What makes Bulgaria a unique country to travel to?
Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. Tourist facilities are widely available, but conditions vary and some facilities, infrastructure, and services may not be up to Western standards.
Pick-pocketing and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets, on shopping streets, and aboard the busiest tram and bus lines. Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations. Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution. Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance. Do not give your PIN to anyone under any circumstances. (See the Special Circumstances section below.)
Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also ask persons claiming to be government officials to provide identification.
We recommend that you immediately report any crimes to the police, as they have helped recover money and valuables in the past. To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, use the same personal safety precautions that you would use in any large U.S. city.
You should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs. Travelers have been charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol. Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments, the management may use force to secure payment.
Taxi drivers occasionally overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. We recommend that you use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield. The standard rates normally range between BGL 0.59 and 0.70 (approximately 40 U.S. cents) per kilometer. Prior to a current law that established a maximum charge per kilometer, some taxi drivers charged as much as BGL 6.70 (approximately US$5) per kilometer. However, there is only sporadic enforcement of the current law.
At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrival terminal that arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate. Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult. We recommend that before you enter a taxi, you first inquire about the fare. Always ensure that you account for all luggage, packages, and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi. The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote.
Automobile theft is common, and very few vehicles are recovered; four-wheel-drive vehicles and late-model European sedans are the most popular targets. Automobile break-ins are also common in residential areas or near parks, especially when valuables are left in plain sight. Residential burglaries are also a frequent occurrence in any major city. If you plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis, you should take measures to protect your home and consider installing window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system.
Take some time before your trip to learn how to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for personal security.
Use caution when making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. Recent experience has shown that offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. In many cases, the businesses do not actually exist.
Don’t buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, but if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While in Bulgaria, you are subject to its laws and regulations, which sometimes significantly differ from those in the United States, and may not afford the protections available to an individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. Bulgarian law enforcement authorities may take you in for questioning if you don’t have your passport, U.S. passport card, or long-term residence card with you.
Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Bulgaria are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
If Arrested: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
The official language is Bulgarian, and nearly all inhabitants speak it. About half of the Turkish population speaks Turkish as its mother tongue. Bulgarian is a Slavic language that uses an alphabet first developed in the ninth century by Cyril and Methodise. English is now the most popular language for children to study, followed by German and French.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, but most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped or maintained to U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may be unavailable. Pediatric facilities are underfunded and lack sufficient equipment. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payments for health services.
Safety and Security
Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourists and business travelers; however, violence related to criminal groups sporadically occurs in public locations. Incidents include bombings and shootings, likely the result of turf wars between rival organized crime syndicates, which remain highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy. In 2010, a journalist who had published a book containing details on Bulgarian organized crime was assassinated in Sofia during daylight hours.
Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes in response to world or local events can sporadically occur. Traffic disruptions in Bulgaria, particularly in the central city, have occurred as a result of demonstrations. While these demonstrations are normally peaceful, confrontational demonstrations have occurred, as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. Nationwide demonstrations in October 2011 resulted in some violence and destruction of property. You are urged to avoid demonstration areas if possible and to exercise caution if traveling within the vicinity of any demonstrations. You should monitor media coverage to stay abreast of local events and should be aware of your surroundings at all times. Information regarding demonstrations in Bulgaria can be found on the Embassy Sofia website.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rock slides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season. Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because such road conditions are more dangerous in the dark. Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. In particular, drivers of late-model sedans are known to speed and drive dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures. In some cities, traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving right-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents. A form of “Russian road roulette” has taken hold in Sofia wherein drivers make bets about speeding through red lights at speeds that exceed 120mph in the late hours of the evening; bets are also taken challenging drivers to go the wrong way around roundabouts at high speeds.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia, and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. A U.S. state driver's license is only valid in Bulgaria when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.
If pulled over by a police officer, you should be aware that under Bulgarian law, police officers may collect fines on the spot, and may confiscate your driver’s license depending upon the offense.
The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. Children under 12 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child's car seat. These rules are often disregarded in practice. Speed limits are 50 km/h (31 mph) in the cities/towns, 90 km/h (56 mph) out of town, and 130 km/h (80 mph) on the highways. For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and ride with lights on at all times. At unregulated crossings, the driver on the right has the legal right-of-way, but this rule is frequently ignored. Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent. Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized. The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a US $25 fine to life imprisonment. Drivers are required to use their headlights during the day and night from November 1–March 31.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please visit the Bulgarian Embassy website.