be your preference, either as a holiday home or a permanent residence for enjoying the good weather next to the sea. The Bulgarian climate caters for all types of temperatures from long, hot summers to very cold winters, the latter of which can be controlled by cozy nights in with a wood burner.

One small hitch …

Language and customs can be a problem, just as in any foreign country.

As with most foreign countries, American retirees can find centers of expat life where English is widespread and the lifestyle resembles Philadelphia. But expat veterans recommend immersing oneself in the local culture. The period of adjustment is surprisingly short and, if this is where you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life, the rewards can be immeasurable.

Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, so most of the rules for residency apply. All foreign citizens, whether EU or non-EU, must apply for a residency permit if planning to stay in Bulgaria for longer than 90 days.

The National Migration Directorate, with its local immigration departments in the local police precincts, is the authority in charge of issuing, cancelling or extending resident permits.

If that sounds a little too Communist-era despotic to you, it’s just a mindset. Paperwork will be part of your challenge wherever in Europe you choose to retire.

Just keep your thoughts on the money you could be saving.

The details on immigration per the Bulgarian immigration website:

LONG-TERM RESIDENCE PERMIT Conditions and documents required. If you have health insurance and sufficient financial resources to cover your expenses and those of your family members during the duration of your stay, you must submit the following:

1 a completed application form *1, a valid ID document (a government issued ID card or passport), proof of valid health insurance (European Health Insurance Card or medical insurance policy), sufficient financial means equivalent to one minimum monthly

2 wage per family member (a copy of a credit/debit card, pension statement or any other proof of pension benefits) a rental contract or proof of address, your previous long-term residence permit (if reapplying)

3 a payment receipt *2

*1 The application form is available at your local Migration office or here.

*2 The Council of Ministers determines the amount of the minimum monthly wage. The latest rate can be found here. 3 Payment can be made at your local Migration office, electronically or in person at the bank affiliated with your local Migration office.

For further information, please contact your local Migration office or call +359 (2) 982 4808, email: [email protected]

LONG-TERM AND PERMANENT RESIDENCE IN BULGARIA FOR EU CITIZENS AND THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS Translate any supporting documents and include them with the originals if they are not in Bulgarian. There is no requirement to notarise/legalise the translation.

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