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Bulgaria: Doing business and staying in touch
Doing Business in Bulgaria
Business visitors to Bulgaria should request meetings well in advance and arm themselves with documents detailing interest and position. Bulgarian people with senior positions are likely to be former Communist party members, so be prepared for some officiousness. Otherwise most meetings are more relaxed, often followed by lunch or dinner.
Dress code is standard suit and tie for men, although this could well be more relaxed especially in warmer weather. Women are expected to wear similarly formal attire – revealing clothing is generally unacceptable. Conservative but stylish is preferred, but dress code depends on the industry and working environment.
English is generally well understood, although employing an interpreter can help. Interpreters can be organised through tourist agencies. If arranged in advance through foreign trading organisations, services are free. Note that in Bulgaria, nodding of the head means 'no', while shaking the head means 'yes'.
Standard office hours are 0900-1800 and punctuality is important - even if locals tend to be a little late. Bureaucracy is often slow and complicated, so patience is essential. However, after-hours socialising with Bulgarians is lively, with a prodigious intake of food and alcohol - foreigners are advised not to attempt to keep up. Inviting business contacts to lunch or dinner is a common practice, and dinners often last for a few hours. Lunch usually begins at noon and dinner at 1900 or later. Favourite topics of conversation are sports and new economic and political changes. Gift giving is a delicate matter as corruption is still widespread, so it is better to give an ‘original’ gift rather than an expensive one, which could be perceived in a number of ways. Alcohol or branded office materials are customary.
In general, Bulgaria has suffered the usual problems experienced by centrally planned economies adjusting to market conditions. Successive governments have followed the path taken by other former Communist governments, under which most industry and agriculture was privatised, trade liberalised and reforms of the fiscal and banking systems instituted. However, some key privatisations (tobacco, telecoms, banking) have already experienced difficulties, possibly threatening the stability of the government.
The value of the Bulgarian Lev was fixed to the Deutschmark by the currency control board created in 1997; it is now linked to the Euro. The economy declined slightly to -4.9% in 2009, following a large increase in previous years. However, inflation has been brought down to single figures and in 2006 was 1.6%.
In 1990, Bulgaria joined the IMF, which has had a major influence on the country's economic policy, along with the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Bulgaria became a member of the European Union in January 2007.
US$152.4 billion (2017).
Food, tobacco, wine, clothing, footwear, iron and steel, chemicals, IT components, electronics and machinery.
Food, fuel products, minerals, raw materials, chemicals, metals and ores, machinery and equipment.
Main trading partners
Russia, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Romania, France, Poland and Greece.
Keeping in Touch in Bulgaria
Calls from some remote parts of the country must be placed through the international operator. There are many public telephones in the main towns, from which telephone cards are used.
Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is patchy to good in most of the country. It is easy to purchase domestic SIM cards.
Wi-Fi access is widely available in hotels, restaurants and bars. There are fewer internet cafes in Sofia and Plovdiv than there used to be owing to high rent, but there are a few internet gaming rooms. Varna has several places in the town centre, and the beach resorts have some facilities.
Bulgaria enjoys a relatively free press, although most media outlets are aligned to one political party. Bulgaria passed a broadcasting law in 1996, one of the last European countries to do so. National radio and TV were given the status of public services and granted independence. bTV, Bulgaria's first national commercial channel, was launched in May 2000 by Balkan News Corporation (part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation) and pulls in more than 35% of the TV audience. Nova TV won the bid for a second national commercial TV licence in 2003. Several privately owned regional television stations are also on the air. The weekly newspaper, Sofia Echo, is available in English, as is the daily business publication Pari (Money). Both of these are available in print or online versions.
Airmail to Western Europe takes from four days to two weeks. The General Post Office in Sofia, at 6 Gurko Street, is open 24 hours.Post Office hours
Usually Mon-Sat 0830-1730.