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Travel Security Advice for Bulgaria

 

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Bulgaria is a quickly developing European nation undergoing significant economic changes.  Tourist facilities are widely available, although conditions vary and some facilities may not be up to Western standards.  Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in many areas of Bulgaria. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bulgaria for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

A United States passport is required for U.S. citizens who are not also Bulgarian nationals.  U.S. citizens who enter the country without a Bulgarian visa are authorized to stay for a total of 90 days within a six-month period. This law is strictly enforced. An application to extend one’s stay beyond the original 90 days can be filed for urgent or humanitarian reasons, but must be submitted to regional police authorities no later than five days prior to the end of the original 90-day period. Travelers who have been in the country for 90 days, and then leave, will not be able to re-enter Bulgaria before the six-month period expires. Travelers using official or diplomatic passports must secure visas prior to arrival. Upon entering the country, Bulgarian immigration authorities request that all foreigners declare the purpose of their visit and provide their intended address.

For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC   20008; http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org/; tel. (202) 387-7969 (main switchboard (202) 387-0174), or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City at 121 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021; http://www.consulbulgaria-ny.org/; tel. (212) 935-4646.

U.S. citizens intending to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within six months (or more than six months within a year) must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival. As of July 2008, U.S. citizens must apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian Embassy/Consulate in the country where they are legally resident.  U.S. citizens residing in the United States must therefore apply at the Bulgarian representative office (either the Embassy or a Consulate) nearest their home.  If an American citizen residing in the U.S. is already present in Bulgaria -- having entered as a tourist, for example -- and wishes to obtain a “D” visa to remain for an extended period, he or she will have to return to the U.S. to do so.  Additionally, an American citizen married to a Bulgarian national must present his/her marriage license when applying for “D” visa at a Bulgarian Embassy or Consulate.

The Bulgarian authorities do not consider presentation of a copy of the passport sufficient for identification purposes. Visitors should carry their original passports with them at all times. This is not a requirement for U.S. citizens who hold residence permits for Bulgaria.

Traveling with Bulgarian Citizen Minors:

Bulgarian authorities are particularly strict in matters involving the travel of Bulgarian children. Adults, other than a child’s parents, departing Bulgaria with a Bulgarian national (including dual or multi-national Bulgarian) child, must present to authorities a certified/legalized declaration signed by the child’s parents authorizing custody for travel purposes. This holds true even if the adult is otherwise related to the child. If the declaration is signed in Bulgaria, certification by a Bulgarian notary public is required. If signed in the U.S., the declaration must be certified by a notary public and the court in the jurisdiction where the notary is licensed. The declaration must then be legalized with an apostille issued by the individual state's secretary of state or the Governor’s office. Please note Bulgarian authorities do not require such documentation for minors who are not Bulgarian.

Find more information about
dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:

While Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourist and business travelers, violence related to criminal groups occurs sporadically in public locations.

In September 2008 the U.S. Embassy warned of the increasing incidence of violent criminal activity at “gentlemen’s clubs” in Sofia and encouraged Americans to avoid such clubs.  Recent incidents include two bombings and a shooting in August and September, one of which seriously injured several people.   Local authorities reported these incidents likely resulted from turf wars between rival organized crime syndicates.

These syndicates are highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy.  Suspected organized crime members often travel in convoys of late-model SUVs and luxury sedans, accompanied by armed men, and frequent expensive restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.

Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes in response to world or local events can occur sporadically. Traffic disruptions, particularly in the central city, have occurred as a result of demonstrations.  While these demonstrations are normally peaceful, confrontational demonstrations have occurred.  We remind all Americans that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  A rally in January 2009 resulted in clashes between police and protestors and the arrests of more than 50 people.  American citizens are therefore urged to avoid demonstration areas if possible, and to exercise caution if traveling within the vicinity of any demonstrations.  American citizens should monitor media coverage to stay abreast of local events and should be aware of their surroundings at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, where the current
Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:

Pick-pocketing and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets, shopping streets, and the busiest tram and bus lines. Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations.  Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution. Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance. Do not give your PIN to anyone under any circumstances (See the Special Circumstances section below). Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also require persons claiming to be government officials to show identification. There have been incidents in which tourists have been drugged or assaulted and robbed after accepting offers of coffee or alcoholic beverages from "friendly” individuals met by “chance” at hotels, the airport, or at bus or train stations. Travelers should be wary of unfamiliar individuals who encourage them to drink or eat products, as these may be tainted with strong tranquilizers (such as valium) that can lead rapidly to unconsciousness. Reporting a crime immediately to the police has helped recover money and valuables on more than one occasion and is recommended. To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, one should use the same personal safety precautions that they would use in large urban areas of the United States.

Travelers should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs. There have been instances of travelers being charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol. Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments the management may use force to secure payment.

On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. We recommend travelers use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield. Travelers should be aware that there is no official commission that sets taxi cab rates. Taxi drivers are within their full rights to charge passengers any price they want, provided that it corresponds with the price shown on the windshield sticker. At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrivals terminal, which arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate. Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult. It is recommended to inquire about the fare first, to avoid excessive payment if a metered taxi cannot be found. Always ensure that you have and account for all luggage, packages and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi. The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote. Because pilferage of checked baggage may occur at Sofia Airport, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage.

Automobile theft is a concern, with four-wheel-drive vehicles and late model European sedans being the most popular targets. Very few vehicles are recovered. Thieves smash vehicle windows to steal valuables left in sight. Break-ins at residential apartments occur as frequently as in major cities everywhere. Persons who plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis should take measures to protect their dwellings. Long-term residents should consider installation of window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system that alerts an armed response team.

Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. As recent experience has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based web sites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. To learn about possible compensation back in the U.S. if you are a victim of violent crime while abroad, see our information on Victims of Crime.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Bulgaria is 112.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Bulgaria’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. There have been reports of false ATM fronts on bona fide machines that capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals. If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity. In connection with such scams, travelers should be extremely wary of friendly bystanders near ATMs who offer assistance. Any time a card is not returned the traveler should immediately report the card as lost/stolen to the card-issuing company.

Visitors may exchange cash at banks or Exchange Bureaus, but they should know that Exchange Bureaus sometimes post misleading rate quotations that confuse travelers. People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling the unwary traveler. Damaged or very worn U.S dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or Exchange Bureaus. Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers' checks on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian currency, or another desired currency: Bulbank, Bulgarian Postbank, Biochim, First Investment Bank, and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB). UBB also serves as a Western Union agent and provides direct transfer of money to travelers in need. There are also many Western Union branches in major towns and cities. Most shops, hotels, and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, do not accept travelers' checks or credit cards. Only some local banks can cash U.S. Treasury checks and the payee may need to wait up to a month to receive funds.

Corruption remains an important concern of the Government. The Commission for Coordinating of the Activity for Combating Corruption manages the efforts of each government agency’s internal inspectorate in fighting public corruption and engages in public awareness campaigns. Complaints of public corruption can be made to it at the Ministry of Justice, 2A Knyaz Dondukov Blvd., 1055 Sofia, Bulgaria, email:
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 359-2-980-9213, 359-2-923-7595, 359-2-940-3630 or to the Ministry of Finance hotline: 0800180018.

U.S. citizens planning to import an automobile to Bulgaria should be aware that customs duties on personal automobiles can be high.  Please see our
Customs Information.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

While Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped and maintained to meet U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Pediatric facilities are in need of funding and lack equipment. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Bulgaria.

Further health information for travelers is available at
http://www.who.int/ith/en.

For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

All foreign citizens traveling to Bulgaria should be prepared to present valid evidence of health insurance to the Bulgarian border authorities in order to be admitted into the country. The insurance should be valid for the duration of the traveler’s stay in Bulgaria.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Bulgaria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season. Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark. Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.

Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents.  Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. In particular, drivers of late-model sedans are known to speed and drive dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures. In some cities traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving rights-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents.

Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. A U.S. state driver's license is valid in Bulgaria only when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit. For information on how to obtain a permit, please see our Road Safety Overseas information.

If pulled over by a police officer, motorists should be aware that, under a recently changed Bulgarian law, police officers may collect fines on the spot.

The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. Children under 12 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat. In practice, these rules are often not followed. Speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways. For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways. 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. Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent. Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized. The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a US $25 fine up to imprisonment for life. A new law requires the use of headlights day and night from November 1st through March 31st.

In case of emergency, drivers should call 112.

For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please visit the Bulgarian Embassy web site at
http://www.webhousing.biz/~bulgaria/.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.bulgariatravel.org/eng/index.php and the web site of the Bulgarian national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.kat.mvr.bg/. (Note: The latter web site is in Bulgarian only.)

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Bulgaria’s air carrier operations.  Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

Americans living abroad or traveling in Bulgaria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Bulgaria. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 16, Kozyak St., Sofia1407; tel.: (+359 2) 937-5100; fax (+359 2) 937-5209; web site at http://bulgaria.usembassy.gov/. Questions regarding consular services may be directed via email to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (for non-immigrant visa matters); This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (for immigrant visa matters) and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (for American Citizen Services matters).

This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 21, 2008 to update the section on Safety and Security.

 


 

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding Bulgaria HERE.....

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens)............

Regards

The SW Team.........

 

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