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Bulgaria travel guide

About Bulgaria

Bulgaria's spectacular mountains, golden beaches and vibrant cities have begun attracting hordes of eager-eyed tourists over the past few years. As a result, beautiful ski and beach resorts are expanding quickly.

The main cities have shrugged off the weary Communist-era image and have become vibrant and attractive, with a string of cultural attractions, varied shopping and lively nightlife keeping visitors entertained. In contrast, many towns and villages have preserved the authentic Bulgarian spirit and hospitality - the country is especially proud of its rich folklore traditions.

Hikers will find a variety of mountain ranges covering much of the country, with plenty of extraordinary wildlife to be glimpsed along the way. The walking trails are well mapped, taking hikers through forests, past lakes and waterfalls, with the chance to spot bears, wolves and lynx. Those keen on caving and kayaking will also find plenty to entertain them, while skiing and snowshoeing are also popular here.

Of course, the attraction that brings most visitors to Bulgaria is its remarkably unspoiled beaches strewn along the Black Sea coast. Less-visited, less-developed and with lots of facilities for water sports, Bulgaria's sandy beaches are the equal to almost any of the more popular coastal spots in the Mediterranean. What's more, you'll find many aged seaside towns complete with cobbled streets and historic buildings.

Bulgaria is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites including:
• Ancient city of Nessebar, a 3,000-year-old site which was originally a Thracian settlement and became a Greek colony in the 6th century.
• Boyana Church, a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Sofia.
• Madara Rider, a large rock relief depicting a knight triumphing over a lion in Madara.
• Rila Monastery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.
• Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo, a series of chapels, churches and monasteries within the Rusenski Lom Nature Park.
• Thracian tomb of Kazanlak, a richly decorated burial chamber from the Hellenistic period.
• Thracian tomb of Sveshtari, an amazing historical site reflecting the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings.

In addition, Bulgaria also has three natural sites that are also UNESCO-listed including ancient and primeval beech forest of the Carpathians, Pirin National Park and Srebarna Nature Reserve.

Key facts


110,994 sq km (42,855 sq miles).


6,984,078 (2019)

Population density:

64.8 per sq km.





Head of state:

President Rumen Radev since 2017.

Head of government:

Interim Prime Minister Dimitur Glavchev since April 2024.

Travel Advice

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:  

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice  

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Bulgaria set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Bulgarian Embassy in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Bulgaria.

Passport validity requirements   

Bulgaria follows Schengen area rules. Your passport must have: 

  • a ‘date of issue’ less than 10 years before the date you arrive – if you renewed your passport before 1 October 2018, it may have a date of issue that is more than 10 years ago
  • an ‘expiry date’ at least 3 months after the date you plan to leave the Schengen area

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Carry your passport if you travel from Bulgaria to other Schengen area countries. Border guards will check it if you cross land or river borders into Greece or Romania, both in the Schengen area.

There are no routine checks when travelling by air or sea within the Schengen area, but carry your passport in case you’re asked for it.

Visa requirements

You can travel without a visa to the Schengen area, which includes Bulgaria, for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. This applies if you travel:

  • as a tourist
  • to visit family or friends
  • to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events
  • for short-term studies or training

The requirements for working in Bulgaria are different.

If you’re travelling to other Schengen countries as well, make sure your whole visit is within the 90-day visa-free limit. Visits to Schengen countries in the 180 days before you travel count towards your 90 days.

Make sure you get your passport stamped on entry and exit.    

If you’re a visitor, border guards will look at your entry and exit stamps to check you have not overstayed the 90-day visa-free limit for the Schengen area.

If your passport is missing a stamp, show evidence of when and where you entered or left the Schengen area (for example, boarding passes or tickets) and ask the border guards to add the date and location in your passport.

At Bulgarian border control, you may also need to:

  • show proof of your accommodation, for example, a hotel booking confirmation or proof of address for a second home
  • show proof of your travel insurance
  • show a return or onward ticket
  • prove that you have enough money for your stay – the amount varies depending on your accommodation

Staying longer than 90 days in a 180-day period

To stay longer, check which type of visa or work permit you need with the Bulgarian Embassy in the UK.

If you’re in Bulgaria with a residence permit or long-stay visa, this does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit.

Read about passport stamping if you live in Bulgaria.

Vaccine requirements

For details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s Bulgaria guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Bulgaria. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Taking food and drink into Bulgaria

You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions such as powdered baby milk, baby food and special foods or pet feed required for medical reasons.   

Taking money into Bulgaria

Declare cash or travellers cheques if the value is 10,000 euros or more. You will get a certified declaration to show you brought it in with you. If you do not, your money could be seized when you leave.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.     

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Bulgaria

Terrorist attacks in Bulgaria cannot be ruled out.  

Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreign nationals. Stay aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.

Protests and demonstrations

There are occasional political protests in towns and cities across Bulgaria. They can cause disruption to transport as protestors or police may set up roadblocks. Most protests are peaceful but there have been occasional incidents of violence, including by the police. Avoid all protests and follow the advice of local authorities. 


Protecting yourself and your belongings

Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from street crime, particularly in larger cities and late at night. Beware of any attempts to distract you. Watch out for pickpockets and bag thefts in tourist areas, on buses and trains and major public transport hubs, including airports.

Thefts from unattended cars at petrol stations have increased. Lock your car when going inside the petrol station to pay for your fuel.

Tourists are targeted by thieves and pickpockets in Sunny Beach and other larger cities and resorts. Thefts on the bus from Nessebar to Sunny Beach have also increased. Do not take valuables to the beach and be wary of poorly lit roads around the resort at night.


Some tourists have been the victims of overcharging in so-called ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ in Sofia and in some resorts including Bansko, Borovets and Sunny Beach. Overcharging can amount to hundreds of pounds. Victims can be threatened with violence if they refuse to pay.

Get recommendations for bars and clubs from your hotel or other holidaymakers. When paying by card make sure the transaction is completed in your presence and be wary if asked to re-enter your PIN.   

Thefts from accommodation

There have been burglaries from hotel rooms in Sunny Beach. Make sure you lock your room (including windows and balcony doors) and keep valuables locked in a safe.

There have been break-ins at properties in the residential areas of cities, and rural areas.

Thefts from cars

Criminals may puncture your tyres or flag down your car. When you get out, the thieves can distract you and steal from your vehicle. Make sure the boot is locked and your luggage is secure.

Property fraud

Buyers have been defrauded while buying property. Be cautious and get legal advice before you buy. Only deal with established and reputable real estate agents or with other contacts who you know to be reliable and genuine.

See more details about buying property.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

Always carry ID. A printed copy of the photo page of your passport is acceptable.

Illegal drugs and sex offences

The Bulgarian authorities treat all drug-related and sex offences very seriously. Any foreign nationals convicted of such offences can expect a prison sentence.

Drunken and disorderly behaviour

Offences relating to drunken, disorderly behaviour and hooliganism may be treated more seriously than in the UK. Police can arrest or fine anyone for loud and boisterous behaviour or urination in public places.       

Football matches

Crowd control measures and stewarding can be different from the UK and there have been a small number of incidents where ‘throwdown fireworks’ such as firecrackers or bangers have been set off in stadiums, risking injuries. Stay aware of your surroundings and be alert in crowded venues. 

Using cameras and binoculars in secure areas

Avoid taking photographs near potentially sensitive areas like military establishments. If in doubt, ask permission.

The majority of visitors experience no difficulties related to their race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. However there have been a small number of verbal and physical attacks against ethnic minority UK nationals, including residents, in Bulgaria, and others have experienced unwanted attention or harassment in public places.

Instances have increased at times of demonstrations organised by groups connected to populist or right-wing movements. Avoid all protests and stay aware of your surroundings, particularly when travelling alone or at night.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal, but public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK and the LGBT+ community generally keeps a low profile.

There are a few gay bars and clubs in Sofia. The city also holds the annual Sofia Pride. Sofia Pride is growing in popularity and was attended in recent years by over 10,000 people. However, it attracts some negative attention locally and is held with a heightened police presence and security measures. If you want to join the parade, read the organisers’ Sofia Pride safety rules.

In 2023, some verbal abuse and threatening behaviour was directed at people attending events related to Sofia Pride, including foreign visitors. You can report any hate crime to the organisers and the local police.

Attitudes outside Sofia tend to be more conservative. There have been isolated cases of hostility towards people perceived to be from LGBT+ communities reported in Burgas and Plovdiv. You can find local information on LGBT+ issues in Bulgaria on the website of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Face-covering ban

Covering your face with a niqab, burka or similar head covering in public places is illegal in Bulgaria and police could give you a fine. This applies in public buildings, streets, parks, restaurants, shops and on public transport.      

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

Sports activities like skiing, potholing and mountaineering, and sports classed as particularly dangerous – mountain biking, climbing, paragliding or BASE jumping – all carry risks. Your insurance should include:

  • mountain rescue services
  • helicopter costs
  • repatriation to your home country or possible transfer to neighbouring countries for treatment

There’s more information about mountain insurance on the Bulgarian Red Cross website.

Quad biking and motorbikes

Quad biking is an extreme sport and carries the risk of serious injury or death. You need specific travel insurance to cover quad biking. Always read the details of your insurance cover, especially the small print and exclusions on your policy.

Make sure you are given full instructions and training before your activity.

Insurance sold by the hire company usually only provides third-party insurance. It’s likely you will be charged for any damage to the rental vehicle and you may face arrest if you do not pay.

If you hire a motorbike, you need a full motorbike licence. Make sure the vehicle is in good condition. Drivers and passengers must wear helmets. Failure to do so may invalidate your insurance.

Swimming and water sports

Obey any warning signs at coastal areas and beaches. Follow instructions from lifeguards and observe the flag indicators if they are present. Follow local advice if jellyfish or sea urchins are present.

For more advice, see Water safety on holiday from the Royal Life Saving Society.

Book activities at a licensed water sports centre and before you start:

  • make sure the paperwork is completed
  • ask for a safety demonstration
  • make sure you know how to call for help

See ⁠watersports safety advice from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA).

Winter sports

Read advice about preparing for winter sports abroad. The Bulgarian Mountain Rescue service publishes safety rules on the ski slopes (in Bulgarian).

Avalanches are a risk in some areas. Always check the local snow and weather conditions if you plan to ski off-piste, and ski with a guide. There’s more information about avalanche risk from the Bulgarian Mountain Rescue Service (in Bulgarian).

Transport risks

Road travel

If you plan to drive in Bulgaria, see information on driving abroad and check the rules of the road in the RAC’s Bulgaria guide. The guide lists driving regulations and other legal requirements you need to be aware of.

If you bring your own car to Bulgaria, you must have:

  • your driving licence
  • all original registration and ownership documents
  • proof of insurance that is valid in Bulgaria – although you are not required to have a green card to drive in Bulgaria, you may need it in some neighbouring countries

Check if you need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK.

If it’s a hired car, you must keep the contract document. Border officials will impound your vehicle if they are not satisfied that you own it or have permission to use it in Bulgaria.

Vehicles that are registered outside the EU are considered to be ‘temporarily imported’ when driven inside Bulgaria. If your car is stolen in Bulgaria, you will be liable for import duty and related taxes.

See driving requirements if you live in Bulgaria.

Driving conditions

Road conditions can be dangerous. Take care when driving, particularly at night and outside major cities. Many roads (and pavements) are in poor repair and roadworks are often unmarked and unlit at night. Driving standards are generally poor, and drivers can be aggressive, particularly on motorways. Avoid confrontations.

There may be slow-moving cars and animal-drawn vehicles on the roads, particularly in rural areas.

You must drive with side lights or dipped headlights, even during the daytime. Keep to the speed limit and make sure your vehicle is roadworthy. Traffic police issue on-the-spot fines for minor violations.

Bulgaria has strict penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and doing so could lead to vehicle confiscation, a prison sentence and fines. If you receive a penalty and do not own the vehicle, you could be required to pay a fine equivalent to the vehicle’s value. 


If you want to use motorways and main roads outside towns, you’ll need to buy a digital vignette in advance of your journey. The vignette is a form of toll. If you use the roads without a vignette, traffic police will issue a fine. You can buy a vignette online.  


Taxis may not be in very good condition. Avoid taxis parked outside hotels or in tourist areas. Ask your hotel to call a taxi or flag down a passing taxi with a green ‘available’ light in the window. Check the licence sticker and the tariffs on the window before getting in as costs can vary considerably. Licensed taxis run by ‘Yellow’ operators are the most reliable.

There are regular reports of robberies and threatening behaviour by taxi drivers in Sunny Beach. Use a taxi recommended by your tour operator or accommodation provider.

There has been an increase in unlicensed taxis from Sofia airport overcharging passengers. If you’re travelling from the airport, make sure you take an official, licensed taxi. There is an official taxi booking office in the arrivals hall. Check that the taxi meter is working before starting your journey.

Rail and bus travel

Thieves operate on trains. Make sure that documents and valuables are safe. The train system is very poor by European standards. There have been several fires on Bulgarian trains. Bulgaria has a comprehensive rail network, but trains can be cancelled at short notice. For travel updates see the Bulgaria Railways website.

 The roadworthiness of vehicles and driving standards are not always good, and there have been a number of serious accidents in recent years.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards


In summer and early autumn, Bulgaria is on a regular alert for wildfires. There is danger of large-scale and quick-spreading fires in forests and fields. Follow media reports and the advice of local authorities if wildfires occur in your area.


Many parts of Bulgaria flood following heavy rains. Flooding is usually localised but can occasionally be widespread and has caused deaths. Watch for weather warnings on the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology website.


There are earthquakes and small tremors throughout the year, usually without serious consequences. The last significant earthquakes were in 1928.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 112 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

 See what health risks you’ll face in Bulgaria, including biting insects and ticks.

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Bulgaria. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro

Stray dogs

Stray dogs are common and can be dangerous. Avoid getting too close to dogs, especially if they are in a pack. Take any animal bites seriously and seek immediate medical advice as rabies and other animal-borne diseases are present in Bulgaria. 


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

Healthcare in Bulgaria

FCDO has a list of medical providers in Bulgaria where some staff will speak English.

Most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned compared to those in the UK. Standards of medical care are generally good, but specialised equipment and treatment may not be available. Hospital staff rarely speak English.

Private clinics and hospitals are generally well-equipped and not expensive in comparison with the UK.

Foreign tourists have sometimes been overcharged in private clinics in tourist resorts. Hotels or resorts my call private ambulances. If you use private medical services, agree a price in advance. Ask whether there is a suitable public health facility nearby if you want to use a health insurance card, as these are not accepted by many private hospitals.

Health insurance cards

To get medically necessary state healthcare in Bulgaria, you need a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). 

The NHS’s getting healthcare abroad webpage has details about:

  • how to apply for a GHIC
  • how to get temporary cover if you lose your card or it does not arrive in time
  • who qualifies for a new EHIC instead of a GHIC
  • what treatment counts as medically necessary

A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. You may have costs your GHIC or EHIC does not cover, including:

  • changes to travel and accommodation bookings
  • additional standard costs for treatment
  • medical repatriation to the UK
  • treatment that is ruled non-urgent
  • private healthcare
  • private clinics

Read about healthcare if you live in Bulgaria.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Bulgaria

Telephone: 112 (ambulance, fire, police)

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are in Bulgaria and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British Embassy in Sofia.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating in Bulgaria on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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