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E-ssential Documents

I was aghast when my children came home from school and said they needed “E” numbers. Living in Bulgaria for over two years has meant that we have been able to ditch a lot of the junk food - a staple part of our British diet. We had integrated and I had been so impressed with the Bulgarian education system and the teachers who represented it that I could not believe that they would condone such irresponsibility.

A meeting with each form teacher soon opened my eyes to the necessity of “E” numbers in Bulgarian life. What we as a family need was an EGN number known in Bulgarian as a ЕГН or ендиен граждански номер, which entitles the children to free education on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals.

All of a sudden, it seemed like everyone was screaming for “E” numbers; our doctor told me that she needed to see our EGN and EHIC, before she could immunise the boys for school and then my accountant called to say she needed it to pay my national insurance contributions.

The EHIC is easy to obtain. Simply visit the UK Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk and fill out the online form using a UK address. Within seven days, the NHS send each member of the family a little plastic card containing you name, expiry date (five years), date of birth and three separate numbers; a PIN number, an ID number for the issuing health authority and a card number ID. This then needs to be posted out to your Bulgarian address.

The trail for the most wanted “E,” the EGN (personal id number) goes right back to the lichna karta (лична карта) process. To live permanently in Bulgaria, you need a long-term resident’s permit. Most people here know the process well. Residency permits are issued after you have lived here for three continuous months or when your old lichna karta expires, by the National Police Service Migration Directorate at the police station in each district’s administrative centre.

Along with your EHIC, you need to present a copy of passport, your old lichna karta if you have one, the notary act - the document proving your ownership of your property or a rental agreement, statements showing regular pension income or contract of employment, or in the absence of this, current Bulgarian bank statements for each adult. The bank statement must show that each adult has at least ten thousand leva in their account. This is the sum deemed essential by the government to live in Bulgaria for five years if you have no job or fixed contract.

You will also need apostilled birth certificates for any children, a notarised declaration in Bulgarian that states you are capable of looking after your children (I was forced to lie, mine are uncontrollable) and your company documents including your annual tax declaration from your accountant. Once you have collected this bundle together, you fill out an application form, which you can obtain from the immigration people and pay nine leva each to the National Police Service Migration Directorate’s bank. But, as ever in Bulgaria, this may all differ from region to region!

It took us a month to gather our paperwork and two days for our card to be processed. Finally, we each received a new five-year laminated “sertificate (sic) for long-term residence” containing a three-digit number. Unlike the old lichna karta, the new cards, which have been introduced for EU citizens only, to comply with EU regulations, do not have a picture on making forgery easy, nor do they have the ten digit number called a Lichen Nomer or in Bulgarian a ЛНЧ- Личен Номер на Чужденеца (LNCH) which is a “Personal Identification Number of a Foreigner.”

They simply state a persons name, age, sex, date of birth, date of registration, date of expiry and an official stamp. At no stage during our registration did anyone mention the need for "E" numbers, so when the school, accountant and doctor asked for ours, I went back to the National Police Service Migration Directorate in Dobrich to ask for help.

The reaction we met was quite astounding; when you consider that, the EGN number I needed was so important they could be a matter of education or illiteracy or even life or death in the case of the doctor. “Why do you need it?” the lady behind the counter asked and after explaining our situation, she gave me four forms, all in Bulgarian, told me to fill them out and pay ten leva at the cash desk. This we did, using our bible - the Bulgarian - English. I queued up at the desk, paid my money then took the forms and the receipts back to the woman at the other window. Three hours later and a shopping spree in Dobrich, we were issued with stamped certificates containing our Lichen Nomer (ЛНЧ). Dismayed that there was no EGN number in sight, I questioned the woman who by now was ready to pack up and go home. It turns out that the EGN number is only for Bulgarian nationals and that foreigners only have a ЛНЧ number.

Recently an English language newspaper questioned Tsvetomira Stoimenova from the Migration Directorate about this issue. Her reply was that the ЕGN did exist, but only within the Migration Directorate’s computer system. She advised current holders of the old lichna karta to memorise the ten-digit number on their cards because they would not appear on their new certificates. Citizens from outside of the EU would still receive the old style residence cards.

Armed with this new material, I met up with my sons’ teachers, my accountant and our doctor to explain that being foreigners meant that we could not have a proper EGN number and that they would have to make do with our ЛНЧ numbers. As they are ten digit numbers, like the ЕGN number this seems to be acceptable and all our problems dissolved with one simple “E.”

Sadly, this is not the case for other EU citizens residing in other parts of the country. Many people have been unable to pay National Insurance (NOI), register ownership of their cars and even have tax paid credited to them. One foreign resident in Sofia was unable to obtain proof of their ЕGN or ЛНЧ numbers and contacted the British Embassy in Sofia on this matter. Their response? They were aware that a problem existed and had received numerous pleas for help from British citizens. However, they maintained that the only way to acquire an ЕGN was by obtaining Bulgarian citizenship, which EU citizens may qualify for once they have held a lichna karta for five years. Technically the Embassy is correct, but the ЛНЧ (LNCH) will suffice in the same way that a ЕГН (EGN) will, you just have to make sure that you ask for it at the time of registering for your residency permit or keep a copy of your expired lichna karta.

Remember in Bulgaria E’s are not just good, they are essential to life here!