Digital nomads, this is the Intro to “Bulgaria for Digital Nomads” – a series of publications that I will post about location independent lifestyle in Bulgaria.
The post is subject to updates.
Yes, we do eat cold yogurt-cucumber soup.
It’s called tarator, and it’s perfect for the summer.
But this series is not about the culinary heritage of Bulgaria.
It is a reference guide for digital nomads who are looking to tick off another exciting country from their “nomad list.”
Quite a few people choose to make money and travel at the same time.
And with so many online jobs for nomads, it’s not a surprising move.
91% of hiring managers do not consider that keeping new talent in the office is necessary.
If you are one of those skilled free spirits, read on to find if Bulgaria fits the digital nomad lifestyle.
Bulgaria for digital nomads: the good
Unless you are a sole trader or a farmer, you only pay 10% corporate tax as a self-employed worker.
Bulgaria offers the second-lowest corporate tax rate in the EU after Hungary (9%).
For comparison, you can expect to pay at least double in other hot digital nomad destinations.
The corporate tax rate in the UK is 19%, 28% in Spain, 29% in Greece, 20% in Croatia.
The figures are not any different in the rest of the EU.
Matthias, an Austrian who opened the first coworking space in Bansko, says of the low taxes:
[it] means that I have more money in my pocket compared to other European countries.
Lower taxes mean that you’ll have more money to spend, and could offer more competitive prices.
Using low-tax countries to reduce cost and gain a competitive advantage is not new.
It has caused proposals for a common EU tax policy as a way to prevent companies from exploiting low tax rates.
For now, though, such a move seems far from reality, given the opposition from supporters of free trade.
If you plan to do business in Bulgaria consult with a legal/accounting expert about taxation.
Bulgaria borders a sea, a major European river, and five countries.
Cross the Bosphorus Strait of Istanbul and you are in Asia.
Also, there are direct flights to many major world destinations.
Tourism is one of the economic pillars for Bulgaria, so there is a lot to visit during your work-play stay.
The country offers entertainment for every season.
There are beautiful beaches and cool mountains for the warm days, and ski resorts for winter fun.
Magnus, a British-Canadian who’s been a digital nomad since 2004 says:
I like Bansko* a lot, I feel at home here, everyone I meet socially is friendly.
*Bansko is Bulgaria’s most popular ski resort, though it’s also a great place for the summer.
Hotel prices go as low as $10/night and apartment rents in the center of the capital Sofia average at about $300/month.
With such prices, you will have a variety of options on what to make your temporary home.
Bulgaria is also picking up with coworking spaces, for those days when flying solo doesn’t cut it.
Low taxes, beautiful landscape, and budget-friendly.
Is there anything else that makes Bulgaria a worthy digital nomad destination?
The country is a member of the European Union.
As such it has direct access to 28 of the most developed European states.
The process is reciprocal.
Citizens from EU members enjoy the same freedom when they come to Bulgaria.
This makes it easy for whole communities of digital nomads to come together.
Of this, Magnus comments:
The thing that would improve it [nomading in Bulgaria] the most is more nomads, as I prefer to make friends that I can hang out with around the world.
As per the Department of State, if you are a US citizen and stay for less than 90 days in Bulgaria, you do not need a visa.
If you are Canadian, the recently signed CETA will cut the red tape between Canada and the EU.
This will happen if the legislators of each EU member-state ratify the agreement.
Becoming a nomad has its selling points, but it also comes with a major hindrance — you rely on technology.
Fortunately, Bulgaria ranks high for Internet speed providing an average of 15 Mbps.
The country excels in the IT sector and is turning into a major outsourcing center.
The IT industry employs around 70 000 people, many of whom are highly-skilled.
This attracts lots of foreign investments, including EU funding.
The capital Sofia hosts a new business center as well as several coworking spaces.
These five locations are the preferred digital nomad hubs in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria for digital nomads: the bad
Bulgaria is the world’s leader in rose oil production, but living and doing business here is not a bed of roses.
Here are the thorns that you need to watch for if you plan on “nomading” in Bulgaria.
As a digital nomad, you are probably not spending more than a couple of months in one place. So, there is a low chance that you will face the following problems, but it is still best to know upfront what to expect.
Underdeveloped online administration
80% of the member of The Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry find bureaucracy to be:
The country is still lagging in its development of online administration.
More and more institutions put in place online service systems, yet, there is still lots of red tape.
The fact that most clerks do not speak English and are not very tech-savvy adds to the experience.
Say, you make an online purchase from abroad.
If the customs office holds your package, you might spend a day running between counters.
The good news is that if you only stay a couple of months, you (hopefully) won’t have many run-ins with the institutions.
Bulgaria spent the period between ’44–’89 under communist.
The regime left behind an inefficient and ineffective government administration.
Communism also instilled the idea that paying money under the table is business as usual.
For 2016 Bulgaria ranked near the middle (75th) on the Corruption Perception Index.
Of course, corruption is illegal in Bulgaria and is punishable by the law.
Fighting corruption has been on the state’s agenda for a long time, and changes do take in effect.
Yet, when a government employee refuses bribe it still makes the news as an extraordinary act.
Lazy and paradoxical.
The judiciary branch in Bulgaria is under fire from citizens, businesses, NGOs, and the EU.
The authorities do implement a lot of changes as a part of a judicial reform.
Several ambassadors have expressed positive impressions of the improvement in Bulgaria’s judiciary system.
Due to the communist inheritance of bias and corruption, the reform happens slowly.
Hopefully, you won’t have a reason to step in a court of law, but if you do, bring along lots of patience.
There are quite a few lawyers in the country who work with foreigners and who will be able to assist you.
Wrap up: is Bulgaria the right choice for digital nomads?
Yes, the country does have its problems, but which one doesn’t?
Bulgaria can offer a lot to the digital nomad community.
Yes, the country does have its problems, but which one doesn’t?
Magnus sums it up:
It’s a beautiful country. The mountains are breathtaking. Infrastructure is a bit funny…
The information contained herein is accurate and reliable to the best of my knowledge as of the date of publication.
I do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the presented information.
So, what’s your take?
Yay or nay on Bulgaria as your next digital nomad destination?
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Also published on Medium.