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State Department: Bulgaria - Consular Information Sheet, May 8, 1998


Bulgaria - Consular Information Sheet
May 8, 1998

Country Description: Bulgaria is a moderately developed European nation undergoing profound political and economic changes. Tourist facilities are widely available, but conditions vary considerably, and some facilities are not up to Western standards. Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are still not available in many areas of Bulgaria.

Entry Requirements: A passport is required. A visa is generally not required for U.S. citizen visitors for stays of up to 30 days, although a modest entry fee must be paid in cash upon arrival. Travelers should carry their passport with them at all times. Travelers are subject to arbitrary document checks by the police, and persons traveling without proper identification may be detained while their right to be in the country is verified. For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 - 22nd Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, Tel: (202) 483-5885 (main switchboard (202) 387-7969) or the Bulgarian consulate in New York City.

Medical Facilities: Although Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, hospitals and clinics are generally not equipped and maintained at U.S. or West European levels. Basic medical supplies are widely available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Visitors must pay cash for medical and health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Travelers have found that in some cases, supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, has proven to be useful. For further information, travelers may contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international travelers' hotline at 1-888-232-3228, or their autofax service at 1-888-232-3299, or their Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

Crime Information: Street crime, much of which is directed against foreigners, continues to increase. Pickpocketing and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, as is theft from automobiles, where thieves smash windows to remove valuables left in sight. Taxi drivers at Sofia Airport often refuse to run their meters and charge arbitrary fees. Travelers who pre-negotiate a fare can avoid the more outrageous overcharging. Because, incidents of pilferage of checked baggage at Sofia Airport are common, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage. Automobile theft is also a frequent problem, with four-wheel drive vehicles and late model European sedans the most popular targets. Very few vehicles are recovered.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The Department of State's pamphlet "A Safe Trip Abroad" is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. It provides information on protecting personal security while traveling abroad.

Ground Transportation: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Bulgaria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

    Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
    Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
    Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
    Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

The Bulgarian road system is underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rockslides and landslides are common on roads in mountain areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country. Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against night driving because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark and because there have been many reports of travelers being stopped for shakedowns by bandits clad in police uniforms after nightfall.

Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. A U.S. state driver's license is not considered valid for Bulgaria; only an International Driver's License is accepted. Persons operating vehicles with foreign license plates frequently complain of being stopped by police and fined on the spot for offenses that are not clear.

Buses are inexpensive but crowded and deteriorating in quality. Pickpocketing, purse-slashing, and backside-pinching have been reported on the buses.

Currency Regulations: Bulgaria is largely a cash economy. Most shops, hotels and restaurants still do not accept travelers' checks or credit cards. Where credit cards are accepted, their use is not recommended because of pervasive fraud. Visitors should exchange money at Change Bureaus. People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are confidence tricksters intent on swindling the unwary traveler. There are currently no Western Union representatives in Bulgaria to provide direct transfer of money to travelers in need, but funds may be transferred in one to two days through the Bulgarian Foreign Trade Bank (Bulbank).

Drug Penalties: U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Persons convicted of possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria are subject to imprisonment and fines.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Bulgaria's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.htm. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the Pentagon at (703) 697-7288.

Registration and Embassy Location: U.S. citizens may register in the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy, and obtain updated information on travel and security within Bulgaria.

The U.S. Embassy in Sofia is located at 1 Saborna (formerly 1 A. Stamboliyski Boulevard); telephone (359) (2) 980-5241. The Consular Section of the Embassy is located at 1 Kapitan Andreev Street in Sofia; telephone (359) (2) 963-2022. The Embassy's website address is http://www.usis.bg.

No. 98-53

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated February 14, 1997, to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Medical Facilities, Ground Transportation, Currency Regulations, Aviation Safety Oversight, and Registration and Embassy Location.

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Saturday, 9 May 1998