Getting a residence permit in Bulgaria: various stories
Written by Claudia Pecoraro, edited by Scott Green, photos by Anastasiia Dehtiarova
If you’re planning on settling in Bulgaria, you may have wondered how you can get a residence permit to live in the country. Obtaining a residence permit is the first, essential step for those who want to live and work in Bulgaria.
What is a residence permit?
A residence permit is a document that allows you to legally live in a country for a given amount of time (established by the type of permit). People apply for a residence permit for various reasons, and the laws that regulate the application process differ in each country.
There isn’t one general procedure to get a residence permit in Bulgaria. According to where you come from and why you’re applying, you may need to follow different steps. The whole process can be long, complicated, and sometimes discouraging.
Before applying, it’s essential to be clear about what documents you need and where to present them. Sometimes, you don’t know where to start, and reading someone else's story may help you get a general idea of how the process looks.
Disclaimer: this article aims at sharing people’s stories and experiences about getting a residence permit in Bulgaria. It is not intended to provide legal advice, nor can the information you find here be substituted for any official information. To make sure you’re following the right procedure, we recommend you consult your Embassy or the Migration Office.
If you are looking for detailed information about how to apply for a residence permit, you can visit the official website of the Migration Directorate. If you’re looking for accurate information about which type of visa you need to come to Bulgaria, you can refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official page. If you come from the UK, we’ve covered the topic of how to move to Bulgaria for UK citizens in a previous article.
Opening a business in Bulgaria: Anastasiia Dehtiarova, Open Sofia's co-founder
Due to the low taxes and the relatively low cost of living, Bulgaria has become one of the most popular destinations for those who want to run a company or are self-employed. How to open a business in Bulgaria? Here’s the story of Anastasiia, or Ana, Open Sofia’s co-founder.
Ana came to Bulgaria because of the low taxes and great options available to business owners. She has lived in Italy and Belgium before, and she understands that running a company there might be comfortable, but becomes expensive very quickly. Since her business is not tied to a physical location, she thought cutting costs was a good idea.
“I decided to settle in Bulgaria, at least for some time, after exploring the country and meeting Giuseppe, Open Sofia’s founder. The mission of bringing Open Sofia to life was one of the main reasons to stay here,” she told us.
What was the procedure to get her residency permit, and what documents did Ana need to provide? Let’s break it down.
As she wanted to settle as a business owner, a requirement before applying for the permit was to open a company in Bulgaria. This step worked as a legal confirmation and proof of being a responsible citizen.
As a family member of a European Union (EU) citizen, Ana has the same rights and obligations as any EU citizen, and her application process was smoother.
“My partner applied first, since it would be him I'd "reunite with" at the application process. It was possible to do it on the same day, one after another without the need for him to get it first, it's a pure formality,” Ana added.
Here are the documents she needed to bring to the Migration Office:
- passport and Italian residence permit. The latter was her way of getting into the country without the need for a visa (alternatively, you need to get a long-term type D visa in the Bulgarian Embassy in the country you reside in);
- the marriage certificate. If the marriage isn’t done in Bulgaria, it may be necessary to translate it or get an apostille. Ana’s marriage certificate was an international one issued by Belgium, in theory, recognized by other EU member states;
- proof of financial means to sustain yourself — she showed her company registration documents, her client contracts, and some bank statements with a €3,000 credit in them;
- Ana didn’t need to provide her health insurance. The officers said that, as a self-insured manager of her Bulgarian company, it was included. People may get their permits based on the duration of their insurance, she added. For instance, one year of health insurance gives one year of permit validity;
- the rental contract. It’s better if it’s notarized, as it adds more seriousness to your application;
- all the fees paid. In 2022, the cost was 18 BGN to get it ready in 30 days or 36 BGN to get it ready in 3 days;
- a photo, which was taken on the spot.
There were some pitfalls in the process. The rental contract missed information about which was the exact entrance to the apartment (door A or B). Due to that, the system couldn’t recognize the contract, so she had to make an official amendment and add it to the application file. Furthermore, Ana learned that you need to be very careful with the exact spelling of your name.
“Two years after getting my permit, I needed to renew my passport and found out a mistake in the Cyrillic transliteration of my surname. My Ukrainian surname is Дегтярьова, but my Bulgarian permit says Дехтиарова. The embassy refused to take my application until I changed my Bulgarian document, or do it in Kiev altogether. They didn't accept the notary act certifying that both variations belong to the same person.” Ana said.
Be careful with the transliteration of your name: it needs to be precisely written how it is in your original passport. An error will create some problems in your registration number document (ЛНЧ).
Working in Bulgaria: Tim, former volunteer, now employed in a Bulgarian company
In recent years, Bulgaria has been offering several job opportunities to foreigners, especially foreign language speakers. If you're fluent in any language among English, Spanish, Italian, German, or French, there are very good chances of finding work within a Bulgarian company.
As for the previous cases, people from the EU don’t require a visa to sign a work contract. For non-EU citizens, the procedure is longer, as you need to apply for a type D visa before obtaining your work permit.
Tim, a French/British citizen who came to Bulgaria a couple of years ago, shared his story with Open Sofia.
Tim arrived in Sofia in January 2019 to participate in a European Voluntary Service (EVS) program at Open Space Foundation. This experience, which lasted seven months, was very positive. Tim loved Sofia and decided he wanted to continue living there.
After his EVS ended, he looked for jobs for French and English-speaking people. Soon he was able to find a job in the BPO sector. “As a European citizen, thanks to my French passport, the process was very smooth as only my passport was required for signing both my rental and work contracts.” Tim said.
Tim enjoys the climate in Bulgaria, with snowy winters and sunny summers providing a wide range of outdoor activities. He will be in Bulgaria for a while still, though a move to Greece is starting to tempt him. Eventually, Tim will probably settle back in France or the UK, when he is done exploring expatriate life.
As we can see, the procedure to work in Bulgaria is quite smooth for EU citizens. If you’re looking for an opportunity to move to Bulgaria, perhaps finding a job here is the best way to settle here. Here are some quick tips about where and how to find a job in Sofia. And if you got curious about the EVS program, check our guide about volunteering in Bulgaria to know more about what it is like to volunteer in Bulgaria.
Studying in Bulgaria: Stories
What about attending a Bulgarian university? We’ve collected various stories from students who are studying or doing their Ph.D. in Bulgaria. Laws and requirements vary according to whether you come from the EU or outside the EU.
If you come from an EU country, you don’t need a visa to study in Bulgaria. However, once you get in the country and enroll in the University program you want to attend, you must fulfill some requirements. You have to register with the police, get a national ID card, and apply for an EU residency permit.
For non-EU students, regulations are more complicated. According to law, you can’t hire a professional to let him do all the paperwork in Bulgaria. This means that you need to be physically present while doing the paperwork as part of your application process (disclaimer: we don’t know if this law is still valid).
Before coming to Bulgaria and applying for a University program, you need to apply for a tourist visa at the Bulgarian embassy in your country. This document is valid for three months and gives you legal permission to stay in Bulgaria. In this way, you can do all the paperwork at the University. Afterward, you need to return to your country with enrolment documents and continue the process.
The following step is to obtain a visa from the Bulgarian Embassy in your country that lets you enter Bulgaria and apply for a residence permit. The type of visa you need is the long-term type D visa (in this case, as you’re applying to a University, it’s a student visa).
Once you get the type D visa, you can come to Bulgaria and request a prolonged short-term residence permit at the Migration Office. This permit is valid for one year. Each year, you need to repeat the application.
Here is a list of the documents you need for the whole process. For each one, you need to provide the original legalized copy (in English). You’ll receive it back after officers verify its validity.
To get the type D visa you need to bring the following documentation to the Bulgarian embassy in your country:
- a letter from the University in Bulgaria,stating that you will be attending afull-time program at the University. An essential condition is, indeed, that you’ll be attending a full-time course. A part-time program is not eligible to get a student visa;
- a letter from the Ministry of Education in Bulgaria stating the validity of the degree with which you’re applying for the University program or Ph.D. This process can be long, but you don’t have to go to the Ministry of Education: they write and send the letter for you;
- a legalized translation in English of passport, clear criminal past, health check;
- proof you have the financial means to afford your stay (because with this type of visa, you’re not allowed to work).
To apply to the University, you need all the documents listed above, plus their legalized translation from English to Bulgarian.
How to get a marriage-based permit?
What if you want to settle in Bulgaria because your spouse is a Bulgarian or lives here? We spoke with a foreigner who got married in Bulgaria and applied for a residence permit. Here is the documentation required:
- the original marriage document (in Bulgarian);
- a declaration of the marriage validity;
- a declaration from the spouse that they will cover the cost of living expenses;
- a notarized copy of the spouse’s work contract;
- a shared address with a declaration from the owner stating the two of you will be living there together;
- health insurance;
- a criminal background check that is legalized and apostilled in your own country. A health check isn’t required.
In other cases, you may want to settle in Bulgaria because of a family reunion. You need a birth certificate or other documents to prove the kinship.
How to get a residence permit in Bulgaria? A summary
Getting a residence permit in Bulgaria is not straightforward. There are several different aspects you should take into account, and it’s not easy to summarize the procedure into a simple list of steps to follow.
As a result of our inquiry, we extrapolated some general information that we can summarize as follows:
- Whether you’re applying for a University program or signing a work contract, European citizens’ application process is smoother. In general, you only need your passport and your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC);
- If you’re a non-European citizen, the procedure might differ according to the reason you’re coming to Bulgaria. The most common cases include full-time students at a Bulgarian University, business owners, or family members of a Bulgarian/European citizen. These are the required steps in general:
- Get a long-term visa to enter Bulgaria and do your application process. In most cases, that is the type D visa (also called long-term D visa). The process of getting it should last 30 days at most;
- Apply for an extended or long-term residence permit. According to our knowledge, the first is valid up to one year; the latter is valid for an initial period of five years and lets you apply for a permanent residence permit;
- You need to give a valid reason why you’re moving to Bulgaria and have certified documentation to prove it.
The documents you need for the whole process are different depending on the reason you’re applying for the permit. You need:
- your passport;
- a photo;
- proof that you have enough finances to cover the expenses during your stay in Bulgaria;
- health insurance;
- proof of the reason you’re coming to Bulgaria (it can be a copy of your company’s registration documents or a letter from the university stating you’re studying there);
- your rental contract;
In specific cases, you may need to provide additional documents:
- a residence permit from an EU country (in this way, you can enter the country without the need of a type D visa);
- your marriage certificate (if you’re married to an EU citizen).
Getting a residence permit in Bulgaria is the only way you can legally live, work, and travel in the country. Sometimes, it may take longer, or there may be some issues of any type. Don't get discouraged: if you follow the right procedure, you’ll get it without specific troubles.
In this article, we’ve tried to cover this tricky and intricate topic as best we can. If you’re willing to add your experience, we encourage you to share your stories in the F&F community or to contact us. Your contribution is highly appreciated and will help all foreigners willing to come to Bulgaria to enrich and expand our beautiful expats community.