Bulgaria Country Report
Planning a trip to the politically stable and relatively safe Eastern European country of Bulgaria (population 7.2 million) should be relatively straightforward. The general environment presents very few issues for foreigner visitors despite certain incidents that have taken place in the recent past.
AREAS TO AVOID
Most Western government advise individuals in Bulgaria to be as vigilant in the country as they would in any other developed European countries. Travelers should be aware that disruption or delays at border crossings with Greece are likely.
Although petty crime is generally low across the country, it is advised to not travel by foot outside of the city center in urban areas. Petty crime is slightly higher near the train station in the capital city of Sofia. Sunny Beach has a higher risk due to the high rate of burglaries in hotel rooms, as well as robberies and threatening behavior by taxi drivers in the area.
Prostitution is widespread in Burgas and Sunny Beach. They often target tourists to pickpocket, assault, or mug them. Clubs, especially strip clubs, tend to overcharge foreigners in Sofia, as well as in some resorts such as Bansko, Borovets, and Sunny Beach. Victims have been threatened with violence in the past if they cannot pay the charged amount, which can reach hundreds of dollars.
Financial fraud is frequent in Bulgaria, with credit card fraud, ATM skimming, and theft being the most widespread. It is recommended to be particularly vigilant when withdrawing money; use indoor ATMs inside banks or commercial centers. Only exchange money in international banking institutions and internationally renowned foreign exchange counters. Pickpocketing has decreased by 12.5 percent from 2014 to 2015.
There are few reports of thefts and ATM skimming in airports (Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, and Varna) but it is still advised to be vigilant.
Newer models of cars and SUVs are particularly subject to theft in Bulgaria; 60 percent of all stolen cars in 2015 originated from Sofia. Be vigilant if traveling to Bulgaria with your own car.
Burglaries are common and remain the most frequently reported financially-motivated crime. Most burglaries occur by night, with only 25 percent during the day.
It is not rare to see individuals standing near luxurious cars: they are often security guards for well-known individuals or businessmen. Generally armed, they can be aggressive and sometimes violent. Stay away, avoid eye contact, and do not answer back to provocation.
Xenophobic incidents take place from time to time, to the detriment of travelers.
Acts of violence linked to criminal gangs are also occasionally reported, although foreigners are not usually targeted. On August 7, 2008, a double bombing took place in Varna; on September 7, 2008, explosions took place in two nightclubs in the capital Sofia.
Terrorist risk is low but exists in Bulgaria.
In 2012, six Israeli nationals were killed in a terrorist attack in the Burgas airport. In 2015, over 300 hoaxes about explosive devices were reported by the Interior Ministry in schools, commercial centers, and airports.
The country has recently constructed a wall on its Turkish border to stem the flow of illegal migrants entering the country, fearing that jihadist fighters from Iraq and Syria could be among the other migrants.
Rallies and demonstrations are common in Bulgaria; political parties, organizations, and groups of individuals stage protests to denounce or advocate specific causes. Some ultranationalist factions often hire fans from local football clubs to take part in the protests, which almost always result in a display of violence. These individuals are hardly differentiable from police, opposition groups, and bystanders. Most neo-Nazi and extreme-right groups are affiliated with football clubs and do not hesitate to demonstrate their affiliation during games; violence is common.
The country saw large-scale political and civil unrest in 2013 and 2014; supporters of the political opposition at times held near-daily demonstrations in the streets of the capital Sofia (e.g. late July 2013) and other cities (Plovdiv, Burgas, Sliven, Blagoevgrad, Yambol), expressing their anger at those selected for the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Oresharski, in power since May 2013. The protests continued until July 2014 when Oresharski finally handed in the resignation of his cabinet, just a year after its election. In February 2015, numerous anti-government protests took place peacefully; in November, police protested against cuts to their benefits.
Incumbent President Rosen Plevneliev, from the Communist Party, announced in May 2016 he would not seek re-election. Presidential elections took place on November 6, 2016. The second round resulted in the victory of Rumen Radev, an Independent Party candidate endorsed by the Alternative for Bulgarian Revival and supported by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. The latter denied any plans for a common leftist coalition for the presidential elections.
A referendum on changes to the electoral system and political party funding took place alongside the presidential election on November 6, 2016. The quorum was not met due to low participation and the debated has been taken to the National Assembly.
Bulgaria is situated in an active seismic zone. In May 2014, a strong earthquake (6.9 on the Richter scale) struck under the Aegean Sea, shaking the country, and hospitalizing 300 in neighboring Turkey. In 2015, a 4.2 magnitude earthquake took place outside Sliven and a 3.8 magnitude earthquake off the Black Sea coast.
The country is known to experience severe weather from time to time. Snowstorms may severely disrupt travel and cause power outages during winter.
Flooding occurs in the spring and winter. Insufficient infrastructures in small towns and villages makes them more prone to flooding. In February 2015, two people were killed while rail and road traffic was several disrupted when floods hit the country. Melting snow and heavy rain increase the water level of reservoirs and rivers and leads to overflowing. In June 2014, flash floods and mud slides due to overflowing led to 11 deaths in Varna. For regular updates regarding weather alert you may visit the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology.
Wildfires are frequent in mountain areas during summer and tend to be concentrated in Sofia, Haskovo, Sliven, Yambol, and Tazgrad. Summers can be particularly hot and heatwaves can cause transportation and health issues. In late July 2014, temperatures reached 37°C (100°F).
Standards in healthcare facilities are lower than those in EU countries. It is advised to subscribe to health insurance plan prior to leaving for the country, and ensure that the plan covers repatriation.
There are cases of animal rabies in the country. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild animals (bites, scratches, licks). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Diarrheal diseases are common in the country. To reduce the risk of contracting a food- or water-borne disease, do not drink tap water or beverages with ice. Avoid any undercooked dishes, especially meats and seafood, and any other foods that cannot be thoroughly cooked, peeled, or disinfected (e.g. ice cream, berries, etc.). Bring anti-diarrheal medications with you and wash your hands thoroughly before meals.
There is a risk of contracting influenza in all European countries including in Bulgaria. Influenza is a contagious virus that can spread from human to human. Symptoms include high fever, aching muscles, headache, and respiratory issues. Particularly vulnerable individuals include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, the obese, and individuals suffering from chronic diseases. To reduce the risk of contracting the flu, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly before meals.
Tuberculosis (TB) continues to be a serious health concern.
Bulgaria is one of the most polluted European countries, with a very poor air quality, which not only contains particulates but also high rates of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. The first four cities with the highest levels of particulate matter are Pernik, Plovdiv, Pleven, and Dobrich. High concentrations of particulates normally last for about two weeks in the French capital and in Stuttgart, compared to 180 days per year in Pernik.
Roads are in mediocre condition throughout the country. Aside from main highways that have been renovated in recent years, most of the Bulgarian road network is underdeveloped. Secondary roads are very poorly maintained. The ongoing construction and innovation process causes heavy traffic and often lead to road accidents. Traffic lights often blink yellow late at night, giving confusing right-of-way signals, that contribute to accidents.
Bulgaria ranks high among countries in road fatalities. Around 10 people per 100,000 individuals were killed on the road in 2015 in Bulgaria.
Fake security checkpoints are regularly reported. Be vigilant and pay attention; security forces' vehicles are Opel Astras and are marked with insignias. It is illegal for police officers to demand a fine be paid on the spot in Bulgaria; it is considered extortion. If arrested at a checkpoint, ask for a receipt and note the name of the police officer down.
Inner-city buses are frequent and relatively timely. Sofia's Metro is modern and relatively safe.
Individuals should only use official taxi companies, including OK Supertrains in Sofia, Trans Taxi in Varna, and Eko Taxi in Burgas. Upon arrival at the airport, if airport transportation has not already been organized, it is recommended to order a taxi at the desk of official taxi companies inside the airport instead of hailing one outside.
Airline transportation is reliable; the national carrier, Bulgaria Air, complies with the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Strict security controls have been introduced since the July 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas airport. Be at the airport at least two hours before takeoff.
While the country has been a member of the European Union since 2007, it has yet to join the visa- and border checkpoint-free Schengen zone. The country, along with neighboring Romania, has seen its candidacy to join the zone delayed due to insufficient progress in tackling corruption.
Avoid taking photographs of sensitive areas like government buildings and military sites.
Covering your face in public places is illegal in Bulgaria. Burka or other head covering are forbidden in government buildings, streets, parks, restaurants, shops, and on public transport.
Bulgaria's climate is continental and varies by elevation. Winters are harsh and snowy, with snowstorms frequent in the mountains until May. Summers are hot and dry with occasional evening thunderstorms. Rain is most common in the spring and autumn months.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +359 Police: 166 UAS: 150
Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz
Bulgaria: Demonstrations to take place in Sofia Feb. 15 and 17
TIMEFRAME: from 2/14/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/18/2018, 11:59 PM (Europe/Sofia).
Bulgaria: Protest planned outside US Embassy in Sofia Dec. 13
TIMEFRAME: from 12/12/2017, 12:00 AM until 12/13/2017, 11:59 PM (Europe/Sofia).