Living in Bulgaria
How to stay safe in Bulgaria while living and working there and what UK benefits you're entitled to.
In order to enter or exit Bulgaria you must hold a valid British passport. There is no minimum passport validity requirement but you should ensure that your passport is valid for the duration of your visit.
You can receive email alerts on the current situation in Bulgaria or how to stay safe by signing up for e-mail updates of the FCO travel advice for Bulgaria. Alternatively, you can follow FCO Travel on Facebook and Twitter as well as the official British Embassy Sofia Twitter and Facebook accounts www.twitter.com/ukinbulgaria and www.facebook.com/ukinbulgaria.The FCO Travel Aware campaign provides tips on how to stay safe and healthy abroad.
GOV.UK is the best place to find UK government services and information.
This guide sets out essential information for British nationals residing in Bulgaria, including British pension and benefits entitlements.
There has been no change to the rights and status of UK nationals in the EU as a result of the referendum.
Registering with the Bulgarian authorities
British citizens can enter Bulgaria without a visa and stay for a period up to 3 months. If you intend to stay for longer than 3 months, you will need to apply for a long-term residence permit from the Migration Directorate of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior.
British nationals who have resided legally in Bulgaria for a period of five years on the basis of a consecutive long-term residence permit are entitled to a permanent residence permit.
Step-by-step guidance in English on obtaining long-term and permanent residence permits is available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior’s Migration Directorate’s website.
The European Commission guide to free movement is a useful source of general information and guidance to your rights as an EU citizen.
Your Europe Advice provides custom-made legal advice on your rights within the EU free of charge, within 8 calendar days and in any official EU language.
The secret of a successful long-term move to Bulgaria is to integrate with your local community as much as possible by learning the language and by learning as much as possible about the local laws, regulations and customs.
Living conditions and working in Bulgaria
General information on living and working conditions and relocating to Bulgaria: please follow the links to Bulgarian institutions provided for further specific advice.
Social security rights
For information about social security rights and pensions, please read this leaflet designed to offer you a basic introduction to your pension, benefit and healthcare rights and responsibilities. Don’t listen to rumours. Instead, use our list of official sources to start planning ahead today.
You can find out more about how to plan for your healthcare if you are going to live abroad on a permanent basis on the NHS website.
If you are planning to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis you must register with the National Health Insurance Fund and then choose a GP and a dentist. This will entitle you to the basic public healthcare package available for Bulgarian nationals. There are a number of private health insurance funds which offer various healthcare plans based on an annual fee. These plans can top up the services available under the basic public healthcare package depending on your individual circumstances and needs.
Before you go to Bulgaria on holiday make sure you bring a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, and take out private travel insurance. You can find a brief guide to using your EHIC here.
UK State pensions
If you have retired and you live in Bulgaria, you may be able to claim your pension from the UK. For detailed information on how to claim your state pension, please check the Pension Service or the Department for Social Development.
The state pension changed in April 2010. More people now qualify for a full basic state pension. Find out about the most important changes and what they mean to you. To find out when you reach State Pension age, use the State Pension Age Calculator.
If you live but have not worked in Bulgaria, you should claim your UK state pension by contacting the International Pension Centre (IPC) in the UK by telephone: +44 (0) 191 218 1999.
If you spend time in both the UK and another EEA country or Switzerland, and are unsure about how this affects your UK pension, benefit and healthcare rights, always consult the relevant UK authority.
Moving to Bulgaria once in receipt of a UK state pension
If you are moving to Bulgaria from the UK you should inform the IPC of the changes to your circumstances. This will prevent any problems with your pension payments. It will also help you to get the right access to healthcare in Bulgaria
Life certificates for UK state pensions
If you have received a life certificate from the UK Pension Service it is important that you reply as quickly as possible otherwise your benefit may be stopped. You’ll need to get it signed by a ‘witness’ and send it back, as instructed on the form.
Check the list of people who can witness a life certificate. This is now the same as the list of people who can ‘countersign’ a passport photo, although they don’t need to live in the UK, or have a British or Irish passport.
The British Embassy in Bulgaria no longer provides life certificates for British nationals claiming a British pension abroad.
Britain has a double taxation agreement with Bulgaria to ensure people do not pay tax on the same income in both countries.
In Bulgaria you should expect to pay personal income tax and home owners’ tax. Additional taxes exist, including a vehicle tax and a fee for rubbish collection. Detailed information about taxes in Bulgaria is available from the National Revenue Agency.
Penalties for incorrect, incomplete or late reporting can be incurred and the legislation also means that criminal charges can be brought in the case of non-compliance. The requirement and potential penalties are in line with standard international tax practice.
Taxation is a complex issue and we strongly recommend that you seek professional advice.
Benefits in Bulgaria
If you receive a UK benefit and are going abroad, even for just a short time, you should notify the office that pays your benefit before you go. In fact any change in your circumstances, such as moving in with a partner, starting work, or even moving house, should be reported immediately to the relevant authority paying your benefit or pension.
Spending time out of the UK, whether for a holiday or to live, doesn’t necessarily mean that your benefits will be affected. But failing to notify your local benefit office of time spent abroad is considered an offence and could lead to prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.
You may still be able to claim some benefits if you travel or move abroad, or are already living abroad, and what you’re entitled to depends on where you are going and how long for.
For further information on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Bulgaria see the information on benefits if you are abroad.
Information about local Bulgarian benefits and pensions is available from the National Social Security Institute.
Non-exportable UK benefits
The following benefits are for people who are ordinarily resident in the UK and under no circumstances are they available in Bulgaria:
- pension credit
- council tax benefit
- income support
- housing benefit
- means-tested incapacity benefit/employment support allowance
Remember – if you are in receipt of benefits, it is an offence not to tell the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if your circumstances change, for example:
- you are going to live or are currently living in Bulgaria
- you get married, or if you separate, divorce or are widowed
- you start work, increase your earnings or your savings
If you don’t tell the DWP it could mean prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.
For more details visit the benefit fraud website.
For further details on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Bulgaria see the information about benefits if you are abroad.
Driving in Bulgaria
If you are resident in Bulgaria and you wish to exchange your UK driving license for a local one, please contact the traffic police department of your nearest Regional Police Department.
UK driving licences seized by the Bulgarian authorities are returned to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in the UK.
Earthquakes are not uncommon in Bulgaria and small tremors are recorded throughout the year. The most seismically active areas are: Krupnik, Blagoevgrad, Sofia, Maritsa, Shabla, Veliko Turnovo and Gorna Oryahovitsa areas.
The Bulgarian Government is responsible for assisting foreign nationals immediately after a major earthquake or serious natural disaster. It is important to co-operate with the authorities. Despite much research and speculation, nobody can predict when or where a large earthquake might occur, but there are things you can do to be ready. These can make the difference between life and death. In the event of a major earthquake we will try to locate British nationals affected by the disaster and check on their condition. Please note, however, that the embassy may also be severely affected by an earthquake and may not be in a position to offer immediate assistance. Local infrastructure including roads, phone systems and hospitals are also likely to be affected.
We recommend that you make preparations at home and at the office to help you survive an earthquake. Guidance is available from the Red Cross.
Returning to the UK
If you are a retired person who has spent some time living in Bulgaria and you have decided to move back to the UK, please see the advice and factsheet provided by Age UK.
Please note that this information is provided as a general guide only and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual, neither can it be regarded as legal advice. Definitive information should be obtained from the Bulgarian authorities or by consulting a suitably qualified professional. The British Embassy in Sofia bears no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided on the external websites quoted above and cannot guarantee that it is comprehensive and up to date.
Published: 22 March 2013
Updated: 16 September 2016
- The article now contains further detailed information on living in Bulgaria and reflects developments in light of the EU referendum.
- Information added on changes to EHIC rules and health cover for early retirees.
- First published.
Related guides: Notarial and documentary services guide for Bulgaria