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British expats in Bulgaria

A look back over the past few years to investigate how British expats living in Bulgaria have fared. There is no doubt general financial crisis has affected many but will the coming year bring any improvement?

We talk to expats living in the country to get a look at life for them and their thoughts on the next twelve months. Those who were in retirement in Bulgaria have been most effected by the downturn with the worth of their pensions some 30% lower than before the crisis due to the low pound. 

Interestingly pensioners did not cite the cost of living in Bulgaria as having increased during this last year: still finding it good value for money, despite the poor pound.

For those working in the country, fear of unemployment was the major concern. Many had seen the companies they work for had less business than the year before and were worried about lay-offs. The self-employed were also concerned, reporting 50% less work in some markets: they have also reduced the cost of their services in a bid to win work.

Evidently, early retirees, pensioners, workers and self-employed are all feeling the pinch and only a fortunate few haven't been hit by the downturn. Although so many have found their income very stretched, the majority 'would not dream of returning to Britain'. Whilst they have had to significantly tighten their belts and batten down the hatches to ride the storm, they still prefer to stay in Bulgaria.

Several families have been forced to return to their homeland, mostly because of economic circumstances but some were unhappy in Bulgaria before the crisis took hold anyway. Those families determined to stay have cut back on luxuries and are looking after their money very carefully, some have gone out to work. Few have managed to find work within Bulgarian companies, citing how hard this is to obtain - particularly given the language difficulties.

The majority of large expenses, such as renovation work or a replacement vehicle, has been put on hold - although, at the other end of the spectrum, those who have cash are looking to invest in further property.

There is an overall willingness to make sacrifices to continue living in a place they enjoy. Nobody blames Bulgaria or the banking system in the country for the situation people are in. Indeed, most believe that the Bulgarian banks have always acted cautiously. One of the ways in which the expats are getting through the crisis is following the locals' habits of growing their own fruit and veg, thus supplying the family table with not only cheap produce but healthy meals. Nearly everyone said that their neighbours are helpful and willing to barter, enabling them to more easily make ends meet.

A number are criticising bank lending policies for not allowing the property market to improve: despite looking for an increase in their own property value, the majority are happy that property prices have fallen and are more realistic. On the whole, there is a belief that there will be a small improvement during 2010, with most envisaging that it will be in the latter half or final quarter of the year. We will have to wait and see.