Bulgaria travel guide
Bulgaria's spectacular mountains, golden beaches and vibrant cities have begun attracting hordes of eager-eyed tourists over the past few years, and with them much has been transformed in this crossroads between the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.
The country's mammoth changes have seen its cities and resorts undergoing construction booms galore, tempting buyers from Western Europe with relatively cheap property and stunning landscapes.
Bulgaria's beautiful beach and ski resorts are expanding quickly as a result and have lured visitors away from more expensive European destinations with low-priced lift passes and accommodation options. The main cities have shrugged off their weary Communist-era image and have become vibrant and attractive, with well-kept boulevards, varied shopping and lively nightlife. 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 glimpse bears, wolves and lynx. Those keen on caving and kayaking will also find plenty to entertain them, while skiing and snowshoeing is 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. Indeed, those interested in history will find Bulgaria a haven of Byzantine heritage, with a long tradition of Orthodox Christian churches and religious art. There are also a number of intriguing, secluded monasteries that are worth visiting especially for their detailed murals.
110,879 sq km (42811 sq miles).
7,101,510 (UN estimate 2017).
64.8 per sq km.
President Rumen Radev since 2017.
Bojko Borisov (Prime Minister) since April 2017.
Last updated: 20 March 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There have been reports of an increase in holidaymakers being encouraged to submit a claim for personal injury if they have experienced gastric illness during their stay. You can find more information about the action you can take if you have suffered a personal injury on the Citizens Advice website. You should only consider pursuing a complaint or claim if you have genuinely suffered from injury or illness. If you make a false or fraudulent claim, you may face legal proceedings in the UK or Bulgaria.
Terrorist attacks in Bulgaria can’t be ruled out. On 30 December 2016, the Bulgarian authorities announced heightened security measures in all cities, winter ski resorts, and places where large gatherings are expected.
Be aware of pickpockets and bag thefts in city centres and tourist resorts especially in crowded areas like buses, trains and busy streets. There has been an increase in burglaries from hotel rooms in Sunny Beach. Keep valuables in a safe.
There are regular reports of robberies and threatening behaviour by taxi drivers in Sunny Beach.
There are sporadic protests across Bulgaria. Avoid all protests, keep up to date with media reports and follow the advice of the local authorities.
If you’re living in or moving to Bulgaria, visit our Living in Bulgaria guide in addition to this travel advice.
If you need to contact the emergency services in Bulgaria call 112. English speaking operators are available.
Carry a copy of the information pages of your passport at all times as proof of identity.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Crime levels are low and violent crime is rare. However, you should take care of yourself and your belongings in the same way as you would do in the UK. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from street crime, particularly in larger cities. Watch out for pickpockets and bag thefts in tourist areas and major public transport hubs, including airports. Be vigilant at all times, particularly late at night. Report all incidents of crime to the local police and make sure you get a crime report.
Tourists are targeted by thieves and pickpockets in Sunny Beach and other resorts. Don’t take valuables to the beach and be wary of poorly lit roads around the resort at night. There has been an increase in burglaries from hotel rooms in Sunny Beach. Make sure you lock your room (including windows and balcony doors) and keep your valuables locked in a safe. Don’t change money on the streets in Sunny Beach, only at licensed exchange points, banks or hotels.
Some tourists have been victims of overcharging in strip clubs in Sofia and in some resorts like Bansko, Borovets and Sunny Beach. Overcharging can amount to hundreds of pounds and victims have been threatened with violence if they don’t pay.
Stun guns, torch stun guns and other weapons like knives, pepper spray and CS gas can be bought in shops in and around Bourgas and Sunny Beach. Many of these weapons are illegal in the UK and importing them could result in a prison sentence.
There have been reports of car tyres being deliberately punctured across Bulgaria. While investigating the puncture, someone distracts the driver and personal belongings and documents are stolen from the vehicle. Be vigilant if you have to stop in these circumstances and make sure your belongings are secure.
Break-ins have occurred in properties in the residential areas of cities and rural areas. Seek local advice on security for your home.
For all types of emergency (fire, ambulance, police) you can dial 112.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap by UK standards, although vehicles may not be in very good condition. Most taxis are metered and yellow taxis are generally considered reliable. 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 tariffs on the window before getting in as they can vary considerably.
Disruptions or delays are possible at border crossings with Greece due to regular strikes of Greek farmers who continue to block a number of roads across Greece. Strikes are sometimes called at short notice and can cause disruption to public transport in and out of Greece (including air travel and ports). Updates on the situation at the Greek border can be found at the Ministry of Transport website.
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.
At Sofia airport you should use a taxi from OK Supertrans at the official rank by booking at their desk in the arrivals hall.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you may need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) to be able to drive in Bulgaria and other EU/EEA countries as a visitor after 29 March 2019.
There are 3 types of IDP. Check that you have the correct permits covering all countries where you will be driving - you may need more than one IDP. For full information, check this guidance page. You should also check guidance on driving in the EU after Brexit for information on other additional documents you may need to carry.
If you’re living in Bulgaria, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
Take care when driving, particularly at night. Many roads are in poor condition and road works are often unlit or unmarked. Driving standards are generally poor. Avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers. Stick to the speed limit and make sure your vehicle is roadworthy. On the spot fines are charged for minor violations. For more information about speed limits and spot fines, please check RAC website.
In 2016 there were 708 road deaths in Bulgaria (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 9.9 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2016.
If you enter Bulgaria in a private vehicle, you must have your driving licence, all original registration and ownership documents as well as evidence of insurance valid in Bulgaria. If you have hired a car you must have the original contract document, which should state that the vehicle can be brought into Bulgaria. Border officials will impound your vehicle if they are not satisfied that you own it or have permission to use it in Bulgaria.
You’ll need to buy a vignette (sticker) to drive on motorways and main roads outside towns. You can buy one at the border, or from post offices, large petrol stations and DZI bank offices. Rates are much higher for freight vehicles and coaches carrying 8 or more passengers. You’ll be fined if you don’t have a vignette.
Under Bulgarian law, vehicles that are registered outside the EU are considered to be ‘temporarily imported’ when driven inside Bulgaria. If they are stolen on Bulgarian soil, the owners will be liable for import duty and related taxes. Cars registered in the Channel Islands and the Isles of Man are subject to this legislation.
You must drive with running lights or dipped beam headlights throughout the year, even during the daytime. It’s compulsory to carry the following equipment in your vehicle: fire extinguisher (not required for 2-wheeled vehicles), a first-aid kit and a warning triangle (not required for 2-wheeled vehicles). A reflective jacket must be used by anyone who steps on to the road in a breakdown or emergency. Snow chains must be carried from 1 November until 1 March and used when the relevant sign is displayed. Winter tyres are compulsory for vehicles registered in Bulgaria during wintry road conditions.
Rail and bus travel
If you travel by train, check the availability of sleeping compartments and whether bicycles can be taken on board. This may vary between regions, and there may be additional charges. Thieves operate on trains, so take particular care that documents and other valuables are safe. The train system is very poor by European standards. There have been several fires on Bulgarian trains.
Inter-city buses are frequent, relatively fast and comfortable, but crashes do occur.
Stray dogs are common and dangerous. Avoid getting too close to stray 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.
Terrorist attacks in Bulgaria can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
On 30 December 2016, the Bulgarian Minister of Interior, announced heightened security measures in all cities, winter ski resorts, and places where large gatherings are expected.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
The Bulgarian authorities treat all drug-related and sex offences very seriously. Custodial sentences can be expected for any foreigners convicted of such offences. Offences relating to drunken, disorderly behaviour and hooliganism may also be treated more seriously than in the UK.
Homosexuality 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 has also held the annual Sofia Pride since 2008. The event, which is usually accompanied by a LGBT film fest and art week, is growing in popularity and was attended by over 2,000 people in 2017. However, it also attracts some negative attention locally and is held with a heightened police presence and security measures. Should you wish to join the parade, please read carefully the safety rules issued by the organisers. You can find local information on LGBT issues in Bulgaria on the website of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Avoid taking photographs near potentially sensitive areas like military establishments. If in doubt, ask permission.
Covering your face with garments (such as a burka or similar head covering) in public places, including governmental buildings, streets, parks, gardens, restaurants, shops and on public transport is illegal in Bulgaria. There is a fine for covering your face in public places.
There have been numerous reports of buyers being defrauded while purchasing property. Be cautious and seek comprehensive legal advice before making any purchase. Only deal with established and reputable real estate agents or with other contacts that you know to be reliable and genuine. See the Foreign and Commonwealth Office guide to buying property in Bulgaria.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
If the UK leaves with a deal, travel to the EU will remain the same as now until at least 31 December 2020. You will not need to apply for a visa to travel or work in the EU during this time.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the rules for travelling or working in Europe will change after 29 March 2019.
The European Commission has proposed that in a no deal situation, if you are a British Citizen, you would not need a visa for short stays in the Schengen area or elsewhere in the EU. You would be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Visits to the Schengen area within the previous 180 days before your date of travel will count against the 90-day limit.
If you are intending to stay in the Schengen area for longer than 90 days, or your stay would take you over the 90 days in the 180-day limit, you may need to get a visa before you travel.
Travel to EU countries currently outside the Schengen area (Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus) would not count towards the 90-day total.
On arrival in the Schengen Area, you may be asked to confirm that you have sufficient funds available for the duration of your stay. As non-EEA nationals, different border control checks will apply, and you may also be asked to show a return or onward ticket. UK nationals would not have an ongoing right to use the separate lanes provided for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals. The 90-day visa-free period does not entitle you to work in the Schengen area. Most countries will require a visa and work permit.
You should check with the Bulgarian Embassy what type of visa, if any, you will need.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Bulgaria.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019, access to healthcare for British nationals travelling or living in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland is likely to change. More information about healthcare for UK nationals living in and visiting Bulgaria is available on the NHS website.
You should still get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. UK-issued EHICs will remain valid until 29 March 2019 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
The EHIC entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate.
The UK government has or is seeking agreements with countries on healthcare arrangements for UK nationals after 29 March 2019. The NHS website and this travel advice will be updated with further information on travelling to Bulgaria as the circumstances change.
Whether you’re travelling before or after 29 March, it is important to take out comprehensive travel insurance that includes cover for emergency medical treatment and associated costs. The existing EHIC arrangements are not an alternative to travel insurance, as some health-related costs, including for medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment, are not covered. Read more about what your travel insurance should cover.
If you’re living in Bulgaria, you can also find more information on healthcare for residents in our Living In Bulgaria guide.
Facilities in most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned compared to those in the UK. Standards of medical care are acceptable, although 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. Some private hospitals will not accept the EHIC. Check with hospital administrators.
There have been reports of overcharging of foreign tourists in private medical clinics in tourist resorts. If you decide to use the services, agree a price in advance.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
Earthquakes and small tremors are recorded throughout the year, usually without consequences. The last significant series of earthquakes was in 1928.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see this advice from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Many parts of Bulgaria are subject to flooding following heavy rains. Flooding is usually localised but can occasionally be widespread and has resulted in fatalities. Follow the weather forecast on the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology website which provides detailed information and severe weather warnings for Bulgaria.
Throughout the summer and early autumn period, Bulgaria is on a regular alert for wildfires. There is a danger of large-scale and quickly spreading fires in forests and fields. Follow media reports and the advice of the local authorities if wildfires occur in your area.
You can buy Leva from banks and foreign exchange offices in the UK. There are many exchange bureaux in Bulgaria that normally accept sterling and other major currencies. Check the rates of exchange before making a transaction. Where possible, change money in banks, large hotels, or exchange bureaux. Don’t use sellers on the street. You may not be able to exchange Scottish and Northern Irish notes.
There is a large network of ATMs that accept standard international credit and debit cards. Check with your UK card provider whether you will be able to use these machines to withdraw Leva.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.