Category Archives: Living in Bulgaria

Tips and facts about living in Bulgaria.

Museum of Socialist Art opened in Sofia

For all those who have not lived the socialism a new and interesting museum was opened in Sofia on 19 September 2011. The Museum of Socialist Art shows a collection of Bulgarian art of the communist era (1944-1989). Between the exhibits there is the emblematic red-star which was taken from the top of the Communist Party House as well as a 45-tone statue of Lenin, the first Russian communist leader. There is painting exhibition, sculpture park and video hall showing documentaries from the communist era.

The museum located at 7 Luchezar Stanchev Street charges BGN 6 or about EUR 3 admission (BGN 3 for students and pensioners). There is also a shop where one can buy a t-shirt or small souvenir.

Short Excursions off The Beaten Track around Bulgaria – Mountain Adventures 4

Rodopi (or Rhodopi) Mountains are located in the most southern part of the country. With the highest peak – Golyam Perelik (2191 m) they occupy the 7-th place among the Bulgarian mountains.

The best known in the Rodopi is the Pamporovo resort which is suitable for both skiing holidays in the winter and hiking holidays between late spring and autumn. It is an excellent example of a micro climate that permits a fat snow cover to be preserved for a long time and yet to experience many sunny days during the snowy months. As we have already written about Pamporovo in this newsletter we will focus on other sites which are a lot less known especially to foreign visitors.

The Rodopi are bordering the valley of the Maritsa River to the north, the White Sea plain to the south (with part of the mountains spreading on the territory of Greece), to the west – the valley of Mesta River and to the east the valley of Arda. The Rodopi Mountains are covered with some of the most beautiful forests which are centuries old especially in the high western part. There are 15 nature reserves some of which are listed by UNESCO.

The western Rodopi are the bigger part of the total area, the higher, and more developed and visited part of the mountain. The highest and best known peaks are also here (more of 10 are over 2000m) including the leader – Golyam Perelik (2191 m). Among the interesting peaks are Shirokolushki Snezhnik (2188 m), Golyam Persenk (2091 m), Btashki Snezhnik (2082 m), the wonderful Turla (1800 m).

Plovdiv can be used as a starting point for a visit to the Western Rodopi. From there one can take a bus to most points of interest or to take the road through Asenovgrad to the heart of the mountains towards Smolian town and Pamporovo ski resort. Alternatively one can take the route to Velingrad town or through Peshtera to Batak dam.

Velingrad is a small town at the mountain foothills famous for its mineral springs. It is green and one of the nicest places in the town is the Kleptuza lake – a small lake surrounded by a park with restaurants and cafes. From Velingrad you can head by car towards Tsigov Chark. It is a small resort on the Batak dam which is very picturesque being surrounded by the hills and with the distant views towards the highest peaks of Rodopi and Rila mountains.

One of the most picturesque routes is between the Batak dam and the town of Dospat. The road would take you up in the mountain and passes centuries old beautiful forests, curves around the picturesque dams of Goliam Beglik and Shiroka Poliana before reaching Dospat. The views on the way and over Dospat dam are magnificent. The mountain is crossed by ground roads and paths which can be taken for few hour walks in the forests and around the lakes.

Not to miss a very beautiful place, from Dospat we would return to the most south-western part of Rodopi near Gotse Delchev. From there one can take the picturesque road to Leshten and Kovachevitsa – unique villages with amazing 300-400 year old stone houses. It is worth spending a day or two in Kovachevitsa, to walk around the houses and experience the atmosphere of the small restaurants.

In the other direction from Dospat, to the east, is located the karst area with Yagodinska cave, Trigrad Gorge and Devil’s Throat cave – some of the most dramatic sights in Rodopi. If you happen to be in the area it is a must to visit those sites for a day. The gorge to Trigrad village is passing among the 250 m high cliffs reaching the Devil’s Throat cave. You could stay overnight in Trigrad in one of the small family hotels or return to Dospat, Smolyan or Pamporovo.

If you travel from Plovdiv to Smolyan or back you can visit the Bachkovo monastery – the second biggest one in Bulgaria and one of the oldest and most beautiful ones. Another beautiful natural phenomenon on your way – the Wonder Bridges rocks – is a good stop for a short sightseeing. Note that the road to this site is not very good though.

The Western Rodopi around Velingrad, Smolyan and Dospat are very suitable for combining a family holiday for hiking, walking, fishing with visiting beautiful natural sights and places with typical culture and customs. Rodopi’s rolling hills are not a big attraction to lovers of extreme mountain walks but the beauty of the forests and hills deserves a visit.

The Eastern Rodopi are lower and less popular although they have a lot to offer. Several great archeological findings in the recent decades make them one of the most interesting parts of Bulgaria for lovers of ancient history.

Kurdjali is the regional centre for the Eastern Rodopi. It is a calm town with lots of greenery and a starting point for your visit in this part of the mountains. There is an extremely interesting museum in Kurdjali located in a picturesque building of a former Muslim school which shows a lot of the archeology, customs, traditions and nature of the area.

Perperikon is the most interesting place to visit. This is the largest Thracian city discovered by the archeologists, located on a steep hill surrounded by a picturesque valley. Whatever you read about Perperikon will give you just a very modest idea of the beauty of the place. Another must to visit sight which would be on your way is the Rock Mushrooms not too far from Perperikon.

Here are the large dams Kurdzhali and Studen Kladenets that together with the rivers Borovitsa and Varbitsa offer great opportunities for water and birdwatching tourism. The region is rich in thermal mineral springs. Dzhebel has national reputation for healing many different diseases.

Short Excursions off The Beaten Track around Bulgaria – Mountain Adventures 3

Stara Planina (the Balkan) mountains spreads from western border of Bulgaria to the Black Sea. The central part of the mountains is the highest with Botev pick reaching 2,376 m altitude. The eastern part is the lowest and it is hills rather than peaks. The landscapes are diverse and beautiful. Due to the length of the range it is difficult to organise a route covering all major parts of Stara Planina. On the other hand it is quite suitable for short two-three day excursions which can combine climbing with sightseeing in the foothills where there are many heritage sights in small towns and villages.

The highest pick in the western part is Kom just over 2,000 m above sea level (it is not far from the town of Berkovitsa). Kom hut is a starting point for the Kom-Emine route which is a challenge for the most eager mountain lovers and crosses the mountains from West to the East. The most significant site in the Kom range of the mountains is Belogradchik rock formation – red lime-stone rocks beautifully rising above the town of Belogradchik. Not far away is the small town of Chiprovtsi which is known for its traditional multicolour carpets.

Going to the east one can visit Magurata cave. Apart from its natural beauty there are prehistoric drawings dating back to 3,000-1,200 years BC – the oldest in Bulgaria and some of the oldest on the European continent. The cave is not far from the town of Vratsa – the main town of the region where the steep slopes of Stara Planina start literally from the central part of the town.

The area around Lakatnik and Bov is known for the beautiful formations following the deep defile of the Iskar river. It is the favourite destination for cavers with its numerous karst caves some of which are the deepest in Bulgaria.

The Teteven range of Stara Planina is one of the most popular parts with the gorge of Vit River along which both Teteven town and Ribaritsa resort are spread. When travelling from the main road Sofia- Varna towards Ribaritsa you will be amazed with the beautiful sights when the mountain rises from the plain. The forests and rocks on both sides of the road are amazing and the picture is complemented by the crystal waters of the Vit river. Ribaritsa and Teteven are both small resorts and whilst there are quite a few hotels the tourist infrastructure is not very well developed and there aren’t many amenities such as restaurants and bars.

Vejen hut and Vejen pick (2,198 m) are the attractions for lovers of the higher mountains. The road and path leading to them are surrounded by beautiful broad-leaved forests. Another mountain destination in the area is the Vassilyov mountain with the hut and peak with the same name.

The monastery of Glojene is small but its picturesque location makes it desirable place to visit if you are in the area. You would have to take the road to the monastery from the village of Glojene and follow the signs. The road is good but its last part is quite narrow so the journey is not quick.

The Troyan range of Stara Planina is famous for its nature parks and the mineral springs in the villages of Chiflik and Shipkovo as well as the craft traditions in the villages around Troyan such as Oreshaka and Cherni Osam. The Troyan Monastery is the third largest monastery in Bulgaria and is very popular.

There are several mountain routes excellent for one or two day walks within the area. Some of them are:

  • Chiflik – Kozya Stena hut and peak – Beklemeto – Troyan
  • Beli Osam – Beklemeto – Troyan
  • Cherni Osam – Ambaritsa and back
  • Cherni Osam – Steneto and back

If you have more time you can take the routes from Kozya Stena hut to the east to Dermenkaia hut, Levski hut and further to Kupena and Botev peaks. Be prepared for changeable weather and low temperatures even in the hottest summer months.

South and south-east from Troyan there are several nature reserves which are part of Central Balkan nature park – the most important being Djendema and Steneto – where are some of the best preserved forests with rare plants and animals.

If you are travelling between Northern and Southern Bulgaria between April and October you can take the pass from Troyan through Beklemeto to Karnare instead of the more popular roads. It is very picturesque and the views from the highest part are amazing.

The town of Apriltsi is situated in a lovely valley with enchanting views. Although the town itself is not of particular interest it is a starting point for a visit of the highest peaks of Stara Planina as well as to some beautiful protected areas. The Apriltsi area offers excellent opportunities for fishing, walking, horse-riding, cycling and hunting. Apriltsi is spread along the river Vidimska. The town has several quarters which are far from each other and you have to learn the route well before going not to waste time in finding the right place to start your mountain adventure there. From the Vidima quarter one can visit the Vidima waterfall – an outstanding Alpine-looking formation which is most beautiful in the spring when the snow in the higher mountain melts.

The Vidimska valley is bounded by the Severen Dzhendem Reserve. At the foot of this mountain the landscape changes from dense forest slopes into picturesque hills and lush meadows cut by the twisting rivers. The route through the reserve leads to Pleven hut – the starting point from the north for the peak Botev (the highest peak of Stara Planina, 2376 m). Other notable peaks in the area are Triglav and Maragidik. You may decide to continue to the south to the Ray hut over which the highest waterfall in Bulgaria is located (124 m). It is called Raysko Praskalo.

About 20 km north-east of Apriltsi is the Batoshevo Monastery, built in the 13th century. It is less known but worth a visit for the beautiful nature, its amazing paintings and woodcarvings.

At the southern slopes of Stara Planina there is a string of few charming small towns which are connected with the Bulgarian history, culture and traditions of the 19th century. Koprivshtitsa (located in the Sredna Gora mountain) is the first one starting from the west. The old revival houses of Koprivshtitsa are unique and worth a day visit which can be combined with visit to a traditional local restaurant and cafe. Karlovo and Sopot towns are known for the rose oil production. Routes to the huts Dermenkaya, Nezabravka and Vassil Levski start from there. If you do not have the time to climb in the mountains you may decide to take the lift up over Sopot and enjoy the unbeatable views of the valley between Stara Planina and Sredna Gora and the colourful paragliders. This is one of the best sites for paragliding in Bulgaria.

Kalofer is a small town over which the mountain of Botev peak rises dramatically. Kalofer will be your starting point if you want to visit Rayskoto Praskalo waterfall or to climb Botev from the south.

The range of Stara Planina between Gabrovo and Kazanlak is a bit lower but excellent for mountain walking. Gabrovo in the northern foothills is surrounded by few interesting sights. Etara is a nice open-air museum of traditional crafts just outside Gabrovo. Not far from Etara is the Sokolovski monastery, a good starting point for a walk towards Shipka or Buzludja. About 10 km from Gabrovo is the preserved village of Bojentsi and 25 km away is Tryavna, a charming small town which is worth a visit for its atmosphere, excellent small craft shops, restaurants and caf?s as well as its pure mountain air.

Uzana is another beautiful place in the high mountain (about 1,300-1,500 m altitude). It is located 20 km from Gabrovo and there are several hotels and huts. There is skiing during the winter and good walks during all seasons.

The Shipka pass will take you from Gabrovo to Kazanlak. If you have time climb Shipka to see the views from the peak and the monument there. Towards the south is the valley of the Thracian Kings with the tomb in Kazanlak and the tomb Goliama Kosmatka near the village of Shipka.

East of Gabrovo the mountains become lower and more welcoming. The Dryanovo and Elena ranges of the mountains are preserved clean areas with small villages and beautiful views. They cannot offer real mountain adventure but are excellent for a rural holiday in one of the many guest houses with traditional outlook and welcoming hosts.

The Sinite Kamani rock formations above Sliven are spectacular and can be best seen if you take the lift from the town up to the mountain. North- west of Sliven are the towns of Kotel and the village of Jeravna. They are worth a visit for the traditional houses typical for the area and the art of the carpet making (in Kotel there is a museum of the traditional carpets).

Stara Planina slopes into the Black Sea and cape Emine is considered its final point. The most challenging route in the Stara Planina Mountains is the walk from Kom peak on the west to the Emine Cape on the Black Sea. The highest parts of Stara Planina are the mountains with the most severe climate in the winter and you have to be very careful with the forecast and follow the instructions of the Mountain Service.

Rousse – The Modern City And The Beautiful Nature Parks

Rousse is a city of many contrasts. It once was one of the most important cities along the River Danube but with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire its importance waned. It has, however, been blessed with a legacy of some of the most wonderful examples of Central-European architecture dating back many years. Not for little reason has it been called the Little Vienna. Unfortunately this grandeur is only found around the centre of the city whilst the suburbs have been modernized under the communist administration. The city of Rousse has a population of about 150000. It is situated 320 km North-East of Sofia, 200 km North-West of Varna and 100 km North of Veliko Turnovo. The closest airport is the Bucharest one at a distance of about 70 km.

The surrounding area offers variety of recreation opportunities and one can enjoy the beauty of the region. The most outstanding natural feature is the Roussenski Lom Natural Park which is in essence a meandering river that has carved a deep gorge through the landscape. The result is a scattering of small villages that are either perched on the cliffs overlooking the gorge or are nestled at the foot of the gorge. In both instance the views are quite spectacular and unique.

There are lots of beautiful spots:

The ruins of the Mediaeval Town of Cherven – the key town of Northeast Bulgaria in the 14th century. Because of the great historical importance of this place the property prices start from 15,000 EUR for an old house that needs entire renovation. The nearest villages Koshov, Tabachka and Nisovo are also of great interest. Here you can check severalgood examples of properties for sale in this area: a typical house for renovation , a renovated property , another renovated property , a house in need of finishing works .

The archaeological reserve “The Rock Churches” where the visitors can see well preserved frescoes of the mediaeval art from the 15th Century. It is included in the list of world Cultural and Historical Heritage of UNESCO. Ivanovo village is preferred by people who consider the close proximity to the city as one of the most important features together with the excellent roads which lead to it. Property prices are similar to these in Cherven, Koshov and Tabachka.

Basarbovo Rock Monastery: It is 12 km from Rousse, in the rocks close to the village of Basarbovo. One property which deserves attention is this great newly built house just 13 km from Rousse.

Orlova Chuka Cave which is 50 km long and reaches Romania beneath the river Danube. Near the cave there are many villages: Chilnov, Ostrica, Shirokovo , Koprivets and Pepelina. The prices of the properties in this area are cheaper because it is farther from the city. You can find an old rustic house at a price starting from just 8,000 euro. An excellent property can be bought in these areas for under 30,000 eurosuch as this ready-to-move-in 2-bed house. Cheaper deals are also available.

Considering the broad and diverse attractions of The Roussenski Lom Nature Park every visitor can find something of interest. There are signed routes for hiking, cross-country riding and biking, eco- educational trails and places for observing birds and predatory mammals.

The Lipnik Forest Park is the city’s closest recreation area. It is a wonderful place for fishing, water sports and outing. The most expensive in this area are the properties in Nikolovo village which stands on a lake and provides excellent views. The prices there normally start from 50 – 60 000 EUR for a modern big house with stunning panorama. In this area most of the houses are recently built and more luxurious in comparison to the old styled houses along the Roussenski Lom River Valley. A sample of a lovely house in this area very close to Rousse is provided here.

EU Citizens Are Allowed To Buy Land for Residential Purposes in Bulgaria in Their Name

The regime of ownership of land plots for residential purposes was changed in Bulgaria in the beginning of 2012. Now citizens and companies of all EU and EEA countries are allowed to own residential land in their name without the need to register a Bulgarian company. The change happened after the expiration of the 5-year moratorium which was allowed by the Treaty of Accession of Bulgaria to the EU.

The change of the legislation applies to plots of land which fall into the settlement borders – towns, villages and hamlets – and which are often referred to as regulated plots of land. The regime for ownership of land with different status such as agricultural plots and forests is not changed and foreign individuals and companies will not have the right to possess such plots until the end of 2013.

For all other foreign persons, who are not citizens of EU or EEA countries, the overall restrictions to buy land in Bulgaria are still valid, which means that they need to register companies.

As this is a new regulation of the market, there are some differences in the procedures in the various regions of the country.

If you own property in Bulgaria through a company and would like to understand the particulars, please contact us to discuss your situation and advise you about your options.

Off The Beaten Track: Vitosha Mountain

Vitosha is the most visited Bulgarian mountain. It is situated just above Sofia – within an hour you can be far away from the noise of the capital. Many people accept it as a big park where one can walk following signed paths and enjoy nice landscapes. However it is a high mountain and should not be underestimated – the highest peak Cherni vrah is 2290 m (the meaning of its name is ‘black peak’). The access points are from the fringe quarters of Sofia where rich Bulgarians have built luxury houses at the mountain foothills – Dragalevtsi, Simeonovo, Boyana, Vladaya, Knyajevo and others.

One easy way to get there is using the lift starting from Simeonovo quarter and reaching Aleko hut. The area around the hut is quite developed and can be even crowded during the weekends. There are few ski slopes for beginners and advanced skiers. From Aleko hut to Cherni Vrah is less than 2 hours – for those who like challenges.

The other lift which can be used starts from Dragalevtsi and reaches Goli Vrah /meaning “the bare hill”/. This is a plateau area suitable for long walks. Those who are not afraid of climbing can get off at the middle station and walk through the pine forest until they reach the flatter top area. There is also a nice monastery within 40 min walk up the hill from Dragalevtsi.

One of the most beautiful destinations is Zlatni Mostove – about 2 hours walking distance starting from Vladaya. This is a natural phenomenon – a rock river. The big rocks are covered with golden lichens which give the name of the place meaning “golden bridges”. You can climb on the rocks for fun and try to “walk up the river”, have a sun bath on them or just enjoy a lazy picnic in the open. You can reach Zlatni Mostove also from Aleko hut passing through Vitosha Plateau and going down – it is 2-3 hours easy walk without steep descends.

Another interesting tourist track starts from Boyana. There you should definitely visit the Boyana Church with its preserved medieval frescos – it is listed as a world cultural heritage from UNESCO. The aim is Boyana waterfalls – there is a bit of climbing but the walk along the river and the final destination deserve the effort.

There are so many other places to visit. We are sure that once there you will find your way. It is also very easy to say “Dobar den” to the smiling elder tourist who walks slowly following his usual path and you will get loads of information where to go, what to see, how far it is and so on.

Off the beaten track: Rila and Pirin Mountains

The statistics says that 95% of the foreign tourists in Bulgaria visit the Black Sea resorts in the summer and the ski resorts during the winter. However Bulgaria has a lot more to offer in terms of history, culture and nature. Most of the tourist sites which are worth visiting are not known to the foreign tourists.
Bulgaria is rich in mountains, natural reserves, river gorges, monasteries, ancient ruins, crafts and customs sites. In this and in the next issues articles we will tell you about some of the most interesting routes and sites.
Bulgaria’s landscape varies from low lands in the valleys and plains to high mountains of Alpine type. Mountains have been thoroughly explored and the most scenic tourist routes are well marked for tourists. There are many huts where one can find inexpensive but very basic accommodation. If you go to the most visited huts in August bring your own sleeping bags. In the smaller huts you will also have to bring your own food.
The main mountain ranges are Rila and Pirin in the South-West Bulgaria, Stara Planina (the Balkan) mountains which spreads from western border to the Black Sea, Rodopi Mountains in the south and Vitosha just outside Sofia. Should you decide to go to the mountains you should know that you need warm clothes and shoes for the summer as well as for the winter.
Rila is the highest Bulgarian mountain with the highest peak Musala (2,925 m altitude). The most picturesque is the range of Malyovitsa and the routes which are worth visiting are:

  • Pionerska hut – Scakavitsa – the Seven Rila Lakes
  • Pionerska hut – the Seven Rila Lakes – Ivan Vazov hut – Malyovitsa peak – Malyovitsa hut
  • Malyovitsa hut – Malyovitsa peak – Ivan Vazov hut – Rila monastery

Around Scakavitsa you can visit the Scakavitsa waterfall and climb the Kabul peak with the magnificent views over lakes and ranges. The Seven Rila lakes are probably the most visited and picturesque mountain site in Bulgaria. The views are fantastic and you will enjoy them most if you climb them from the lowest to the highest lake.
The peak of Malyovitsa is known for the outstanding views but also for the changeable weather. You should not be surprised if you are reached by thick fog or snow in August so be prepared.
Rila Monastery is one of the oldest and the most famous Bulgarian monasteries. It is worth visiting for the beautiful scenery, the fine wood carvings and frescoes. The monastery can be included in a mountain excursion as well as in a car journey from Sofia towards the south-western part of the country.

In the Musala range the most popular are the routes to the peak of Musala which can be climbed from Borovets or from Granchar hut. The Ribni (Fish) lakes are also picturesque and can be visited on the way from Granchar hut to the Rila Monastery.
Many fans of the Bulgarian mountains will tell you that Pirin is the most beautiful Bulgarian mountain. Its peaks are nearly as high (highest Vihren 2914 m altitude) as the Rila ones and the lakes and ranges are dramatic and breathtaking. The routes there are also longer and more difficult than the Rila ones. Some of the routes you can take are:

  • Yavorov hut – through Koncheto range – Vihren peak – Banderitsa or Vihren hut – Bansko
  • Bansko – Banderitsa or Vihren hut – Bezbog hut – Dobrinishte
  • Bansko – Banderitsa or Vihren hut – Bezbog hut – Pirin hut – Pirin village

The Koncheto range is the most dramatic and probably most dangerous rock range in Bulgaria. It requires a dose of courage and a very good mountain guide in order to pass it. The ranges around the peaks of Vihren and Bezbog and the lakes are outstanding with their beauty. In the lower parts the century old forests are welcoming. Near the Banderitsa hut one can see the oldest tree found in Bulgaria – Baikushevata Mura (the Baikusheva White Fir).
In the foothills of Pirin there are a number of small towns and villages which might be of interest for those interested in traditional crafts and architecture. Bansko is one of these places and although it has lost some of its charm due to the mass construction in the last few years, there is still the old part of the town with its traditional houses, pubs, churches and cobbled-stone streets. Melnik to the south is less known but is also worth a visit for its white rock formations, old houses and the famous wine cellars. Sandanski is a resort town with mineral water springs. It may be also a good starting point if you decide to visit Greece and the White Sea.

English-language TV in Bulgaria

British TV
Due to the licensing arrangements between Sky TV and the various
broadcasting companies, Sky TV can only officially be subscribed to by residents of the UK and the ROI. This means that you cannot directly apply for a box and subscription from Sky for use in Bulgaria. What you can do however is take an existing Box and subscription package from the UK/ROI to Bulgaria and have it installed locally. You will need to use a dish of at least 1.5 meters. If the box you have been using was attached to the telephone line then the box will not work since Sky will be able to detect that you have stopped using the service locally (UK). An alternative solution is to use the services of companies that can supply you with a Sky Box and subscription that can be used overseas. These companies offer the same service as Sky but at a higher cost. Please note that not all of the channels are available in Bulgaria due to the weaker signal.

In addition there are a number of internet websites/services that you can use to give you UK TV such as Film On TV. If you are able to use a proxy VPN you can access UK TV through the iplayer services of BBC, ITV and so forth.

Terrestrial TV (through the aerial)

The 3 main national channels BTV, BNT1 and Nova TV are all available free using your TV aerial. The reception is not great and the content is mainly in Bulgarian although some films are aired in English. This year you will be able to access more digital channels through the internal tuner of your TV (only recent models).

Bulgarian Cable and Satellite Services

Most people opt to watch TV in Bulgaria using one of these options. Cable comes into the property, as the name implies, through a cable but is not widely available outside urban areas. Satellite is available in almost every location. The content they air is broadly similar however the cable channels tend to be mainly aired in Bulgarian whilst the satellite channels are often aired in English. The content of both is extensive including knowledge based programming (ie Discovery), films and the excellent Diema sports channels which air many Premiership games (in Bulgarian). The costs of both cable and satellite are low (in comparison to the UK) with monthly subscriptions averaging at 20 BGN. Picture quality on the cable broadcasts is generally lower but tends to suffer less from adverse weather conditions that can effect satellite reception.

Living Costs in Bulgaria

Many of those who are planning to travel to Bulgaria would be interested to read something about the cost of living. Since 1989 Bulgaria has been going through transition from state controlled economy to an open-market economy. During the early years there were fluctuations in the development but during the last 10 years the economy has stabilised. The incomes of the local people and prices gradually are increasing but they are still considerably lower compared to Western Europe. The local currency is the Bulgarian Lev (the plural is ‘Leva’) or BGN. The Lev is pegged to the Euro since 1997 at a rate of 1.95583 leva to 1 Euro. So how much you can expect to spend for some of the most common goods and services?

Some costs of food bought from supermarkets and shops are: loaf of bread (0.7 kg) – 0.5 euros, pork – 5-6 euros/kg , chicken – about 3 euros/kg, traditional Bulgarian white cheese – about 4 euros/kg, yellow cheese – 6 euros/kg, fresh milk – 0.9 euro/litre, 12 eggs – 1.6 euros, bottle of beer (0.5 l) – 0.5-1 euro, potatoes – 1-1,5 euro/kg.

Fresh organic fruits and vegetables which are produced in Bulgaria are normally very delicious and cheap but are only seasonally supplied. For example fresh tomatoes cost about 1 euro per kilo during the summer. During the winter many of the fruits are imported and the prices are higher.

The white goods and electrical products if they are the most up to date tend to be about the same price elsewhere but older models tend to be significantly cheaper.

The biggest differences in prices can be found in the hospitality services. A breakfast in an ordinary restaurant costs about 2-3 euros, dinner about 5-8 euros, and supper – 10-15 euros. There are more expensive luxury establishments where the prices are several times higher but rarely you would pay as much as in Western Europe.

Tap water in Bulgaria is usually good to drink. In addition mineral water of excellent quality is sold everywhere bottled and sealed for a cost of approximately 0.40 euros for 1.5 litres. Domestic natural factory-packed juices cost about 1.5 euro per litre.

Tea and coffee is offered everywhere in the country. Coffee is more popular amongst Bulgarians and strong espresso is usually served costing between 0.8 and 1.5 euro depending on the brand and establishment. The local habit is to drink herb infusion instead of proper tea but the later is also available. The costs are similar to the coffee costs.

Wine and alcoholic drinks are on sale in many restaurants and specialised pubs. The price of a 0.75 l bottle of good dry wine varies between 8 and 15 euros. For about 25 euros per bottle you can enjoy some of the best Bulgarian produced wines. In the shops wines are sold between 3 and 10 euros for normal quality and 15-30 euros for high quality Bulgarian wine. The price of a 0.5-litre bottle of rakiya (traditional Bulgarian spirit drink) normally is about 4-5 euros and if you wish to purchase something of better quality then you have to spend 10-15 euros.

Some of the other living costs are less cheaper compared to the western standards. There are no standing charges for electricity and water. Normally a household of four pays less than 15 euros for water and less than 25 euros for electricity during the summer. During the coldest winter months one household would usually pay up to 150-200 euros bills if electricity is used for heating. Gas is used only in few Bulgarian cities although the gas infrastructure is being developed currently.

Council tax and garbage collection fees are very low. The council tax of an average centrally located apartment in the bigger cities would not exceed 50 euros and for a rural property would not be more than 10 euros per year! The municipal garbage collection fees would also depend on the location and would not be more than 100 euros per year for an average centrally located apartment in the bigger cities and 30 euros per year in the villages.

Property insurance costs are based on the property value. Typically rates vary between 0,1% and 1% of the value to cover all risks apart from robbery. The rate is at the lower end if the building is new.

Taxis are quite cheap with costs of 0.5 euros per kilometre with costs in Sofia and some resort areas being higher.

In summary it is fair to say that costs are lower in Bulgaria and generally speaking visitors to the country have a greater spending power than the locals so in practise can enjoy a higher standard of living.

Bulgarian Tax Review

Bulgarian Tax Review

Under Bulgarian law it is responsibility of the individuals to fill in a tax return each year when they have any taxable income whilst all companies have the obligation to submit annual tax returns each year regardless of their activities. The tax offices in Bulgaria are not always very helpful so you should seek professional assistance.

Local Property Taxes (similar to UK’s Community Charge)

The property tax is paid annually to the local municipality based on property tax evaluation which is determined according to tax criteria and the information provided by the owner in a declaration that is submitted not later than 2 months after the acquisition of the property. Each property has a file with the local tax office which is being updated in case of changes in the state of the property based on owner’s declaration. The tax charged is between 0.1 and 4.5 per mil of the tax evaluation and is set by each municipal council for the particular municipality.

In addition to the property tax you are required to pay a refuge fee which is often higher than the property tax. The rate of the refuge fee is decided by the local municipal council and in some of the smallest villages there might not be such fee. Both taxes come as one bill. The taxes are payable in four instalments and you can receive a 5% discount if you pay the bill in full by the end of April.

The property tax of an average centrally located apartment in the bigger cities would rarely exceed 50 euros and for a rural property would not be more than 20 euros per year. The municipal refuge fees would also depend on the location and would not be more than 100 euros per year for an average centrally located apartment in the bigger cities and 30 euros per year in the villages.

Taxes Payable by Non-Resident Individuals from renting and selling a property

Income of non-resident owners (individuals) from lease of real estate is subject to 10% withholding tax in Bulgaria. If the lessee is a Bulgarian legal entity the tax is withheld and remitted to the budget by the lessee on behalf of the non-resident lesser. If the lessee is an individual the tax should be paid by the non-resident owner of the real estate within 30 days as of the date on which the rent has been paid by the lessee.

If you sell your property as an individual non-resident owner you must pay 10% withholding tax on the difference between the selling or tax evaluation whichever is greater and the purchase price. However since January 2007 EU citizens are not required to pay the 10% withholding tax (1) if they sell one residential immovable property, regardless of the date of acquisition of the said property, in any one year and (2) if they sell up to two immovable properties as well as any number of agricultural and forest properties, provided that more than five years have elapsed between the date of acquisition and the date of sale or exchange.

Taxes Payable by Resident Individuals

This is a just brief summary of the complicated laws relating to individual’s income tax. Taxes are paid to the national government. The tax returns must be completed by the middle of April in the year following the year to which they relate. If your total income is subject to any of the permitted exemptions you need not fill a tax return unless you are running a business or are self- employed.

Tax on income from the renting a property.20% of the income from rent go towards costs and the remaining 80% of the income are taxable. The rate of tax is 10%. This tax should be paid up to the 15th of the third month following receipt of the income. If for example the rent is paid on the 2nd of January then the tax should be paid by the 15th March of that year.

Income from sale of property. The tax base for the sale of property is the difference between the selling price and the purchase price reduced with 10% for costs. The income tax payable is 10% of the amount calculated as per above rule.

As for the non-resident individuals there are important exemptions that apply to EU citizens when it comes to selling property that mean you are not required to pay tax if you receive income from the sale of: (1) one residential immovable property if you have owned it for more than three years; (2) up to two immovable properties as well as any number of agricultural and forest properties provided that more than five years have elapsed between the date of acquisition and the date of sale or exchange; (3) property that you have received as an inheritance.

Taxes on the employment income are payable by the employer who is responsibile to deduct the income tax and pay it to the government on a monthly basis. This tax is paid together with the social and health insurance payments. The tax rate is10% based on the income reduced by any social payment made.

Taxes Payable by Companies

Under Bulgarian legislation in force non-resident companies and individuals are allowed to set up Bulgarian entities without any restrictions. Bulgarian entities owned by foreign shareholders are allowed to acquire any kind of real estate in Bulgaria including land.

The rate of corporate tax is 10%. The tax is levied on the basis of the profit of the company as per its profit and loss account, adjusted with certain non-deductible items. After-tax profit of the Bulgarian company may be distributed as a dividend to the shareholder/s; alternatively these profits can remain within the company.

If the money from profit is taken out of the company it is done so as dividends. As per the Corporate Income Tax Act dividends are subject to 5% withholding tax in Bulgaria. Withholding tax will not be due in Bulgaria in the situation where the shareholders in the Bulgarian company are tax residents of an EU country and:

  • The shareholders are not considered tax residents of a third state on the grounds of a Double Tax Treaty;
  • The shareholders are payers of corporate income tax in their state of residence and are not entitled to any tax exemptions, tax holidays, etc.;
  • The non-residents hold at least 15% of the shares in the Bulgarian company distributing the dividends for an interrupted period of at least two years.

Most people register a company simply to own a property in Bulgaria and have no interest in maintaining any links with Bulgaria once they have sold their property. In this instances when you come to sell your property you can either sell the asset (i.e. the property) and then liquidate your company or you can sell the shares in the company to the buyer. The price of the shares would of course reflect the price that you want to sell the property for. If you are intending to continue some activities in Bulgaria then you should not liquidate your company when you sell any of its assets. If you do liquidate your company you will be required to pay profit and dividend tax as outlined above.

Value Added Tax

The current rate of the Value Added Tax is 20%. If you buy a property as an individual or as a company from a VAT registered company you will have to pay 20% VAT and the seller then passes on this VAT to the government.

Companies are obliged to register for VAT if the value of their sales is equal or grater than BGN 50,000 in any 12-month period but a company can choose to register even with nil revenue. Once a company becomes VAT-registered it is obliged to charge 20% VAT on all taxable deals. The company should prepare and file monthly VAT ledgers on which bases the tax liability is determined. The tax is due by the 14th of the following month.

VAT charged to the buyer of the real estate will not be recoverable at the point of purchase unless the buyer is registered for VAT. However, the above VAT may be recovered by the buyer of the real estate even if their VAT registration is affected after the date of the purchase of the real estate, provided that the property is still owned by the buyer at the date of their VAT registration.

Bulgaria has Double Taxation Agreements with most of the European countries including the UK. If, for example, your income is chargeable to tax in Bulgaria and in the UK, a double charge is prevented by one of the following exempting the income from tax in one of the countries or allowing a credit in Bulgaria or in the UK for the tax paid in the other country on the same income. In any case it might be useful to familiarise yourselves with the treaty relevant to your domicile and Bulgaria in order to avoid future problems.

Prior to joining the EU in 2007 the general consensus was that you were better off owning a property through a company because the tax levels were lower than owning as an individual. The tax levels now depend on whether you are tax resident in Bulgaria. If you are resident and expect to receive constant income from your property through rent you could be better off registering a company since the tax rate for companies is lower than residential individual tax persons. If you are non-resident as an individual (if possible) you are probably better off buying as an individual since the tax levels are comparable but you now have the added bonus of being able to sell one property per year without tax.