Saturday January 27, 2007
British population: 800
Bulgaria, since emerging as a parliamentary democracy in 1990, is
gradually shaking off its cold war legacy. Britons initially saw
the country as a place to make money, snapping up bargain-priced
properties on the Black Sea and in the ski resorts, to rent or to
sell on. However, with Bulgaria having just joined the EU, more
and more British people are coming to stay - a mix of young people
wanting to get on the property ladder, retirees hoping to stretch
their pension and parents who want a better quality of life for
their children. Numbers moving to Bulgaria have doubled in each
of the past two years, and official estimates of the British population
now lag way behind the reality.
British holiday-makers head for the beaches and ski slopes,
but the new settlers gravitate towards the rural interior, which
has spectacular mountains, forests, vineyards and lakes. Ten years
ago, there was just one Brit, bar-owner Julian Hill, living in Veliko
Turnovo, the scenic mountain city that was once the country's capital.
Now there are 100, with another 900 or so in nearby villages.
Some communities have been dubbed the "English village",
and one gated development near the town of Bourgas has taken this
as its official name.
Bulgarian summers are long and hot, but in the biting winters temperatures
often plummet to 15 degrees below zero.
As for the political climate, young socialist prime minister Sergey
Stanishev is often compared to Tony Blair. He has made huge efforts
to crack down on organised crime - one of the conditions of EU membership.
"Varna and Sofia are still mafia strongholds," says 36-year-old
Hill, "but crime doesn't really affect most people's day-to-day
lives." The economy is relatively stable and the currency is
pegged to the euro. "All the British people here are self-employed
- at least on paper - because you have to own a Bulgarian company
to buy property with land here," Hill says. "A lot of
older people have set up something in name and live like kings on
their pensions. You can sit in any bar in town and hear these same
people complaining about eastern Europeans going to the UK and taking
Rob Watson, 42, who owns a riding stable, moved to Bulgaria with
his family when he found himself working impossible hours in Britain.
"The hardest thing was my eldest son, who is 11, learning the
language," he says. "We had to send him for private lessons
after school, which meant that for six months he was studying 14
hours a day. Now it brings a lump to my throat that he is no longer
interested in his PlayStation. He would much rather listen to the
birds in the fields outside our house. If there is one thing we've
achieved, that's it."
Expats tend to have one complaint: that the food is very bland.
But in Veliko Turnovo, at least, they have something to look forward
to - a Briton is planning to open an Indian restaurant. “I
don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this because you know
what the Great British general diet consists of. Bland- I don’t
think so- but if there is one thing a British expat likes to do
generally- it is to moan about the food abroad- but don’t
worry- not all of us are the same“.
To balance things out- Bulgaria has not woken up to the idea of
non smoking areas being enforced which will change in 2010 due to
current EU intervention.
How to do it
Any EU resident can visit Bulgaria for up to 90 days without a visa.
Once there, you can extend a stay by arrangement with the police.
The average annual salary is £1,500 and the cost of living
substantially lower than in Britain. Bureaucracy can be frustrating.
Non-Bulgarians can currently own property but not land (unless through
a company); this is likely to change to comply with EU regulations.
The average cost of a house is £40,000.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
Buying Process: At present, foreigners are not
permitted to own land in Bulgaria. Therefore, if you want to buy,
it is necessary to form a limited company that can own land and
register yourself as a company director. This process takes about
4 weeks and costs around £1000 (GBP). If, however you’re
buying an apartment, it is not usually necessary to register as
a company, as the apartment block could be legally distinct from
the land on which it is sited. A solicitor will draw up a preliminary
contract of sale, at which stage the buyer usually lodges a 10%
deposit. The lawyer will then check the property’s title and
if everything is in order, the purchase price balance, land tax
and notary fees (around 5% of the purchase price which is similar
to the UK ) is then due. Once paid, the property is legally yours.