Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Sofia
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Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Sofia

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Bulgaria Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

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

Population

6,984,078 (2019)

Population density

64.8 per sq km.

Capital

Sofia.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Rumen Radev since 2017.

Head of government

Prime minister Nikolay Denkov since June 2023.

Electricity

220-240 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.

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.

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.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:

  • advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
  • information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers

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

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.

This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, 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

Although Bulgaria is not yet part of the Schengen area, you must follow the Schengen area passport requirements to travel there.

To enter Bulgaria (and all Schengen countries) your passport must:

  • have a ‘date of issue’ less than 10 years before the date you arrive. Passports issued after 1 October 2018 are now valid for only 10 years, but for passports issued before 1 October 2018, extra months may have been added if you renewed a passport early

  • have an ‘expiry date’ at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave

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.

Checks at border control

Make sure you get your passport stamped.

If you’re a visitor, your passport may be stamped when you enter and leave Bulgaria. Border guards will use passport stamps to check you have not overstayed the 90-day visa-free limit for stays in Bulgaria. If your passport was not stamped, border guards will presume you have overstayed the visa-free limit.

If your passport was not stamped, show evidence of when and where you entered or left Bulgaria (for example, boarding passes or tickets) and ask the border guards to add the date and location in your passport.

Read about passport stamping if you live in Bulgaria.

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

If you have a Withdrawal Agreement residence document for another country, your passport might still be stamped if you are a visitor to Bulgaria.

Visa requirements

Bulgaria is not currently part of the Schengen area. Visits to Bulgaria do not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit in the Schengen area.

You can travel to Bulgaria for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. 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

From 31 March 2024, Bulgaria will partially join Schengen. At this point, Bulgaria will only join Schengen for border control-free travel via air and sea. Border controls will remain at all land and river borders, including those within the Schengen zone. Visits to any other Schengen countries in the 180 days before you travel to Bulgaria will count towards your 90 day visa-free limit.

From 31 March 2024 if you’re travelling to Bulgaria (and all other Schengen countries) without a visa, make sure your whole visit to the Schengen area is within the 90-day limit.

To stay longer (to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons), you must meet the Bulgarian government’s entry requirements. Check which type of visa or work permit you need with the Bulgarian Embassy.

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

Vaccination requirements (other than COVID-19)

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in 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 the EU

You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions for medical reasons, for example certain amounts of powdered infant milk, infant food, or pet food. Check the rules about taking food and drink into the EU on the European Commission website.

Taking money into Bulgaria

Only exchange money at licensed exchange points, banks or hotels.

Terrorism

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. You should remain vigilant 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 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.

Crime

Protecting your belongings

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

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

Scams

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. Seek recommendations for bars and clubs from trustworthy sources like your hotel or other holidaymakers. When paying by credit or debit card make sure the transaction is completed in your presence and be wary of attempts to make you re-enter your pin number.

Buying property in Bulgaria

Buyers have been defrauded while buying property. Be cautious and get comprehensive 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.

If you’re living in or moving to Bulgaria, see living in Bulgaria.

Hotels and 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.

Vehicle crime

Distraction theft can occur, with car tyres being deliberately punctured. When drivers investigate the puncture, thieves can distract them and steal personal belongings and documents from the vehicle. If you must stop, make sure your belongings are secure.

Stray dogs

Stray dogs are common and can be 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.

Protests

Sporadic protests occur across Bulgaria, which can cause occasional disruption with roadblocks and transport links. Avoid all protests and follow the advice of local authorities.

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

It is a legal requirement to carry a form of ID or copy of the information pages of your passport at all times as proof of identity.

Buying items illegal in the UK

It’s possible to buy weapons in Bulgaria that are illegal in the UK. Importing them could result in a prison sentence. For example, some shops in and around Burgas and Sunny Beach sell weapons like stun guns, torch stun guns, knives, pepper spray and CS gas.

Illegal drugs and sex offences

The Bulgarian authorities treat all drug-related and sex offences very seriously. Prison sentences can be expected for any foreigners convicted of such offences.

Drunken and disorderly behaviour

Offences relating to drunken, disorderly behaviour and hooliganism may be treated more seriously than in the UK.

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.

Using cameras and binoculars in secure areas

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

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex relationships are 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. These also contain telephone numbers of local civil society organisations able to provide further advice on reporting of incidents of hate crime. In 2023, a small number of incidents of hate crime were directed at those attending events related to Sofia Pride, including visitors to Bulgaria. These mainly consisted of verbal abuse and vandalism.

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 our information for LGBT+ travellers before you travel.

Ban on face covering

Covering your face with garments (such as a burka or similar head covering) in public places, including government 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.

Accessibility

The condition of pavements, including in the centres of big cities, can be very poor and care should be taken. Travellers with mobility difficulties may find it challenging to move around independently, including on public transport deemed to be accessible. Lifts to platforms and stations on the Sofia Metro system, are sometimes out of order. The Blue Badge Scheme operates in Bulgaria and there are often spaces reserved for badge holders in shopping centres and on-street parking locations in city-centres. Read our information for disabled travellers before you travel.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you plan to drive in Bulgaria, see information on driving abroad and read the RAC Bulgaria guide.

Licences and permits

If you enter Bulgaria in a private vehicle, you must have:

  • your driving licence

  • all original registration and ownership documents
  • evidence of insurance valid in Bulgaria

If you hire a car, you must have the original contract document, stating 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.

Vehicles that are registered outside the EU are considered to be ‘temporarily imported’ when driven inside Bulgaria. If they are stolen whilst in Bulgaria, the owners will be liable for import duty and related taxes. This includes cars which are registered in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

If you live in Bulgaria, see living in Bulgaria for information on requirements for residents.

Driving a British car abroad

You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK. These have replaced GB stickers. Check the GOV.UK guidance on displaying number plates for more information on driving outside the UK.

Driving standards

Road conditions can be dangerous. Take care when driving, particularly at night and outside major cities. Many roads (and pavements) are in poor condition and road works are often unlit or unmarked. Driving standards are generally poor, and drivers can be aggressive, particularly on motorways. Avoid confrontations. Stick to the speed limit and make sure your vehicle is roadworthy. There are on-the-spot fines for minor violations. It is not unusual to encounter slow-moving cars and animal-drawn vehicles on the roads, particularly in rural areas.

Driving regulations

If you want to use motorways and main roads outside towns, you’ll need to buy a vignette (ticket) in advance of your journey. The vignette is a form of toll. If you use the roads without purchasing a vignette, you will be fined. For more information on cost and where to buy a vignette, visit the BG Toll website. You must drive with running lights or dipped beam headlights throughout the year, even during the daytime. For rules on what equipment you must carry in the vehicle, see the RAC Bulgaria guide.

Taxis

Taxis may not be in very good condition. Most taxis are on a meter 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 licence sticker and the tariffs on the window before getting in as cost can vary considerably.

There are regular reports of robberies and threatening behavior 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 rank 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 and rail travel is slow by European standards. For travel updates see the Bulgaria Railways website.

Intercity bus travel is generally reliable and cheap by UK standards, but the roadworthiness of vehicles and driving standards are not always as they should be, and there have been a number of serious accidents in recent years.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Forest fires

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.

Flooding

Many parts of Bulgaria can flood following heavy rains. Flooding is usually localised but can occasionally be widespread and has caused deaths. Follow the weather forecast on the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology website, which provides detailed information and severe weather warnings for Bulgaria.

Earthquakes

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

To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, read the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s earthquake advice.

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 promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

For more information read guidance on healthcare when travelling in Europe.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Medication

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.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Bulgaria

You can view a list of English-speaking doctors in Bulgaria.

Facilities in 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. Some private hospitals will not accept the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). Check with hospital administrators.

Foreign tourists have sometimes been overcharged in private medical clinics in tourist resorts. If you use these services, agree a price in advance.

COVID-19 healthcare in Bulgaria

The Bulgarian authorities have a list of COVID-19 test centres across Bulgaria (in Bulgarian).

The Bulgarian Ministry of Health has published COVID-19 information (in Bulgarian).

Health insurance cards

Apply for a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. If you already have an EHIC, it will still be valid as long as it remains in date.

The GHIC or EHIC entitles you to state-provided medical treatment necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. If you do not have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, contact the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team.

It’s important to take out appropriate travel insurance for your needs. A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and you should have both before you travel. An GHIC or EHIC does not cover all health-related costs, for example, medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment. Read more about what your travel insurance should cover.

GHIC and EHIC cover state healthcare only, not private treatment. You will be responsible for the cost of any treatment provided by a private doctor or private clinic.

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 Twitter, Facebook 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 abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy or consulate.

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 overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.