Bulgaria is one of the European countries that has been attracting a large number of expats in recent years and there are many reasons why.
In this guide, we’ll share with you some of the top places to live in the country as an expat.
The country is one of Europe’s oldest and offers a perfect balance of historical treasures and a modern, digitized approach to living. You can visit its magnificent mountains, take a trip to the seaside where the cities never sleep or explore its authentic and traditional old villages.
Your stay in Bulgaria as an expat could be extremely different based on where you choose to live.
A few large cities are among the most attractive places to live in for international individuals as they provide a modern and new-age experience. But there are also smaller towns that can give you that feeling of the perfect home you are looking for abroad.
1. Sofia – a capital full of wonders
Unsurprisingly, we’ll start from Sofia – Bulgaria’s capital. It’s safe to say that it’s the busiest city in the country and a multicultural hub of professionals and students from all over the world.
With over 90 neighbourhoods, you can expect a different vibe in every city area. For instance, students are mostly located in Student Town (Studentski Grad) or the central parts of the city, while retirees and families would probably prefer a more relaxing and calm place like Pancharevo, Bistritsa, or Boyana.
It’s safe to say that a single person can live comfortably in Sofia with 1,000 lv (£437/$605), rent excluded. For a family of four, 3,200 lv (£1,404/$1,941) excluding rent is a fair monthly budget.
Just imagine living in another European city with this budget.
The city is vibrant and thrilling, with a range of different restaurants, coffee shops, entertainment venues, concert halls and theatres. You’ll be astonished by the golden domes of one of the main symbols of Sofia – the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was created after Bulgaria’s liberation.
Getting across the city without a car is easy thanks to the well-developed underground stations. There are also a number of bus lines you can take to get to most regions.
You don’t have to worry if you fall ill in Sofia – the city has great hospitals and medical clinics to keep your health in check. The city is also rich in all types of necessary institutions and amenities to make your stay comfortable and stress-free.
Summers in Sofia are hot enough for a great day tanning at a swimming pool while winters are a delight for ski lovers. During the cold season, you can go skiing in popular ski resorts like Borovets, which is an hour and a half drive from the city.
Overall, Sofia is considered a safe city but nothing is ever certain. Keep an eye out for pickpocketing and scams. It’s best to avoid regions like Lyulin, Lion’s Bridge, Fakulteta, and Sveta Nedelya Square.
The majority of expats moving to Bulgaria consider living in Sofia first. As a result, the expat community in the Bulgarian capital is well-developed and you can always find help and advice or make friends.
2. Plovdiv – the new go-to for digital nomads and expats
Next up on the list is Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city. It’s located on the banks of the Maritsa river in the Thrace region, southeast of Sofia.
Plovdiv is considered Bulgaria’s cultural capital and carried the award for European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Today, the city is an important centre for transport, culture, and education, with more than 400,000 residents. There is so much history that you can explore in Plovdiv, considering that it’s the 6th oldest city in the world and the oldest in Europe.
Plovdiv’s Old Town is bound to steal your heart at a first glance. It’s 100% car-free, with small cosy stress and traditional Bulgarian houses. The Old Town is like an outdoor museum, full of old churches, mansions, and souvenir shops.
Renting a property in Plovdiv is more affordable when compared to Sofia. A 1-bedroom apartment in the central area is around 450 lv (£196/$272), while one located in regions outside the city centre could be found for 300 lv (£130/$181).
With a monthly budget of 800 – 1000 lv (£349/$483-£436/$604) without rent for a single person, you will enjoy a comfortable living.
Plovdiv doesn’t have an underground but it does offer bus transportation to most parts of the city.
The environment is extremely laid back and you’ll notice that everyone speaks English.
Recently, the city has become an attraction for digital nomads thanks to its vast range of suitable cafes and coworking spaces. In addition, Kapana (The Trap), Plovdiv’s creative district attracts people of all ages with art and creativity.
The summers could get pretty heated and dry while winters are a great excuse to hit the slopes and go skiing in nearby ski resorts.
To put it simply, Plovdiv doesn’t disappoint in any way. It offers a vibrant and relaxing atmosphere simultaneously and has something for everyone.
3. Varna – the perfect sea-side living
Varna is a whole different story. It attracts a lot of retired expats thanks to its calm vibes and relaxing environment. Especially during summer, Varna is a top destination, even for Bulgarians.
Being the largest city and seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, Varna hosts thousands of tourists every year.
This charming city is home to many expats, from students studying in the prestigious Medical University to retirees seeking the comfort of a beautiful and fulfilling city by the sea.
The downside is that Varna is one of the more expensive cities in the country, however, it is still a lot cheaper than other European destinations.
The Sea Garden is a destination where both locals and expats love to spend their days, surrounded by nature and calm vibes.
The Greek neighbourhood is also an area that expats love to explore as it offers amazing architecture, small vibrant streets, and attractive street shops and coffee shops.
Recently, the city port has been renovated and improved, with a ton of new restaurants, nightclubs, and bars to visit. For retirees, it’s also the perfect place for a walk by the sea during the day.
The cost of living in Varna is similar to that of Sofia. Renting a property is relatively cheaper, especially if you choose a region outside the city centre.
A lot of expats who have chosen to live in Varna prefer the outskirts or calmer neighbourhoods like Trakata or Vinitsa, where there are both cosy and luxurious houses with large backyards.
The city is connected via a well-developed bus transport network. Driving a car around the city centre may be difficult as parking is an issue. In addition, most central areas are now part of the “Blue Zone”, meaning that parking is not free.
Regardless of age, you can’t really say you’ve been to Varna if you haven’t visited Cubo – the most popular beach bar in the city. Just be careful if you’re taking a walk to the bar with food in your hands. Varna is popular for its seagull population, keep in mind that they’re quite intrusive.
Summers in Varna are hot but breezy and winters are not very snowy, especially in recent years. The locals are friendly and speak good English, making it easy for expats to get around.
Overall, Varna is a city that it’s hard not to fall in love with.
4. Veliko Tarnovo – a historically rich and truly beautiful city
Veliko Tarnovo is another Bulgarian city with extreme history and cultural riches. It’s located near the geographic centre of the country and is the midpoint between Varna and Sofia. It’s positioned on a high hill over the Yantra River and is home to an old town and a modern city centre.
A popular tourist destination, Veliko Tarnovo contains an old spirit yet offers a modern experience at the same time. The Old Town is home to charming houses in the traditional old-style Bulgarian architecture.
The biggest attraction, the city’s symbol, and one of the country’s most beloved monuments is the Tsarevets Fortress. It’s where former medieval tsars lived and ruled. Living in the city, you can still feel the magnificent presence of the glorious fortress.
There are also a number of amazing places to visit near Veliko Tarnovo, like Arbanassi, Elena, and Gabrovo.
A family of four can conveniently live in Veliko Tarnovo for about 2,800 lv (£1,221/$1,692), excluding rent. For a single person, a good monthly budget would be 750 lv (£327/$453).
Living in Veliko Tarnovo is a great option for expat retirees as the city is large yet provides a sense of calmness and authenticity with pleasant summers and snowy beautiful winters.
5. Burgas – a cultural hub on the coast of the Black Sea
Burgas is another beautiful city on the Black Sea coast and the fourth biggest in the country. The city is full of life and has a lot to offer for students, working professionals, and retirees alike.
Just like Varna, Burgas has its own Sea Garden.
There has always been a bit of friendly competition between Varna and Burgas locals when it comes to which city is better. Of course, they both have a lot to offer and there’s no coincidence that they’re both on our list of top places for expats in Bulgaria.
When it comes to the cost of living, the average monthly budget of a family of four ranges between 2,500 lv (£1,091/$1,511) and 3,000 lv (£1,309/$1,813) without rent. A single person can do well with around 800 lv (£349/$483), rent excluded.
It’s worth noting that renting in Burgas is cheaper, with a difference of around 40% in prices.
There’s so much to do in the city and nearby!
It’s located near natural lakes. You can visit St. Anastasia Island, which is a small islet with a monastery and a lighthouse, lake Atanasovsko, lake Pomorie, and others. You can also explore the Archaeological Museum, the Sea Casino, the Zoo, and visit the Sand Fest in Burgas during the summer.
The climate is pretty similar to that of Varna, offering the best of both summer and winter. Spring and autumn days are purely magnificent, especially if you visit the Sea Garden for a morning or evening walk.
Nearby destinations to visit for a calm and relaxing experience include Ravadinovo and its castle, Nessebar, Sozopol, and more.
6. Popovo – the place where anyone can feel at home
Popovo is a lovely, small town in North-Eastern Bulgaria, surrounded by forests and magnificent nature. It’s completely natural to see deers, boards, rabbits, hares, and squirrels moving through the villages.
It’s a perfect place to live if you’re after a calm and relaxed way of living, where every moment is full of joy and a feeling of belonging.
The people are extremely kind and generous. Living in Popovo, you’ll soon start to feel as if all your neighbours are family. If you need anything, all you have to do is ask the neighbours.
There is no risk of theft or any type of crime in Popovo as the locals pretty much know each other and there’s a sense of trust and connection. You can safely leave your car unlocked and enjoy peace of mind knowing that nobody will touch it.
Living in Popovo is a great way to be introduced to the old Bulgarian traditions and to truly explore what life in Bulgaria is like from a different perspective than that of the large city.
You can enjoy a number of natural and manmade lakes around Popovo, you can go fishing, explore the birdlife of the region, or organize a camping weekend.
Popovo may not be a large city but it also has delicious food to offer in a few quality restaurants.
Life as an expat in Popovo is an extremely affordable experience and won’t burn a hole in your pocket in any way.
7. Dobrich – your first step to a magnificent experience
Dobrich is another attractive area for expats who choose to live in Bulgaria. It’s comfortably positioned in the eastern part of the Danube plain, in what’s considered one of Bulgaria’s most fertile lands – Dobrudja.
It’s a perfect location for expats who are fond of a green way of living and are looking forward to having the opportunity to move into a spacious house with a garden, where they can grow their own food and crops.
Of course, there are also a ton of options to choose from when it comes to dining out in a fancy and highly rated restaurant. It’s just nice to know that you also have the alternative of witnessing food grow in front of your eyes.
Dobrich is popular for its relatively balanced weather and amazing spring and autumn seasons. It’s a city of central location and is extremely close to Varna and Balchik.
There are eight municipalities in Dobrich and they all deserve consideration. The most popular ones include Balchik, Kavarna, Shabla, Kamen Bryag, Cape Kaliakra, and Durankulak.
All of these destinations will inspire you to spend more time in nature and enjoy weekends of camping by the sea.
There are two lakes surrounding Dobrich, offering a delightful opportunity to spend evenings outside.
A monthly budget of 1,200 lv ($722/£530) for a family or two will offer a perfect way of living, rent excluded.
8. Haskovo – one of Bulgaria’s oldest yet most pleasant places to live in
Haskovo is another small Bulgarian town, where expats can dive into a relaxed way of living where stress and a dynamic lifestyle won’t thrive.
You don’t need any type of transport to get around the town as you can reach any point by walking. However, if you prefer the comfort of your personal vehicle, driving around town is not a problem and there’s plenty of parking space available.
Haskovo is an extremely safe town to live in and you don’t need to worry that you’ll be mugged, robbed, pickpocketed, or that your house will be broken into. You can comfortably walk around the town’s streets at 3 AM knowing that you’re completely safe.
Expats often choose Haskovo as a popular Bulgarian place to live in as it offers the comfort and cosiness of the small town but it’s also extremely close to Plovdiv, where you can quickly travel to.
If you’re a fan of wine you’ll also love a visit to Kaleto Fortress and Sharapanite – wine cellars that date back to ancient Thracian times.
Enjoy the therapeutic mineral springs in Haskovo and the picturesque Kenana – a magical oak forest that offers a large park, restaurants, tennis grounds, and recreational houses.
9. Bansko – one of Bulgaria’s top ski destinations
Don’t let the shivers get to you! Just because Bansko is a popular ski destination doesn’t mean that you’ll freeze living there.
A lot of people describe Bansko as a small outdoor paradise. It’s the perfect place to explore what nature has to offer and connect with our planet. Bansko is a great destination for expats looking to enjoy a bit of hiking, skiing, cycling, and nature in general.
You can go on a hunt for natural beauty in the Pirin National Park, take advantage of the thermal baths, and discover a new way of living. You can literally do anything you want on a shoestring budget.
Bansko may be popular for its natural riches but an interesting fact is that it also offers some of the fastest Internet! In fact, Bulgaria, in general, is well-known for its blazing Internet that allows you to easily communicate online whenever you want to.
Living in the village, you’ll notice that it’s segmented into two main parts – the one close to the cable car (a popular winter area) and the normal village, which is where most people prefer to live in spring, autumn and summer.
Don’t be fooled by the common misconception that Bansko is simply a ski resort and that’s it. The small town is a brilliant place to live in all year long.
The best places to live in Bulgaria – summary
If you’re wondering about where you want to spend your time as an expat retiree, Bulgaria is certainly among the top choices. Of course, there are downsides to living in Bulgaria, but the positives are truly great.
As one of Europe’s cheapest countries, there is so much to experience and explore, so much history to dig into, and so much beauty to see.
We hope that this guide will come in handy and will help you choose the best place that will meet your expectations.
You might find useful:
- Living In Bulgaria – a detailed guide to moving to Bulgaria and starting your life there;
- How To Access Best Quality Affordable Healthcare When You Move Abroad
- Visit our homepage for a comprehensive range of Living Abroad guides.