Sofia Travel Information
Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October)
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs and schuko plugs are in use.
Bulgarian is the official language, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but English, German and French are spoken in resorts, hotels and restaurants.
Bulgaria poses few health risks and there are no vaccinations required for entry. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are, however, always recommended for travellers, and a typhoid vaccination is recommended for travellers who may be eating and drinking outside of hotels and restaurants and travelling off the beaten track. Similarly, a rabies vaccination is recommended for travellers who will be spending a lot of time outdoors or who will be exposed to animals and have any risk of animal bites. Medical treatment can be expensive and payment is expected immediately. Facilities in local hospitals are basic and specialised treatment or equipment may not be freely available. Medical insurance, with provision for emergency evacuation, is therefore vital. Travellers from the UK should also hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in case of emergency medical treatment.
Tips of 10 percent of the bill are customary in restaurants, while hotel porters and taxi drivers expect visitors to round up the bill for good service. With non-metered taxis you needn't add a tip to the fare you agreed on beforehand.
Most visits to Bulgaria are trouble-free. Violent crime is rare, but criminal groups target casinos and nightclubs and groups of young pickpockets are active in city centres and the Black Sea holiday resorts. Car theft is common.
Foreigners should be aware that traditionally a shake of the head means 'yes' and a nod means 'no', although allowances are often made for visitors; it is useful to clarify the answer verbally to avoid confusion.
Relationship building is important in Bulgaria, and initial meetings may be used as an introduction, after which more business-related meetings can be planned. Face-to-face meetings are therefore preferred over communication by email, fax or phone. The use of English in business is increasing, however the services of a translator might be required, and presentations should include the use of visuals where possible. Introductions include firm handshakes, and the exchange of business cards. Dress should be conservative business attire and punctuality is expected. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
The country dialling code for Bulgaria is +359, followed by the relevant city code. The city code for Sofia is (0)2. Bulgaria offers a direct dialling service to 58 countries, which can be reached by adding the prefix 00 to the country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Calls to countries that cannot be accessed by direct dialling must be placed through an operator at 0123. Betcom or Bulgarian Telecommunication Company phone booths require a special card available from kiosks. Telephone offices are also available and are attached to post offices. Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe that has no peak or off-peak call times. The country has mobile GSM operators, and several Internet Service Providers. Internet cafes are on the increase in the big cities.
Travellers to Bulgaria, aged 17 and older, do not need to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 1 litre of spirits and 2 litres of wine; 50g of perfume or 100g of eau de toilette; and gifts. Allowances are larger for goods purchased within the EU. Prohibited items include arms and ammunition, narcotics and pornography.
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