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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Bulgaria. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the news and other sources of information for changes to local travelling conditions. 
  • Terrorism is a threat in Europe. Terrorist attacks have occurred in a number of European cities in recent years. See Safety and security.
  • The Bulgarian authorities have introduced heightened security measures with additional police presence in all cities, ski resorts and places where large gatherings are expected. See Safety and security.
  • There are significant pressures on border controls in Europe due to the movement of asylum seekers. Carry your passport when crossing borders, even within the Schengen area. Check with local authorities and transport providers for up-to-date information on entry and exit changes, and delays. See Local travel.
  • It's illegal to cover your face in public places in Bulgaria. You can be fined if you wear a balaclava, veil or any other garment that is used to conceal your face. There is no exemption for tourists. See Laws.
  • Pickpocketing and purse snatching are common. See Safety and security.
  • Check with your travel insurer to ensure you are covered for all the activities you intend to undertake, such as car hire, riding motorcycles or adventure activities. Restrictions can apply.
  • Rabies is endemic in Bulgaria. If a dog or other animal bites or scratches you, seek immediate medical assistance. See Health.
  • Australia has a Consulate in Sofia, headed by an Honorary Consul, which can provide limited consular services (not including the issue of passports). Full consular services are available from the Australian Embassy in Athens. See Where to get help.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Australians don't need a visa to enter Bulgaria for tourism purposes for stays of up to 90 days within a six month period. You'll need a visa for other kinds of travel.

Bulgaria is not a Schengen member country but is working towards membership. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as, customs and quarantine regulations) may change as they are realigned with those of the Schengen area. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Bulgaria for up-to-date information.

More information:

Passport

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Always carry your passport when crossing borders, even within the Schengen area.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception.  If you're forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy for advice.

By law, you must as soon as possible report a lost or stolen passport:

Money

The currency of Bulgaria is the Bulgarian Lev (BGN).

Bulgaria is a European Union (EU) member state and complies with EU currency regulations. Declare cash of 10,000 Euros or more (or the equivalent in another currency) if you are travelling between Bulgaria and any non-EU country. This includes notes and coins, money orders, cheques and travellers cheques. If you don't declare, or you give incorrect information,, you will be fined. You don't need to declare cash if you're travelling to or from another EU country.

Bulgaria is predominantly a cash economy, although the use of credit/debit cards is increasing. Exchange money in banks, large hotels or exchange bureaux. Avoid unofficial or street sellers.

Safety and security

Crime

Pick-pocketing and purse snatching occur frequently, especially in crowded markets, on shopping streets, and on trams and buses.

Car theft is common. Very few vehicles are recovered. Car break-ins are also common in residential areas or near parks, especially when valuables are left in sight. Keep luggage and personal possessions out of sight when parked. Park in a secure facility wherever possible.

'Drink spiking' occurs, especially at popular night spots. Never leave your food or drinks unattended. Never accept food or drinks from strangers.

ATM skimming and credit card fraud are common. Internet fraud also occurs.

Organised criminal groups are active in casinos and nightclubs, and are involved in prostitution. Although rare, violent crime, including bombings and shootouts, generally attributed to turf wars between rival gangs, can occur.

  • Pay close attention to your personal belongings, particularly in crowded areas.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location. Carry a photocopy of your passport.
  • Avoid carrying bags that are easy to snatch. Hold bags and backpacks in front of you.
  • When driving or parking your car, make sure valuables are out of sight.
  • Use ATMs in controlled areas such as within banks, shops and shopping centres. Avoid ATMs that open onto the street, especially at night.
  • Check ATM machines for skimming devices before use. Avoid ATMs that appear to have been tampered with.
  • Keep your credit card in sight at all times.
  • Be aware of internet scams.

More information:

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world, including in Bulgaria. In recent years, terrorists have staged attacks in a number of European cities. Targets have included public transport and transport hubs, and public places frequented by foreigners. In addition, a number of planned attacks have been disrupted by European security services in recent years.

In 2012, Lebanese Hezbollah conducted a bombing against Israeli tourists in Burgas. The attack killed six and injured 32.

Heightened security measures are in place in all cities, winter ski resorts and places where large gatherings are expected. Bulgaria is currently under a 'yellow level' of awareness, raised from green following a terrorist attack in Berlin in December 2016. 'Yellow level' indicates that Bulgarian authorities are monitoring the security environment and are prepared to implement additional security measures at short notice.

  • Be alert to possible threats, especially in public places.
  • Exercise particular caution around locations known to be possible terrorist targets.
  • Report any suspicious activity or items to police.
  • Monitor the news for any new or emerging threats.
  • Take official warnings seriously and follow the instructions of local authorities.

If there is an attack, leave the affected area immediately, if it's safe to do so

More information: Terrorist Threat Worldwide

Civil unrest/political tension

Bulgarians regularly hold protests and demonstrations.  Protests, demonstrations and rallies can form with little prior notice. Some have resulted in minor injuries.

Avoid protests, demonstrations and large gatherings as they could turn violent.

Local travel

Since 2015, there have been significant pressures on border controls in Europe due to the movement of asylum seekers. Carry your passport when crossing borders, even within the Schengen area. Check with local authorities and transport providers for up-to-date information on entry and exit changes, and delays.

Road travel

Major city streets and inter-city highways are generally in good condition but most secondary roads are poorly maintained, badly lit and narrow. Poor driving standards, wandering livestock and horse-drawn carts on the roads create additional hazards when driving.

Traffic laws are strictly enforced and police conduct frequent checks, including radar speed checks.

  • The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women.
  • Headlights must be on at all times throughout the year when driving, even during the day.
  • The use of a mobile phone while driving is prohibited, unless using a fitted hands-free device.
  • Children under 10 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat and the air-bag has been disabled.
  • To drive on motorways and main roads outside towns, you need to purchase and display a valid 'vignette' (sticker).

If you intend to hire a car or other vehicle, check if these activities are covered by your insurance policy. Seek advice on any restrictions that may apply, particularly if you're not licensed for that vehicle type in Australia.

More information:

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Driver's licence

You'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your current Australian driver's licence to drive a vehicle in Bulgaria. Driving without an IDP could void your travel and vehicle insurance. More information: Road safety and driving.

Taxis

Use only authorised taxi and limousine services. Arrange taxis through your accommodation provider and avoid hailing taxis on the street.

Most taxis are metered. Taxi drivers may overcharge unwary travellers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. Check the tariffs on the window before getting into the taxi as they vary considerably. Use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on the passenger side of the windshield.

Public transport

Bus and rail services operate throughout Bulgaria. Pay close attention to your belongings on public transport, as petty crime occurs.

The train system is poor by European standards. There have been several fires on Bulgarian trains.

Accessibility for travellers with disabilities is limited in some parts of Bulgaria. Accessible public transport is more widely available in Sofia and other large cities.

Air travel

The Australian Government doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Bulgaria.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for possession or trafficking of drugs can be severe, and include heavy fines and prison sentences.  More information: Carrying and using drugs.

Other laws

Carry original photo identification on you at all times in Bulgaria.

The following activities are illegal in Bulgaria:

  • covering your face in a public place. This includes balaclavas, full veils or any other garment or mask that is used to conceal the face
  • driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent or greater
  • refusing to take a breathalyser test
  • smoking in an enclosed public place
  • taking photographs of military installations or other secure locations
  • sexual conduct with a minor (under 18 years of age)
  • viewing or disseminating child pornography.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you can be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Bulgaria recognises dual nationality. However, Australian officials may be limited in their ability to provide consular services if local authorities consider you a Bulgarian citizen.

More information: Dual nationals

Local customs

Homosexuality isn't illegal, but is not widely accepted in Bulgarian society. Violence against LGBTI travellers is rare but, in general, public displays of affection should be avoided throughout Bulgaria. More information: LGBTI travellers 

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and aren't covered under your policy
  • that you're covered for the whole time you'll be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Take sufficient prescription medicine so you remain in good health. Always carry a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you take and that it's for personal use only.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Rabies

Rabies is endemic in Bulgaria. Feral dogs roam city streets, often in packs, and can be vicious. Dog attacks are common.

  • Consult your travel doctor on vaccination against rabies before you travel.
  • If you're bitten or scratched by a dog or other animal in Bulgaria, seek immediate medical attention.

More information: Infectious diseases

Tick-borne encephalitis

Travel in forested areas brings the risk of exposure to tick-borne encephalitis. Ticks are very common in country areas and are active from spring to autumn.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, measles and hepatitis) are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks sometimes occurring. In January 2014, there were two outbreaks of trichinosis in the Plovdiv area. Trichinosis is a parasitic disease caused by eating undercooked or raw infected pork or wild game.

  • In rural areas, boil all drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid uncooked and undercooked food.

Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Public medical facilities are generally well below Australian standards and the availability of medical supplies is limited, particularly outside major cities.

There are several private medical clinics and private hospitals that are well equipped and staffed in Sofia and other major cities. However, treatment can be expensive and up-front payment is often required.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated to a destination with the required facilities. Medical evacuation costs could be considerable.

Where to get help​

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergencies

  • Fire: 112
  • Medical emergencies: 112
  • Criminal issues, contact police:  112

English speaking operators are available.

For non-emergency criminal issues, contact the local police at the nearest police station. Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

Australia has a Consulate in Sofia, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular services and doesn't issue passports.

Australian Consulate, Sofia

37 Trakia Street
Sofia, 1504
Bulgaria
Telephone: +359 2946 1334
Facsimile: +359 2946 1704
Email: austcon@mail.orbitel.bg

The Australian Embassy in Greece provides full consular assistance to Australians in Bulgaria.

Australian Embassy, Athens

Thon Building, Level 6
Cnr. Kifisias and Alexandras Ave
Ambelokipi
Athens 115 23 GREECE
Telephone: +30 210 870 4000
Facsimile: +30 210 870 4055
Email: consular.athens@dfat.gov.au
Website: greece.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: Australia in Greece

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you're unable to contact the Embassy or Consulate in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Bulgaria experiences earthquakes. Large earthquakes are rare, but earth tremors are common.

There is a risk of avalanches in mountainous regions, especially when rapidly warming temperatures follow a harsh winter.

Extreme weather can cause landslides and flooding.

Throughout summer and in early autumn, there are regular alerts and warnings for wildfires. Large-scale and quickly spreading fires in forests and fields are a danger.

The National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology website provides detailed weather forecasts and severe weather warnings for Bulgaria.

Take official warnings seriously and follow the advice of local authorities.

If there is a natural disaster or severe weather:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts
  • closely monitor the media, other local sources of information and the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the advice of local authorities.

Additional Resources