MONEY TALKS: Tourists arriving at Sofia airport should declare any cash exceeding 10 000 euro.
Photo: Georgi Kozhouharov
A FINE TIME: The fine for driving a motor vehicle without a vignette is 100 leva.
Photo: Nikolai Doichinov
DRIVE CAREFULLY: Motorists should respect the rules of the road and be aware of the sliding scale of fines.
Photo: Assen Tonev
BORDER ORDER: Border crossing for European Union motorists are straightforward. Non-EU members can expect more rigorous checks.
Photo: Maria Subotinova
ONCE MORE UNTO THE BEACH: Obey the rules and enjoy a relaxing beach-side holiday.
Photo: Anelia Nikolova
The Interior Ministry’s advisory on travelling in Bulgaria, released on the ministry’s website on June 1, begins with general information for first-time arrivals. Checks on EU citizens, both for drivers crossing the border and tourists arriving at airports, are apparently rudimentary.
"EU citizens are subject to a minimum border control when crossing the borders of Bulgaria. Third-country citizens have to go through an additional check for visas or residence permits. The circumstances related to the purpose of the visit, the financial means for the duration of stay declared, a reference into the national database if a signal has been submitted prohibiting the entry into the country, etc., are also checked."
Vehicles from non-EU countries are subject to additional border inspections. "Registration and ownership documents are checked, as well as documents certifying the right to drive and the necessary car insurance."
Money Travellers bringing in up to 10 000 euro are allowed to go through the "green corridor" and circumvent customs. Those carrying larger sums are supposed to declare the amount concerned, although in practice one wonders if such a "revelation" would ever occur. It’s worth bearing in mind that, as a recent television programme demonstrated, a single cigarette packet can contain 20 000 euro (in 500-euro denominations) and it’s relatively easy to hide large sums of money. Hopefully someone has told Bulgaria’s authorities, or will.
The advisory continues. "When exporting means of payment amounting to more than 25 000 leva or their equivalent in foreign currency, it is necessary to present a certificate from the National Revenue Agency that the passenger has no overdue payments and its number is registered in the customs currency declaration. For foreign natural persons, the certificate is issued by the Territorial Directorate of the National Revenue Agency depending on the person’s latest address of stay in the country."
The Interior Ministry’s advisory also has a long list of jewellery – quantities of gold and silver – permissible, although once again one wonders if such controls are necessary or enforceable.
"Foreign persons may export and import for their personal and family use precious metals, jewels and jewellery, both processed and unprocessed, freely, without a written declaration, within the following limitations: Silver, both processed and half-processed, and coins, as well as jewellery and accessories made of alloys of silver, amounting to a total of 300 grams, regardless of the content of the silver. Gold and platinum, unprocessed and half-processed (in ingots) and coins amounting to a total of 37 grams regardless of the content of the gold or platinum. Jewellery and accessories made of alloys of gold and platinum amounting to a total 60 grams regardless of the content of the gold or platinum."
You will do well, also, to note the following point, that "undeclared leva, currency, precious metals and precious stones are seized to the benefit of the state".
The advisory also notes that "fines are imposed in cases of more serious violations of the above rules. When undeclared goods or currency in particularly big amounts are established, besides them, the motor vehicles with which they are transported are also seized to the benefit of the state".
In other words, your transgressions could accrue rich pickings to the state at a time of economic crisis when Bulgaria’s coffers badly need filling!
On the road Most of the Interior Ministry’s guidelines concern driving in Bulgaria, potentially a dangerous activity – far more so than in other of Europe’s alleged notorious black-spots such as Portugal and Spain – unless you pay special heed to the rules, drive defensively and remain vigilant about other drivers’ antics. It is also an area that is generally more fraught with complaints and grievances from visitors and residents than any other.
The language barrier also makes negotiating with traffic police even more confusing. Judging also from drivers’ experiences, fines are sometimes decided at the whim of individual officers. Even so, here is the official Interior Ministry blurb, with which you would do well to familiarise yourself.
"For repeated speeding exceeding the speed limit by more than 31 km/h, drivers are fined by 300 leva and their driving licence is suspended for a period of three months." Those without a permanent address in Bulgaria must not think they can avoid paying.
"The fines imposed for violations of the Road Traffic Law are paid by means of bank transfers," says the Interior Ministry. "The amount is transferred to a bank account as quoted in the decree for imposing the sanction. Fines are paid in all branches of the banks in leva after a decree for imposing the sanction has been issued to the offender."
The Interior Ministry advisory tells us that "police officers perform regular inspections into cafes and restaurants near the roads, petrol stations and car parks, regulate the traffic in order to avoid traffic jams, provide assistance in case of emergencies with motor vehicles and react in case of road accidents. To protect foreign passengers through the country, police authorities may perform thorough inspections of suspicious persons and cars".
Police cars do indeed hover at certain crossroads on highways although, as in other countries, oncoming drivers will warn you that traffic cops are near with a surreptitious flashing of lights.
Exhaustion and other dangers The Interior Ministry advisory contains other – fairly self-evident – admonitions but worth recording anyway.
"Do not drive if you haven’t had enough sleep or if you feel exhausted. Foreign car drivers very often have accidents in Bulgaria because they fall asleep while driving, after having driven for hundreds of kilometres without a break. So, as soon as you feel the first signs of weariness and drowsiness, you must stop in a suitable place to take a break, however short. Do not stop in isolated areas! To take a break, you should only stop in the daytime in busy places."
The Interior Ministry warns you to stay in motels along your route, or in hotels in big cities, and leave your vehicle in a guarded car park.
"In case you need to stop during the night, do it only in well-lit inhabited places. When stopping in parking lots, turn on the alarm and other anti-theft systems and close the windows tight. Do not leave in the compartment of a parked car bags containing personal ID, money and valuables."
In case of a problem on the road, the Interior Ministry guidelines tell you to call 112 or 166.
Vignettes Compulsory for drivers. Vignettes for eight-seat passenger vehicles and cargo vehicles, including trailers, not exceeding 3.5 tons, are 34 euro for one year, 13 euro for one month and five euro for one week.
"Vignettes can be purchased at border checkpoints and at petrol stations along the national road network," the Interior Ministry guidelines inform us. "In order to facilitate car drivers, it is possible to purchase vignette stickers from the petrol stations which are closest to the respective border checkpoint."
The fine for driving a motor vehicle without a purchased vignette is 100 leva.
The Interior Ministry cites the following numbers – the European emergency line 112 and the national police line 166 – for those wishing to report incidents of any type, or crimes committed against foreign nationals on Bulgarian territory.
These are 24-hour toll-free numbers that may be reached directly from any telephone.
From the same telephone numbers you can also receive information about the address of the respective local police unit of the Interior Ministry.
Offences According to the Interior Ministry travel advisory, those drivers with complaints or reports of incidents on the road should do as follows:
The claimant has to go to the nearest local police station to outline grievances to a police officer. "In case there is data on a crime committed or another offence of the law, a letter of complaint (claim) is drawn up and addressed to the chief of the respective local police station and the case is investigated."
All claims must contain detailed information on the time (date and approximate hour), the place where the incident occurred, personal data of the claimant (full name, date of birth, citizenship, number of passport, and vehicle registration number).
The Interior Ministry notes that "punitive decrees imposing fines up to 50 leva are not subject to appeal".
The advisory notes that "a foreign car driver to whom a protocol has been drawn up for an administrative offence of the Road Traffic Law may file an objection on the spot where the protocol has been drawn up, which is registered in writing in the form of the protocol. According to the Law for the Administrative Offences and Sanctions, the offender has the right to file in writing additional objections to the chief of the police service, where the police officer, who has drawn up the protocol, works."
On the day the protocol is drawn up a punitive decree is issued, by which the respective punishment is imposed.
"A written appeal against it may be submitted to the District Court of the district where the offence has been perpetrated. The court may confirm, change or revoke the sanctions imposed by the punitive decree," says the Interior Ministry advisory.
The telephone number to report police officers’ corrupt practices is 02/982 22 22.
"Any problems, such as accidents, car damage, need for road aid and medical assistance, etc.; incidents, gross violations of the public order or criminal abuse of foreign nationals are to be reported on telephone 112 and 166. These are toll-free numbers that can be reached directly from any mobile or stationary telephone."
Speeding Drivers of motor vehicles for public transport of passengers and dangerous cargos who exceed the speed limit are sanctioned as follows:
By 10 km/h the fine is 10 leva;
By 11-20 km/h the fine is 30 leva;
By 21-30 km/h the fine is 100 leva and the driving licence is suspended for a period of one month;
By 31-40 km/h the fine is 200 leva and the driving licence is suspended for a period of two months;
By 41-50 km/h the fine is 300 leva and the driving licence is suspended for a period of three months;
By more than 51 km/h the fine is 400 leva and the driving licence is suspended for a period of three months.
Traffic violation Not stopping at a red traffic light brings a fine of 50 leva.
The same fine is imposed to drivers talking on their mobile phone without a hands free device while driving.
50 leva is the fine for a driver who drives with worn-out tyres, and also for irregular change of lanes.
The same amount of money is the sanction for irregular stopping or parking.
50 leva is the sanction for a driver who drives without a seat belt or a motorcyclist without a helmet. Sanctions of 50 leva are imposed to passengers in the car who have not fastened their seat belts.
Movement of vehicles in bus lanes marked in towns and cities is not allowed and the fine is 20 leva. Overtaking trams on their left side is not allowed.
Drink driving For driving when blood alcohol content (ascertained by a medical test) is from 0.5 to 1.2 per mill, drivers with less than two years of experience have their driving licence suspended for a period from two to 12 months and pay a fine between 300 and 600 leva.
For a repeated violation, the fine is from 1000 to 2000 leva and driving rights are suspended for a period from one to three years.
For driving with alcohol blood content exceeding 1.2 per mill, the law provides for up to one year of imprisonment.
Drivers with more than two years of experience driving with blood alcohol content from 0.5 to 1.2 per mill pay a fine from 200 to 500 leva and their driving licence is suspended for a period from one month up to one year.
For a repeated violation, the fine is from 1000 to 2000 leva.
In case of refusal to be tested for alcohol or narcotics test, the fine is from 500 to 1000 leva and the driving licence is suspended for a period from 12 to 18 months.
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