The Ins And Outs Of Living In Sofia, Bulgaria As An Expat

A British expat in Sofia, Bulgaria talks about what living in the city is like and shares tips on how to make your relocation successful.

Sofia is one of the oldest capitals in Europe and has a lot to offer. With a rich history and diverse cultural background, it’s the country’s largest and most attractive city from a range of perspectives.

In this article, we’ll share with you all you need to know about living in Sofia. We’ll provide an overview of the city in terms of living standards, we’ll let you know what the cost of living in Bulgaria’s capital is, how much money you can expect to make working there, what the educational system looks like and more. 

Is Sofia a nice place to live?

Sofia is a great place to live. Apart from being a budget-friendly location both for travelling and living, it provides a great opportunity to experience a new culture.

You will also find that Sofia is home to a large number of foreigners who either work or study in the city. It’s reassuring to know that so many expats find Sofia a nice place to live.

Its location is superb if you are a nature lover. The city is nestled at the foot of Vitosha mountain, which offers beautiful views and mesmerizing nature.

Living in Sofia you get to enjoy all four seasons.

Despite the fact that it’s Bulgaria’s biggest city, Sofia has a relatively relaxed pace of life and residents enjoy a nice balance between work and pleasure.

The city has a well-developed infrastructure, a ton of sport and recreational facilities, delicious food and diverse dining options. 

Is it expensive to live in Sofia?

Compared to other European capitals, Sofia is a relatively cheap location to move to, which is why it has become an extremely popular choice for expatriates looking for an affordable place to live in. 

Living in Sofia, Bulgaria
South Park is one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Sofia. With its beautiful woods, meadows, river, multiple playgrounds, cafes and restaurants it’s a great place for a family day out.

To be able to get a realistic idea, we’ll have to dive into more detail. When it comes to establishing how expensive a city is to live in, we have to think about things like rent, property prices, grocery shopping, nights out, transport, and others. 

So let’s hop on a journey across Sofia to see what the price of living looks like.

Rent in Sofia

As with any other part of the world, the rent prices vary depending on the type of area you select. For example, if you’re looking to rent an apartment with a size of 80 m2 or 861 sqft in a luxurious part of the city, you can expect to pay somewhere around 1,000 and 1,100 lv (£482/$667).

However, if you choose to live in a rather normal area, the monthly rent for the same type of apartment would be around 700 lv (£307/$424).

If you’re looking for a nice studio to rent in a central and expensive area you can expect to pay around 700 lv (£306/$424) for a 45 m2 or 430 sqft. In a normal area, the same property would be around 530 lv (£232/$321)

Property prices

If you’re looking to invest in a property in Sofia, let’s just say that the capital has a rather affordable property market when compared to other European cities like London, Paris, or Vienna.

Depending on the area that you choose to invest in, properties range between 1,800 lv (£790/$1,091) and 2,500 lv (£1,097/$1,516) per square meter. 

Grocery shopping

In terms of grocery shopping, the city is not among Europe’s expensive ones. For example, 12 large eggs are around 4 lv (£1.76/$2.43), a kilogram of potatoes is 1.20 lv (£0.53/$0.73), 500 gr of boneless chicken breast is 5.30 lv (£2.33/$3.22) while 500 g of cheese is 6 lv (£2.63/$3.65).

A bottle of good red wine from a local store is 12 lv (£5.27/$7.28), while 2 litres of Coca Cola is 2.50 lv (£1.10/$1.52).

On average, if you’re living alone, your grocery shopping could be somewhere around 500 lv (£220/$303) per month. 

Nights out

Nights out are also very affordable in Sofia, especially in certain parts of the city, like Studentski Grad, which is inhabited mainly by students. In fact, Studentski Grad translates to “student town”.

On the other hand, if you have a cocktail in a downtown club, it will cost around 10 lv (£4.40/$6.10). A beer in a neighbourhood pub will cost you around 3 lv (£1.32/$1.82). 

Transport

Public transport in Sofia is great. An underground service, trams and regular buses connect most parts of the city.

Living in Sofia
Trams are and have always been the optimal transport in the heart of the city since they are regular, fast and for the most part, are unaffected by traffic jams.

A monthly ticket for public transport costs 50 lv (£22/$30). A one-way underground ticket, on the other hand, costs 1.60 lv (£0.70/$0.97).

If you’re looking to hop on a taxi trip through the city, based on how far you’re travelling, you are likely to pay somewhere around 10 lv (£4.40/$6.10).

If you prefer to have your own car, a litre or ¼ gallon of gas is around 2 lv ((£0.88/$1.21). 

Utility bills

Monthly utility bills including heating, electricity, gas, water and others for a person living in a property of 50 m2 or 538 sqft are around 130 lv (£57/$78) in Sofia. 

Internet

The Internet in Sofia won’t cost you much. For example, Internet of 8 Mbps will cost you 15 lv (£6.60/$9.10) per month. Also, it’s worth noting that most cafes, restaurants, and public places provide WiFi access. 

When compared to other European cities, living in Sofia is definitely affordable and easy-going on a budget.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Sofia?

So how much money will be necessary for you to live in comfort and convenience in Sofia and get the most of the city? As an international person, it’s natural that you’ll want to visit more places and explore all that the city has to offer. Considering this, the money you’ll need may slightly vary from a local’s monthly budget.

The average cost of living in Sofia for a family of four, for example, is around 3,200 lv (£1,404/$1,941) excluding rent.

On the other hand, a single person can feel comfortable with around 900 lv (£395/$545) per month, without rent.

Of course, these costs are subject to change depending on your lifestyle and preferences. However, they do provide the necessary comfort for most people. 

What is a good salary in Sofia?

The average monthly net salary in Sofia is 1,500 lv (£658/$910). Professionals experienced in certain industries could earn higher salaries, for example, 3,000 lv (£1,316/$1,819)after-tax.

However, if you’re specialized in the IT sector, as an expat you could be making anywhere between 5,000 lv (£2,195/$3,033) and 15,000 lv (£6,582/$9,100)per month. 

Sofia offers the highest salaries in Bulgaria, regardless of the chosen industry. This is why it attracts not only foreign professionals but a lot of Bulgarians from other regions in the country.

Is Sofia safe to live in?

Another benefit of living in Sofia is that it’s a relatively safe place to stay in, especially in the central parts. Violent crime is not common.

There are minor crimes such as theft and pick-pocketing that are present in some areas of the city but overall, Sofia is considered a low-risk capital.

Risks in areas like transportation, natural disasters, mugging, terrorism, and women travellers are all low. The only areas where risk is considered medium are scams and pick-pocketing. 

Living in Sofia
Sofia with Vitosha Mountain in the background

There are a few crime hotspots in Sofia that it’s worth avoiding just to make sure you’re on the safe side. These include:

  • Sveta Nedelya Square
  • The underpass to Central Station
  • Lion’s Bridge
  • Lyulin
  • Fakulteta (The Faculty)

Some of the more risky zones in the city are known for groups of children pickpocketing, bag slashers who could run away with your belongings, and underground gangs. 

The pros and cons of living in Sofia

Now that you’re familiar with the expenses of living in Sofia, you may be wondering what advantages and disadvantages there are to expat life in the city.

There are always two sides to a coin and Sofia is no exception. You can have the time of your life in the capital but there are also some drawbacks that must be taken into consideration. 

Let’s look at the pros and cons of living in Sofia in more detail.

The pros of living in Sofia

1. Cultural life

One of Sofia’s biggest advantages is its diverse and rich cultural life. You can hardly ever get bored, considering the number of available activities and entertainment options that you can choose from.

There is an abundance of museums, art galleries, luxurious clubs, cafes, restaurants, and concert halls that can keep you entertained and occupied.

There are plenty of adventures to hop on in Sofia. If you’re fond of art, music, and theatre you can visit Sofia City Art Gallery, Sofia’s Opera and Ballet’s events or attend a concert on Sofia’s music stage. 

2. Affordable living

Sofia is much less expensive to live in when compared to other European cities like Berlin, Paris, Vienna, or Barcelona. Especially if you’re a working professional, you can easily find a well-paid job in the capital and enjoy a comfortable and stress-free living. 

3. Amazing travel opportunities

Sofia is located in the heart of the Vitosha mountains, but not only. It’s extremely easy to book a journey to nearby cities and small villages that have so many stories to tell.

Bulgaria is extremely rich in history and luckily, there are still smaller towns that remember and cherish old customs and traditions. You can visit nearby mountains for a walk in nature or you can take a 5-hour bus trip to the seaside and visit Varna and the Black Sea. 

You can use Sofia’s airport for all kinds of international travel.

4. Sound educational system

Bulgaria is well-known for its excellent educational system, where students gain in-depth knowledge on a diverse range of topics.

From an early age, children start learning fundamental subjects like physics, biology, and chemistry. You can choose from both public and private schools and provide the best learning environment for your children.

There are also excellent opportunities for higher education and university studies in Sofia. For example, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” is one of the popular choices for both local and international students.

Living in Sofia
Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski

You can also take advantage of the Technical University of Sofia, the University of National and World Economy, National Sports Academy Vasil Levski, and more. 

5. Diverse job opportunities

Bulgaria is a cheap country to do business. Because of this, many international companies choose to establish their headquarters or open offices in Bulgaria for cost reduction purposes. This provides locals and foreigners with specialised skills and experience with new job opportunities and career paths for growth. 

The cons of living in Sofia

However, not everything is pink and shiny. There are also a few vivid setbacks of life in Sofia.

1. Racism 

Although Bulgarians are not racist in a typical way, unfortunately, racism against the minority Roma population or the gipsies living in the city is quite common. In most cases, there is no communication between the Bulgarians and the gipsies, unless it is over a dispute or a verbal or physical fight.

2. Corruption

Bulgaria is among the countries with high corruption when compared to other countries on the global map.

As Sofia is the capital, this is where most politicians are based and operate from. You can sometimes feel a clear sign of corruption when certain people are allowed access to certain information, amenities, or power without necessarily having the legal right to such access.

There are also a lot of conflicts of interest, dual roles, and financial deficiencies in the country.

3. Pollution

Being the largest Bulgarian city, Sofia is also known for its polluted air and certain areas that are left dirty and messy. In fact, Sofia is considered Europe’s most polluted capital and has high concentrations of fine particulate matter.

Things get even worse when we look at the city’s geographic location. It’s positioned in a valley where wind rarely enters, leading to pollution stuck over the city for long periods of time. 

4. Poor public administration

Bulgaria in general is slowly making a transition into the digital world and public administration is still a bit slow and outdated. If you have to take care of documents for your car or property-related matters, you could end up waiting for hours and possibly not receive very professional customer service. 

The best areas to live in Sofia

Sofia is a big city and it’s only natural that you start asking yourself where it would be best to find a place to stay. The right decision would entirely depend on what type of experience you’re looking to have.

We’ll go over some of the top places to live in Sofia and make suggestions about the type of people that they’re most suitable for. 

Pancharevo 

Pancharevo is a beautiful area in Sofia that is not situated in the city centre but offers a lot of advantages like relaxing in the nearby lake which is a preferred destination for fishing and rowing.

Living in Sofia
Pancharevo is a sought after district in Sofia; it is conveniently close to the city centre while enjoying beautiful nature. 

In addition, Pancharevo is home to one of the most prestigious and highly rated schools in Sofia.

It will take you about half an hour to travel by car to the city centre so it’s not a destination that is too far away from the key Sofia points.

Pancharevo is a perfect choice for families with children and for retirees looking for a quiet and calming place to live in.

Bistritsa & Boyana 

Bistritsa and Boyana are two separate parts of Sofia that are both extraordinary and beautiful. They’re located in the foothills of Vitosha Mountain and offer outstanding houses with stunning architecture and mesmerizing city views.

Considering that they’re located in Sofia’s outskirts, they’re often preferred by experienced working professionals with financial stability and families with children. 

These two city zones provide a bit more air and freshness as the areas are not overcrowded. Keep in mind that Sofia receives a lot of snow in the winter and travelling to Boyana and Bistritsa may require a 4×4 vehicle. 

Student’s Town

If you’re a student or a young single, you’ll definitely enjoy the diversity that Student’s Town has to offer.

The area is popular for some of the cheapest bars, restaurants and nightclubs that you’ll find in Sofia.

It’s an easy zone to live in as it’s like a small town located in a city that has everything necessary right by your side. You can enjoy easy access to banks, local stores, bus stations, fast food restaurants, and more. 

Keep in mind that the area is quite loud and busy and you can’t find a lot of working adults living there.

Areas to avoid

Sofia has a range of amazing neighbourhoods that attract locals and expats but it also has a few city zones that it’s best to avoid.

Musagenitsa

Musagenitsa is not usually a top choice for tourists and expats and there’s a reason why. It’s host to old communist buildings, yet the property prices in the region are very high.

There’s a large bazaar that you can visit there but the environment is extremely polluted, dirty, and unpleasant. The area is connected with the underground but the surrounding space around the tube station is noisy and busy. Finding a parking space is a nightmare too.

Fakulteta 

Fakulteta or “The Faculty” is a gang area in Sofia that is eminent for its high levels of crime and aggression. It’s considered one of the largest Romani quarters in Bulgaria, where 50% of the population is Romani. There are often tensions in this residential area and even locals try to avoid it at all costs.  

Schools and education in Sofia

The education system in Bulgaria offers sound knowledge in a wide range of subjects for students from an early age. There are more than 100 state schools, 12 international schools, and 16 universities in Sofia.

For expats, the most common choice of education is international schools.

Living in Sofia
Anglo-American School of Sofia. Image credit https://www.aas-sofia.org/

There is a vivid segmentation between state schools in Sofia. Depending on the area where the school is based and the chosen teachers, the school can either be exceptionally good or unacceptably bad.

Language schools are considered to be very successful but even then, there’s no guarantee that the child will feel comfortable in a school where locals speak mostly Bulgarian and where teachers could have relatively outdated methods of teaching.

On the other hand, Sofia is also home to a number of high-quality and top-rated international schools, like the Anglo-American School of Sofia.

The annual fees of studying in an international school could range between 10,000 lv (£4,388/$6,066) and 20,000 lv (£8,776/$12,132) depending on the age of the student. Although it’s a rather expensive road to take, it is worth it from every aspect. 

International schools in Sofia offer a multicultural experience for students and access to modern, sophisticated facilities, teaching methods, and numerous extracurricular activities. Such schools are designed with precision and to the highest standards, offering children a tailored and personalized teaching approach.

There is a range of local private schools that also offer exceptional quality. You can expect to pay anything between 7,000 lv and 20,000 lv. It’s important to note that there is often a difference between the fees for local students and for international students. 

Final thoughts on living in Sofia

Sofia is a great choice if you are planning on living in Bulgaria. The city could be a true adventure for singles, families, and retirees alike. It’s extremely rich in opportunities and activities, and just like any other city offers both the good and bad from life.

Compared to other European capitals, Sofia is affordable and welcoming. You can comfortably find a local job or work for an international company and maintain decent financial stability while living in the city.

You can also rest assured that your children are receiving quality education in one of Sofia’s top international schools. We hope that this guide will help you make the right decisions and get the most out of your stay in the capital. 

Hopefully, this guide will help you turn your time in Sofia into a positive one and will help you make new memories that will stay for life. 

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