What should you know about driving in Bulgaria? What type of rules are there? What is the quality of the roads like? Is driving in Bulgaria dangerous? Can you even drive in Bulgaria? We’ve been driving here (off & on) for a number of years since we bought an old house here, so read on for our helpful tips and reviews of driving in Bulgaria!
Seatbelts Are Required
You must wear your seat belt all the time. You’ll see a lot of Bulgarians not wearing theirs, please don’t copy them. The number of road fatalities per million inhabitants in Bulgaria is the second highest in the EU (6674 crashes in 2018 and 609 dead) despite a 9% decrease in 2018 compared to the previous year. That’s approximately 18 a day and 10% are fatal. 8,445 were injured in 2018.
From my experience, driving in Bulgaria is not dangerous and it’s no worse than driving in France or Poland (for example), some drivers in Bulgaria just choose to drive in a dangerous way.
Car Seats For Kids
You will see Bulgarian kids crammed into cars with no child car seats, they’ll be sat on their parents’ laps in the front or they’ll be standing up in the back. They might be kneeling looking out the back window or even sat in the boot. There is little awareness of the necessity of car seats here.
The law says that children under the age of three must have a suitable car seat. Children over the age of three up to 150cm tall do not have to be in a car seat but must be sat in the back of the car. In my opinion this is awful. Our kids will remain in their car booster seats until the seat belt no longer poses a threat to their necks.
Here We Drive On The RIGHT
You must drive on the right hand side of the road and overtake on the left. Remember the roundabouts go the opposite way too.
In Your Car You Must Have
If you get stopped by the police you will be asked for your ‘dockumenti’. You must present your:
Driving License (More than 15,000 motorists were caught driving without a licence in roadside checks in 2018!)
Registration V5 document
It is best to have these all printed and kept in a folder inside your driver’s door. It’s helpful to highlight the dates of expiry with a marker pen because this is what they’re interested in.
You must also have in your car:
A first-aid kit
A reflective, safety jacket
A hazard triangle
A fire extinguisher
Police may ask to see these items. Only stop for a policeman if you can see a marked police car. I am stopped on average once a week to check these documents because I’m driving a car on British plates. So far, all of the policemen have been very nice but they have an obsession with the fire extinguisher!
Key words you might need to know:
Car Documents: dokumenti za avtomobili
I am English: az sŭm anglichanin
Expiry Date: Data na iztichane
Fire extinguisher: Pozharogasitel
If you’re renting a car, ask the car rental where the documents are kept. They’re usually in a small wallet in the glove compartment.
You’ll Need A Bulgarian Vignette
In order to drive on Bulgaria’s main roads you’ll need a vignette. You can pick these up at some land borders, in most municipalities but it’s easiest to do it online and send it to your email address.
Buy your vignette here: https://www.bgtoll.bg/en/
If you’re renting a car, your car will come with a vignette pre-purchased.
What Are The Speed Limits In Bulgaria?
Speed signs are a bit hit and miss but generally, unless sign-posted the speed limits for cars are:
There are speed cameras here and they tend to be grey rectangular, floor sat boxes. They flash just like they do in the UK.
On The Spot Fines
The police can impose on-the-spot fines for offences against traffic regulations. For example; not wearing your seatbelt or not having the correct car documents.
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Always Drive With Your Lights On
You must always drive with your lights on, regardless of what time of day it is. If your car doesn’t automatically turn the lights on, I’d recommend having a sticky note stuck to the dash somewhere to remind you.
Most rental cars are only a few years old and should do this automatically.
What Language Are The Sign Posts In?
Most road sign posts are in both Bulgarian Cyrllic and English however I have heard that some sign posts have been translated into Latin.
The Bulgarian alphabet is more similar to Russian than Latin so best to try and learn it or have it to hand before you drive.
Winter Tyres & Driving in Winter In Bulgaria
Winter technically starts on November 15th and you must have 4mm of tread on your tyres. Police may stop you to check how ready your vehicle is for winter and check your lights and windscreen wipers.
In rural and mountainous areas snow chains may be compulsory to use although this is indicated by a road sign. If you’re driving your own car in a rural area, you should have the snow chains in the boot and know how to put them on.
If you’re in a rental car, you might have to pay extra for winter tyres. This should come as an option when you’re reserving one.
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What Condition Are The Roads In Bulgaria In?
The roads can be in a terrible condition but they might be in a great condition. You can just never tell what you’ll get. Watch out for repairs which are completed in small sections along the road, making the road often uneven in height. Pot holes can be enormous and frequent especially if you’re in a more rural area.
Road works are haphazard and you’ll be expected to pass by huge holes and machinery with no road blocks.
Use Your Hazard Lights Or Indicate Right To Scare Off Aggressive Drivers
I’ve only ever had a problem with male drivers being aggressive in Bulgaria and it is quite a frequent occurrence on the main roads around cities – less so in rural areas. They tend to back off if you use your hazard lights though.
Alternatively, if there’s room for them to overtake, you should indicate right & pull in slightly. This tells them it’s safe for them to overtake.
I always leave a safe stopping distance between myself and the car in front of us. Bulgarian drivers don’t understand this and will try to over-take and barge their way in front but at least there’s room for them to do so.
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The main difference between lights here and mainland Europe is you cannot turn right on a red light. This is not a problem for British drivers who can’t do this anyway.
When turning right at lights you do not have right of way. You must give way to pedestrians first.
Mobile Phones Should Not Be Used
Use of mobile phones whilst driving is forbidden unless you have a hands free set although this doesn’t stop any of the Bulgarians.
Who To Call In An Emergency
When you urgently need the fire brigade, ambulance or the police, you can call 112 for free and speak in English. 112 works throughout the 28 member states of the EU
Don’t Drive Defensively
I’ve read some warnings here to foreigners that state “You MUST drive defensively”. Actually I think this adds to the problem and I always drive courtesely because I think it avoids further problems. I hang back, I give way, I’m polite, I leave a big stopping distance in front of me, I indicate in advance and if in doubt, I hang back.
I don’t think driving like this shows weakness, I think it prevents accidents and that’s why I’ve been driving in Bulgaria on and off since 2017 with no prangs or near misses.
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Be Vigilent & Expect The Unexpected
You can’t jsut sit back here on autocruise and expect to be fine, you must be vigilent always checking in your mirrors and you should expect the unexpected.
It’s not exactly that Bulgaria in lawless but it seems quite a few people don’t obey the road signs and rules. Expect people to pull out on you or not stop, expect them to tailgate you and undertake you and you won’t have a problem.
Watch Out For Horses & Carts
Horses and carts are still very much used in Bulgaria and although not in the centre of Sofia, once you leave the suburbs they do become more prevalent. There is a neighbourhood near Sofia airport where horses and carts are still used and anywhere rural you are bound to see them.
Be extra careful at night as some horses do not have lights and it is virtually impossible to see them in areas where there’s no street lighting.
How Much Can I Drink Before Driving?
The legal amount of alcohol per blood content is 0.05mg. Some sources say this around 3 drinks in 2 hours but drinking less than one standard drink per hour should keep most people’s BAC below 0.05%, as the average rate at which alcohol is metabolised is one standard drink per hour.
The police use on-the-spot breath alcohol testing and penalties for driving while intoxicated can result in fines between from 50-500 Lev. In 2018 more than 11,000 people were sanctioned for drink-driving. Of these, 5,700 were caught driving with blood-alcohol levels of 1.2 promille, more than double the legal limit. Drink driving appears to be an every day occurence here and more so in rural areas.
If you’re in Sofia you can use a service called You Drink We Drive to get you home but the metro does run until about midnight.
Who Can Drive & Rent A Car In Bulgaria?
To drive in Bulgaria you should be 18 although most rental companies state that you must be over 21 (and under 75) with a minimum of one year’s driving experience.
Driver licenses issued by EU and EEA countries, as well as other driver licenses in English, are valid for up to one year. You can have only one EU driving license at any one time. In case you are from a country that isn’t part of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, unfortunately, your driving license won’t be valid in Bulgaria and you should apply for an International Licence.
Can I drive My British Car In Bulgaria?
You can drive a British car as a tourist in Bulgaria for a maximum of 3 months.
Give Way On Zebra Crossings
Pedestrians have right of way on zebra crossings. If you see a person crossing, you must give way. Be extra vigilent in cities where pedestrians have a tendancy to just step out.
What Should I do About Parking?
If you’re driving in Sofia, the city has green and blue parking zones. You’ll need to send an SMS to 1302 (blue zone) and 1303 (green zone) with your car’s number plate.Blue zone: The maximum parking time is 2 hours, price for 1 hour – 2 BGN, 08:00 -19:00 week days and Saturday between 08:00 -14:00. Green zone: Maximum parking is 4 hours, price for 1 hour – 1 BGN, 08:00-19:00 on week days, free on weekends. Click here for Sofia’s zone map.
If you’re driving in Varna, the city has blue zones. You’ll pay 1 LEV per hour week days between 8:30 to 17:30. Payment for parking in the blue zone may be made in cash at retail outlets and restaurants in the zone, via text message and via the parking app. Check out Varna’s zone map and download the application for Android or iOS.
If you’re driving in Plovdiv, the city also has blue zones! if you’re in a blue zone, you should send an SMS with the registration number of the vehicle to 1332. The cost of one SMS is 2 Lev! Blue zones seem random, see here for the blue zones.
Other cities have different rules, make sure you check for signs locally.
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What Online Maps Work In Bulgaria?
I prefer Google and I frequently download offline maps which have worked well throughout Bulgaria.