The Pros & Cons Of Expat Life In Bulgaria

Life in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a funny country – it seems to have an almost equal number of British expatriates happy or disaffected with life in Bulgaria. So, what are the pros and cons of living in Bulgaria?

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We’re basing our opinions on the feedback we’ve directly received over the years, and also on what we regularly read on dedicated forums.

You see, Bulgaria was a nation massively over-sold in terms of its appeal prior to and immediately following EU accession, and this resulted in a small wave of immigration – particularly from the UK and Ireland. 

Many of those who arrived on the back of the positive promotion of the nation’s benefits at the time, (and its particularly cheap property prices), have subsequently fallen out of love with their dream.  Possibly because their dream had no basis in reality in the first place.

Others who have taken perhaps a more considered approach to relocation, who have spent time getting to know Bulgaria for themselves before relocation, and who have subsequently made a better-informed decision to relocate have seemingly adjusted well to what is an undoubtedly very beautiful country, but one that doesn’t always live up to its hype. 

The benefit of having two such divided camps of opinion is that we can bring you both the positive and negative aspects of living in Bulgaria.

If you’re looking to escape the UK, you’re interested in moving to a relatively affordable nation with a fledgling but solid winter and summer tourism market, where there are plenty of other expats already in residence but where the nation is not yet saturated with Brits, perhaps Bulgaria’s worthy of your consideration. 

But then again, perhaps it’s not.  There are always highs and lows associated with starting a new life abroad…but Bulgaria’s positive and negative aspects often cancel each other out.

Positive aspects of expat life in Bulgaria

Bulgaria operates a flat tax system whereby personal and corporate tax rates in 2011 are 10% across the board.  For anyone looking to reduce the amount of tax they pay on their income or business profits therefore, Bulgaria is definitely attractive!

Bulgaria has been chosen by a number of Britons who wanted to get home or Internet-based businesses off the ground for the specific reason that their tax burden would be low.  The other reason for the decisions these people have made is the cost of living in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is the country with very affordable hotels, restaurants and home appliances compared to the rest of the European Union.

Bulgarian hotel and restaurant prices are apparently below half the average for the EU.

Property prices in Bulgaria have settled down from their peaks following EU accession – meaning that it’s possible to buy decent accommodation country-wide, (with the exception of a few exclusive suburbs in Sofia), for much less than you would pay in the UK for similar accommodation. Rent in Bulgaria on average is 74.06% lower than in the UK.

Cost of living in Bulgaria is 48.12% lower than in the United Kingdom. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages cost on average 65% less, and clothing costs are 75% less than the European Union average.

Naturally enough a low cost of living is a massive draw.  Retirees may find that their pension income goes far further in Bulgaria – and they could benefit from a move as they will not be dependent on the local economy to provide them with a living.

If you are considering relocating with children, you can choose to educate your children locally in Bulgaria, or they can attend an international school if you live in or close to Sofia where there’s plenty of choice in terms of school and curriculum.

Bulgaria is a nation which has retained its national identity, history, culture and tradition – it has certainly not sold out to the west.  This means that it’s an authentic country, where you really will experience a totally different way of life.  Contrast Bulgaria with somewhere like southern Spain or Cyprus for example, and you’ll know what we mean!

Finally, Bulgarians can be very friendly and welcoming, and they can adjust well to having foreign residents within their community.

Having said all of the above, however, it is possible to contrast each and every positive with a negative…and it seems it may well be down to a matter of personal opinion as to whether Bulgaria is a good place to live or not!

Some less than positive aspects of living in Bulgaria

If you relocate to Bulgaria with the prospect of finding employment there – you may find it very difficult to land yourself a job which will allow you to benefit from Bulgaria’s low cost of living.

Firstly, if you don’t speak the language, the types of jobs you can get will be low paid jobs and you will have to work very hard to scrape a living together.

Secondly, Bulgaria’s cost of living is low only for those who earn above the average in the country: according to the National Statistical Institute average monthly income in Bulgaria is BGN 767.68 (Bulgarian Lev) per household and BGN 310.56 per person, which is about £340 and £137 respectively.

So if your income comes from outside of the country and is of the UK standards than you can live in Bulgaria like a king. However, if you are employed locally and earn an average salary for the country, you will have to adjust your lifestyle accordingly.

You need to contrast the cost of living with what you can expect to earn in Bulgaria. 

Perhaps our report on how to make a living in Bulgaria will help and inspire you to find decent employment.  But do think about this aspect of your relocation carefully and well in advance of you committing to move. Of those who most vociferously complain about living in Bulgaria, a high percentage bemoan the lack of decent employment opportunities.

Moving on to a consideration of property prices in Bulgaria, this once again relates to the above.  If you’re earning less than the accepted monthly minimum amount to enjoy a ‘normal’ standard of living, you’ll struggle to meet rental costs on decent accommodation.

Additionally, buying a property in Bulgaria remains a complex process that should not be underestimated.

In terms of educating your children, for expats on a secure contract and earning a decent income, private school education is possible.  For others, schooling children locally will be the only option.

In discussing the Bulgarian people, their country and their acceptance of foreigners – once again opinion is wholly divided.  According to an overview of Sofia as published on the Expat in Bulgaria website for example:

“It’s not uncommon to see horses hitched to wagons, or pensioners trying to supplement their meagre pensions by digging through rubbish bins.  On the other hand, top-model luxury SUVs and sports cars speed along the oft-cobbled streets, flaunting a belligerent new-money and who-cares attitude.”

Britons who have settled into the nation well, comment that Bulgarians are hugely accepting and friendly towards them, particularly when they make the effort to learn the local language. 

Others who bemoan their expat status in Bulgaria comment on how unfriendly staff are in government offices, the post office and even hotels for example.  So once again, it’s a case of one man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

Final thoughts on the pros & cons of living in Bulgaria

There are certainly those Brits who have made a very positive life change by moving to Bulgaria.  They tend to be the ones who have a solid income in place, and who are willing to learn the local language and completely adapt. 

What’s more, those who took their time exploring the nation before committing to one city, town or village based on only limited research have settled in more effectively.

Therefore, if you are considering Bulgaria, it is one of those nations where preconceptions count for very little, and where you need to spend an extended time exploring before you commit to your relocation.

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