The Leading Global Portal for Diplomats!    
    Keep in touch with the community Prepare for your new career Take care of personal affairs Chat with diplomats online      
Home > New Posting > Post Reports
Preface Last Updated: 12/2/2003 10:58 AM

The Bulgarian lands are at an historic crossroads that to this day preserve evidence of many ancient civilizations and peoples: bronze and iron spears and arrows, ruins of classical temples, palaces, and cities, wise words carved on rocks and stone columns or written on parchment and leather. In the mid-17th century, early Slavic tribes came from the north, crossing the Danube River and reaching as far as the Black Sea and the Adriatic. They were followed by the Bulgars of Khan Asparuh. The first Bulgar state was founded in 681 A.D. as an alliance between the Bulgars and the Slavs.

In 862, Saints Cyril and Methodius created the first Slavic alphabet — the Glagolitsa. At the end of the 9th century another Bulgarian alphabet was created — the Cyrillic alphabet, which later was spread beyond the boundaries of Bulgaria. The Cyrillic script is still used in Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, and other Slavic nations.

In 865, under the reign of Prince Boris I, the Bulgarians converted to Orthodox Christianity, which consolidated the country. The first Bulgarian kingdom reached its height during the reign of Tsar Simeon I (893–927). This era is known as the “Golden Age of Bulgaria” and is associated with the flourishing of literature, arts, and handicrafts. After a period of 167 years under Byzantine control (11th–12th centuries), Bulgaria reestablished itself as a state under the reign of Tsar Peter. During the 13th century, the Bulgarian state stabilized and its boundaries expanded to the Black, White, and Adriatic seas. In the middle of the 14th century, armies of the Ottoman Empire began raids into Bulgaria and finally conquered it in 1396. For the next five centuries Bulgaria remained under Ottoman rule. During this period over 400 uprisings broke out across the country, but all were suppressed.

The second half of the 18th century marked the beginning of a Bulgarian national renaissance, which extended through the next century. Numerous schools were opened, textbooks in Bulgarian were printed, and teachers were trained. The Bulgarian Church regained its independence from the Greek Orthodox Church, replaced the clergy, and established an independent exarchate. The revolutionary movement organized across Bulgaria culminated in an uprising in 1876. The subsequent Russo-Turkish war led to the liberation of Bulgaria and the signing of the San Stefano Peace Treaty on March 3, 1878. Bulgaria became a principality which was nominally under Ottoman control, but in fact acted as an independent state. The Berlin Congress of the Great Powers, held in June–July 1878, annulled the San Stefano Peace Treaty and split up Bulgaria. The northern region (Principality of Bulgaria) and southern region (East Rumalia) were unified in 1885 by Prince Alexander Batenberg.

In 1908 Bulgaria became a fully independent constitutional monarchy, which survived to the end of WW II. Bulgaria fell under the Soviet sphere of influence, became a People’s Republic, and a loyal Soviet satellite beginning in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1989. In the early 1990s, Bulgaria began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:03 AM

Bulgaria is a country of mountains, plains, and seacoast, occupying 110,000 square kilometers (43,000 square miles) of the Balkan Peninsula. It measures roughly 260 miles from east to west and about 150 miles from north to south. Much of the country is mountainous with only about 40% cultivated. The Danube River, Black Sea, and the Pirin and Rhodope Mountains provide natural borders on the north, east, and south. Flowing south into Greece are the unnavigable Struma, Maritsa, Mesta, and Arda Rivers, important sources of water for irrigation. The Iskar River is the longest river. The Balkan range extends across the north-central part of the country, separating the wheatgrowing Dobrudzha region from the Thracian plain, where vegetables, fruits, grapes, and tobacco are cultivated.

The climate is usually designated as “continental, with many micro-climates.” From May to November, the climate is pleasantly warm and sunny. Sofia is on the same latitude as Rome, but is 1,500 feet higher in elevation and has a climate similar to the Intermountain West of the United States. Plants, flowers, and fruits common to Britain and France grow well here, but the climate is too cold for citrus. November through April are snowy and cold, with temperatures ranging between -5°F to 50°F in Sofia. Summer temperatures may reach 105°F on occasion but tend to hover around 70–75°F, and humidity is moderate to low. During July, the mean temperature is 68.7°F (20.4°C); during January, 30.6°F (8°C). Mildew and insects are not significant factors.

Sofia’s main climatic problem is winter smog, which is caused by industrial air pollution, soft-coal smoke, vehicle exhaust emissions, fog, and surrounding mountains that keep winds from blowing the smog away. Gray-brown dirt or coal dust and sand are scattered on Sofia’s snow-covered streets in winter.

Winters may often be gray but are quite beautiful in the nearby mountains. Mount Vitosha (altitude 2,290 m.), with its ski resorts and runs and walking paths, overlook the city. Trees and flowers make Sofia a more colorful city the rest of the year. Rainfall is moderate, averaging 25 inches a year.

Population Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:05 AM

Bulgaria’s National Statistics Institute reported the 2001 population at just under 8 million. Roughly 1.1 million, or 13%, live in and around the capital Sofia. Plovdiv, the second largest city, has a population of about 350,000, while the Black Sea coast city of Varna, the third largest, has just over 300,000. Few of the other cities have populations greater than 100,000.

Recent years have seen a negative growth in the population. The number of abortions exceeds live births, and in 1996 the country had an infant mortality rate of 15.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. Death and illness rates have increased since the early 1980’s. The “squared” population profile is projected to lead to a population of 6 million by the year 2030. The population is aging, with nearly 30% of the people over the retirement age; 48% representing those of working age; and a relative few remaining to address the needs of a hoped for economic expansion. A doubling of the percentage of severely handicapped further complicates this condition.

About 85% of the population is Bulgarian —a designation that includes people with numerous regional folklore traditions — and 9% is of ethnic Turkish origin. About 6% of the population is Roma, some of whom claim to be of Turkish descent. The country also has small numbers of Armenian, Jewish, Greek, and other minorities. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which belongs to the family of Eastern Churches that also includes Greek, Serbian, Romanian, and Russian Orthodoxy, is the principal religious denomination. Today, Bulgaria has one of the highest levels of true literacy in the world.

The Bulgarian language, like Russian and Serbian, is based on the Cyrillic alphabet, the founders of which were two Greek brothers, Cyril and Methodius, who worked among the Slavs, and is a source of great pride for Bulgarians. The Cyrillic alphabet spread from Bulgaria to Russia. Knowledge of other Slavic languages (particularly Russian) is helpful in learning Bulgarian, in spite of significant differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Learning foreign languages has always been stressed in Bulgaria, and the systems developed for learning language are quite effective. The levels of fluency in languages such as English, French, and German, often without the benefit of travel, is noteworthy.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 9/11/2003 4:49 AM

The 1991 constitution includes the following provisions: that there be separation of powers, political pluralism, free economic enterprise, inviolability of private property, and protection of the investments and businesses of Bulgarians and of foreigners. Human rights are generally well protected, and Bulgarian domestic laws are being brought into conformity with international agreements.

The President is commander-in-chief of the army and appoints and dismisses ambassadors. He has a staff of advisers. When in office, he officially relinquishes partisan allegiances and is the leader of all the Bulgarian people. He cannot initiate legislation, but has a qualified veto. Elected by direct popular election for 5-year term, he can be reelected once.

The Narodno Sobranie, or National Assembly, consists of 240 members, each elected for a 4-year term with no term limit. They have public sittings that are extensively broadcast and televised. Both the Assembly and the Council of Ministers initiate legislation. The executive function rests with the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, including chairmen of functional committees. They are responsible for internal and foreign affairs. The judiciary does not check the actions of the executive or legislative sections; however, the new constitution provides for an independent judiciary.

A two-tier local government system is specified: regions and municipalities. Regional governors are appointed by the council of ministers, and the municipalities elect councils and mayors. Bulgaria became a member of the UN in 1955 and belongs to most UN-related agencies. It is a member of the World Bank, the IMF, and is a candidate for membership of the European Community and NATO by the end of 2003.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:08 AM

Full state support for the arts ended with the fall of the Communist regime; however, the art scene remains vibrant, and one can pick from a rich variety of offerings: art and craft galleries, museums, theater (for those whose Bulgarian is good enough), opera, and classical, jazz, rock, and folk concerts.

Sofia has six full-time theaters whose offerings range from Bulgarian and European classics to modern works of world drama. The Sofia Opera features standards of classic grand opera as well as ballet, while operettas and musicals can be seen at the Musical Theater. There are three full symphonic orchestras, the Sofia Philharmonic, the National Radio Orchestra, and the New Symphony Orchestra, which exists and performs completely without subsidy from the state. Fans of popular music can enjoy live bands at many of the clubs around town and at the several commercial concerts throughout the year. Bulgaria also has international festivals of dance, classical music, folk, jazz, and rock during the spring, summer, and fall. By U.S. standards, tickets to all cultural events are inexpensive and are readily available.

There are excellent state museums of Bulgarian and foreign art, an historical museum, an ethnographic museum, and a natural history museum, all with interesting exhibits. In addition, private art galleries have proliferated in recent years, and one can see (and purchase) works ranging from icons through modern abstract work.

For those interested in folk culture, Bulgaria offers a wealth of possibilities. Throughout the year one can see festivals of dance and folk music, and there are opportunities to attend traditional events such as the parades of mummers (kukeri). Several world-renowned troupes perform on occasion (when not traveling abroad), and the chance to hear troupes such as the Pirin Ensemble, the Filip Koutev Ensemble, and the famous part-singing women's choir, “Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares,” should not be passed up.

Bulgaria has had an excellent reputation in the world of science and education for years, the recent economic troubles notwithstanding, it continues to educate students, particularly in math and science, whose test scores rank among the best in the world. Compulsory schooling ends at age 15, but more than 80% of students go farther. Bulgaria’s literacy rate is over 98%. With the political reforms of the last several years has come educational reform as well, and the entire educational system from primary school through graduate school is being reconstituted along Western lines.

The Ministry of Education has overall responsibility for maintaining standards and prescribing curricula for all public schools and any private educational institutions qualified to offer recognized diplomas. Secondary education in Bulgaria, despite serious economic problems, continues to offer a large variety of educational choices ranging from vocational programs (often closely associated with factories) to special science and math high schools. Very popular also are the foreign-language high schools, which like the math and science schools, are “entrance by examination” institutions, similar to American magnet schools.

Bulgaria has 43 universities and other institutes of higher education and 45 colleges and technical schools. (“College” refers to semi-higher learning institutions for nursing, paramedical training, teaching, and technical education.) A new feature on the Bulgarian educational scene are the recently (re)established private schools. While these are governed by the various laws on education and are subject to a greater or lesser amount of oversight by the Ministry of Education, they receive no financial support from the state budget. Most notable among these private institutions are the American University of Bulgaria in Blagoevgrad, an American liberal arts college with a strong business school; the New Bulgarian University in Sofia; and the American College of Sofia, an English-language high school that was founded in the middle of the last century and reopened in 1992 after being closed for nearly 50 years. There is also a private English-language primary through middle school with American accreditation, the Anglo-American School of Sofia. There are many pre-schools throughout the city and in the suburbs and several of them offer programs exclusively in English.

Unlike the situation in America, most basic research is not carried out in universities but rather in one of the more than 160 institutes and laboratories of the Bulgarian Academies of Science, Medicine and Agriculture. The Academies, which are not teaching institutions, have suffered even more than the school system from the economic hardships of the last years, and this has inhibited the exploitation of Bulgaria's scientific talent.

All educational and scientific institutions are eagerly seeking partnerships with Western institutions, and American programs sponsored by the Fulbright Commission and IREX have contributed significantly to linking Bulgarian scholars and scientists with their counterparts in the U.S.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:12 AM

Commerce and Industry

Following a severe economic crisis, the government of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (1997–2001) made a clean break with the failed policies of the early and mid-1990s. As a result, the Bulgarian Government received the backing of international financial institutions, and committed itself to sound financial and structural policies as the only way out of its economic crisis. Despite substantial progress on far-reaching economic reform, however, the Kostov government fell due to popular discontent with persistently high unemployment, low incomes and corruption. Since taking power in July 2001, the government of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg has maintained its predecessor’s focus on macroeconomic stability. Aside from some increased subsidies, the GOB has opted away from a policy of fiscal looseness and income-enhancing populist measures, in favor of an IMF-backed tight fiscal program aimed at macroeconomic stability. The GOB is fully committed to macroeconomic stability as its first priority, while taking further steps to attract foreign investment and stimulate growth.

Since July 1997 the Bulgarian government has been operating under a currency board arrangement (CBA). Until December 31, 1998 the (old) Bulgarian lev (BGL) was tied to the German mark (DM) at a rate of BGL 1,000 to one mark. Since January 1, 1999, the lev has been fixed to the euro at an exchange rate of 1,955.83 leva to one euro. On July 5, 1999, the lev was redenominated, with BGL 1,000 replaced by one new lev (BGN). Thus, BGN 1.95583 currently equals one euro.

Thanks to the CBA and its associated IMF program, inflation was cut from nearly 600 percent in 1997 to only one percent in 1998. Subsequently, the CBA has contained inflationary pressures and in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 inflation stood at 6.2%, 11.3 %, 4.8 %, and 3.8 %, respectively. Official foreign exchange reserves rebounded from $400 million in January 1997 to $4,165 million at the end of 2002. Following declines in GDP in both 1996 and 1997, the Bulgarian Government has delivered strong, steady GDP growth in real terms (4.0 % in 1998, 2.3 % in 1999, 5.4 % in 2000, 4.0 % in 2001 and 4.8 % in 2002).

Subsequently, in the period from July 2001 to July 2003, international credit rating agencies (Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, FITCH and JCRA) upgraded Bulgaria credit rating ten times. JCRA has recently assigned investment credit rating to Bulgaria. Bulgaria is one notch below investment credit rating according to Standard and Poor’s and FITCH, and two notches below investment credit rating according to Moody’s.

The Bulgarian government’s presence remains sizeable in Bulgaria’s economy. As of August 2003 about 54.4 percent of state-owned assets have been privatized. The public sector occupies 24 percent of GDP. Despite the GOB’s plans to reinvigorate the privatization process and to complete the sell-off of large state-owned enterprises, the privatization process slowed down considerably in 2002. The Privatization Agency (PA) has reported that a total of 103 privatization deals were concluded in 2002 compared to previous projections of 349 deals. Revenues from privatization operations in 2002 stood at $162.7 million, well below the projected $290.4 million. The privatization process has met with significant delays in 2003 that could again drop revenue far below original projections. The privatization of a number of large enterprises, including the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, the tobacco monopoly (Bulgartabak), the seven electric-power distribution companies, the 36 water electric-power plants and others are far behind schedule. While the GOB’s privatization program for 2003 originally envisaged the sale of 205 SOEs for the equivalent of 550 million Bulgarian leva, this is not likely to be achieved. Privatization program priorities include a transparent and quick privatization process with the objective of securing economic development and competitiveness.

Bulgaria joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 1996 and became a full member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) in July 1998. Bulgaria trades with European countries under preferential terms according to the European Union Association Agreement, effective February 1, 1995, and an agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), effective 1993. Bulgaria has also signed free trade agreements with Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Estonia, Croatia, Israel, Lithuania and Latvia. Free trade agreements with Morocco, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Serbia and Montenegro are under negotiation.

Bulgaria is making progress towards EU accession, aiming at full membership by 2007. Between 1992 and 2002, total cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) into Bulgaria amounted to approximately USD 5.135 billion. FDI inflows in 2002 are estimated at USD 478.7 million

The U.S. is the sixth largest source of foreign direct investment ($305.3 million, or 5.9% of the total). Among the largest foreign investors are the following U.S. companies: American Standard, AIG/ALICO, McDonald’s, Entergy Power Group, Hilton International, Seaboard Overseas, World Trade Company, Kraft Foods International, Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund (BAEF), Caresbac, DTS, Investments Corporation, Eurotech, Kontrako, and Eagle.

Greece is the top foreign investor, with $632.8 million, or 12.3% of total foreign investment, followed by Germany, with $620.9 million, or 12% of total foreign investment, and Italy, with $540.2 million, or 10.5% of total foreign investment.

The government seeks to improve the country’s infrastructure. Many roads and railways have been reconstructed by the Phare Cross Border Program, but much remains to be done. Despite the ongoing modernization of the telephone system, the quality is below international standards. There are three cellular radio-telephone networks-one analogue and two digital. The Bulgarian Telecommunication Company (BTC) is expected to be privatized in the near future and hopefully this will bring in much needed investment.


Automobiles Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:13 AM

Members of the diplomatic mission may import and register automobiles without tax or bond. Currently, Bulgaria does not restrict vehicle importation on the basis of age, make, or size; however, please contact GSO to confirm any changes in regulations. GSO shipping and customs will assist with vehicle registration, customs declaration, and local third-party liability insurance.

Service and parts can be difficult to find but can be ordered through authorized dealers/service stations. It would be a good idea to bring commonly used spare parts, such as fuel filters, oil filters, air filters, windshield wiper arms and blades, spark plugs, and a set of hoses. Road conditions in Bulgaria can be poor, especially in winter, as only the major roads are cleared of ice and snow. Four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended. Shell and OMV gas stations can be found in larger cities and along most major highways.

In Sofia and along the main highways, super (96 octane), and regular (91 octane) and unleaded (95H) gasoline is available. Diesel fuel is available at major gas stations only. Purchase gas with cash at any gas station; Shell Oil Company and OMV credit cards are available through the Embassy for members of the diplomatic community.

Diplomats can obtain Bulgarian driver’s licenses, but this requires an exam in Bulgarian. An International Driver’s License is recommended, but not required, and can be obtained through AAA or an equivalent organization. GSO can help with this upon arrival at post.

Traffic moves on the right as in the U.S. The following rules may be unfamiliar to people new to Europe: You must stop 3 meters behind and to the right of a tramway car stopping to discharge or pick up passengers. Speed limits are 120 kph on divided highways; 90 kph on regular main roads; and 50 kph in populated areas, unless there are signs to the contrary. Priority is given to the driver entering from the right on any equal junction.

You should strictly observe the priority of a pedestrian who has stepped onto a painted pedestrian crossing. It is illegal to drive with more than 0.05 parts per thousand of alcohol in the blood or when alcohol in any quantity has been consumed immediately before taking the wheel. If you have an accident, you must call the police, and both drivers should wait at the scene, even if there has been no personal injury. The police will issue a protokol za proizshestivie (police protocol). Without this piece of paper, you cannot make a claim on your insurance. All Embassy personnel are expected to fully observe local traffic and parking regulations.

You can sell your vehicles to another member of a diplomatic mission enjoying duty-free privileges or to foreigners working for foreign companies and offices.

To sell to a Bulgarian, the buyer has to pay import tax and duty. Embassy personnel have traditionally had little difficulty in selling their cars, especially European models, to the diplomatic community.

“Green Card” short-term, the overseas third-party liability, is mandatory for auto travel in Europe. When you arrive in Bulgaria, take out this policy for Bulgaria and for all of Europe through the local Insurance Corporation. You can also check with your insurance company such as Clements & Co. if you can obtain this policy through them. The Embassy handles car registration, customs declaration, and local third-party liability for you.

See also Special Information regarding security concerns.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:14 AM

Sofia is served by a network of tram, trolley bus, bus and metro lines. A 1-month pass cost $21 (August 2003). Vehicles are often crowded but are handy, frequent, and very cheap — an important point now that parking is very tight around the center of town. Taxis are legion. There are many taxi stands; taxis cruise, and you can also get taxi service by telephone. There are also taxi-vans that cost 1 leva per trip, no matter how far you take them. Several of them travel at frequent intervals through the suburban areas at the foot of Mount Vitosha and go directly to the various Embassy buildings.

Frequent bus and railway service link Sofia with the Black Sea resorts of Varna and Burgas, as well as with other major Bulgarian cities.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:14 AM

Sofia is served by United Airlines through its code share partner — Lufthansa. The Western European cities with frequent service by American carriers are Frankfurt, Paris, London, Zurich, Munich, and Vienna, but connections to and from Sofia vary in convenience according to the day of the week. Bulgarian Air and other foreign carriers provide regular service between Sofia and Western European cities. In late fall and winter, fog or heavy snow may occasionally close Sofia Airport for several days at a time.

There are many rail and bus lines to/from major European cities, and to resort areas in Greece and Turkey. Travelers should be cautious about theft, especially when crossing borders on land transportation. The preferred route for coming to Sofia from Europe by car is via Vidin/Kalafat.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 9/12/2003 3:01 AM

The Embassy facsimile machine number is 359–2–981–8977. The cost of a fax is about the same as a telephone call. The Embassy phone number is 359–2–937-5100. A Marine Guard answers calls after hours. In addition, the Embassy has an IVG, which is intended primarily to call the State Department and U.S. diplomatic missions abroad. However, it can also be used to make local calls in the Washington, D.C. dialing area and 800 number calls.

The telephone service within Bulgaria is adequate but subject to breakdowns, extraneous noise, and unexplained disconnections. Embassy personnel pay for phone service in government-leased apartments. An average quarterly bill is less than $25, excluding long-distance or international calls. Several firms offer call-back international dialing connections to the U.S. (about 30¢ per minute at this writing); calls can also be operator placed, and there is direct dialing from the Embassy and from most home telephones. AT&T, Sprint, and MCI also offer credit card service.

Direct dialing is available from the U.S. to Bulgaria. International connections with the U.S. vary from quick and clear to slow and unsatisfactory. The cost of calling the U.S. in early 2003 was about $1.50 per minute when using the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company and dialing direct. Telephone charges begin when the connection is made with the U.S. operator, not with your party. From your home, you may dial direct to most Eastern and Western countries. Some people have had success with Internet telephony but at a reduced connection speed than that of the U.S..

Internet Last Updated: 8/31/2000 6:00 PM

Electronic Mail. Several service providers offer connection to the Internet and also permit the use of American-based services. Prices are relatively reasonable in comparison to telephone costs and assist in maintaining contact with other Internet users on a considerably faster basis than “snail mail.”

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:16 AM

The U.S. address at which you may receive mail in Sofia is the Department pouch address. The Department of State pouch may be used for receiving first-class letter mail, all official unclassified mail, and medical supplies. Employees may order merchandise through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) and other catalogs. Packages should not exceed 17 x 18 x 30 inches in width and girth and 45 pounds in weight. Section 5 FAM details what can be sent via the pouch.

There are prohibitions on shipping weapons, liquor, illegal drugs, flammable items, aerosols, obscene publications, etc.; items for resale, bulk supplies, liquids, and glass containers are also prohibited. The post is not authorized to send insured, registered, or certified personal mail, but it is authorized to receive it. Currently, there are two air pouch shipments from the Department, and mail is distributed on Mondays and Fridays.

The pouch address is:
(Recipient’s Name)
American Embassy Sofia
Department of State
5740 Sofia Place
Washington, DC, 20521–5740

Mail addressed to the following local address may be subject to inspection by local authorities and is sometimes delayed. You are not encouraged to use it, particularly for packages:

(Recipient’s Name)
American Embassy
1 Ulitsa Saborna
1000 Sofia, Bulgaria

Outgoing letter mail from Mission personnel is sent by DHL every Monday and Thursday and by air pouch every Wednesday and Friday. Regular outgoing pouch mail can weigh no more than 2 lbs. and can be no longer than 2 video tapes in length and girth except for returned catalogue merchandise. Boxes that are plain and have no markings may be sent without wrapping paper.

Although the American Embassy Recreation Association usually has a limited supply of U.S. stamps for sale, bring at least an initial supply with you. Federal Express and DHL have offices in Sofia, and some people have successfully used the local post office for international mail.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 9/12/2003 3:01 AM

Bulgarian TV broadcasts nationwide on one channel, Channel 1, which is broadcast in SECAM. Local broadcast stations exist in many cities. In Sofia the two local (and private) stations are New TV, which recently won the right to broadcast nationally, and Seven Days TV (SECAM). Currently, there are three stations that have broadcast capability nationwide, one public-Channel 1, and the others private-bTV (Balkan TV) and the Greek owned Nova Television.

In addition to broadcast TV, satellite reception is possible for those who have a dish, and there are a number of cable operators as well. Satellite and cable offerings make available CNN, CNBC, BBC, SKY NEWS, MTV, and SKY SPORTS, and a large variety of other European channels. European-system and Multi-system television receivers are widely available for sale. Programming runs the gamut of news, entertainment, business news, film, and the like. Broadcast TV is almost exclusively in Bulgarian, while cable and satellite offerings feature programming in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Greek, and Arabic.

Radio has both private and public (state) stations, with the latter having the only truly nationwide coverage. Deutsche Welle, BBC Radio, Radio France International, and Radio Free Europe have local FM broadcasting arrangements and are easily and clearly received. All but RFE do programs in both Bulgarian and their respective national languages (RFE does Bulgarian language news only). Bulgarian radio of both the private and state varieties offer some very good news, talk show, and music programming; however, a good grasp of Bulgarian is required for all but the music programs.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 9/15/2003 3:35 AM

Many general-interest publications, including English, French, and German-language newspapers and magazines are widely available in Sofia, though they tend to arrive a day late and are quite expensive. These, as well as a large variety of Bulgarian periodicals, are available in hotels and at street kiosks throughout the downtown area in Sofia.

Most Embassy sections subscribe to at least one copy of the International Herald Tribune, and a few receive Time, Newsweek, and The Economist as well. Moreover, the Public Affairs Section features an Information Resource Center that Embassy staff members may use. The collection includes the Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Sunday New York Times, and a small variety of American magazines. In addition to these periodicals, the Public Affairs Section has more than 650 periodicals available (archived) on CD-ROM, and the CLO and the Community Association (AERA) have small libraries of popular fiction and videos.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:18 AM

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities
The Embassy has a Health Unit staffed by a Foreign Service health practitioner (nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant), a part-time Bulgarian doctor, a part-time RN and a medical assistant. A regional medical officer stationed in Belgrade visits periodically. Health Unit services are available for U.S. government employees at Post and their eligible family members. Services are also available to Foreign Service National employees for work-related healthcare.

The Health Unit offers services typically found in a primary care facility, including care of acute injuries or illnesses, management of chronic illnesses, immunizations, well-child care, health education and referral to specialists as indicated. The Health Unit also has a small pharmacy stocked with medications to treat acute medical problems. When laboratory work is needed, blood is drawn at the Health Unit and taken to a local laboratory.

Patients requiring maintenance prescription drugs from the U.S. may have them ordered or refilled by the health practitioner, via Medco-Health or other mail order pharmacies. Local pharmacies in Sofia also have a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications available.

The Health Unit maintains a listing of referral providers of medical/dental specialists and physical therapists. Each provider on the list has provided their credentials to the Health Unit and speaks English unless otherwise noted.

There are two main hospitals where emergency care can be obtained: Pirogov Emergency Institute and Military Medical Academy. These hospitals are well below the U.S. standard, but do have the capability of treating emergent and acute problems. There is also a specialty cardiac hospital with a full range of diagnostic procedures. Local hospitals are not recommended for elective surgeries. Mammography can be obtained here, but it is recommended you have it done in the U.S., if possible. Private clinics are opening in many areas, offering a variety of services.

When suitable medical care is not available in Sofia for urgent medical conditions, authorization is provided for medical evacuation to London (or cost-construct to the U.S.) for definitive medical care. Under DOD regulations, the medical evacuation point is Germany. Most routine dental care can be competently done in Sofia.

Community Health Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:19 AM

Bulgaria is a country in transition. Although efforts are being made to address many of the public health concerns, change is slow on this front.

Air pollution does exist, particularly in Sofia during the winter months. This is due to temperature inversion effects and the mountainous terrain that surrounds the city. Allergy prone individuals may experience symptoms, but asthmatics generally do not experience a worsening of symptoms. The drinking water has been tested and determined safe. However, there is variability in quality of water due to new construction, inadequately designed systems and aging pipes. It is recommended to use filtered or bottled water for drinking and cooking. Water filters are supplied to each household and humidifiers are available from GSO. Fluoride supplements are recommended for children 6 months to 16 years of age. Vegetables and fruits should be thoroughly washed, but do not need to be bleached. Pasteurized and UHT (long-life) milk, cheeses and ice cream are widely available. The quality of the meat available is variable and does not consistently meet U.S. standards. Meat can usually be safely purchased from larger grocery stores.

There are an estimated 30,000 street dogs in Sofia and outlying areas. Rabies is known to be present, although the incidence is unknown. Pre-exposure rabies vaccination is recommended for joggers and others with an increased risk of exposure. Houses all have walls or fences surrounding their yards. Municipal services generally collect garbage and trash regularly, and there is a regimen of sweeping the city streets.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:19 AM

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is present in Bulgaria. It is recommended that be immunized against Hepatitis A prior to coming to Bulgaria. The immunization consists of two injections given six month apart. The second can be given at Post if need be.

While hiking in the mountains of Bulgaria, it is important to protect oneself from tick bites to reduce the risk of tick related illnesses such as Lyme Disease.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:20 AM

There are several FMA and contract positions within the Embassy; some of these are part-time positions and most of them require U.S. citizenship and a security clearance. A few new positions have opened up for spouses as a result of the New Embassy construction project. The Embassy has also contracted miscellaneous services for preparing inventories and surveys. It is Embassy policy to provide employment to the greatest extent possible for spouses and dependents who want part-time or temporary work and there has usually been a summer work program for dependent children 16 years and over.

The U.S. and Bulgaria have a bilateral work agreement, which enables spouses and dependents of employees assigned to official duty in Bulgaria to seek employment on the local economy. However, employment opportunities for family members in Sofia outside the mission are scarce and very few spouses have found work in the private sector. Bulgaria’s local economy, with roughly 14% unemployment and an average wage in the range of $150 to $175 per month, offers practically nothing in the way of lucrative employment for Embassy family members, although employment that can be professionally satisfying is available, especially for those qualified to teach English at the high school or university levels. Many Bulgarians speak excellent English so there is no great demand for English speakers in the workplace. Teaching jobs may be available occasionally at the Anglo-American School and the American College sometimes hires native speakers to teach English in their extra-curricular program. Spouses have taught English at the local universities and to Embassy personnel in other missions. On the other hand, volunteer opportunities are abundant here and the local International Women’s Club provides outreach opportunities for charitable work throughout the country.

American Embassy - Sofia

Post City Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:20 AM

Sofia, the political, economic, cultural, and administrative center of the country, is a city where large parks and attractive older buildings blend with modern highrises. Sofia is situated on a plain 1,830 feet in altitude. Ten miles to the north lie the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina), and just to the south is Mount Vitosha (7,000 feet), which is a national park and a popular hiking and skiing area. Behind Mt. Vitosha, near the resort town of Borovets, lies Mt. Musala, the highest peak in Bulgaria (9,650 feet).

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:22 AM

American Embassy Sofia is the only official U.S. representation in Bulgaria. The Chancery address/tel. is: 1 Saborna St., (359) (2) 980–5241. It is located in the city center. Seven sections of the Mission are housed in the Chancery: Executive, Political-Economic, Office of Political/Military Affairs, and the Administrative Sections; PCC, RSO, and the Defense Attaché Office (DAO). Housed in the National Palace of Culture office building on two floors are the following agencies: USAID, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Foreign Commercial Service.

The Peace Corps is administratively separate and is located at 6 Tsar Assen Street. The GSO, Consulate, FMO, ISO, Human Resources, parts of the Administrative Section, and most of the FSNs have been relocated to an unclassified annex at I Kapitan Andreev Street. The CLO, Health Unit, and Public Affairs Sections are on Vitosha Boulevard; The Marine House is situated in the suburb of Simeonovo near Vitosha, and the GSO Warehouse and Commissary are located near the neighboring village of Kazichene.

The Embassy staff, including Marine Guards, currently includes about 100 Americans and 300 FSNs. Office hours are 8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday. There is Marine Guard coverage in the Embassy 24 hours daily.

If the Embassy receives advance notice of your arrival, you will be met at the airport or railroad station. If you arrive without advance notice, take a taxi to the Embassy, and ask for “Amerikanskoto Posolstvo” (ahmeriKAN- skotopohSOHLSTvoh).

Salaries include a 20% post differential. The Financial Servicing Center in Charleston handles the Embassy’s payroll function. Most employees allot their salary by direct deposit to their U.S. banks and write checks as required.

Sofia is a designated R&R post with Frankfurt designated as the relief area. Foreign Service employees and their dependents are authorized one round trip at government expense during a continuous 2-year period of service and two round trips during any continuous 3-year period of service unbroken by home leave (or the equivalent cost applied to another approved travel location meeting the purpose of R&R).

New Embassy Compound (NEC)

The New Embassy Compound (NEC) occupies nearly 10 acres and is equipped with state of the art systems and meets all latest security requirements. The New Embassy Compound consists of a Chancery, Marine House and a warehouse. The new Chancery will occupy nearly 135,000 square feet of the 165,000 square feet built up space and capable of housing all agencies and Embassy functions presently at post. With the exception of the Peace Corps, all other agencies, i.e. USAID, FCS, FAS, DAO, DOJ will be collocated in the new Embassy Compound under one roof.

The New Embassy Compound is conveniently located within the Sofia metropolitan area and is approximately 5 KM away from the downtown. The site is easily accessible by the public transportation system, i.e. trams and local buses. Taxi services are easily available at a moderate prices. The NEC is 10 to 15 KM drive from Simeonovo, Dragalevtsi and Boyana, where most American families reside. The new compound will be nicely landscaped with trees, bushes, flowers, and will also include a play area for children. There is also a half basketball court near the MSGQ. Parking is available for employees and visitors. NEC will also have a cafeteria with cooking facilities. The cafeteria opens up to the terrace that overlooks Mount Vitosha.

OBO had awarded the design-build contract to J A Jones Construction of Charlotte, NC in September 2001. The design for the new facility had started in September 2001 and the groundbreaking ceremony was held in June 2002. The contract completion date is scheduled for November 2004 and post move in scheduled for December 2004.

As of September 2003 the date of this article, the overall construction schedule is at 37% complete.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:23 AM

New arrivals will be advised if a brief stay in a hotel or commercial, short-term apartment is necessary. The Embassy primarily uses the Sofia Sheraton Hotel, a 2-block walk from the Chancery. The Zografski-Kempinski Hotel is closer to the Annex but 2.5 kilometers from the Chancery. Restaurants and indoor pool, health facility, and bowling alley are available. Arrivals wishing to be booked here should advise GSO/Travel as soon as possible. Restaurant meals outside the big hotels are usually inexpensive. The arrival welcome packet from the CLO contains maps and names of frequently used restaurants.

A Welcome Kit containing basic housekeeping items generally needed on arrival, such as sheets, towels, bedding, plates, etc., is delivered to either temporary apartment or permanent quarters for use until arrival of airfreight. Coffee pots are not included.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:23 AM

The Interagency Housing Board is generally able to make assignments well in advance, following receipt of assignment notification and listing of dependents. A-171 space standards are used in making assignments. The maximum authorized space standards an A/OBO-approved housing profile are guides to making most effective use of current housing pool units. All housing except the government-owned Ambassador’s residence is on a short-term lease, which means there is no A/FO funding for renovation projects; landlords are asked to do such work when the units are initially leased. No subsequent projects should be expected, other than between-occupant painting and minor repairs, or work on life-threatening conditions and provision of basic utilities such as electricity and heat.

Many Embassy personnel live in the Iztok neighborhood, east of the downtown area, in apartments, which are leased from the Bulgarian Bureau for Services to the Diplomatic Corps. Couples with children are usually assigned houses, which are located in suburbs on the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha, beyond the southern ring road. Winter weather and road conditions make compact four-wheel-drive vehicles advisable for those living in the suburbs. A few downtown apartment units are in the housing pool, but parking is often not available in the same building; Iztok apartments and most of the houses have indoor garage spaces.

Furnishings Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:24 AM

Quarters are fully and comfortably furnished in either colonial or contemporary styles. Because most apartments have little closet and storage space, bring only essential items. At this time most quarters have carpeting, lamps, and drapes. Check with GSO about status before you come.

Bring items to personalize your home. You must supply your own linens, bed pillows, blankets, china, silverware, and kitchen equipment. Most kitchens have limited storage space. A step stool is useful to reach high shelves. The beds furnished are American standard queen or twin sizes and accommodate American fitted sheets.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:25 AM

Electricity is 220v, 50-cycle, single phase. The current is erratic, with frequent voltage fluctuations (as much as 10%) and occasional breaks in service. When repairs are taking place at the power station, regular power breaks occur, which are announced in advance. The city water supply, to which all apartments are connected, has frequent interruptions. Water pressure often fluctuates or is low on upper floors. Many buildings have an insufficient or inconsistent hot water supply that is centrally controlled. Each summer for about 3 weeks, sometimes less in the diplomatic apartments, the hot water is turned off to clean the water pipes. This is announced in advance. Heating is supplied through a centralized citywide system, which means that one cannot regulate one’s own apartment temperatures.

The Embassy provides the following equipment to most housing: supplemental hot water heaters, plug-in electric space heaters, electric ranges, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, microwave ovens, automatic washers and dryers, water filters, two rechargeable emergency lanterns, and one or two 1,500–2,000 watt step-down transformers, vacuum cleaners and humidifiers. Bring multi-system video and stereo equipment and extra transformers if you plan to use many 110v appliances.

Food Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:26 AM

There has been a great improvement in food availability in Bulgaria following economic liberalization. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are always offered at the markets, as well as some hardy, less seasonal imports. Meat and poultry are always available but are not cut and prepackaged American-style. Bulgarian and European brands of frozen vegetables are available at the local grocery stores and American and Turkish brands are available at the commissary. Finding good fresh or frozen fish is still a problem, but some people report that they have found sources. It is always possible to find frozen crab, shrimp, and breaded fish products.

The present exchange rate makes local produce reasonable for foreigners and the sources of supply have increased. Many private shops and small supermarkets have opened recently, stocking a good variety of imported items as well as local products. There are now two “Metro” stores in Sofia that are of the size and variety of a Price Club-type store. These stores are more like warehouses and sell everything from wine to lawn furniture. This is pretty close to a one-stop-shop, since you can buy food, household appliances and furnishing, clothing, diapers, products for your office, and even automotive supplies.

Billa, an Austrian-owned chain of supermarkets, has opened four stores in Sofia as of summer 2003, and more are likely to open. Billa offers everything that you might find in an American supermarket, but not American brands or some of the convenience foods such as cake, bread, or frosting mixes, or spiced rice packages, for example.

Open or covered farmers’ markets offer a rich assortment of local and imported produce all year around, although you may not be able to find your favorite fruits or vegetables. The larger vegetable markets are open every day of the week. Local dairy products, meats, and dry goods are found in corner groceries.

The post has a small commissary run by the American Embassy Recreation Association (AERA). AERA makes frequent restocking runs to Turkey and offers food-shopping services from local food sources. Embassy employees are entitled to a consumable allowance from the U.S. Your travel orders should provide for shipment of consumables at government expense (see 6 FAM 162.3).

Keep in mind that storage space is limited in Embassy housing, and that most items you really need can be found on the local market or in the commissary. Additional sources of food supplies include the European duty-free catalogs such as Peter Justesen (Denmark) and King’s Barn (England). Specialty items and frozen foods are trucked in on a fairly regular basis by such firms. And finally, some Embassy employees combine shopping in Greece or Turkey for specialty items with sightseeing or relaxing at the beach. There is an Ikea in Thessaloniki, Greece, about a 4-hour drive from Sofia.

Clothing Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:27 AM

You will need approximately the same kinds of clothing here as for Washington, D.C. Winters are generally long and cold while summers are shorter, cooler, and dry. You should bring warm winter clothing, especially if you intend to take advantage of the winter sports opportunities available here. Many Embassy employees ski, sled, or walk on Vitosha Mountain on weekends.

The cobblestone streets can be hard on shoes. For women, closed-toe shoes with low or moderate heels are better than sandals or high-heeled shoes for most of the year, although many young Bulgarian women wear the latest platform high heels even on the cobblestones. Bulgarians are quite proud of their locally made shoes and boots, which are available all over town, and imported shoes and boots are also easy to find for adults, but not always in the style you are looking for or in sizes of 9 or above. For children’s shoes and boots most people still either shop in Greece or Turkey or buy from American catalogs.

Office clothing is similar to that of Washington, D.C., though those who regularly use public transportation may dress slightly less formally. More and more upscale sports and fashion shops are opening, and the Bulgarian clothing industry produces many attractive items. But in general it is still difficult to find what you want with regards to style and fabric in the size you want, so most people buy clothing at home or from catalogs.

In the last few years it has become much easier to find baby, toddler, and young children’s clothing, but parents with 8–12-year-olds report that there is little to be found in local shops. Evening dress requirements vary with representational responsibilities. Men wear dark suits for official dinners. Black tie occasions are rare; formal attire is reserved for the annual Marine Corps Ball.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:28 AM

No apartment has much storage, and the kitchens are quite small. Many items formerly unavailable here can now be found. The commissary stocks toiletries and household cleaning products. Check the Overseas Briefing Center and the packet you get from the Sofia CLO for information helpful in preparing your consumables shipment. It is wise to bring your favorite toiletries, cosmetics, and home and prescription medications. Such items are readily available here but the brands can be unfamiliar. Bulgaria uses the metric system. Appliances should be 220v, and don't forget adapters so that you can plug them into the Bulgarian round pronged (shuko) wall outlets. All of the appliances commonly found in American homes can be found in stores in Sofia for equivalent, sometimes cheaper, prices.

A basic tool kit and a selection of nails, screws, and hooks, single-edged razor blades for paint cleanups, and steel nails for picture hanging would be useful. Other hardware items to consider are glue, window insulation strips, and granular plant food for the indoor plants. Items can be bought locally, but often the quality is not high. There is a chain of large home-improvement stores in Bulgaria called Mr. Bricolage. They have most things you would need for your home and garden.

You can find most household items in Sofia, but you might like to bring ribbon, U.S. holiday wrapping paper and greeting cards, and special holiday decorations for children’s parties. There are some products available for children’s parties and holidays, but not the wide selection available in America. You might also want to bring your Christmas tree stand.

For the kitchen, think of small gadgets, ice cube trays, a cooler with freezer packs, and cloth or string marketing bags not too large for the local markets. There are no zip-lock plastic bags in Sofia. Consider too American-sized baking and cake pans, bottle stoppers, refrigerator jugs for milk and water, a plastic egg carrier, and, in the airfreight, a few plastic screw-top containers. If you plan to do canning, European jars and lids are available, but you might prefer to bring your own, plus a blanching pot.

For recreation, bring toboggans, skates, and hiking boots and socks. The skis and bindings sold in Bulgaria are of excellent quality and cost approximately half what they cost in America.

Other useful items might be Gustav Kobbe’s Complete Opera Book and a good supply of tennis balls.

Basic Services Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:29 AM

Bulgarian laundry services are available, but Embassy personnel have found their own laundry facilities to be sufficient. Drycleaning services exist and are used, though some people take items needing special care or careful handling for cleaning abroad. Shoe repair can be done locally. Dressmakers and tailors are easily found and do excellent work for a very low cost.

Women of the foreign missions patronize various beauty shops and, as of summer 2003, a very good haircut, color, highlight, and styling runs about $40. Many international brands of shampoo and cosmetics are available, but bring special hair-care products with you if you are very particular. There are good coloring products available, but what is fashionable in Bulgaria, in terms of hair color or highlighting, might not be what you are accustomed to. Some women prefer to color their hair themselves rather than take a chance. Barbers in Bulgaria are fairly good and are reasonably priced.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:29 AM

Both full-time and part-time Bulgarian servants are available. All live out, and few speak English well. Contact the CLO and Human Resources officer for advice. Normal work hours are Monday through Friday, with special arrangements made for weekends and holidays. Rates vary widely among the Embassy community, but you can expect to pay between $2 and $3 per hour for a housekeeper. Depending on the contract, 32.2% of that amount is given in addition for social security, unemployment and health insurance. It is also customary to give servants a gift at the end of the year; an extra month’s wages is expected. For extra help at cocktails, lunches, and dinner parties, you can hire cooks, bartenders, and waiters. Evening babysitters cost about $2 an hour, plus taxi fare.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 9/11/2003 10:52 AM

Most churches in Bulgaria are Bulgarian Orthodox. Anyone may attend services at these churches, including the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, to hear the famous unaccompanied choir. This is especially interesting at Christmas and Easter. The former regime encouraged atheism; this is no longer the case and now many foreign missionary groups are active.

Methodist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Interntional Baptist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Luterhan, and Jewish services are all available in English. There are always bible study groups that Americans are welcome to join.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:31 AM
The Anglo-American School in Sofia (AAS), ( a PK–8 school established by the American and British Embassies in 1967, takes children primarily of the two embassies; other international children and a limited number of Bulgarians are given places as space permits. The school is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the European Council of International Schools. The school has a specific commitment to focus on curricula, resources, and methodologies that relate to the mainstreams of education in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The director is British, and the teachers are mostly American or British.

The AAS of Sofia is governed by a Board of Directors, consisting of nine members; four members are appointed by the British Ambassador, and four by the American Ambassador, with the PTO president serving as a full board member. The AAS is located on the campus of the American College of Sofia in Mladost. At present, about 140 children from 30 different countries are enrolled.

The school operates a half-day preschool for children who are already 4 years old. There is only bus service for pre-school students who also have an older brother or sister travelling on the same bus.

The school offers an intensive ESL program, remedial reading and writing, a study skills program, a standardized testing program, French, music, art, afterschool activities, field trips inside and outside Bulgaria, and an annual ski week on Mount Vitosha. There are classroom computers and an extensive library. The school does not have any special separate provision for children designated as gifted and talented or as learning-disabled beyond what is listed above. Provision is made for individual differences by the teachers within the normal favorable classroom situation. Classes on average have 20 or fewer pupils. The annual educational allowance covers tuition and bus service. Classes begin in late August and end in mid-June. AAS encourages incoming families to contact the school at their earliest convenience in order to begin the registration process.

Places are limited, so if you wish to enter a child, write as early as possible. The school will hold seats open. The address is:

The Director
The Anglo-American School of Sofia
American Embassy Sofia
Department of State
5740 Sofia Place
Washington, DC 20521–5740

The American College of Sofia, a private high school blending aspects of the Bulgarian and American educational systems, graduated its first class in 1997 after being shut down for 50 years under the Communist government. Most students are Bulgarian, with a minority of Americans and other internationals. A preparatory year, equivalent to the 8th grade, is used almost entirely to teach the entering Bulgarians English. In subsequent years students are taught math, philosophy, four sciences, including computer science, and languages and arts.

American teens at post have attended ACS and have received an excellent education there. Also, in the past, a few American teenagers have studied in the Bulgarian special-language high schools, where the language of instruction is either English, French, Russian, or German. Not all classes are held in the designated language and, of those classes given in English, the level is naturally most suitable for ESL students. Students beyond the 8th grade also have taken the University of Nebraska home study program. This requires active parent participation.

Besides the Anglo-American School of Sofia, there are other opportunities for young children. The International Children’s Creativity Centre (ICCC) ( is open to children aged 2 to 4, who attend the Centre two, three, or five mornings a week to play and learn using the English language. The ICCC Board is made up of five members, some of whom are parents of children registered at the Centre. The Centre has enjoyed a good reputation since its inception.

Many American families choose to send their children to Wonder World (email questions to, a pre-school in the suburb of Dragalevtsi that serves children between 18 months and 5 years. There is one school that offers programs only in English and another that offers programs in Bulgarian. Both schools have received high praise from both children and parents. Those children who attend the Bulgarian Wonder World (Chuden Sveat), usually find that after one year in the program, their children are fluent in Bulgarian. It is possible to keep your child in Wonder Wrld through kindergarten. Another benefit of the Wonder World pre-schools is that the schedule is completely flexible. Parents can choose to send their child to the pre-school for any combination of full or half days throughout the week. There is bus service available from your home.

Several American families have children who are currently attending the American English Academy, which offers courses in English for prekindergarten through 12th grade. The academy is accredited by ACSI in Colorado Springs, and the parents of children attending the academy are very pleased with the education their children are receiving. This is a religious school founded by missionaries. The textbooks and curriculum are American and use a Christian perspective, and the president and at least half the teachers are American.

There is a French Government Lycee, Victor Hugo, where two U.S. Embassy children are currently enrolled and pleased with their program. The Lycee welcomes children of all nationalities. Its students are eligible to specialize in baccalaureates in the sciences, literature, or social sciences. The program is rigorous and highly valued at American Universities, which often offer 1 year or more of advanced credit to holders of the Baccalaureate. All courses are taught exclusively in French.

Away From Post Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:32 AM
Children, age 14 or over, often attend private schools in Western Europe or in the U.S. Address questions regarding away-from-post schooling to the CLO, the regional education officer in the Department of State Office of Overseas Schools (A/OS), or the Education Counselor of the Family Liaison Office, Department of State.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 9/11/2003 9:46 AM

The American University of Bulgaria is located just 100 kilometers south of the capital city of Sofia. All instruction is in English, and the faculty is over 60% American. The University of Maine, the U.S. partner, provides accreditation and assists with curriculum development.

The post language program has two Bulgarian language instructors on staff. Employees and family members are encouraged to pursue their study of Bulgarian under this program as space and funding permit. Private language, music, and various sports teachers are available, usually at rates lower than in the U.S.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:33 AM

Skiing is a very popular winter sport, and prices for rental equipment and lift tickets are well below those in Western Europe. Sledding and winter hiking are also popular, with Vitosha Mountain right at the doorstep of most Embassy housing. There is a Hash House Harrier group, which organizes regular weekend runs (and walks), and hiking on the slopes of Vitosha Mountain is popular. For the more adventurous sports enthusiasts, Bulgaria has a selection of mountain ranges from which to choose — hiking, spelunking, hang-gliding, kayaking, and rock-climbing opportunities exist.

The Community Liaison Office (CLO) assists Embassy employees to rent tennis courts and/or to become members of the diplomatic clubs, where tennis and swimming facilities are available. The American Embassy Recreation Association (AERA) organizes regular bowling and ice skating events. Fitness Centers are becoming more popular, and there are several indoor and outdoor swimming pools in the city and the swimming pool centers frequently have on-staff swimming instructors who speak English and can work with children or adults. Diplomatic golf and tennis tournaments are held each spring, often in sunny Greece. There are several very good riding stables on the outskirts and in the center of Sofia. There are excellent riding instructors.

The Embassy has a well-equipped fitness center available to all employees and their family members, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The New Embassy Complex will also have an excellent facility.

Good locally produced and imported sports equipment and clothing is becoming more readily available in shops all over Sofia, although for the newest styles and equipment you may still have to shop elsewhere.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 9/11/2003 10:12 AM

Within the city there are many fascinating museums to visit as well as several buildings of historical and cultural significance. Organized tours are available from Sofia to visit the many delightful points of interest in the country, including the nearby Rila Monastery and the town of Koprivshitsa, one of 14 designated museum towns. The Boyana Church, one site not to be missed, is located just outside of Sofia. This church contains frescoes that date from the 12th and 13th centuries and are of strong interest to art historians.

The CLO works closely with a small travel company that organizes regular weekend and holiday trips around the country. These trips are advertised in the post newsletter, edited by the CLO office. The CLO also keeps an active file of other local travel agencies, which offer in- and out-of-country travel opportunities. Many families drive fairly regularly to the Greek and Turkish coastal resorts and/or to Thessaloniki and Istanbul for shopping and pleasure. Bucharest is an 8-hour drive from Sofia via the Bulgarian city of Ruse on the Danube.

Entertainment Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:35 AM

Many movie theaters in Sofia show American and European films. American films are usually shown in English with Bulgarian subtitles. The English titles are published weekly in the post newsletter and in the private newspaper, The Sofia Echo. Members of the American Embassy Recreation Association (AERA) may check out videos at no charge from AERA’s collection. DAO also makes their video collection available to all Mission employees and their families. Sofia has many very well-stocked video rental shops.

There are many theaters in Sofia that offer a rich variety of performances from classical to avant garde, with performances in Bulgarian. In the last couple of years there has been an English play performed by volunteers from the English-speaking community through the American College of Sofia. Children’s puppet theaters occasionally have pantomime shows, and there is a musical theater, which frequently performs musicals such as “Hello, Dolly.”

Many Embassy employees take advantage of the exceptional musical opportunities in Sofia. The Sofia Philharmonic runs several cycles of performances at reasonable prices. The CLO is able to order tickets for the philharmonic and the opera for delivery to the Embassy offices. Sofia also boasts a young private orchestra, the New Symphony Orchestra, whose director is Rossen Milanov, also the director of the Chicago Youth Orchestra.

Numerous other musical events take place in the National Palace of Culture. Pop, rock, jazz, and classical groups perform there.

The many and ever-changing assortment of restaurants, cafes, and pubs offer varied opportunities for exploration. Most restaurants are fairly inexpensive by American standards but have improved considerably in the last few years. Food and service are greatly improved, and excellent Bulgarian wines with dinner are well within an FS officer’s budget. Besides a variety of international restaurants — Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, French, Spanish, Indian, and Italian — there are folk restaurants with floorshows, a restaurant that sells the antiques surrounding your table, restaurants with a view, and the usual assortment of American fast food restaurants.

Social Activities Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:36 AM

Entertaining within the diplomatic community (58 resident missions) is frequent. With the departure of the former regime, informal socializing with Bulgarians in all walks of life has become much easier and more common than in the past. Embassy employees have opportunities to gather at the Happy Hours, run by the AERA staff in the Embassy snackbar, and at the Marine House, located in the villa region of Sofia.

AERA, CLO, and the Marine Security Guard Detachment work together to organize holiday gatherings for the Embassy community and friends. The annual Marine Birthday Ball is one of the highlights of the fall season, followed by the International Women’s Club (IWC) Charity Bazaar in early December. Opportunities abound to devote time to charity. Many institutions for orphans and handicapped welcome volunteeres. There are two English-speaking international clubs for women, the above-mentioned IWC, and the Women’s Network, made up chiefly of working women in Sofia.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:36 AM

In Sofia, there is the usual gamut of national days, cocktail parties, receptions, and dinners attended by senior officers. Airport arrivals and departures are not emphasized. Protocol is less rigid; however, guests arrive promptly for social functions and are seated according to rank. Diplomatic officers generally entertain with cocktail parties and dinners in their homes and lunches either at home or in restaurants. Most Bulgarian entertaining takes place at one of several government guest houses, in restaurants, or in an official dining room attached to the various ministries.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:37 AM

Conduct courtesy calls are paid on appropriate Bulgarian officials and diplomatic opposite numbers by the Ambassador, DCM, and senior section heads. Post sponsors arrange for arriving employees’ meetings with the Ambassador and the DCM and other key officers within days of arrival. During a standard 3-year tour, senior Embassy officers will need up to 300 calling cards and 400–500 invitation cards. Invitation cards can be printed locally, as well as English- and Bulgarian-language versions of your calling card. Staff employees may find calling cards useful but they are not essential.

Special Information Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:37 AM

Security Concerns

The post carries a high-crime risk rating, but this applies primarily because of crimes against property. If the economic situation deteriorates, you can expect the risk to increase. The RSO recommends against bringing expensive items or articles that have a sentimental value to Sofia. It is post policy to upgrade all residences to RSO standards, which include central alarm monitoring, grilling, and other precautions.

Bring a steering wheel lock and a car alarm with ignition immobilizer to post. Also bring a locking gas cap and extra spare parts. Expect to have outside mirrors, windshield wipers, and vehicle insignia stolen from your vehicle during your tour. Do not leave insurance papers, car registration, other important papers, and other items visible in cars, as they are frequently stolen.

Due to pervasive fraud, the use of credit or charge cards is not recommended in Bulgaria. Also, many employees have been victims of pickpockets and other scams while using public transportation, like trams and buses. The RSO will provide a security briefing when you arrive. Currently, this post employs no residential guards.

Post Orientation Program

An extensive orientation program is provided by the CLO for every newcomer and takes place within several weeks of arrival at post. The orientation is a two-day program and includes visits and brief introductions to every office in the Mission.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:38 AM

Most employees arrive in Sofia by plane on Lufthansa — code share partner of the United Airline. Flights on American carriers from the U.S. fly to Frankfurt, Paris, London, Vienna, Zurich, and Munich. From these cities, foreign airlines provide reasonably good connections to Sofia. To avoid possible conflict with the Fly America Act, consider Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, or Vienna as the nearest points to Sofia served by an American carrier. Note that Sofia time is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)/Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) + 2, whereas Yugoslavia and the countries of central and Western Europe are on GMT/UTC + 1. For information about buying European cars and driving to Sofia, see Automobiles and Touring and Outdoor Activities.

In planning the disposition of your effects, keep in mind that a limited shipment of HHE is standard for Sofia, where all housing is government-leased and -equipped with basic furniture and furnishings. Post has no storage facilities at Sofia, and storage space in residences is limited.

Ship airfreight/unaccompanied air baggage (UAB) via a government bill of lading provided by the Department. Consign the shipment to the American Embassy Sofia, and mark it as follows:

American Ambassador
American Embassy
Sofia, Bulgaria
For: (Employee’s Name)

Non-Department of Defense household effect (HHE) and personally owned vehicle (POV) shipments are routed to Sofia via the European Logistical Support Office (ELSO) in Antwerp, Belgium. This applies to whether your belongings are coming from the U.S. or from other posts from which sea shipment is necessary. The Department of Defense uniformed and civilian employees generally use the Port of Piraeus in Greece.

Surface shipments from the U.S. normally take from 2–3 months, with transit via ship to Antwerp and truck from Antwerp to Sofia. To aid prompt Customs clearance, it is important that the words “in transit” appear on shipping documents and as part of the address on shipping containers. Mark the HHE and POV as follows:

American Ambassador
American Embassy
Sofia, Bulgaria
Via ELSO Antwerp in transit for: (name)

The consignee to be designated on the ocean bill of lading (OBL) is as follows:

U.S.-European Logistical Support Office
Antwerp, Belgium

If your effects come by road transport from another post, you do not need the references to ELSO. If you bring a car from the U.S., arrange to ship it through the U.S. Despatch Agent, Baltimore. (See Automobiles for information concerning American cars in Bulgaria.)

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:39 AM

Bulgarian entry and exit regulations on customs and duties amount, in effect, to unlimited free entry and cause no problems for Embassy personnel. However employee must obtain a Lichna Carta (Bulgarian ID card) before any shipments of UAB, HHE and POV can be cleared. Accompanied baggage of diplomatic personnel is not inspected. Accompanied baggage of nondiplomatic personnel is subject to inspection, but this right is rarely exercised, even with American tourists.

Unaccompanied baggage and airfreight normally are cleared through Customs and inspected. When the household goods of new personnel, diplomatic or nondiplomatic, arrive and are being unpacked at the place of residence, a customs inspector is sometimes present for a routine spot check.

Bulgarian authorities require that all personnel make a special declaration covering certain categories of items, e.g., computers, radios, stereo equipment, tape recorders, cameras, bicycles, and large electrical appliances valued at over $100. This declaration should include the brand, the model, and the serial numbers. Bring the list with you, and the Embassy will make the declaration for you. You must account for these on departure from post. Like all other imported items, they can be sold only to personnel of this or another diplomatic mission.

You should know the make, model, year, and VIN number of your car, as well as the volume of the engine for insurance purposes and the amount of horsepower if you plan to sell in Bulgaria. Personal importation or exportation of dollars, dollar checks, and other Western currencies by Mission members is unrestricted, and no declaration is normally required.

When arriving for the first time, bring dollars with you. It is easy to exchange them for leva inside Bulgaria at banks and numerous change offices, whereas travelers checks are almost impossible to negotiate. Do not exchange money on the street.

If you buy valuable items, keep the purchase receipt to be able to prove upon departure that you purchased the items legally. When you leave post definitively, the Embassy must inform the Customs Service so that a Customs officer may be present during your pack-out. Thus, the incoming inventory and appropriately documented subsequent purchases potentially become very important.

Passage Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:40 AM

All personnel traveling on diplomatic passports require a valid Bulgarian entry visa. Most visa applications are made in Washington, D.C., but you may submit them at Bulgarian missions elsewhere. Request the Department to obtain multiple-entry visas for you and all family members on your travel orders. If possible, it would be helpful for the entire family to have Greek multiple-entry visas also. Many employees like to have the option to travel to neighboring countries soon after arrival in Sofia, and if you arrive by car through Greece, you need a visa. Nondiplomatic travelers do not need visas for Greece.

The initial visa issued to newly assigned Embassy personnel is a multiple entry visa valid for one year. You will be issued a multiple-entry visa generally valid for 24 months after your arrival, along with an identity card stating affiliation with the Mission. Bring at least 8 extra photos per person for identity cards and visas. If your visa clearance is unduly delayed or you applied with less than the 1 week normally required to obtain an initial entry visa, notify the Embassy by telegram. State where and when the visa application was made and provide passport data, including full name, date, and place (city and state) of birth. This will enable the Embassy to follow-up on the application with the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry.

The visa for initial entry does not specify a required entry point.

Pets Last Updated: 9/10/2003 9:21 AM

Dogs and cats are admitted to Bulgaria with proof of a current rabies shot and health certificate that should be obtained before arrival. Examination by a Bulgarian veterinarian is required upon arrival. A veterinarian is on duty at the airport during regular working hours. If you plan to arrive in Sofia with a pet, notify the Embassy well in advance.

Since some personnel live in apartments and Sofia has no kennels where you may board pets while on leave, taking care of pets is not as easy as in the U.S. Dogs should be licensed. Satisfactory veterinary care is available in Sofia, as well as most vaccines and medications. It has become rare for pet owners to drive to Greece or Western Europe for pet care. The CLO has the names of a local veterinarians who have neutered pets for diplomats, and are even willing to declaw cats.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:41 AM

Employees are permitted to bring one shotgun or one rifle to Sofia provided they possess a hunting weapon permit in the U.S. Employees also require the Chief of Mission’s approval for the shipment of the weapon to post. Before traveling to post, send a cable to the administrative officer requesting permission to bring a weapon to post. The cable should contain: name, date and place of birth, Social Security number, weapon type (i.e., shotgun, rifle), weapon make and serial number, and state where the weapon is registered.

The employee may not ship the weapon to post until he/she has received permission by cable to do so. The employee should check with U.S. Customs before departing from the U.S. concerning regulations for bringing the weapon back into the U.S. It is absolutely prohibited to ship weapons through the diplomatic pouch. Once the employee arrives at post, he/she should contact the RSO’s office for assistance in registering the weapons with Bulgarian authorities.

Employees at post who wish to purchase a firearm must obtain written permission from the Ambassador before purchasing the weapon. To obtain this permission, employees should first contact the regional security officer. When written permission is granted, the RSO will assist the employee in registering the weapon. Foreigners and diplomats in Bulgaria are not usually permitted to own, carry, or purchase handguns. Exceptions to this will be sought only in extreme circumstances.

Although there is game in Bulgaria, hunting opportunities are limited. Check with the CLO for further information.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:42 AM

The unit of currency is the lev (plural: leva). Currency notes are available in the following denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 leva. Coinage includes 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 stotinki and 1 lev (100 stotinki = 1 lev). The lev is pegged to the Euro.
The banking system in Bulgaria has stabilized and accounts are available in Leva, U.S dollars or EURO. Checks are not used. Payments are done in cash or electronically. Personal U.S. dollar checks are used for certain purposes at post, such as paying for purchases from the commissary and conducting accommodation exchanges.

Major credit cards (MC, VISA, AMEX, etc.) can be used at a few establishments in and around Bulgaria (hotels, restaurants, and other tourist establishments), but usage is very low and is not recommended due to the risk of credit card fraud. ATM machines can be found in many locations all over Sofia and in most major cities in Bulgaria. Credit cards are useful when ordering goods from mail order houses in the States, internet ordering and from overseas duty-free supply companies like Peter Justesen. All Embassy personnel have personal Euro Shell and OMV credit cards available to them that can be used to purchase fuel and receive VAT and excise tax refunds.

Travelers checks are accepted at some hotels, banks and some forexes, as well as by the Embassy cashier, but they are best used for traveling outside of Bulgaria. Purchases at most local shops are made in cash.

For your daily cash needs, the Embassy cashiers (one in the Chancery and one in the Consular Annex) will accept government or personal checks, travelers checks, and cash for accommodation exchange.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:45 AM

A value-added tax (VAT) is applied on purchases of all goods in Bulgaria, except at diplomatic duty-free shops. Foreign diplomatic missions, Consulates, and intergovernmental organizations and their personnel on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria have the right of VAT and fuel excise tax reimbursement for the following purchases and services:

Official purchases (exceeding 60 leva):

Cars and other vehicles;

Building materials and services for construction and maintenance of Diplomatic Missions;

Furniture, electrical, office equipment, and office supplies;

Telecommunication services, electricity, heating fuel and water;

Items and services purchased for official use, excluding foods, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and clothing;

Gasoline and diesel fuel for motor vehicles not to exceed 300 liters of gasoline or 250 liters of diesel fuel per vehicle per month;

Lease of nonresidential properties;

Goods and services, donated to the state, municipalities, and the budget organizations.

Personal purchases of diplomatic agents, consular officers, and administrative and technical staff (no minimum):

Cars and other vehicles;

Residential furniture (when purchased during the first 12 months at post) and electrical appliances (with certain limitations);

Telecommunication services, electricity, heating fuel and water;

Building materials and services for the maintenance and repair of residences;

Gasoline and diesel fuel for motor vehicles not to exceed 200 liters of gasoline and 150 liters of diesel fuel per vehicle per month.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State Protocol Department, processes VAT reimbursements four times a year: February, May, August, and November. Employees send their VAT receipts to the Embassy Financial Management Office where receipts are packaged and submitted.

For information on automobiles, see Transportation, Automobiles. For information on the required customs declaration of valuables, see Customs.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:46 AM

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published in English about Bulgaria. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Arie, Gabriel. A Sephardi Life in Southeastern Europe: The Autobiography and Journal of Gabriel Arie, 1863–1939. 1998.

Bar-Zohar, Michael. Beyond Hitler’s Grasp, The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. 1998.

Bousfield, Jonathan and Richardson, Dan. The Rough Guide: Bulgaria. Fourth ed. 1999.

Carney, Peter and Anastassova, Mary, Bulgaria: The Black Sea Coast. 1997.

Carney, Peter and Anastassova, Mary. Bulgaria: The Mountain Resorts 1999. Sold in the U.S. by Book Clearing House, tel: 800–431–1579,,,,,

Carney, Peter and Anastassova, Mary. Bulgaria: Sofia and Plovdiv. 1998

Chary, Frederick B. The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution, 1940–44. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh, 1972.

Crampton, R.J. A Concise History of Bulgaria. Cambridge, 1997.

Danforth, Loring M. The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World. Princeton, 1995.

Groueff, Stephane. Crown of Thorns. Madison Books: Maryland, 1987.

Marazov, Ivan, ed. Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians: Treasures from the Republic of Bulgaria. 1998.

Markov, Georgi. The Truth That Killed. Ticknor & Fields: New York, 1984.

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Apogee. New York, 1997.

Thompson, E.P. Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission; Bulgaria 1944. 1997.

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. 1993.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 12/2/2003 11:47 AM

In 2003, the following Bulgarian holidays were celebrated:

New Year’s Day Jan. 1
National Day March 3
Orthodox Easter Monday April 28
Labor Day May 1
St. George’s Day May 6
Saints Cyril and Methodius Day May 24
Unification Day
September 6
Independence Day September22
Christmas Eve December24
Christmas Day December25
Boxing Day December26

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
Share |