Electricity

Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs and schuko plugs are in use.

Language

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

Money

The official currency is the Lev (BGN), which is divided into 100 stotinki. Bulgaria has strict currency regulations. Travellers who enter Bulgaria from non-EU countries must declare amounts over EUR10,000 to customs officials. Foreign currency may be exchanged in banks, hotels, or at one of the numerous bureaux de change. Bulgaria is mostly a cash economy, though credit and debit card use is increasing. There are ATMs in the main cities and at Black Sea resorts.

Tipping

Tips of 10 percent of the bill are customary for most services, including restaurants, while hotel porters and taxi drivers expect visitors to round up the bill for good service.

Health

Bulgaria poses few health risks and there are no vaccinations required for entry. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are always recommended for travellers, though. Similarly, a rabies vaccination is recommended for travellers who will be spending a lot of time outdoors or who will be exposed to animals.

Travellers should note that 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 Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for UK citizens. The GHIC allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance.

Safety

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 also relatively common.

Local customs

Foreigners should be aware that traditionally a shake of the head means 'yes' and a nod means 'no', although allowances are often made for visitors. It's useful to clarify the answer verbally to avoid confusion. Family values are extremely important in Bulgaria, so treating seniors with deference is important. Visitors should remember that covering their faces with garments such as burkas is illegal in public places, including governmental buildings, streets, parks, and on public transport. Though not illegal, homosexuality is less tolerated than in the UK, and the LGBT community keeps a low profile. Visitors should avoid taking photos of potentially sensitive areas such as military bases; authorities treat all drug-related offenses very seriously.

Doing 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.

Duty free

Travellers from non-EU member states, 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. Visitors arriving with goods purchased within the EU who are older than 17 do not need to pay customs duty on 800 cigarettes or 200 cigars, or 1 kilogram of tobacco; 10 litres of spirits and 90 litres of wine, though no more than 60 litres of sparkling wine.

Communications

The country dialling code for Bulgaria is +359. Travellers can purchase local SIM cards for their phones; free WiFi is available in major cities such as Sofia, Varna, Nessebar and Plovdiv.

Passport & Visa

Visitors must have proof of sufficient funds or onward or return tickets in addition to other documents needed for the next destination. Immigration and entry regulations are very strictly enforced. Passports of all visitors should be valid for at least three months after leaving Bulgaria. It's recommended that passports be valid for three months after the intended period of travel. Visa requirements vary from country to country.

Entry requirements

Citizens of the US do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay.

British Citizens do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.

Canadians do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.

Australians do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.

South Africans need a visa to enter Bulgaria, except for stays of up to 90 days for holders of a Schengen visa. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.

Irish nationals do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria. A passport valid for the period of intended stay is required.

New Zealanders do not require a visa for a maximum stay of 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.

Useful contacts

Bulgarian Tourism Office, Sofia: +359 2 987 9778 or www.bulgariatravel.org.

112 (Pan-European General Emergency Helpline).

Embassies / consulates in other countries

Bulgarian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 387 0174.

Bulgarian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7581 3144

Bulgarian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3215.

Bulgarian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6286 9700

Bulgarian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 342 3720/1.

Bulgarian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 660 3293.

Bulgarian Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6286 9700

Embassies / consulates in Bulgaria

United States Embassy, Sofia: +359 2 937 5100.

British Embassy, Sofia: +359 2 933 9222.

Canadian Consulate, Sofia: +359 2 969 9710.

Australian Consulate, Sofia: +359 2 946 1334.

South African Embassy, Sofia: + 359 2 939 5015

Irish Embassy, Sofia: +359 2 985 3425.

Australian Consulate, Sofia (also responsible for New Zealand): +359 2 946 1334.

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