I first came to Bulgaria in 2005 having heard of the business opportunities and money to be made in property dealing. I wasn’t even aware where Bulgaria was. It is in fact a very large rectangular block of land of about 400 miles across and 300 miles from north to south with the Black Sea on its eastern border. To the north is Romania and to the South is Greece. Its size is about 43,000 square miles, so it is quite a small country.
When you hear about the problem of Bulgarians coming to England to settle in their thousands, this is complete newspaper fabrication. To start with, few have any particular desire to leave their own country, and secondly there are only about eight million Bulgarians in total - roughly the population of Greater London. Surprisingly, statistics show that there are roughly an equal number of young males to females. The impression on the streets is very different - there are literally thousands of absolutely beautiful young women, most stylishly dressed in the latest fashions. Men seem to be in a minority.
In actual fact Bulgaria’s population is declining, despite there being 10 births for every 1000 people annually, which is roughly the same as in the UK. By comparison Poland is more than twice the land mass, with a population of 38 million. Romania is also twice the size of Bulgaria and has a population of 21 million people.
Bulgaria suffered a lot over the 20th century, having been under communist rule since 1949. The economy of Bulgaria declined dramatically in the 1990s when communism collapsed, and this was made worse when the government mismanaged the economy to such an extent that there was hyper-inflation: at a staggering 311 per cent! The Bulgarian people had to cope with the new capitalist regime and found it hard to adjust to what they call "the Changes", referring to the chaotic transfer from communism to a free market economy. Many have still not adjusted and prefer the way it was under communism - in fact, in free elections in 1990, the communists were voted back into power!
Since 1997, however, an ambitious reform package has been implemented and the economy has improved ever since. The country’s fortunes stabilised still further when, in 2001, the King of Bulgaria was asked by the President to become Prime Minister.
Political parties put aside their differences to ensure that Bulgaria would qualify to become a member of the European Community, which it finally joined in January 2008. The attraction of Bulgaria as a member of the EC is that it is a growing nation in every respect - it has a young and upwardly-mobile population - very ambitious, well educated and keen to get on in life.
Investing in Property
In the last year or so, foreign property investors have almost completely stopped investing in Bulgaria. For one thing, the credit crunch has put an end to easily available mortgages. You may also have been put off considering Bulgaria as a property investment location for a number of reasons. Back in England during the 1990s there was a tremendous boom in the economy and many older people were seeking ways to augment their pension by purchasing "buy-to-let" properties. This market quickly became saturated and it was necessary for people to start looking further afield. Some were lured to Bulgaria by lavish promises and examples of how people made vast returns very quickly.
Over-optimistic estate agents extolled the virtues of the rental market in coastal resorts such as Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, and also skiing resorts like Bansko and Borovets. The estimates of rental potential were widely over-hyped; estate agents claimed that it was possible to rent out a holiday apartments for 12 weeks during the summer. This is extremely difficult to achieve because of the over supply of apartments, the fairly short summer season, and the logistical difficulty of preparing the apartments for the next tenant arriving on the same day as the outgoing tenant.
There has also been massive over-development of most Bulgarian skiing resorts, and people are now finding that these properties are not only empty all summer, but for most of the winter as well. The skiing season is only about 15 weeks long and it is difficult to attract sufficient visitors to mountainous regions during the summer. This problem has been addressed by building spa hotels, golf courses and mountain climbing centres in these mountainous areas, and although these have only been partially successful, more are planned.
Retiring in Bulgaria
If you are thinking of retiring or emigrating to Bulgaria, the considerations are totally different. First there is the very low cost of living. You can buy a house in a country village for as little as €20000, and you could heat this with a log burning stove; this will cost you about 200 pounds per annum, which is roughly the amount of the U.K. fuel allowance you would receive as a pensioner.
Now that Bulgaria is in the European Community, you can have your pension - currently £95.25 per week - sent out to Bulgaria. Try living on £95 a week - it will go three times further in Bulgaria! Your private pensions can of course be paid to you wherever you are living. Council taxes can sometimes be as low as £20.00 a year. A loaf of bread is about 50 pence and a pint of beer 80 pence.
Winters in Bulgaria are roughly the same as in Britain, although sometimes slightly colder. The Bulgarian summers are generally hotter and longer than in the UK. The country is very under populated - only 20 people to every square mile. Bear in mind that, geographically, Britain is a small country and has 61 million people. In Bulgaria, there are thousands of square miles of open countryside to enjoy.
It would be essential, in my view, for you to learn the Bulgarian language if you are going to get fully involved in the country and its people. Many Brits are very bad about learning foreign languages because they know that they can still get by, as many Bulgarians speak good English. But Brits remain very isolated in the community if they make no efforts to learn the language.
If you are coming to Bulgaria to retire, you would need to be sure that health facilities are nearby and available. You would need to take out private medical insurance but this would not be very expensive - around £200 a year - as medical fees are very low and of first class quality. Young families would need to consider schooling arrangements, and would have to arrange some private tuition beforehand because schools will not take foreign schoolchildren unless they have a basic understanding of the Bulgarian language.
Bulgarians have strong family relationships and look after each other in their families. This is just as well because the pension for old people is around 60 Euros a month. It may be due to these strong family ties that, considering the general level of poverty, street crime is extremely low and there is little yobbish behaviour and disorderly conduct on the streets. British people moving to Bulgaria report that they feel much happier and safer on the streets than they did at home. Many Brits have come to Bulgaria for the summer and end up staying for much longer. It is a good idea to rent before you buy so that you can be sure that an area is the right one for you. It is best to stay a whole season, winter and summer, so that you can see what it is like in the quiet off-season.
Business and Job Opportunities
There are many good business opportunities for people who are keen and willing to work. The economy in Bulgaria is strong, with gross domestic product (GDP) set to grow by five per cent this year. This compares favourably with Britain where the GDP is estimated to fall by nearly two per cent in 2009. Property prices in Britain are still falling, but Bulgarian property prices may still rise by 5% this year.
The global recession has hit all countries and Bulgaria is no exception. However, their banks are now in a stronger position that many British and American ones because they have not been exposed to toxic debt (bad mortgage loans which have turned out to be under-secured by overvalued real estate). In Bulgaria, there is a strong tradition of home ownership, but banks have been very cautious about loan-to-value calculations when granting mortgages.
There is great shortage of labour in Bulgaria and out of the entire population of nearly eight million, only 3.4 million are in the labour force. Since joining the EU, Bulgaria can now enjoy a sustained period of growth and can take advantage of many EU grants available to build up its infrastructure, in particular the roads and transport systems.
Life and Prospects
During the four years I have regularly been going out to Bulgaria I have noticed continual improvements in the national transport system. The towns are now much cleaner, more bustling and appear to be getting more prosperous. I have noticed some slight rises in prices, especially on imported goods, but shops and restaurants with local produce continue to be extremely cheap. I have noticed many beautiful buildings being erected, while many super shopping malls and car showrooms have opened up. There is now a plethora of shops selling extremely high quality expensive luxury goods, indicating that there must be plenty of people who can afford them.
The long term prospects for Bulgaria are extremely good and it is a location well worth considering if you’re planning to move from Britain.
How will you settle in Bulgaria? Who knows?! It depends on each individual, but thousands are finding a great way of life in Bulgaria. It is very different, but more and more British people are choosing to make it their permanent home.
This article has been submitted by Basil Preuvenners of Retirment Homes in Bulgaria. For further information visit retirement-homes-bulgaria.com.