Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some policemen or officials may request you a bribe for certain action. If this happens, decline the proposal and ask for the name & ID of the individual. Corruption in customs was also once a problem, but has dropped drastically since the country's EU entry.
The government has fiercely fought the corruption with a huge success. Should you appear in a situation to which you are asked to bribe, or you feel that you are being exploited, you can either fill out an online query with the police here (http://nocorr.mvr.bg/), or call 02 982 22 22 to report corruption.
As a generally rich country in Europe, it's best to say that health standards are developed. However, there are potential health risks, even though the government has fought the high chances of such things with a huge success. It best to stay that the greatest risk that a traveller can encounter is air pollution. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthma are at a greater risk.
Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, mutually intelligible with Macedonian variant of Bulgarian and closely related to Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Russian. If you know any of these or another Slavic language you shouldn't have much problem getting by. Ancient Bulgarian also known as Church Slavonic is considered the "Latin" or mother language of the Balto-Slavs. Some words or/and phrases might even be understood by Westerners since Bulgarian has a number of loans from other languages most notably French, German, Turkish, Italian and increasingly English.
Modern Bulgarian is difficult to Westerners, especially English-speakers, as it has three genders, the infintive has fallen virtually out of use, and articles are appended to the end of either the noun if no attribute is present or the first attribute example: kuche = dog, kucheto = the dog, dobro kuche = good dog, dobroto kuche = the good dog. However, it is actually easier than the other Slavic tongues as the other Slavs almost never use articles nor prepositions, but have noun cases instead, which makes them more difficult. It takes a short while getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet, a writing system of which Bulgarians are proud. Be sure to be in Bulgaria for the celebrations of the "Den na Pismenostta" "Day of the Literacy". The Russian/East Slavic version of the alphabet is almost identical to the Bulgarian one.
Turkish is the second most widely understood language in Bulgaria, and it generally spoken by the Bulgarians of Turkish descent.
It is also important to remember the fact that many Bulgarians - contrary to most nationalities - shake their head for Yes and nod for No! It is better to rely on the words da for yes and ne for no than on head movements. Bulgarians often use ciao for good-bye instead of "Dovijdane" and merci for thank you instead of "Blagodarya".
Most young Bulgarians have at least a basic knowledge of English or/and a second foreign language , usually Russian, but German, French or Spanish can also be spoken and will often even take up a third one. Those born before the mid-1970s are most likely to speak Russian, German because of ties with East Germany or/and Serbo-Croatian and usually have limited or zero knowledge of English at all.
Mobile phones are widely spread in Bulgaria - many people have two or three phones. There are three networks, all using the GSM/3G standards Mtel, Globul and Vivacom. MTel has almost full national coverage 97% of the surface of the country, followed by Globul and Vivatel each one with smaller coverage. Fares are average for the European Union 5-40 Eurocent per minute, 7 Eurocent/SMS. Both pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans. Roaming is available but it`s rather expensive. You can buy prepaid cards cards in almost every shop.
Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller towns, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch or even to sleep over. Often it is a pleasant gesture to give someone a "Dobar Den" when walking past a quiet stall or past a person. Kak stÃ© hows it going will usually suffice for the younger generation.
As a rule of thumb for most countries worldwide, you should avoid topics involving politics and foreign relations, and on some occasions football soccer as well. If you are pulled in to such a conversation, try to stay neutral. Remember that your own knowledge of local situations is unlikely to be as good as a Bulgarian's!
For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offence i.e. nationalists and skinheads. Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option.
Most of the Bulgarian people do not feel anger or resentment towards Russians unlike a number of people from other former Eastern Bloc countries, and Bulgarians tend to have a much better perception of Russians, however caution may sometimes be needed in discussing issues regarding Turkey. Likewise, discrimination against Turks are widespread.
Bulgarians don't really do chit chat, so trying to make conversation with someone at a till in a shop will probably result in odd looks either from not understanding or not wanting to engage or they will just ignore you. Likewise Bulgarians are quite impatient and will often honk their car horn at you if you walk in front of a car, especially in winter in the mountains as they try to keep a grip on the road.
Internet access is widely available in Bulgaria, although about 60% of the population has regular access. Broadband internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics, WiMax and LAN connections. You can also access internet with your mobile phone, via GPRS or 3G. Speeds are pretty fast in the capital - with prices being around 10 â¬ for 20 Mbps, with local access about 40-100 Mbps. The speeds are increasing, home access for 10 Mbps being available at around â¬7.5 per month. Outside Sofia, speeds are significantly lower, fastest being around 7.5 â¬ for 10 Mbps.
Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations.
Wireless access is often available in gas stations such as Lukoil and there is also an unsecured WiFi connection in Sofia Airport. Many pubs and hotels will also have WiFi that is free of charge to use. Speeds in Bulgaria are surprisingly good! In fact Bulgaria is in top 10 of the countries with fastest Internet speeds worldwide.
Wireless access is growing, especially in biggest cities, but is still limited, and mainly available in public areas, parks, cafes, hotels and restaurants. Paid wireless access is also available. You can use Wi-Fi virtually anywhere in the bigger cities especially the touristic ones.
Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however behave according to common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show too openly that you have money, don't dress too much like a tourist, watch your things, don't walk around the suburbs esp. those of Sofia at night, avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a hole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely nerve-wrecking, and Bulgarian roads claim almost 1300 lives each year. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the countryâs highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Of significant notation that The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. In practice, these rules are often not followed. Take caution while crossing the streets, as generally, drivers are extremely impatient and will largely ignore your presence whilst crossing the road.
In general, organised crime is a serious issue throughout Bulgaria, however it usually does not affect tourists and ordinary people. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crime, and the presence of such groups is slowly declining. Pickpocketing and scams such as taxi scams or confidence tricks are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places such as train stations, urban public transport.
Car theft is probably the most serious problem that travellers can encounter. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets - these locations are likely to attract more attention from the criminals. If, by any chance you do leave it in such a location, you need to be sure that the vehicle has a security system. Such an installment will prevent the vehicle from getting stolen.
Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. As recent experiences has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based websites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist. As a general rule, do not purchase items of websites you are unfamiliar with.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals, are very common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which ATM to use, it's best to use your cash instead of a credit card.
On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. Travelers are recommended to use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield, as generally these Taxi's charge a normal amount, and the taxis with no meters charge for very unfair prices. One useful tip is to check the price for your trip from a trustful source beforehand, such as a friend or an official at station or tourist bureau. If by any chance you are trying to be lured into such rouge taxis, it is best to reject the offer, or just simply walk off.
Bulgaria has very harsh drug laws, and the penalties are perhaps far more severe than in any other country in Europe.
Do not exchange currency on the street! It is a common scam to offer you fake money as exchange in tourist areas such as stations.
Unfortunately begging and random people trying to sell you stuff is quite common in Bulgaria. In the holiday resorts both in the mountains and on the coast there will be numerous people trying to sell you various things such as roses and pirate DVD's etc. Usually a firm no will get rid of them but sometimes they will persist and often ignoring it will not make them go away unless you make it absolutely clear you are not interested. Also be aware that in many cases these people can just wander into the hotel restaurants in the evening so expect to see them standing at your table at some point!In the ski resorts there are many people who sell "Traditional" Bulgarian bells. They know when tourists arrive and how long they are staying for and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you make it clear at the start of the week that you do not want a bell they will usually leave you alone for a few days at least but if you do not say no, or even say maybe they will tag you with a cheap plastic bell to force you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will suddenly become your friend for the week as they try to get you to buy a bell, but of course if you want to buy a bell make sure you haggle! And if you really don't want to buy a bell, by the end of the week your bell man will demand his cheap plastic bell back and won't be very happy! Don't feel bad about not buying a bell as they often charge extortionate prices unless you really haggle. If you do buy a bell however, you will find that the bell men will be genuinely friendly and chatty people and really aren't all as bad as they seem!
Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. While most are friendly and are more scared of you than you are scared of them, they have been responsible for a number of accidents, so do keep on guard. In particular, watch out for symptoms of rabies, which is an absolutetly fatal disease.
Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in woods, so be careful.
Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Medical personnel is very good at their job.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgaria's National Healthcare System as long as they carry an Eurocard or European Health Insurance Card, obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of excellent quality. Many people from Western European come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home countries.
eating and drinking
Most food is quite safe to eat. Of course, try to avoid eating at places that are obviously not too clean.
Tap water in Bulgaria is very safe to drink and natural mineral water is also cheap and widely available. Since Bulgaria is a mountainous country, natural springs are quite abundant and many villages have one or more mineral springs.