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Becoming an Expat in Bulgaria

Living in Bulgaria: would you enjoy it? Whilst some of our readers have a Bulgarian property as a holiday home, others have bought property for later retirement and many are moving to the country permanently because of the very low cost of both property and daily living. Deciding whether to become an expat is one of the most difficult of questions. What about the language? Which area? How much money do you need? All are important. In this article we investigate some of the questions which need to be considered honestly before making the move.

Starting out

Quest Bulgaria poses some initial questions to start yourself off:
Money. How much money do you have? Can you only just make ends meet or are you sitting on a wedge. Give yourself points from 1 to 5. One being that you make do: through to five if you have a house to sell with lots of equity

The language. How good, or not, are your Bulgarian language skills? From 1 to 5, how would you rate your understanding of the language. One being unable to speak a word and don't want to, thank you: through to five being completely fluent

The Bulgarians. Do you like them? Again from one being never met a Bulgarian and five being that you have lots of Bulgarian friends

The Area. Do you know where you will want to live in Bulgaria, how well do you know the country? One is you have never been and five is having spent time during a few years holidaying and travelling around Bulgaria

It is fairly obvious from the questions, that the more points you have, the more likely you are to become an expat who would enjoy the country. However, even those who have 20 points should not necessarily call in the international removers yet.


We have put this first as money is at the root of everything we do in our daily lives and is often a thorny issue. Ignore money at your peril. This is one of the major reasons for expats returning home within the first two years - probably even thereafter. The next few paragraphs are not for the filthy rich but are some thoughts for us more ordinary mortals on how much you need to live in Bulgaria.

For those who feel they can 'just get by' or are willing to work, beg or borrow, maybe the move to Bulgaria should be considered more carefully before being put in place. Perhaps you can make it work, perhaps not. Undoubtedly you can find cash jobs and earn something but will you really be able to support yourself and your family in this way? You also run the risk of potentially being thrown out of the country or facing huge fines and will certainly not be in the Bulgarian health care system. Although it has been done by expats, this is a very risky path to tread.

Considering how much money you'll need in Bulgaria: take a look at your current monthly bills in your home country and add them all up. If you are, say, in the UK, then subtract current loans and mortgages if you will not have these in Bulgaria; then, as a rule of thumb, halve the rest. Some items in Bulgaria are more expensive, some less. Anything which appears as if it is 'western', such as tumble driers and flat screen tv's can be more expensive. Those items which are more 'local' are less expensive: food, drink, public transport, eating out, etc.

You will also need to think about whether you wish to take out a private health care policy in order that you are repatriated should something bad happen and of course, this needs to be included as an additional monthly cost.

As can be seen, you will now know how much cash you will need to support your family, or if you have the funds to buy an up and running business to provide you with an income, or the skills and money to start up on your own.

Many expats take the opportunity of moving to Bulgaria to establish their own business and there are plenty of options. If you decide to work for yourself you need to be sure that your business plan is correct and that you build in 'buffers' on the financial side to give you every chance of success and not just end up with money nightmares, forcing you to turn tail back home.

That 100,000 euros you banked from the sale of your house will end up very little after a couple of years, particularly if you have undertaken renovation work on your property, put in the pool you've always wanted and held party bashes every weekend. Solve the issue of money before making the move.


Nearly every expat in Bulgaria will tell you to learn the language as this will make a huge difference to your new life. Nonetheless, it is not critical to learn the language before you move - how many people do? We moved here with no Bulgarian language skills in hand and have suffered no long-lasting harm.

Don't be upset if you scored only one point here. It is surprising firstly how people under or over-rate their Bulgarian language skills. Many who admit to having learned only the alphabet and can 'speak a bit', actually are really quite good. We don't know of anyone who has moved to Bulgaria with a really good level of speaking Bulgarian (spouses of expat Bulgarians excluded, although not always!). Your opinion of how much Bulgarian you have mastered could well be wrong.

The test will come when you get out and about talking with the locals themselves. Much of it comes down to pure confidence, rather than precise grammatical knowledge. In reality, you have to leave all embarrassment aside and just get on and speak, mistakes and all. Indeed, it is the mistakes which will help you learn as you'll certainly remember those and hopefully never make them again!

After you get to Bulgaria, make sure you regularly practice your language skills. Talk to the neighbours, chat in the local shops, watch Bulgarian television. It is possible to live in Bulgaria without speaking a word of Bulgarian and indeed there are numerous foreigners who have done this. However, it is not the best long-term position as you will not only have to rely frustratingly on translators every step of the bureaucratic way but will miss out on much the country and its people have to offer. Communicating with people is a key to expat happiness.

Make the effort and bit by bit you will get there. Maybe you'll never be fluent but at least you will develop one of the essential skills to survival as an expat.

Enjoying life

This is a tricky one as it will depend upon each individual as to what goes together to make up an enjoyable life.

Many expats find the move difficult, particularly if it is a couple who have both been working full time previously and they are now suddenly thrown together 24 on 24. Some families adapt to this well but there are plenty where one or other needs more space. Ensuring you each have your own interests and perhaps some different friends does help.

Of course, living in Bulgaria, you will not see your friends or family so frequently. This can be compensated for by a lot more quality time when you do get to see them. In turn though, this can have a downside, if they come to visit for a couple of weeks. Often visitors expect you to wait on them hand and foot, entertain them plus supply all their food and drink. We speak from experience! 

Whether you can enjoy life in Bulgaria will be down to what kind of person you are. If you cannot survive without having lots of neighbours or friends on hand day and night, then it could be hard, particularly if you don't speak Bulgarian. On the other hand, if you are prepared to take things more slowly and get to know your neighbours and others gradually, just a quick chat once a week sufficing, then you should find you manage just fine.

The Bulgarians

One of the initial questions was whether you knew or liked the Bulgarians. There are differences between your culture and here: these will become abundantly apparent when living in Bulgaria.

Understanding the differences between your own culture and here is important. You will not only be more realistic in what you expect when you land in Bulgaria but will also appreciate the local life more.

There are a few main differences which we have noticed:
* family. Many Bulgarian children live at home well into their late twenties and early thirties. Family ties are very strong. Youths don't go out drinking and there is no violence with hoodies on the corners
* the Bulgarians talk very loudly seeming as if they are shouting at each other and angry; this is normal
* loud music is everywhere, probably down to the fact that they were so restricted on listening to music under the communist regime: your neighbours probably won't understand if you complain
* queues. Whether you are in the bank, post office or simply a shop, the Bulgarians will stand very close to you, often touching, sometimes totally ignoring you and walking right to the front of the queue. Don't panic

It will take time to make friends with Bulgarians even if you speak the language well. That is not to say they are not friendly because they are. It is just slower to get to know them really well. Once you do get to know them, you can expect plenty of help and, in the countryside, lots of fruit and veg on your doorstep! Expect differences and try to enjoy them.

The area where you want to live

Often with rose-tinted glasses and sunbeams, property buyers make decisions based only on their short holiday experience in Bulgaria. Topping up your tan, whooshing down the ski slopes and gazing over a wonderful view from a secluded farmhouse right at the top of a hill is fun - but not the same as ordinary life.

Everything is fun whilst on holiday, even going to get fresh bread every day and wandering around the supermarket. However, doing this on a daily basis throughout the whole year can become more than tiresome, particularly if you have a property which is a couple of thousand meters up a dirt track and it's pouring with rain. Rather than base any decision on holiday experiences, it really is important to visit the area of Bulgaria where you are considering living outside summer (or outside the ski season if thinking of a winter resort).

There can be a big downside to popular tourist spots. It is often true to say that those areas which are most visited by tourists during the season, are equally dead outside the main times.

On the other hand, consider carefully whether somewhere rural will really suit. These places, whilst attractive and very cheap, can be extremely remote in Bulgaria and a real culture shock.

This is day-in, day-out living for expats we are talking about here, not beaches or pistes or great views which your family will oooh and aaah over. Unless you are sure of living happily in a tourist resort or in 'splendid isolation', to get the best of all worlds, it may well be better to opt for a small pretty town where everything will be open all year and you will have access to all amenities and facilities. It will be comforting to know that you have doctors, an ambulance service, buses, shops, restaurants and bars on hand for your daily wants and to be able to meet local people.

Generally, there are many misconceptions about living in Bulgaria but with a bit of research, visiting the country and being honest with yourself, you should find your experience of living full time here both low-cost and wonderful.