IS MY DRIVER'S LICENCE VALID?
Driver licenses issued by EU and EEA countries, as well as driver licenses in English, are valid for up to one year.
In all other cases, a legalized translation of the driver license or, preferably, an International Driving Permit (IDP) will be needed.
The IDP can only be issued in your country of residence before you travel. In Bulgaria, the IDP is only issued to Bulgarians or holders of a valid Bulgarian driver license.
International Driving Permits issued in Bulgaria are not valid for driving in the country.
Bulgaria has notoriously bad roads, which can take some getting used to.
Potholes, faded road surface markings, and signage in Cyrillic only might turn driving into a difficult task.
Most highways and busy intercity roads are reasonably well maintained but some mountain roads can prove especially challenging.
MOTORWAYS IN BULGARIA
In the 1970s, the Bulgarian government launched an ambitious highway-building program that was to link all major cities. The highways are still not finished, though bits and pieces continue to be constructed with EU funds.
Currently, only the Trakia Highway connecting Sofia and the Black Sea city of Burgas is completely ready, though it is in a poor condition at points.
The rest of the planned highways are a work in progress. A car trip to Varna, Thessaloniki, or Istanbul will be primarily made over narrow and busy two-lane roads.
There is a good network of “first-class” roads that service bigger cities in Bulgaria. These contain one lane in each direction with a third lane in the busiest stretches of the road.
Smaller villages, especially in mountainous regions, are connected via narrow one-lane roads.
DRIVING IN THE WINTER
Bulgaria is a mountainous country. Roads are often covered with snow in the winter.
Winter Tires and Snow Chains
Having winter tires is a must between October and March.
Snow chains are also a good idea, especially if you plan to drive in the mountains, away from major roads and motorways. Make sure you know how to put the chains on as some models can prove difficult.
Snow chains are sold in most big gas stations. Price ranges between 50 and 100 lv.
On occasion, big snowstorms have closed parts of the country’s roads for up to two days.
The major roads heading north to south pass the tall mountain range of Stara Planina, and are often closed in the winter or only open for vehicles equipped with snow chains.
DRIVING AND ALCOHOL
The legal blood alcohol content is 0.05.
Penalties for driving while intoxicated can result in having your driver license suspended for a minimum of one to two years (second or third offense), and fines range from 50 to 500 lv.
The police use on-the-spot breath alcohol testing.
In cases of severe intoxication, injuries, or when the driver disputes the breath test result, blood alcohol tests are performed in a designated regional hospital.
Drink and drive services
Several companies in Sofia and Plovdiv offer 24/7 services that drive you and your car home after a night on the town.
Drivers arrive in 20 minutes.
The cost per km is approximately 2 lv (1 euro).
IN CASE OF EMERGENCIES
Call 112 in case of any emergency. English-speaking operators are available.
Make sure your insurance covers all the expenses for any breakdown assistance you might need while in Bulgaria.
The Union of Bulgarian Automobilists offers car-towing services.
Call them at +359 (02) 91146 or 146 from a local mobile number.
Most of the big gas stations are open around the clock.
Unleaded and diesel fuel, as well as autogas, are sold.
Some gas stations, located on major highways accept payments in euro.
IF STOPPED BY THE POLICE
Traffic policemen in Bulgaria have the habit (and the legal right) to perform random checks, especially on weekend nights and national holidays.
During a check the police will ask for
- driver's licence
- passport (or another type of ID)
- vehicle registration document (talon)
- periodic technical inspection document (talon za tehnicheski pregled)
- vignette (vinetka)
- liability insurance sticker (zastrahovka grazdanska otgovornost).
The police also have the right to look around the car and the trunk.
Bulgarian traffic policemen have the well-earned reputation of being corrupt. Locals are full of bribe stories. As the stories go, the amount of the bribes varies from 20 lv for a minor speeding violation to hundreds of leva for driving under the influence. Negotiations are usually initiated by the driver with the question, “Is there any way to sort this out?”
Needless to say, giving bribes is a very bad practice. Report any corruption at the anti-corruption site of the Ministry of Interior (in English).