A little about Bulgaria ...
The Republic of Bulgaria spans over 110,000 square kilometers with a relatively small population of 7 million. It is located in southeastern Europe, at an important junction between the Middle East, Asia and Europe and its' neighboring countries are Romania to the north, Serbia to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, Greece to the south and Turkey to the southeast. The country joined the EU in 2007 which led to an accelerated development and today it is a very popular provider of outsourcing services for global companies such as Boeing, BMW, Siemens and more. Some of the other popular industries in Bulgaria include IT, construction and oil. Note that salaries in Bulgaria tend to be low. However, expats who are highly skilled will find it easier to get jobs that pay high salaries.
Now that you know a bit more about the country, let’s give you a run through on how their healthcare system works.
What do you mean you don’t like it?!Don’t be confused if you see a Bulgarian shaking his head at you rather than nodding, they shake their heads for yes and nod for no. This may take some getting used to.
Grandmother MarchEvery first of March, Bulgarians celebrate a unique holiday known as Grandmother March (Baba Marta). She is the personification of the month - a grumpy old lady whose constantly shifting mood causes the typical weather changes in March. If she is happy the weather is sunny and if she gets angry, it could even snow.
I will keep my name!Bulgaria is the only European country that hasn’t changed its' name since 681 - the year it was established.
The Healthcare System
This particular healthcare system is one of the worst in the EU and is in dire need of significant reform. The government has tried to remedy this, but it is still one of the lowest spenders in terms of GDP percentage on its' social welfare. Bulgaria’s healthcare system is run by the Ministry of Health, which in turn runs the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF). This is mandatorily funded by all Bulgarian citizens and permanent residents, regardless of whether they have private insurance. This is supposed to cover the costs of diagnosis, treatments, rehabilitation and medicines, however the reality is somewhat different.
Despite being run by the government, out-of-pocket and informal payments are still widespread throughout the country in public medical facilities. As well as this, the quality of care is lacking, despite having around 1,600 medical facilities - not helped by the old-fashioned equipment in these hospitals. Importantly for EU expats, your European Health Insurance card will not cover your medical costs in the country past 90 days, instead you will have to register with the Bulgarian national health system.
There are over 60 private medical facilities in Bulgaria, which generally offer better equipment, facilities and service. Bear in mind that they tend to be situated in the bigger cities and towns This is why it is very important to have private insurance, as some private hospitals don’t accept the EHIC card as a substitute. private hospitals also don’t have to deal with: long queues, the bureaucratic NHIF and the unofficial payments for treatment. All expats are encouraged to take out private insurance, particularly if they are planning to stay longer than 90 days. So, we hope you are beginning to understand the complexities of the Bulgarian healthcare system. Now, we would like to turn your attention to the issue of VISAs. Below, we have collected some of the more popular options amongst expats.
Non-EU expats must obtain a Work Permit in order to work in Bulgaria. It requires an educational document (e.g. a bachelor’s degree), an official job offer and work experience documents. The permit lasts up to a year and can be extended. You must also apply for a Residence Permit, either the 5-year version (for EU, EEA and Swiss expats), or one year (for non-EU expats). Note that Bulgaria is very selective regarding immigration - it usually promotes the employment of Bulgarian citizens before expats, and work permits are usually issued to highly qualified professionals, entrepreneurs or foreign employees who were transferred to Bulgaria by their company.
As a non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizen intending to study in Bulgaria, you will need to apply for a Student VISA after receiving your acceptance letter. You will need to provide the following: valid medical insurance, a photocopy of initial VISA (if required), proof of return ticket/funds and proof of tuition fee payment. After this, you will need to apply for a Residence Permit, which lasts for 1 year and can be extended. Those who are from the EU, EEA or Switzerland do not need a VISA, but will need to register with the police in order to receive a national identity card and temporary residency lasting up to 5 years.