Stay safe in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is generally a safe country and the people are quite friendly. However, you should use common sense when staying outside the main tourist areas, i.e. don’t show too openly that you have money, don’t dress too much like a tourist, be careful with your belongings, don’t walk around the suburbs at night (especially in Sofia), avoid dark streets at night. In Bulgaria, running into a hole is a much bigger danger than being robbed.
Emergency telephone numbers
The Europe-wide standard number 112 for all emergency calls has been in operation throughout Bulgaria since September 2008. If for some reason you cannot connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for fire brigade.
Driving in Bulgaria can be quite nerve-wracking. There were 599 deaths on Bulgarian roads in 2012, fewer than in previous years. Aggressive driving habits, a lack of safe infrastructure and a mix of new and old cars on the country’s roads contribute to a high fatality rate in road accidents. It is important to note that Bulgaria’s road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of divided highways with limited access. Some roads are in poor condition and full of potholes. In Bulgaria, seat belts are compulsory for all passengers except pregnant women. In practice, these rules are often not respected. Be careful when crossing roads as drivers are usually very impatient and will largely ignore your presence when crossing the road.
In general, organised crime is a serious problem throughout Bulgaria, but it does not usually affect tourists and ordinary people. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries in terms of violent crime and the presence of these groups is slowly decreasing. Pickpocketing and fraud (e.g. taxi scams or embezzlement) are more prevalent, so be careful, especially in busy areas (e.g. train stations, public transport).
Car theft is probably the most serious problem travellers can encounter. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unattended car parks or on the street – these places are likely to attract more attention from criminals. If you happen to leave it in such a place, make sure the vehicle is equipped with a security system. This will prevent the vehicle from being stolen.
Travellers should also be careful when making credit card payments over the internet to unknown websites. As recent experience has shown, offers of goods and services can be made by fraudsters posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example concerns credit card payments over the internet to so-called tour operators via websites based in Bulgaria. In several cases, the corresponding companies did not even exist. As a general rule, do not buy items from websites you do not know.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the risk of fraud and other criminal activities, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. Skimming devices, which are surreptitiously placed on ATMs by criminals to capture cards and PIN codes for subsequent criminal use, including unauthorised debits or withdrawals, are very common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which ATM to use, it is better to use cash instead of a credit card.
Also be careful with the cash you have on hand. Remember that Bulgaria is one of the biggest bases for counterfeiting foreign currency, so be careful with your euros, dollars and pounds.
Taxi drivers sometimes overcharge careless travellers, especially at Sofia Airport and the main railway station. Travellers are advised to use metered taxis, whose fares are clearly indicated on a sticker on the passenger’s windscreen, as these taxis usually charge a normal amount, while taxis without meters charge very unfair prices. A useful tip is to check the price of your journey in advance with a reliable source, such as a friend or an official at the train station or tourist office. If you happen to fall for these red taxis, it is better to refuse the offer or just drive away.
Bulgaria has very strict drug laws and the penalties are perhaps much harsher than in any other country in Europe.
Do not change currency on the street! It is a common scam to offer you counterfeit money as change in tourist areas such as train stations.
Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. Although most are friendly and more afraid of you than you are of them, they have been responsible for a number of accidents, so be on your guard. Rabies is widespread in Bulgaria, so any animal bite should be treated immediately.
Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in the forests, so be careful.
Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some police officers or officials may ask you for a bribe for certain actions. If this happens, refuse the offer and ask for the person’s name and identity. Corruption in customs used to be a problem as well, but has decreased significantly since the country joined the EU.
The government has been fighting corruption hard, with tremendous success. If you find yourself in a situation where you are being asked to pay a bribe, or if you feel that you are being taken advantage of, you can either fill out an online application with the police here http://nocorr.mvr.bg/ or call 02 982 22 22 to report the corruption.
Unfortunately, begging and people trying to sell you random things are quite common in Bulgaria. In resorts, both in the mountains and on the coast, many people will try to sell you various things, such as roses, pirate DVDs, etc. Usually a business will not get rid of them, but sometimes they persist, and often ignoring them will not make them go away unless you make it clear that you are not interested. Also be aware that in many cases these people are just wandering around hotel restaurants in the evening, so expect them to be at your table at some point! In the ski resorts there are many people selling “traditional” Bulgarian bells. They know when the tourists are arriving and how long they are staying and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you let them know at the beginning of the week that you don’t want a bell, they will usually leave you alone (at least for a few days), but if you don’t say no or even tell them they will provide you with a cheap plastic bell to force you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will suddenly become your friends for the week as they will try to get you to buy a bell, but of course, if you want to buy a bell, make sure you haggle! And if you really don’t want to buy a bell, your bell ringer will ask for his cheap plastic bell back at the end of the week and won’t be very happy! Don’t feel bad if you don’t buy a bell, because they often charge exorbitant prices unless you really haggle. However, if you do buy a bell, you will find that the bell ringers are really friendly and talkative people, and they are not all as bad as they seem!
Stay healthy in Bulgaria
Since Europe is generally a rich country, it is better to say that health standards are developed. However, there are potential health risks, even if the government successfully fights against the high chances of such things. The biggest risk a traveller can face is air pollution. People with respiratory problems, such as asthma, are at greater risk.
Pollution is neither better nor worse than in any other European city. The health risks are the same as in other parts of Europe. So be careful what you eat. That is, if you buy fruit and vegetables, wash them before you eat them. If you are inclined to buy food from a stall that sells fast food containing meat, be aware that you are taking a risk with your health as there are no health regulations in these establishments.
When you are at the Black Sea, be aware of the strong beach sun, especially in July and August. Wear sunscreen and don’t leave your parasol for the first few days. Do not drink strong alcohol on the beach, it could give you a heart attack.
Smoking is the national pastime, and it is even more difficult to avoid cigarette smoke than exhaust fumes on the streets. In general, most people sit outside in summer, which makes it less stressful. As it is a barrier that changes with the seasons, it is best to be on your guard. Since 2012, smoking has been banned in public places, including bars and restaurants, but the restrictions are rarely enforced.
Food and drink
Most of the food is completely safe to eat. The products used in the kitchen are usually local and organic. Of course, try to avoid eating in areas that are obviously not clean.
In Bulgaria, the quality of tap water, its taste and consumption recommendations vary considerably. While it is of very good quality and safe to drink in the mountainous regions, it is better to avoid drinking water in northern Bulgaria and in areas near the sea. In the mountainous regions of Bulgaria there are quite a few natural springs and many villages have one or more mineral water springs.
Living conditions in Bulgarian hospitals can vary – from the very clean and sparkling hospital equipped with the latest technology to the drab, dark and cold hospital. There are new hospitals and some very old ones, with old technology. The medical staff are very good at their job.
EU citizens are covered by the Bulgarian health system if they have a Eurocard (or European Health Insurance Card), which they can obtain from their own national health authority.
Dental treatment in private clinics in Bulgaria is of excellent quality. Many people from Western Europe come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for a quarter of the price they pay in their home country.