An increasing number of UK residents are expressing interest in having their own holiday home overseas, and recent EU-joiner Bulgaria is proving to be of great interest. With the relatively weak value of this ex-Communist nation's economy, the pound does go a long way, but there's a lot to know before heading east for your bricks and mortar. We know because we have done it, and so many of our friends, family and work colleagues have followed our journey that we have decided to explain a little about it for the benfit of others. We are not estate agents, but are pleased to introduce anybody interested to our own contacts in the north of Bulgaria (in the Rousse Region, on the banks of the River Danube, overlooking Romania) - people we have grown to trust and now treat as very close family friends.
When looking for our overseas retreat, we started looking at France and Portugal, and to be honest, Bulgaria wasn't even on the list of locations that we were considering. After a chance introduction, copious research and a most informative viewing trip during the stunningly beautiful snowy season, we were sold. There's no single reason why. The obvious financial advantages of the low cost of living within this newly admitted EU country are there: our property has increased in value considerably over the last two years, but we have no intention of selling it. Equally important to us, personally, are the combination of beautiful landscapes, stunning architecture, delicious local cuisine and most importantly of all the genuine warmth and friendliness of the Bulgarian people. If, like us, you are genuinely concerned about the decline of standards in UK society today, you will be pleasantly reassured by society in Bulgaria.
Unless you've been on a package ski-ing holiday to Bulgaria, or are known for your off-the-beaten- track holidays, chances are you've never been to Bulgaria. First things first, please don't be one of the many foolhardy individuals who have parted with their cash and bought a Bulgarian property blind from Ebay having never been to the country. It's amazing what can be shown or hidden with a camera, and just how fresh is that coat of paint? What are the locals like? Please be assured that there are still lots of bargains to be had for the time being, with a little research, so delaying for a month or two until you can spend a long weekend in the country itself will be extremely worthwhile. Don't wait too long though, as it's not only the Brits that are snapping up property, the Germans and Russians have a smiliar interest.
There are a number of things you need to experience for yourself, including the language (which uses cyrillic characters), the variances in climate (very cold in mid-winter, very hot in mid-summer), the hospitality of the locals, and the local cuisine.
Bulgaria is approximately three hours flying from the UK, and GMT plus 2 hours. Regular flights are provided by British Airways from Heathrow, and more recently EasyJet from Gatwick. We have also flown with Hungarian carrier Wizzair from Luton, and the national carrier Air Bulgaria from Gatwick. Do shop around - there are some very cheap flights available if you book far enough ahead. Most flights serve the capital Sofia, although flights are also available to the Black Sea resort of Varna, and also (just over the Danube) the Romanian capital Bucharest.
Go and view a reasonable number of properties, take your time and don't let your heart rule your head. Recommended estate agents will be pleased to take a few days out to show you around. There's something for all budgets in this fascinating country, from country houses requiring extensive renovation to modern properties you could move into tomorrow (if you wished). We bought in a quiet rural village, as that is what we wanted. Beware that many older rural properties are built on two levels, will probably have an external staircase, and may well have an external bathroom. Renovation work is reasonably cheap and straightforward to organise, providing you have the right people on the ground arranging and overseeing your affairs.
When you have selected a property, unless it is an apartment, non-Bulgarian residents will need to form a Bulgarian Limited Company (OOD) to purchase the property. This is not as onerous as it sounds, and again having the right contacts will make this straightforward. This entails depositing a sum of money in your new Bulgarian company's bank account for 30 days (as working capital), which can then be withdrawn and used to part-purchase your property. Your company must prepare and submit accounts each year, even as a dormant or non-trading company, for which we pay approximately £100 to £150 a year.
A Little More About Bulgaria
Bulgaria is located in south-eastern Europe, in the heart of the Balkans. It is bordered by Romania across the River Danube to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and 350 km of coastline on the Black Sea to the west. Bulgaria is a land of contrasts, with a highly diverse landscape: the north is dominated by the vast lowlands of the Danube and the south by the highlands and elevated plains. The country is steeped in history, and proudly boasts no less than eight UNESCO World National Cultural and Heritage sites.
With a population of just under 8 million people, mostly centred on nine key cities, nearly 1.5 million live in and around the capital, Sofia. Rousse region is situated in the north-eastern part of Bulgaria and is one of the medium sized regions in the country, covering 2,803 square miles, and a population of 267,621 (2001 figures). The northern boundary of Rousse region is the River Danube, which is also the country boundary between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Romania. The City of Rousse is the capital of the Region. The capital city of Romania, Bucharest, is approximately 45 miles away, and within easy reach by car or train. Rousse is well connected to the rest of Bulgaria by road and rail, with easy access from Sofia, Pleven, Veliko Turnovo, and Varna, and from Bucharest in Romania.
Rousse is the most “European” city in Bulgaria, and has often been referred to as “Little Austria” because of its architecture, however, there is still much visible evidence of its Communist past in many building and monuments. The city boats a wide variety of restaurants (many with English menus and English speaking staff), cafe bars, nightclubs, large shops etc, and has a bustling daily market where all manner of goods can be found. Crime is very low, it’s simply not tolerated here. There is very little graffiti, and no rubbish strewn streets. The local people are very friendly people: they actually like the English and want us to be there.
All you could possibly want is here: excellent food, fine wines and very, very cheap prices. From our own experience: 8 of us went to the very best restaurant in Rousse, the spectacular "Leventa", built underneath the colossal TV tower (the tallest in the Balkans, incidentally). We all had a starter (including the mouth-watering speciality of goose liver), main meals were a mix of chicken, lamb, steak and fish with ample vegetables and potatoes, and a variety of deserts to finish. All of this was accompanied by Cabernet Sauvignon and soft drinks, and finished off with coffee. The total bill was under £10.00 per head. Just try doing that in England: and be assured that the Bulgarian people don’t tolerate small helpings!
To drive in Bulgaria you can use your national license preferably accompanied by an international one. Road signs follow international standards. On-the-spot fines are in operation for speeding, drink driving, not having the correct documents, etc. If you leave your passport with a hotel reception ask for a copy (or the original) if intending to drive a rental car. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria. Child car seats are required by law, but only on the back seats. Speed limits are 50 kph in the cities and towns, 90 kph out of town and 120 kph on the few motorways. The same speed limits apply for motorcycles; motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times. At crossings that are not regulated, the driver who is on the right has the right-of-way, but this rule is frequently ignored.
Drive on the right, overtake on the left, cross only when the traffic light is green, give right of way to vehicles approaching from the right at crossroads and to buses in urban areas. It might also be useful to know that if someone flashes their lights at you it means that they expect you to get out of the way and not that they are going to let you go first. It is also the all-Bulgarian warning: Police ahead! Please bear in mind that horse-drawn carts, motorcycles and scooters can sometimes be found on major roads driving at night without lights. Please be very alert, especially when driving at night. In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and or the Roadside Assistance at telephone number 146. For an ambulance, call 150. The Road Police can be found all over Bulgaria, at all times of day and night, conducting random vehicle checks. If pulled over do not get out of the vehicle, but have ready your driving licence and all relevant vehicle documents. It is common to see police vehicles driving around with their blue lights on all the time as the norm: if they are attending an emergency they will also turn on their siren.
The Bulgarian currency is the Leva (LV, or LB locally), which is made up of 100 Stotinki. It is easiest to withdraw cash from a cash machine once you arrive in Bulgaria, as this currency is not readily available instantly in UK high street banks. Coins range from 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 Stotinki to 1 Leva. Bank notes are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Leva, although 20 Leva notes are typically the largest issued by cash machines. Be aware that due to the lower cost of living within Bulgaria, cash machines have daily withdrawal limits that will be significantly lower than in the UK. Most machines will allow 400 leva per day, although some are restricted to 200 leva per day. The Leva is fixed against the Euro at 1.95 Leva. Rough rule of thumb: divide Bulgarian price by 3 to approximate GB pounds.
We hope that you have found this to be intreresting and of use!