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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Consular Information Sheet
April 20, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Bulgaria is a moderately developed European nation undergoing significant economic changes. Tourist facilities are widely available although conditions vary and some facilities may not be up to Western standards. Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are still not available in many areas of Bulgaria.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required. A visa is not required for U.S. Citizen visitors using regular passports for stays up to 30 days. Travelers who intend to stay more than 30 days, or travelers using official or diplomatic passports, must secure a Bulgarian visa. The fees connected with the extension of a visitor's 30-day stay in the country are much higher than the visa fees. All travelers are required to register with the regional passport office for foreigners of the police within 48 hours after their arrival in the country and to inform the office about any change in their address. Registration is taken care of by the proprietor for those staying at a hotel, a private boarding house or an apartment rented through an accomodation company. The Bulgarian authorities do not consider a copy of the passport sufficient. 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., NW., Washington, DC. 20008, Internet http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org, tel: (202) 483-5885 (main switchboard 202-387-7969) or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

CRIME: 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. Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations. Travelers should be suspicious of instant friends and should also require persons claiming to be government officials to show identification. There have been a number of incidents in which tourists have accepted offers of coffee or alcoholic beverages from "friendly people" met by chance at the airport, bus stations, hotels or train stations and have been drugged or assaulted and robbed. Travelers should be wary of unfamiliar individuals who encourage them to drink or eat products that may be tainted with strong tranquilizers (such as Valium) that can lead rapidly to unconsciousness.

Taxi drivers at Sofia airport often overcharge unwary travelers. Travelers who pre-negotiate a fare may avoid excessive payment. 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.

Break-ins at residential apartments occur frequently. Persons who plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis should take measures to protect their dwellings. Long-term residents should consider installation of window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system alerts an armed response team. Potential travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet as recent experience has shown that some offers come from scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. Travelers should also be careful about making credit card payments to Bulgarian tour operators over the Internet before coming to Bulgaria, because some entities listed thereon do not actually exist.

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. After a passport has been replaced, travelers must inform the respective passport office for foreigners in order to be able to leave the country. The Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402 and via Internet at http://www/access.gpo.gov/su_docs. It provides information on protecting personal security while traveling abroad.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Although Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics are generally not equipped or maintained at U.S. or Western European levels. Basic medical supplies are widely available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for services.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider 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 State's 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.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that 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 rural roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the active agricultural season. 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. Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.

During the last few years there has been a distinct increase in the number of road accidents resulting in casualties. The total number of road accidents in 1997 was 6,018 with 7,922 persons killed or injured; for 1998 the figures were respectively 6,905 and 8,983.

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 driver's license is not considered valid for Bulgaria; only an international driving permit is accepted. Persons operating vehicles with foreign license plates frequently complain of being stopped by police and fined on the spot for offenses that are not clear.

Buses, trams, and trolleys are inexpensive but are often crowded and of widely varying quality. Passengers on the busiest lines have reported incidents of pick-pocketing, purse-slashing, and pinching.

The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria. Child car seats are allowed by law but only on the back seats. Speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 120 km/h on the highways. The same speed limits apply for motorcycles; motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times. At crossings that are not regulated, the right of way is for the driver who is on the right; however, this rule is frequently ignored. Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05. Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized. The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from twenty-five U.S. dollars up to life imprisonment.

The most generally encountered local traffic custom is a driver flashing high beams, which generally means that a traffic police post may be ahead.

Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. Late model sedans (BMW, Mercedes) are known to speed and be driven dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and not engage in altercations with the drivers of such vehicles as some are armed organized crime figures.

In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and/or the roadside assistance at telephone number 146. For an ambulance, call 150.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning Bulgaria driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Bulgarian Embassy via the Internet at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed Bulgaria's Civil Aviation authority as Category One, in compliance with the international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Bulgarian air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Travelers carrying cash equivalent to 5,000 Bulgarian Lev (about 2,200 dollars) or more must declare the amount they are carrying on a customs declaration upon arrival or departure. Travelers who have with them the equivalent of 20,000 Bulgarian lev or more upon departure must have a permit to export the money issued by the Bulgarian National Bank's headquarters, if they had less than the equivalent of 20,000 Bulgarian lev upon entry in the country. Travelers should also declare jewelry, cameras, computers and other valuables to avoid difficulties on departure. Contact the Embassy of Bulgaria in Washington or Bulgaria's Consulate General in New York for specific information regarding customs regulations.

Bulgaria's customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (admission temporaire/temporary admission) carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information call (212) 354-4480, send e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: while in a foreign country, a U.S. Citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available under U.S. Law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Bulgarian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Visitors should exchange cash at banks or change bureaus. Some change bureaus charge commissions on both cash and travelers check transactions which are not clearly posted. People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling the unwary traveler. Old, dirty or very worn U.S. dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or change bureaus. Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers checks on the spot for lev, the Bulgarian currency, or other desired 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. ATMs are increasing in number 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 for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards and automatic teller machines should be used with caution.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000. Approximately 150 U.S. Families per year adopt Bulgarian orphans. For more information on international adoptions in Bulgaria, please contact the Department of State's Office of Children's Issues, the Consular Section of the Embassy, or the U.S. Embassy web site at http://www.usembassy.bg

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATION: American citizens 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 in Sofia is located at 1 Saborna St. (formerly 1 a. Stamboliyski boulevard); tel. (359)(2) 937-5100; fax: (359)(2) 981-8977. The Consular Section of the Embassy is located at 1 Kapitan Andreev St. In Sofia; tel. (359)(2) 963-2022; fax (359)(2) 963-2859. The Embassy's web site address is http://www.usembassy.bg. Questions regarding consular services may be directed via e-mail to niv@usconsulate.bg, iv-dv@usconsulate.bg and acs@usconsulate.bg.

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated September 15, 1999, to update the sections on entry requirements, crime, medical insurance, traffic safety and road conditions, aviation safety oversight, children's issues, registration/embassy and consulate location, and to delete Y2K information.

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