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Bulgaria Country Report

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Risk Level

Low
Moderate
Elevated
High
Very High
Severe
Extreme

Overview

Executive Summary

There is a high risk that the government coalition will not complete its full four-year term in the context of abuse of office allegations that triggered mass anti-government protests in July–September 2020. Should the government resign, a parliamentary election will probably be held between January and April 2021, also depending on developments related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus pandemic.The spread of the COVID-19 virus has triggered a cut in our outlook, with Bulgaria’s real GDP expected to fall by 5.9% in 2020. Growth will be dragged down by external weaknesses and domestic uncertainty over a second wave of infections. Fiscal policy will remain loose in 2020–21 due to the outbreak, but room to manoeuvre is limited by Bulgaria’s currency board arrangement. Public debt is forecast to rise to nearly 30% of GDP in 2020–21.Eurozone accession date is likely to be delayed to 2025 at the earliest. In July 2020, Bulgaria joined the eurozone's financial sector oversight – the banking union – at the same time as it entered the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM-II), the two-year interim arrangement required before full eurozone entry. However, deteriorating economic conditions, rising fiscal deficits and public debt stocks, and falling inflation will likely push back Bulgaria’s ambition to join the eurozone. Additional regulatory requirements due to the COVID-19 virus crisis and uncertainty around implantation increase regulatory burden risks. There is an elevated risk of tender cancellation and contract alteration given the inconsistent regulatory framework, corruption allegations, environmental protests, court challenges, and inadequate enforcement of regulation. Local contractors are likely to be favoured when awarding procurement contracts. Corruption risks remain high, posing barriers to entry for foreign companies and reputational and business disruption risks after entering market.
Last update: September 17, 2020

Operational Outlook

Road and rail infrastructure quality remains below the EU average, with much modernisation needed in some regions, especially for rail. The government is likely to continue prioritising infrastructure projects, but regulatory constraints, mismanagement, and corruption will likely lead to slow progress. Planned projects include rail lines refurbishment, a rail connection from Sofia to Skopje (North Macedonia), a tunnel under the Balkan Mountains, and the Hemus and Struma motorways. Attracting foreign direct investments and EU funds for such projects is a priority. The labour force is relatively cheap, and there is a low risk of long and disruptive strikes. There is a high risk of political corruption, particularly at the municipal level.

Last update: August 12, 2020

Terrorism

Elevated

Close co-operation with the US, troop contributions in Afghanistan (about 160 troops under the Resolute Support mission), weapons' sale to the Middle East, and an influx of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have increased the likelihood of domestic Muslim radicalisation, but home-grown terrorist risk remains low. The overall terrorist threat is lower than in Western Europe. In 2016, parliament passed legislative measures intended to strengthen prevention and enforcement tools. However, the capacity of law-enforcement bodies and specialised courts on organised crime and terrorism remains limited amid high corruption risks, including among security officials, and lack of a successful record in combating organised crime.

Last update: August 5, 2020

Crime

Bulgaria has a persistent problem with organised crime. However, violent incidents are rare and there is a low likelihood of injury to bystanders. Extortion demands, which are facilitated by corruption particularly at the local level, are probable, especially in the tourism sector, but the risk to foreign investors is low. Bulgaria is an important transition country for smugglers of hard drugs, counterfeit products, and people. The government is keen to join the Schengen zone, the EU’s free-movement area, but this has repeatedly been blocked by various other member states, which have cited concerns over organised crime and corruption. Increased cyber-crime capabilities pose a threat to businesses, particularly financial institutions.

Last update: September 9, 2020

War Risks

Bulgaria's relations with its neighbours are very likely to remain peaceful. While military conflict with Russia is highly unlikely, relations with Moscow have been strained because of Russia's opposition to Bulgaria's defence co-operation with the US. In 2015, NATO opened a regional co-ordinating unit in Bulgaria. Bulgaria will continue to actively participate in NATO military exercises in the Black Sea as part of the Alliance strategy to establish a deterrence capability against Russia along its eastern flank. This elevates the risk of maritime incidents between military and potentially commercial vessels, which could lead to transport disruption. Exploratory cyber attacks against governmental websites or CNI assets are likely.

Last update: August 5, 2020

Social Stability

Elevated

Large-scale anti-government protests are likely to continue in the next few months until the probable resignation of the government ahead of the March 2021 election. The demonstrations will probably remain peaceful, attract around several thousand people in capital Sofia, and cause transport disruption for up to a day. In the two-year outlook, demonstrations over mismanagement and environmental issues attracting up to several thousand people are likely in Sofia and other big cities, causing traffic disruption for around a day. Union-supported protests by public-sector employees, usually leading to road closures in Sofia, are also likely. They often occur in the run-up to legislative amendments on social or taxation issues.

Last update: August 7, 2020

Health Risk

Very high

Vaccines Required to Enter the Country

No vaccinations are required to enter the country.

Vaccines Recommended for All Travelers

Routine vaccinations: Consult your doctor to ensure all routine vaccinations - such as for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, varicella, etc. - are up to date (include booster shots if necessary).

Vaccines Recommended for Most Travelers

Hepatitis A: The vaccine is given in two doses, six months apart, and is nearly 100 percent effective. The WHO recommends the vaccine be integrated into national routine immunization schedules for children aged one year or older.

Vaccines Recommended for Some Travelers

Hepatitis B: The WHO recommends that all infants receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours. The birth dose should be followed by two or three doses to complete the primary series. Routine booster doses are not routinely recommended for any age group.

Rabies: The rabies vaccination is typically only recommended for travel to remote areas and if the traveler will be at high risk of exposure (e.g. undertaking activities that will bring them into contact with dogs, cats, bats, or other mammals). The vaccination is administered in three doses over a three-to-four week period. Post exposure prophylaxis is also available and should be administered as soon as possible following contact with an animal suspected of being infected (e.g. bites and scratches).

Last update: April 5, 2019

Natural Risks

Very high

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).

Last update: April 5, 2019

Transportation

Moderate

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.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Telecommunications

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information

Climate

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 Numbers

Country Code: +359
Police: 166
UAS: 150

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

Last update: April 5, 2019