Bulgaria is the holiday destination that has it all. Whether you’re into beautiful beach resorts, adrenaline-fueled ski breaks or hiking in glorious nature, this country has it covered.
What’s more, it’s been named among the cheapest European holiday destinations in several recent studies.
You can pay by credit card for most purchases in tourist destinations, with Visa and Mastercard being the most widely accepted networks. Smaller retailers – or those in smaller towns – may only accept cash. The same can be said of restaurants and guesthouses. Those that do accept credit cards may have a minimum purchase amount.
ATMs are well spread around major cities and rural tourist destinations, and it should be simple enough to withdraw Bulgarian leva from these. It could be more difficult to find ATMs in small Bulgarian villages, so stock up on cash if you’re visiting these.
It’s rare that you’ll be asked to show ID when making credit card payments (as is the case for tourists visiting some countries).
Although you should enjoy great value for money when making purchases in Bulgaria, it’s still worth being smart with your spending. Here are some of the fees to watch out for when you’re paying with plastic in Bulgaria.
Foreign transaction fees. A non-sterling fee of around 3% per transaction can apply, depending on your credit card. That’s £15 in fees for every £500 spent with your card.
Merchant currency conversion fees. Sometimes, a merchant will offer to take payment in pounds instead of in leva. This is known as a dynamic currency conversion (DCC) and it can mean higher fees than if you simply paid in the local currency.
Cash advance fees. Your card issuer may charge a fee for cash advances (withdrawing cash using your card).
Cash machine fees. The provider of a cash machine may charge a fee if you withdraw cash using your card, although this is thankfully becoming rarer.
It’s also worth noting that when it comes to cash advances and non-sterling transactions, many card issuers will start charging interest on the day your account is debited, rather than the customary “up to 55 days interest free” that usually applies provided you clear your balance in full each month.
So how can I avoid the fees?
Consider taking out a credit card offering commission-free currency conversion (see table below), even if you only use it when you’re out of the country. Once you have one of these cards, if a merchant offers to take payment in pounds, say you’re happy to pay in leva since you know that your own bank won’t add a margin.
Generally speaking, it’s not a great idea to use credit cards to withdraw cash, but some travel credit cards won’t penalise you for this either. Finally, make sure to check whether any ATM you use is going to charge a fee. High street bank ATMs are less likely to charge a fee compared to those in convenience stores or bars.
Compare cards with fee-free currency conversion in Bulgaria
Table: sorted by representative APR, promoted deals first
Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards, although there should be no problem paying with Amex in major tourist areas. However, because Amex is less commonly accepted, you’ll be safer carrying an alternative form of payment in Bulgaria.
Contactless and chip-and-PIN payments
Contactless payment isn’t as popular in Bulgaria as it is in other parts of Europe, but it’s catching on fast. A 2018 Mastercard study suggested around two in three Bulgarian cardholders make use of contactless payment.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Bulgaria?
Card scams aren’t particularly common in Bulgaria, but there are steps you can take to be safe when using your card.
Use an ATM within a bank. If, for some reason, the ATM eats your card, you’ll be able to quickly retrieve it. Also, ATMs within banks are less likely to be tampered with. Should you use one outside a bank, check for devices attached to the reader and cash return slot.
Consider taking an additional credit card. You can use your primary card for payments and keep your back-up card in your hotel room safety deposit box. That way, you’ll never be left without money.
Keep your card in sight. Card cloning is rare in Bulgaria, but just in case, don’t let your card out of your sight.
How to prepare before travelling to Bulgaria
Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees. If you travel often, avoiding the 3% foreign transaction fee can save you a lot of money. Consider getting a travel credit card to avoid the foreign transaction fees.
Opt for a Mastercard or Visa. They’re the most widely accepted cards and Bulgaria is no exception, though you can still use your American Express cards in some locations. There are also enough ATMs around if you want to withdraw cash with these cards as well.
Carry a back-up card. Try to always carry a second card when traveling abroad, given you don’t know what could happen to your primary card.
Get some cash. In general, you can pay with plastic almost anywhere in Bulgaria. But if you want to make a cash withdrawal, keep in mind that credit cards have additional fees while most debit cards don’t.
Inform your bank you’re traveling to Bulgaria. If you don’t let your bank know ahead of time the dates you’ll be away and where you’ll be, it may block your card if it suspects the charges are fraudulent.
Make a note of your bank’s phone number. If you lose your card or have payment issues, you’ll be able to call the bank to resolve it.
Do taxis in Bulgaria accept credit cards?
Taxi drivers in Bulgaria will ask you to pay in cash. It’s often recommended for tourists to download the TaxiMe app, which allows you to pay by debit or credit card.
It also eliminates the possibility of hopping into an illegitimate taxi, which overcharges you. This problem is one of the common tourist scams in Bulgaria.
If you travel to Bulgaria, you can safely use your credit card to make payments and withdraw cash. You’ll just have to be careful to not incur fees you can otherwise avoid. With a decent travel credit card, you’ll avoid paying foreign transaction fees, and by simply declining the dynamic currency conversion when offered, you’ll also avoid a poor exchange rate or commission.
Frequently asked questions
If you’re stranded without cash in Bulgaria, check out our money transfer page to find the fastest and easiest way to send money.
Bulgaria uses the lev (the plural is leva). It is pegged to the euro, at an approximate rate of two lev per euro. You may see the price of some tourist products advertised in euro, although you’ll have to pay the equivalent in leva. The most common denomination of leva notes are 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 leva denominations. Coins are available in denominations of 1 and 2 leva and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 stotinki.
There has been talk of Bulgaria switching to the euro for some time, although there is no sign of this happening in the immediate future.
Historical rate chart of GBP and BGN
Updated: 19 Apr 2021 15:09:27 UTC
The largest banks operating in Bulgaria are: Piraeus Bank, Postbank, Raiffeisen Bank, UniCredit Bulbank and United Bulgarian Bank.
You may wish to check with your bank to see if it has an active partnership with any of the local Bulgarian banks. If it does, you could save on fees for ATM withdrawals.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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