Bulgarian currency - prepare for your business trip

From the time Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, it increasingly turns into a destination for prospective business investments. More and more foreign companies from various economic sectors find that Bulgaria has a favourable business environment. The competition is sound and entrepreneurs consider the market "developing" with various sectors still expending. 

If you are looking forward to your first business trip to Bulgaria, this article might be of help. In it, we discuss what is the currency in Bulgaria and what are the specifics of the exchange rates, share advice on where and how to exchange money in Bulgaria and other useful information. In the end, you will be more certain about your travelling expenses and your travel to Bulgaria.

What currency does Bulgaria use?

The official currency used in Bulgaria is called lev. Interestingly, the word for it derives from the old Bulgarian language and means "lion". One lev is divided into 100 stotinki. Stotinki are the local lev coins and are basically the equivalent of pennies and cents, for example. From 1999 on they have denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 stotinki and 1 and 2 leva (coins). Lev notes come as 5,10, 20, 50, 100 leva. If you are curious about the history of Bulgarian currency, the article in Wikipedia is good enough to introduce you to the topic.

The Bulgarian currency rate

The Bulgarian currency exchange rates are more or less stable. If you travel from the European Union things are simpler. The Bulgarian currency exchange rate for the euro is fixed, and the calculation is easy. 1 EUR equals 1.95 Bulgarian leva (BGN). The American dollar and the pound sterling though don't have fixed exchange rates. Nevertheless, their rates are stable and you can expect fluctuations around the following numbers 1 GBP = 2.23 BGN and 1 USD = 1.77 BGN. A trusted source to confirm the Bulgarian currency exchange rate for your local currency is the Bulgarian National Bank. They update the information on the website daily. It could also be a good source for other relevant financial information.

The Bulgarian currency and the Euro

If you travel to Bulgaria from the EU, it is important to know that the country is not a member of the Schengen area.

Bulgaria committed to switching its currency to the euro back in 2007. Still, the country hasn't yet fulfilled all of the euro convergence criteria and is not part of the EU's official exchange rate mechanism (ERM II). In 2011, the adoption of the euro was postponed until after the Eurozone crisis. And recently, in January this year, the Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov expressed hope to introduce the euro in 2022.

Therefore transactions in Bulgaria are still made only in Leva/BGN. Don't be surprised though if you see prices in EUR if visiting popular tourist places. This is common for Bulgaria and is done for the convenience of foreign visitors. Hotels, restaurants and bars, taxies and shop, SPA centres and other facilities except for payments only in Leva, so be cautious if someone suggests that you pay in EUR. 

Where to obtain Bulgarian Currency?

Cash payments are still very popular in Bulgaria and it is advisable to have Bulgarian currency in cash at all times. Understandably, the best place to exchange your local currency is at any bank. Another option is a reputable exchange office. There are such in Sofia and most big towns. All foreign exchange offices are obliged to display tables with the Bulgarian currency rates and the text "No Commissions" as they are not allowed to take commissions for the exchange of currency anymore.

Hotels and airports also provide money exchange, but their rates are normally lower.

Do not trust people that suggest you buy Bulgarian currency from them on the street. It is not a common thing to happen, but if it does happen, ignore it.

Use of Debit or Credit card in Bulgaria

Many places in big towns accept payments with Debit cards and Credit Cards. All major European and North America cards are accepted in Bulgaria. You can use your Mastercard, Maestro, Visa, Diners Club. American Express is also accepted at many places, but be sure to confirm that beforehand. 

In all big towns, at gas stations, restaurants and shops you can find POS terminals and ATMs. You can withdraw 400 Leva at a time from an ATM. The fees for the exchange will depend on your card and bank so you might want to confirm them in advance.

Keep in mind that in very small towns and villages you might not find ATMs or a foreign exchange office, so if you are about to visit a rural area we advise you to have Bulgarian currency in cash.

We also recommend that you call your card company and inform them that you are going to use your card in Bulgaria. Sometimes they can freeze your account if they see many payments made abroad.

Bitcoins and Bulgarian currency

Despite bitcoins and other virtual currencies are known in Bulgaria, they still are not a popular method of payment. There are only four ATMs for bitcoins in total - two are placed in Sofia, one is in Plovdiv and one is in Varna. The exact locations are available here.

Bulgarian currency and travel expenses

Bulgaria is popular for its lower prices compared to other Western and Scandinavian countries, for example. With your travel money exchanged to Bulgarian currency, you can enjoy splendid meals and services. For example, a business dinner for two people in a nice and respectful restaurant in Sofia would be no more than 50 euros. In smaller towns, the prices are normally in half.

Public transport is well-arranged and accessible in Sofia and other major towns like Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas. In Sofia, you can use the metro from almost every part of the city and a two-way ticket is 1.6 euro. Metro and buses are available from and to the Airport.

If you prefer a taxi, it could cost about 10 euro, depending on the distance. We advise you to confirm the taxi company with your hotel or at the airport.

Business etiquette

Some important parts of the Bulgarian business etiquette include punctuality and a business dress code. If you are going to be late it is advisable to call ahead. The business dress code is similar to other countries and depends on the industry. However, provocative clothing is highly unacceptable. In general, there are no specific taboos in Bulgaria.

Bear in mind that Bulgarians like to talk, communicate and show emotions. An interesting fact to know - they have different head gestures to indicate "no" and "yes" opposite to other cultures. Shaking the head from side to side would mean "yes" and up and down - "no".

Legal matters

Even if you already have settled certain legal matters for your business trip, it is advisable to have a trusted local contact to turn to. "Danailova, Todorov & Partners" is a Bulgarian law firm with an outstanding portfolio and a wide range of competences. Whether you need legal advice or a trusted partner, we can assist you with matters concerning trade law, transport, energy sector, labour law, real estate and other. Read more about our services and don't hesitate to contact us if needed.


Author: Lora Karavelova

Date: 16 October 2019


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