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 jobs.”
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.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
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.