Bulgaria is a moderately developed European nation undergoing significant economic changes. Tourist facilities are widely available although conditions vary and some facilities may not up to Western standards. Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are still not available in many areas of Bulgaria.
A passport is required. A visa is not required for U.S. citizen visitors for stays of up to 30 days. Travelers who intend to stay more than 30 days should secure a Bulgarian visa as the fees connected with the extension of their stay in the country are much higher than the visa fees. Visitors should carry their passport with them at all times. For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; tel: (202) 483-5885 (main switchboard (202) 387-7969) or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City.
Petty street crime, much of which is directed against foreigners or others who appear to have money, continues to be a problem. Pickpocketing and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets and on shopping streets. Confidence artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations, and travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also require persons claiming to be officials to show identification. Taxi drivers at Sofia Airport often gouge unwary travelers, and even if they agree to run their meters, the amounts to be paid are much higher than normal. Travelers who pre-negotiate a fare can avoid the more outrageous overcharging. Because incidents of pilferage of checked baggage at Sofia Airport are common, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage. Automobile theft is also a frequent problem, with four-wheel drive vehicles and late model European sedans the most popular targets. Very few vehicles are recovered. Thieves also sometimes smash vehicle windows to steal valuables left in sight. 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. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
Although Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics are generally not equipped and maintained at U.S. or Western European levels. Basic medical supplies are widely available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of Stateís Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which 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.
Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
The Bulgarian road system is underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rockslides and landslides are common on roads in mountain areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country. Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against night driving because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark. Many roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. A U.S. state driverís license is not considered valid for Bulgaria; only an international driverís license is accepted. Persons operating vehicles with foreign license plates frequently complain of being stopped by police and being fined on the spot for offenses that are not clear.
Buses, trams, and trolleys are inexpensive but often crowded and of widely varying quality. Passengers on the busiest lines have reported pickpocketing, purse-slashing, and backside-pinching.
For specific information concerning Bulgaria driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Bulgarian National Tourist Organization.
Bulgaria is still a largely cash economy. Visitors should exchange cash at banks or Change Bureaus. Some Change Bureaus charge commissions on both cash and travelersí check transactions which are not clearly posted. People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are confidence tricksters intent on swindling the unwary traveler. Old, dirty or very worn denomination bank notes are often not accepted at banks or Change Bureaus. Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelersí checks on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian 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. ATM cash machines are increasing in numbers in Sofia and other major cities. Most shops, hotels and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, still do not accept travelers' checks or credit cards. Due to the potential of fraud and other criminal activity credit cards and ATMís should be used with caution. On July 5, 1999, the Lev was re-denominated at a rate of 1,000 old Leva to one new Lev. For further information see the website of the Bulgarian National Bank at http://www.bnb.bg.
Americans living in or visiting Bulgaria are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria and obtain updated information on travel and security within Bulgaria. The U.S. Embassy is located in Sofia at 1 Saborna (formerly 1 A. Stamboliyski Boulevard); tel. (359) (2) 980-5241; fax: (359) (2) 981-8977. The Consular Section of the Embassy is located at 1 Kapitan Andreev Street in Sofia; tel. (359) (2) 963-1391; fax (359) (2) 963-2859. The Embassyís website address is http://www.usis.bg. Questions regarding consular services may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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