Bulgaria is not the first place that comes to mind when you consider becoming a digital nomad, but as someone that is from the country and has lived there for many years, I think that it actually checks many of the right boxes. It’s in the EU, it’s cheap, you can go to the beach and ski there! In this article, I cheated a little bit and “interviewed” myself, but I think that the information is important and useful, so bear with me. This will be an interview with a Bulgarian digital nomad, about the country’s viability for remote work:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have been a digital nomad for a few years now and have traveled to and lived in a bunch of European countries with Spain, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria being the most notable ones where I have spent the most time. When it comes to working, I have managed to do pretty much everything, from working at a bar, to a start-up, to a large corporation and now working for myself, as well as some freelancing on the side. The world of remote work has exploded over the last couple of years, largely thanks to COVID, so the advice in this interview and this website as a whole can be useful not just to the conventional digital nomads, but also to people that work at a large company, that can come to Bulgaria for a month, in order to break the monotony and experience something new.
As a Bulgarian, I have spent a considerable about of time in the country, and even when I lived abroad I made sure to come back for the holidays or the odd weekend, so I know what I am talking about. I also know a bunch of foreigners and some digital nomads that have chosen to stay here and can relay their experiences here too, so this isn’t just me as a local talking. I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture and will try to be objective about what the pros and cons are for digital nomads in Bulgaria.
Why would anyone choose Bulgaria as a digital nomad, over other countries in Europe?
Portugal, Spain, and Germany are much higher on the list for most people, when it comes to setting up a base for remote work somewhere in Europe, but Bulgaria has its advantages. One of the most glaring attractions is how cheap everything here is compared to the more Western countries on the continent. While 1000 Euros will not get you very far in Amsterdam, you can get an amazing apartment in Sofia, or better yet get a cheaper one and sustain yourself comfortably with the 1000 Euros. Spain and Portugal are also good locations for people on a budget, but Bulgaria is a good 10-20% cheaper still. If you are just starting your journey and don’t earn a high salary yet, living in an Eastern European country, that is a part of the EU is not a bad idea. Beyond the cheap cost of living, you also have low taxes. The income tax is 10% and dividend taxes are at 5%, which means that depending on how you make your money, you can save a whole lot more in Bulgaria.
Aside from the money matters, many of my foreign friends that have lived in Bulgaria have told me that they enjoy how different the country is from most other places. The Eastern Block is still relatively mysterious for Westerners and Bulgaria is not only there, but also in the Balkans, a region that is notorious for being a wild place. The communist aesthetic, the orthodox churches, and Balkan infrastructure make Bulgaria look and feel completely different from Denmark or the United Kingdom. Once the novelty wears off, there is also a bunch to do in Bulgaria for travelers and visitors. You can ski, you can go to the beach and you can also visit some of the neighboring countries, which are: Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey.
What are some of the negative aspects?
In order to keep things honest, I need to point out some of the more negative aspects of living in Bulgaria, so that there aren’t any nasty surprises if you do decide to visit. One thing that can be tough for a foreigner is finding their way around the country, precisely because it is so foreign and exotic compared to Western Europe. The alphabet is Cyrillic, which can be hard to understand for ex-pats, though it is easy to learn it. On top of that, many of the older people do not speak English, and when faced with bureaucracy or any administrative task, it can be hard to understand what you need to do and where you need to go. This is a problem for Bulgarians as well, but foreigners that are used to a very orderly, organized, and well-run state apparatus can be particularly challenged by the Bulgarian administration. I don’t know anyone that didn’t manage to pay their taxes, go to the doctor or register for something, but it can be an adventure if you don’t know the language.
Another thing that is worth mentioning, despite being more of an annoyance, is the state of the infrastructure. If you are used to biking around town, as they do in the Netherlands, you will find that Bulgaria and especially Sofia is a very tough place for that. The streets and sidewalks are not designed with bikes in mind and there are many potholes and damaged areas on the sidewalk. Even walking can be a challenge and it’s always a good idea to watch where you’re walking, in order not to trip on some tile. This is also a problem for drivers, though things do seem to be improving, the road quality in Bulgaria is anything but stellar.
Is there a good international community in Bulgaria?
For many people having an international community in the country they work from is a must. While it’s always a good idea to make friends with locals and experience their country from their eyes, it is often easier to just befriend some expats and explore the country with them. As already mentioned, I have a few foreign friends that have chosen to live in Bulgaria, so there certainly is an international community, that seems to be growing every time I visit. That being said, you cannot compare the situation in Sofia to that of Lisbon on Amsterdam. There are thousands of digital nomads in Portugal, coming and going all the time, with many groups, co-working spaces and events for networking. Sofia is much more limited than that, but there are a bunch of co-working spaces and enough people to form a friend circle with. However, it does pale in comparison to other places. There are also less exchange students in Bulgaria, which can be a pro or a con, depending on your age and preference.
Outside of Sofia there are people that reside in Bansko, a small town near the mountain which is great for skiing in winter and hiking in the summer, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, as well as the seaside towns of Burgas and Varna. If you want a big expat community, Sofia is your best bet. Besides the digital nomads, there are also many foreigners working in the big companies, especially in outsourcing.