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Bulgaria Country Information
Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with a sprinkling of mountains, it is small in size but rich in ancient culture, scenic splendour, friendly people and old-fashioned warmth and hospitality.

Situated in the south east of Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria is not as much a tourist destination as its Greek and Turkish neighbours to the south are. This despite the popularity of its Black Sea resorts, which are scenically captivating with their fine sandy beaches, sunny climate and safe seas and wonderfully inexpensive too.

As varied as the different mountain ranges are the people who dwell in them, with distinctive customs, crafts and colourful festivals, folklore, religious beliefs and speech. Small picturesque villages welcome guests with typical warm-hearted Bulgarian hospitality, sharing age-old traditions and traditional cooking, and a delight in their pastoral environment.

Bulgaria's history is displayed across the country in its old towns, ancient Thracian relics and treasures, decorated churches and monasteries, and in the rustic settlements that have preserved the traditional beliefs of its people. One of the country's biggest assets for visitors is its variety, but whatever aspect one chooses to explore, there is always the assurance of a warm welcome.

Basic Information
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs and schuko plugs are in use.

Money: The official currency is the Lev (BGN), which is divided into 100 stotinki. The Lev is tied to the Euro at a fixed rate of €1 = 1.955 lev. Bulgaria has strict currency regulations. If you enter Bulgaria with cash of any currency amounting to the equivalent of 8,000 leva or more, you must declare it to customs officials. Foreign currency may be exchanged in banks, hotels or at one of the numerous bureaux de change, however due to a common practice of misleading rates of exchange it is better to go to banks or hotels to change money. A receipt called a bordereaux is issued when exchanging currency, indicating the amount that will be given, and it must be kept until departure. Not all banks accept travellers cheques and those that do usually charge a 5% commission. Major international credit cards are increasingly becoming accepted by tourist hotels, upmarket shops and restaurants, travel agents and car rental agents, but Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. There are ATMs in the main cities and at Black Sea resorts.

Language: Bulgarian is the official language, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but English, German and French is spoken in resorts, hotels and restaurants.

Travel Health: There has been a confirmed case of Swine Flu in Bulgaria. Bulgaria poses few health risks and there are no vaccinations required for entry. Travellers to Bulgaria are not at risk of contracting bird flu, although close contact with caged, wild and domestic birds should be avoided and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked as a precaution. Medical treatment can be expensive and payment is expected immediately. Facilities in local hospitals are basic and specialised treatment or equipment may not be freely available. Medical insurance, with provision for emergency evacuation, is therefore vital. Travellers from the UK should also hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in case of emergency medical treatment.

Tipping: Tips of 10% of the bill are customary in restaurants, while hotel porters and taxi drivers expect the change to round up the bill. With non-metered taxis you needn't add a tip to the fare you agreed on beforehand.

Safety Information: Most visits to Bulgaria are trouble-free. Violent crime is rare, but criminal groups target casinos and nightclubs and groups of young pickpockets are active in city centres and the Black Sea holiday resorts. Car theft is common.

Local Customs: Foreigners should be aware that a shake of the head means 'yes' and a nod means 'no', although allowances are often made for visitors; it is useful to clarify the answer verbally to avoid confusion.

Business: Relationship building is important in Bulgaria, and initial meetings may be used as an introduction, after which more business-related meetings can be planned. Face-to-face meetings are therefore preferred over communication by email, fax or phone. The use of English in business is increasing, however the services of a translator might be required, and presentations should include the use of visuals where possible. Introductions include firm handshakes, and the exchange of business cards; dress should be conservative business attire and punctuality is expected. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.

Communications: The country dialling code for Bulgaria is +359, followed by the relevant city code. The city code for Sofia is (0)2. Bulgaria offers a direct dialling service to 58 countries, which can be reached by adding the prefix 00 to the country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Calls to countries that cannot be accessed by direct dialling must be placed through an operator at 0123. Betcom or Bulgarian Telecommunication Company phone booths require a special card available from kiosks. Telephone offices are also available and are attached to post offices. Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe that has no peak or off-peak call times. The country has mobile GSM operators, and several Internet Service Providers. Internet cafes are on the increase in the big cities.

Duty Free: Travellers to Bulgaria, aged 17 and older, do not need to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 1 litre of spirits and 2 litres of wine; 50g of perfume or 100g of eau de toilette; and gifts. Allowances are larger for goods purchased within the EU. Prohibited items include arms and ammunition, narcotics and pornography.

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Bulgaria Visa and Entry Information

  • Entry requirements for Americans: Citizens of the USA do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days within a six-month period. Passports must be valid for at least three months after entry.
  • Entry requirements for UK nationals: British Citizens do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days in a six-month period. Other passport holders should check with the London Bulgarian Embassy whether a visa is required or not. A valid passport is required.
  • Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days within a six-month period. A passport valid for at least three months after entry is required.
  • Entry requirements for Australians: Australians do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days within a six-month period. A passport valid for at least three months after entry is required.
  • Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans need a visa to enter Bulgaria. A passport valid for at least three months after leaving Bulgaria is required and a visa will only be issued if blank pages are available.
  • Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealanders do not require a visa for a maximum stay of 90 days within a six-month period. A valid passport valid for at least three months on entry is required.
  • Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days within a six-month period. A passport valid for the period of intended stay is required.

Passport/Visa Note: Visitors must have proof of sufficient funds or onward or return tickets in addition to other documents needed for the next destination. Valid health insurance is required. All visitors to Bulgaria, other than EU nationals, must register as foreigners at a local police station within five days of arrival. This registration is usually done as a matter of course through the hotel or accommodation establishment. Visitors are advised to check this, as a dated registration slip has to be submitted when leaving the country. Immigration and entry regulations are very strictly enforced. Passports of all visitors should be valid for at least three months after leaving Bulgaria for those requiring a visa, and three months on entry for visa exempt nationals other than those from EU countries, whose passports must be valid for period of stay. Visitors should be prepared to show proof of valid medical insurance upon request.

Weather and Climate in Bulgaria
Sofia's climate is one of its main attributes. Situated on an open plain only 1804 feet (550m) above sea level and ringed in by the Balkan and Vitosha Mountains, summers days in Sofia are warm and sunny with temperatures occasionally soaring above 86ºF (30ºC). Winters are cold and snowy. December and January are the coldest months and July and August are the hottest months. The capital receives 25.6 inches (650mm) a year with most rain falling in the summer months.

The climate of Bulgaria is one of the country's most favourable features. With four distinct seasons the weather in Bulgaria is generally hot and dry in summer with moderate humidity, mild and pleasant in autumn, cold and crisp in winter and bloomingly beautiful in spring. Along the Black Sea Coast the climate is maritime, the Mediterranean Sea cooling summer temperatures compared to the interior of the country. Temperatures average 75°F (24°C) in summer and around 32°F (0°C) in the winter months.

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Attraction in Bulgaria

  • St Sofia - St Sofia is the oldest Eastern Orthodox church in the city, dating from the 4th to 6th century, and is regarded as one of the most significant examples of early Christian architecture in the Balkans.
  • St George Rotunda - The rotunda church of St George is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia, dating to the 4th century, and is situated amid the remains of the ancient Roman town of Serdica.
  • Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - One of the finest examples of 20th-century architecture in Sofia and one of the symbols of the city, the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built between 1882 and 1912 to honour the Russian soldiers who died fighting to liberate Bulgaria from Turkish rule in the war of 1878 under Tsar Alexander II.

Airtports in Bulgaria

Sofia International Airport (SOF)

  • Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) east of Sofia.
  • Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from April to September).
  • Contacts: Tel: +359 (0)2 937 2211/2 (international flights departures and arrivals).
  • Getting to the city: Regular bus service 84 runs on a frequent schedule day and night from the bus station close to Arrivals. Taxis are available, and passengers are advised to use O.K. SUPERTRANS taxis from outside the arrivals hall; their enquiries desk is located inside the arrivals hall. Most hotels and tourist resorts run their own airport shuttles.
  • Car rental: Avis, Hertz, Budget, Tani Rent and Sixt have desks located in the arrivals hall.
  • Facilities: The airport is well equipped with banks, bureau de change, ATMs, restaurants, cafeterias and bars, duty-free shopping, a chemist, travel agency, tourist information desk and first aid facilities. There is also a business lounge with Internet access, and a luggage-wrapping machine at departures.
  • Parking: There is 24-hour short and long-term parking available in front of the terminal buildings.
    Departure Tax: US$20 (nationals of the USA only).

Varna International Airport (VAR)

  • Location: The airport is situated on the western outskirts, about five miles (9km) from Varna.
  • Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from April to September).
  • Contacts: Tel: +359 (0)52 573 323.
  • Getting to the city: Public bus 409, which passes through central Varna and travels as far as Golden Sands resort, serves the airport; departures are from in front of the VIP hall. Taxis are available in front of International Arrivals, but the meters are often not working and it is advisable to agree on a fare with the driver before departure. Many resort hotels run their own shuttle services to and from the airport.
  • Car rental: Car rental agents are on site at the airport including Avis, Hertz, Sixt and Europcar.
  • Facilities: The airport has currency exchange facilities, a large restaurant and duty-free shops.
  • Parking: Short-term parking bays are available.
  • Departure Tax: US$20 (nationals of the USA only).

Bourgas International Airport (BOJ)

  • Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) from Bourgas.
  • Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from April to September).
  • Contacts: Tel: +359 (0)56 842 631
  • Getting to the city: Most passenger flights into Bourgas Airport are part of package holiday deals and visitors are conveyed by their host tour operators. Taxis are available, and local buses serve the airport.
  • Car rental: Car rental is available.
  • Facilities: The airport has a bureau de change, bank, restaurant, duty free shop, post office and first aid facilities.
  • Departure Tax: US$20 (nationals of the USA only)

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Driving Information

Drinking and driving:
If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.05 per cent or more the driver will be prosecuted.

Driving licence:
Minimum age at which a UK driving licence holder may drive a temporarily imported car and / or motorcycle 18. An International Driving Permit (IDP) must accompany UK driving licences that do not incorporate a photograph, and it is also recommended for photo card licence holders.

Fines:
On-the-spot. An official receipt should be obtained. Wheel clamps are in use for illegally parked cars. Vehicles causing an obstruction will be towed away.

Fuel:
Leaded petrol is no longer available. Unleaded petrol (95 and 98 octane), diesel and LPG is available. It is forbidden to carry petrol in a can. Credit cards accepted at most filling stations but not all local stations in small towns accept international cards; check with your card issuer for usage in Bulgaria before travel. Motorists should not use the 'red' pumps at the petrol stations as these are for service vehicles only.

Driving Distances:
Please click here http://www.viamichelin.com/ for driving distances


Lights:
The use of dipped headlights during daylight hours throughout the year is recommended, however their use is compulsory from the 1st November to the 31st March.

Motorcycles:
Wearing of crash helmets compulsory for both driver and passenger. Motorcyclists must have their lights on at all times.

Motor Insurance:
Third party insurance compulsory. Green Cards are recognised.

Passengers / Children in cars:
Children under 12 cannot travel as a front seat passenger.

Seat belts:
Compulsory, for front seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted.

Speed limits:
Standard legal limits, which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles without trailers. In built-up areas: 31 mph (50 km/h), outside built-up areas: 55 mph (90 km/h) and motorways: 80 mph (130 km/h).

Compulsory equipment:

  • Fire Extinguisher
  • First-aid-kit
  • Warning triangle - not required for two wheeled vehicles
  • Reflective jackets - The wearing of a reflective jacket is compulsory for any person who has to step out of their car, day or night in case of breakdown or emergency on a motorway. This regulation also applies to motorcyclists.

Other rules / requirements:
In built-up areas it is prohibited to use the horn between 2200hrs and 0600hrs (0900hrs on public holidays), and between 1200hrs and 1600hrs.

Visiting motorists are required to drive through a liquid disinfectant on entry for which the charge is (approx) €4, and also purchase a 'vignette' (road tax). The vignette is available at the border, UAB offices, some petrol stations and offices of the DZI Bank, weekly, monthly or annually. Heavy fines are imposed for non- compliance.

Snow chains are permitted. Their use can become compulsory according to road conditions, in which case this is indicated by the international road sign. Spiked tyres are forbidden.

Drivers of luxury or 4 x 4 vehicles are advised to use guarded car parks.

A GPS based navigation system which has maps indicating the location of fixed speed cameras must have the ‘fixed speed camera PoI (Points of Interest)’ function deactivated. The use of radar detectors is prohibited.

In one way streets parking is on the left only.

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