For those of you who have been living in The Balkans for some time, much of what I am about to say may seem to be an oversimplification. But for many of us, who were here at the beginning – on the cusp of post modern Communism – the bureaucracy has become far easier to cope with. The EU has stamped its mark on much of the time wasting and frustrating issues, which once beset a would be foreign resident, of Northern Greece or Bulgaria, so buying or renting a property, and living in this charming part of Europe, is no longer such a challenge – The Editor
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BULGARIA
HOW TO GET THERE
The four main Bulgarian airports are in Sofia the capital, Plovdiv the provincial capital, together with the ports of Varna and Burgas. We are concentrating on the latter three which are within travelling distance of the Thracian region in South Eastern Bulgaria. Most of the cut price airlines fly to the Balkans and do good one way prices, as well as return tickets. Failing that you might be surprised at ticket prices from people like Hogg Robinson Group Jamadvice, if you cannot get on a particular flight. Here are some useful websites:
Ryan Air to Plovdiv – www.ryanair.com
Easy Jet to Sofia – www.easyjet.com
Wizz Air to Burgas – www.wizzair.com
Most of the national carriers are reducing their prices but not at short notice, and although Ticket and Travel Agents are a bit hit and miss, I have used the following.
HRG Jamadvice – www.jamadvice.eu
Carlson Wagonlit – www.carlsonwagonlit.net
You have a choice – take it or leave it – in Bulgaria, although in the summer there are some excursion flights to Burgas, Varna and Plovdiv. So unquestionably, Bulgaria Air is your best bet. Most internal flights take up to one hour:
Bulgarian Air www.air.bg/en
Auto Europe www.autoeurope.eu
Europe Car www.europcar.com
Svilengrad – And in the Thracian region generally.
Hotel Central – http://www.bgtravelguide.com/en/show/hotel-central-891.html
Hotel Romantica – http://www.hotelromantica.eu/ – flashy, but good restaurant
Hotel Diana http://bgstay.com/en-o-3121-family_hotel_diana
Burgas Area http://bgstay.com/map-bulgaria – easy to navigate
Art Hotel http://www.artehotelbg.com/en/index/
Niky Hotel http://www.hotel-niky.com/ (good Bulgarian cuisine)
Hebros Hotel – http://www.hebros-hotel.com/ (once a commie hangout)
Plovdiv Area – http://www.plovdivhotels.com/
Medical treatment is unpredictable in Bulgaria, although most treatment is well intended. Visiting a doctor is not a big deal, but there may be a language difficulty. Many of the specialists speak English or German, but the majority of the general practitioners do not. They will know what your European Health Insurance Card is, and act accordingly, but it may be wise to take a Bulgarian speaker with you. If you are a foreign resident in Bulgaria, and pay your social security payments to the authorities, then you are eligible to receive treatment from all the local state health providers. You will be issued with a Pass Book, once you have confirmed full payment of your taxes. However, very little is on offer under those circumstances – other that A & E issues which are reasonable – so it is a good idea to pay for your treatment as you go, which is generally a very small amount. There are a number of Private Clinics around which offer basic medical treatment for a monthly fee, but they are quite useless for any serious complaints, and will consign you to the local A & E without compunction. So, you would be wise to insure against any serious conditions, there being some acceptable private hospitals in the urban areas of Bulgaria, particularly in Sofia and Plovdiv. For serious illness, a second opinion is always advisable, and always remember, Greece is just down the road!
LAWYERS & NOTARY’s
English speaking Lawyers are not rare in Bulgaria, but it is wise for you to pick a young solicitor from a well established firm. Many Bulgarians do their own legal work, because daily, they are awash with contracts and agreements, and have become used to their own familiar subjects. Property purchase, is quite a different matter, especially if you are buying an older house from a local. However, a Notary does hold sway in these matters, so it pays to go to a well established one who is used to being listened to, speaks English, and is well respected. Keep away from local experts, because they tend to be good at looking after their own interests first, and not yours.
You can open an account at a bank in Bulgaria with ease. As long as your documents are in order – always bring your Birth Certificate with you – and there are no language difficulties. The Bank of Piraeus is to be found in most Bulgarian towns and cities, as is the Raiffeisen Bank, but most Bulgarian banks are well run these days, and there have been few incident’s of bank failure. It is really a matter of language and communication, for newbies, because thereafter you can manage your accounts electronically and in most European languages.
This is an open issue for expats, because once more, the story is about communication, and very few Bulgarian builders or architects can speak other languages. However, there are a number of ex-pat builders in Bulgaria who have learnt to cope with the Balkan mentality, and are able to carry out complicated renovation work. Many are on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have a look.
According to a report made by KPMG the following link should bring you up to speed on the present Bulgarian tax rules. Until now the tax laws have remained constant and very generous, and with a country still in transition, it is fairly lax by most European standards.
As part of the registration process it is wise to visit an Accountant who will steer a would-be property purchaser, in the right direction. Most documents and agreements in Bulgaria are littered with registration numbers – not only a passport or identity card information – but an EGN or National Security Number together with an internal visa identity number or ‘Certificate for Residence Permit,’ as it is known today. A good lawyer will put you on the right track with residence issues, and get you registered within reasonable time.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT GREECE
HOW TO GET TO GREEK EVROS
Most of the cut price airlines fly to the Balkans these days and do good one way prices, as well as return tickets. Failing that you might be surprised at ticket prices from people like Hogg Robinson if you cannot get on to a particular flight. Here are some useful websites:
Ryan Air- www.ryanair.com
Easy Jet- www.easyjet.com
Monarch Airlines – www.monarch.co.uk
Aegean and Olympic Airways usually cost an arm and a leg on their international routes, but are excellent value for internal flights in and around the many Greek islands and destinations. Ticket and Travel Agents are a bit hit and miss, but we have successfully used the following on many occasions:
HRG Jamadvice – www.jamadvice.eu
Carlson Wagonlit – www.carlsonwagonlit.net
You have a choice – take it or leave it – in Greece, although during the summer there are some excursion flights to Alexandropoulis. So unquestionably, Aegean is your best bet. Internal flights take up to one hour to Alexandroupoli.
Aegean – www.aegeanair.com
Avis – www.avis.gr
Auto Europe – www.autoeurope.eu
Hertz – www.hertz.gr
Europcar – www.europcar.com
Six T – www.sixt.com
Erica Hotel – www.hotel-erika.gr/
Hili Hotel – www.hilihotel.gr
Tripadvisor – www.tripadvisor.com
Vienna Hotel – www.hotel-vienni.gr
Tripadvisor – www.tripasvisor.com
Doctors are well trained in Greece – remember Hippocrates – and many have trained around the world in UK Germany and the US. To a visitor, the cost is very reasonable at between 30 – 50 Euros a visit and most good doctors speak the English or German language. They will know what your European Health Insurance Card is, and act accordingly. Medicines have to be paid for, over the counter, if you are visiting Greece. If you live here, you will need to register with the new Health Authority called EOPYY, which is the successor to IKA. Pensioners receive free medical attention if they are registered and can buy medicines for between 10 and 25 % of the cost. Teaching Hospitals are free to all as in most countries, but – and it is a big but – they are only good for specialist treatment and A & E.
LAWYERS & NOTARY’S
Most Greek lawyers speak English for prospective property purchasers. However, in Greece all legal matters come under the scrutiny of the Notary who acts as an independent arbiter on behalf of the State, Vendor and Purchaser. Without their agreement, papers cannot be accepted and contracts completed.
A bank savings account may be opened quite easily through the presentation of a valid Passport or Identity Card and an IBAN number issued. Most Greek banks have English or German speaking staff and problems with communication are fairly small and rare. The popular bank for the whole of the Balkan area is the Bank of Piraeus, together with the National Bank of Greece, but there are plenty of other choices. You must ask your home bank to recommend their preference for a particular Greek bank, in order to facilitate a final purchase. All Greek banks have now been audited and approved by the Greek Government and the international community.
Very few local builders speak English, but most Architects do speak other languages and are useful for house purchasers who need quality renovation works carried out, or even new build. However, in nearby Bulgaria there are also a number of ex-pat builders, who are able to offer their services to foreign purchasers in Evros. Things have moved on recently, and the free market views of the EU are finally being respected by the Greek Authorities, from the point of view of official work and purchase receipts.
According to a report made by KPMG the following link should bring you up to speed on the present Greek tax rules.
Up until now the tax law has been rather mysterious, but with the latest EU regulations and new transparency, Greece’s membership of the EU is no longer a cloudy issue. My only contribution to the debate is that – in common with most other EU countries – each house owner has to make an annual tax return and there are English or German speaking accountants in the bigger towns.