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Quest Expat Interview - Karen Fox

 

12. Are you a resident or citizen of Bulgaria? Was the process/paper work difficult to sort? Does this effect your rights to working in Bulgaria?

We're residents of Bulgaria but not citizens. We first did this back in pre-EU days when it was a time-consuming, nerve-wrecking and expensive process. These days, for any citizen of an EU country, arranging long term residency in Bulgaria should be quick and relatively painless. Because we're managers of our own company our right to work in Bulgaria is undisputed. I think that there are still some restrictions in place for Bulgarians in the UK and vice versa, these should be dropped within the next few years.

13. What do you like the most about living in Bulgaria?

I most enjoy the fact that we're our own bosses; we work as hard as we did in the UK for far lower financial return but our mistakes or triumphs are our own.
I love the climate here; four real seasons. I love the fact that we live in a village, have a decent sized garden, have pets and the time to care for them and enjoy them. I love socializing with Bulgarian and British friends. I love the slight edge of uncertainty about what's likely to happen on any given day.....spotting the guy on a bicycle with 2 goats on leads......I could go on!!

14. What are the things that you don't like so much?

It's sad to see the level of poverty that many villagers live in....then you look at the 4 x 4's with blacked out windows and wonder where the money came from to buy them.
I find the level of suspicion and mistrust on both sides of the ‘Roma/Ethnic Bulgarian' fence difficult.
There are times when the level of bureaucracy here drives me up the wall.....but then I used to work for the National Health Service, so in Bulgaria I only have to deal with that stuff on an occasional basis, in the UK it was 37.5 hours a week!
It's tragic to see the brightest of young Bulgarians leaving their country to find opportunity abroad but I have to admit that in their position I'd probably be doing the same. I could go on about this subject too, but for us the good stuff honestly does outweigh the bad.

15. Is there anything that you miss from home?

My daughter, my grandchildren, music festivals and cheddar cheese. Frequent contact with friends I've known for 20-30 years who I share so much history with and who know me for my best and worst. Not a lot else to be honest.

16. Do you visit the UK very often and if so, how do you feel about being back there?

I don't visit that often. It has been 3 times within just over 12 months but 2 of those visits were related to family business where I had no choice but to go back. It's going to get more difficult as the grandchildren get older because I'd like to spend more time with them; on the positive side, as they get older it'll be easier for them to travel here. As to how I feel.....I enjoy catching up with people and there are certain things I rush to the shops for (Cheddar cheese, McCoy's char-grilled steak crisps, an English Breakfast or two and clotted cream!) But a week to 10 days is always long enough in the UK. It's busy there, rushed and usually damp. Britain makes my knees and shoulders ache.

17. What advice would you give to anybody moving to Bulgaria?

If you don't have fairly tough nerves don't do it! Bulgaria is an emotional roller-coaster and if you can't take the ups and the downs this isn't the country for you.
It helps if you can maintain a sense of humour and a sense of perspective. If this isn't a fun adventure; why are you doing it?
If you're passionate about animal welfare think twice; most Bulgarians won't see things the way you do and when villagers are surviving on 200 lev a month for two people they're not going to understand that stale bread isn't good enough for their dogs (it's good enough for them!)
Try before you buy!! Travel round the country and get to see lots of places, talk to lots of different people and get different viewpoints.
You probably need a smaller garden than you think! Weeds grow so fast here.

Try to approach new people with neutrality; you can go wrong by being too cynical as easily as by being too trusting; but invest trust slowly don't risk anything you can't afford to lose and be prepared to walk away from anyone or anything which doesn't feel right.
If you want to stay in control of your life you may need to set some boundaries....this can be anything from the person who is convinced they have the perfect business opportunity for you to the neighbor who walks into your garden and plants 50 cucumber plants for you because they think you need them (You really don't!! Nobody needs 50 cucumber plants unless they're planning to set up a market stall selling them!)

Oh....make an effort with the language....Bulgarians don't require that you get it right; in fact they'll really enjoy your mistakes but they do appreciate you trying.

18. What advice would you give to anyone who is planning to set up a business in Bulgaria?

The best advice I was ever given in the UK is equally true here; do your research first! If everybody else is already doing what you're planning to do ask yourself why people would prefer your services. If nobody else is doing it - you need to ask why not.
There are a wealth of resources out there including Quest Bulgaria and a couple of forums with some very experienced people, use them!
Be prepared for things to take longer than you expect to set up and to cost more than you hoped. If you don't have the resources behind you to support yourself for at least 2 years you're really not giving yourself or your business a fair chance.
Do get a good accountant, do read anything that's available in English about the tax laws and business regulations in Bulgaria; there's a lot on the net if you hunt around a bit.
There is corruption here; it would be foolish to deny it. However, if your advisors are telling you that you can ignore the laws or that you have to pay bribes then they're really trying to drag you down into an old system that should be on it's way out....is that really the route you want to take?
Above all, if you're choosing to live in Bulgaria or develop a business here then that already makes you a brave and adventurous type - remember who you are and what's important to you; and enjoy!! Really that's the most important thing of all.....do it because you want to or don't do it at all.....if you want to do it, remember to have fun!