Is Bulgaria Safe? 10 Important Insider Travel Tips
If you watch the news and believe their brainwashing machine, you should lock yourself at home and never ever travel the world.
However, if you’re an individual capable of thinking for yourself, this is what you should know about travelling safely to Bulgaria.
In a nutshell: use common sense and don’t visit places/don’t do stuff which you wouldn’t back home. If a situation feels off, it probably is.
Turn back or head into a nearby store, where you can ask for help. Don’t let anyone get too close to you and always be alert.
Is Bulgaria safe to travel to? Let’s find out!
Travel Scams Anyone Could Fall For
Most of the travel scams below are widely known and practised in almost every destination on Earth.
However, a couple of them can’t be pulled off anywhere else but in Bulgaria. Since they’re very typical, you should read the following lines carefully before your trip.
Believe me, even I have almost fallen for some of them! That’s how simple yet clever they are.
1. The Fake Exchange Rate
Bulgaria is mostly a cash economy. Outside of the capital Sofia, only major chains accept card payments.
Don’t exchange your money anywhere else but in banks. The Bulgarian currency Lev is tied to the Euro and the official exchange rate is 1.95 leva = 1.00 €.
The dealers at exchange kiosks add an extra digit to the rate, exchanging 1.00 € for 1.195 leva. It is hard to notice the difference and even I have almost fallen for the trick.
2. The Old, Invalid Banknotes
The currently valid Bulgarian leva banknotes and coins are issued after 1999.
You can check what they look like at the Bulgarian National Bank’s Official website.
Scammers might try to hand you old, invalid banknotes or coins when returning your change or exchanging money on the street. The latter you should never do. Also, check the previous scam and warning.
This scam has been reported mostly at big, touristy places on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Not only should you be careful in such places, my advice is to generally avoid visiting these unauthentic, overpriced, tourist traps.
3. The Beggars
Never, ever, for no reason whatsoever, give money to beggars!
No matter how miserable, poor, young, old, or disabled they appear to be, they are actually earning more money than you do out of the goodness of people.
4. The Fake Taxis
While inflated taxi rates aren’t something new and you can experience this scam in almost every big city or touristy place, fake taxi companies are something you should be extra careful about when visiting Bulgaria.
Especially in Sofia, there are a handful of well-known, established, and reliable taxi companies, operating in the city.
The scammers fake their stickers and make their cars appear as if they belonged to said companies. They only change a letter in the name of the company and a few digits in the telephone number.
The safest way to catch a taxi is by using one of the official apps or asking a friend / a waiter / a receptionist to call you a cab.
5. The Pickpockets In Crowded Areas
It goes without saying that large gatherings attract pickpockets like magnets everywhere in the world.
In Bulgaria, one of the most popular places for pickpockets to perform their “crafts” are jam-packed public transportation buses and trams. Some are so good that they’ll manage to relieve you of your valuables even while waiting for a few seconds at a traffic light on a street corner.
To avoid being ripped, always have your eyes on your belongings. Backpacks are not suitable for crowded places and if you must carry your valuables in a backpack, try to lug it in front of you.
The best way to evade being robbed is to be always aware of your surroundings. Don’t let anyone get too close to you, meaning that you better wait for the next bus if the one that just came is jam-packed.
Personally, I prefer to take the metro or call a cab. There is a constant police presence in the metro stations and if you followed my previous advice about taxis, your driver will take good care of you.
6. The “Free” Gift
Sometimes in the streets or at underpass exits, a stranger might hand you something small: a postcard, a tiny Christian icon, or a bracelet. The person will insist it’s free and it’s a gift for good luck, good fortune, or whatever other reason.
The moment you take it, they’ll tell you that you have to pay them. They’ll follow you around and won’t accept to take back the object they insisted on giving you.
So after you get annoyed, you’ll budge and give them money.
I’ve heard of this trick being played on tourists all over the world and have witnessed it myself in multiple destinations. Don’t fall for it – simply don’t accept anything from anyone you don’t know.
7. The Inflated Bill
Before paying your bill at the restaurant where you just ate or handing over your money to the bartender, make sure they’ve asked for the correct amount.
Sometimes you’ll find an extra salad or a beer you didn’t order on the bill. Rarely it’s an honest mistake, more often it’s your waiter trying to make a few bucks on the side.
Be polite and point out the error. Most of the time, they’ll apologise and recalculate your bill.
8. The Absent Ticket
When travelling in Bulgaria, you have to buy your transportation ticket in advance.
Theoretically, it’s possible to buy it from the driver but believe me, it’s almost impossible to receive a ticket unless you have exact change.
If your visit to Bulgaria starts at Sofia Airport and you want to use the public transportation to get to your accommodation, remember to buy a ticket before you hop on the bus or metro.
Tourists have reported that they caught the bus from the airport without tickets and the driver refused to sell them because they didn’t have exact money. Moments after the bus departed, they were fined for not having valid tickets.
When using the metro, remember that tickets are only valid at the time and from the station of purchase.
Alternatively, you can buy a magnetic, rechargeable card for 10 rides. In addition to the convenience of not having to buy a ticket each time you want to catch a train, the price per ride is around 25% cheaper than that of a single ticket.
9. The Dark Back Alleys
Sadly, most back alleys in Bulgaria are poorly lit at night.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be mugged if you wander on foot to your accommodation. It simply means that it might be dangerous to do so as there are often obstacles in your way.
Take a longer route and use the main streets to walk home or call a cab to take you there. The risk is not worth it, especially if you’ve just had a few drinks and are not fully concentrated.
10. The Stray Animals
When walking the streets of any Bulgarian town, you’ll notice the presence of stray dogs and cats.
I get it, we all love animals. However, please suppress your urge to pet them, give them food, or – god forbid – take them with you. They carry countless diseases and can turn aggressive in a blink of an eye.
Unfortunately, the latter is also true for domestic dogs. Often, they walk the streets unleashed and might attack you for no apparent reason.
Simply, keep your distance and try to avoid confrontation with both the animal and its owner.
Not-scams: People Selling Small Things At Your Table
Sometimes when eating out, old women might approach your table, selling season flowers.
Other times, young people might offer you keychains, pens, or small souvenirs at your restaurant table. They’ll leave them on the table alongside a note, saying that they’re produced by deaf or disabled people.
These are not scams. Instead of begging, these people are trying to earn a few extra Levas to be able to buy themselves something to eat.
If you feel you could spare a few coins, buy something small that you could either gift to someone else or keep as a nice reminder of how fortunate you are to be able to travel to beautiful places like Bulgaria.
So Is Bulgaria Safe – What’s The Verdict?
Don’t believe the news when they tell you how unsafe Eastern Europe and in particular Bulgaria is. Instead, look at the facts with an unbiased mind.
In comparison with the West European countries, where terrorist bombs explode regularly, and the neighbouring Turkey, which is on the verge of a dictatorship, the situation in Bulgaria is rather peaceful.
While in neighbouring Macedonia the Parliament has been recently broken into due to ethnical intolerance, Bulgarians continue living in harmony and welcoming migrants. While bombs were falling in ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s after religious and ethnical differences tore the country apart, in Bulgaria all ethnicities sit at the same table, celebrate, and grief together.
So turn off the TV, throw out your newspaper, or close the browser tab with the exaggerated news.
Bulgaria is safe for travellers and locals alike.
Since we have this out of the way, what are you waiting for – start planning your trip to Bulgaria already!