GOOD TO KNOW

LOST & FOUND IN TRANSLATION

As a foreigner living in Bulgaria you will start speaking Bulgarian sooner or later, so you can order a beer in the pub, buy bread and eggs, or speak to the neighbours.

Until you do, you will come to appreciate your English–speaking friends who do not mind translating the weekly shopping list or helping out when you need to go to the local council, the police station, the hairdresser's or the doctor's, or when the bathroom needs fixing. But, no matter how helpful they might be, or how well you speak Bulgarian, there are cases when you should leave translation to a professional.

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HOME SECURITY

If you're going away for the weekend or for the whole winter, now is the time to make sure that your home is really your castle. Burglary is not uncommon in Bulgaria, so if you feel unprotected from theft, now is the time to act.

Burglaries in Bulgaria come in two types. The first are so-called kokoshkarski, or petty robberies, committed by individuals or small groups of burglars who are sometimes drug addicts and who quickly snatch up whatever they can lay their hands on in hopes of pawning it.

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GET THE JAB DONE

If you're already staying in Bulgaria, you know that no specific vaccinations are required for visitors to this country. And if you have already checked yours and your dependants' immunisation record with your GP or practice nurse in your home country, have the due tetanus and polio vaccinations or the usually advised hepatitis A and tick-borne encephalitis shots, you may skip this article. But if you haven't or in the meantime a child was born to you, your child has become a teenager, or you now need immunisation of hepatitis B or influenza, you can have the relevant shots here.

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CREDIT CONTROL

Only five percent of all applicants used a credit consultancy last year but the industry is expected to take off in the near future. Securing a mortgage loan in Bulgaria is probably a similar process to that of your own country. One moment you think you know all the ropes and are ready to select your credit plan, the next you realise you forgot to read the small print and you have to reconsider.

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HOME HELP AND WHERE TO FIND IT

Every short or long term expat would concur that living in a foreign country poses all sorts of challenges – from understanding body language, to eating the food, finding your way around, guessing which municipal clerk does what, and so on. So when it comes to daily errands such as hoovering and ironing, dropping off and picking up the dry cleaning, doing your shopping, babysitting or walking the dog, things can get very complicated.

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MOSTLY OTC

Whether you have lived in Bulgaria for a while or are just visiting, you must have noticed them – small, big, shiny, old, part of a bigger chain or located in the proprietor's first floor flat - pharmacies can be found everywhere. You'll soon learn that a chemist's, or apteka is the only place to buy medicines in Bulgaria – from antibiotics to other prescription medicines to generic drugs such as Analgin, Paracetamol and vitamins.

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RIGHT OF WAY

You don't have to live in Bulgaria for long to notice that unlike London, Berlin and Tokyo, people in business suits rarely use public transport. The reason? With the exception of a couple of privately-run lines, municipal buses, trams and trolleybuses are old and hence slow, particularly at rush hour - not to mention overcrowded and dirty. Unfortunately, the clean and efficient underground, already a decade old, still operates in a very limited area.

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WITH CYBER LOVE, ETC.

People often imagine expat life as easy and glamorous, a combination of Hemingway-esque bohemianism and Indiana Jones-style adventure, full of exotic food and drink, and attractive young locals eager to practice their English. Anyone who has started a new life abroad, however, knows that it can also have its downside: in fact, relocation ranks as the third most stressful life event after the death of a loved one and marriage or divorce. Numerous research studies show that the biggest stressor for expats is not culture shock, but the lack of a social circle.

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KILL THAT BILL

Yes, things are changing: large retail and wholesale stores, many hotels and a growing number of restaurants now accept credit and debit cards in what remains an overwhelmingly cash economy.

The same is true when it comes to paying utility bills, only the shift is taking place at a lower pace. So if you haven't inked a property management contract, aren't lucky enough to have a friendly landlady willing to do the job for you, or don't have a reliable Internet connection, you have to be prepared to carry some cash and hardcopy bills with you whenever you want to pay up.

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10 BEST TIPS

Coming from the UK you are bound to find Bulgaria's administrative system slow, awkward and corrupt, and private firms sluggish, overstaffed and reluctant to do business on the phone. However, you can manage – using your common sense, insisting on your rights, reading the small print and/or getting a good solicitor will go a long way towards saving you from trouble.

1. Language

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MOTORING AHEAD

Whether a first-time visitor or longstanding resident you'll be aware of the recklessness of some Bulgarian drivers, exacerbated by poor roads and confusing signalling.

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HOOKED UP TO THE NET

“All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.” These words spring to mind when appraising the Bulgarian Internet. For big city dwellers and Sofianites, complete and unlimited access is only a click away. For others, it's cumbersome, expensive or simply impracticable.

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PROTECTING YOUR PROPERTY

You don't have to actually see the flooded or charred remains of homes on TV to consider buying property insurance. But recent developments may spur you into action. That can only be welcome because protecting your home against disasters – natural or man-made – is an essential preventative measure.

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REST INSURED

So you haven't had time to buy a life insurance policy before arriving here? Sit back and prepare to spend hours in front of the Internet - choosing an insurer is one of the toughest consumer decisions you will face.

The Oxford Business Group claims there are about 30 insurers on the market. Local branches of reputable international companies compete with domestic players. Most companies handle commercial and liability insurance but about a dozen offer life insurance policies.

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DRIVE IN, DRIVE OUT

"In June I am setting out from Kent and driving to Bulgaria. I want to leave my car in Bulgaria at the home I've owned for nearly four years, before flying back to the UK. Trying to get information about importing your car and registering it in Bulgaria as well as insurance, tax and so on - plus getting a direct answer from Bulgarian Government departments - is not easy at the best of times.
Regards
Andrew Bray"

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GUARD YOUR CARD

Debit and credit card use is on the up in Bulgaria and ATMs, the cash-point machines first introduced some 20 years ago, are everywhere these days. This is exactly what some criminals are banking on. To avoid getting ripped off, you should not only take the conventional precautions associated with withdrawing money from a machine, but also be aware of the popular and often rather sophisticated scams that are operating.

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MIND YOUR LANGUAGE

"In Paris they simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language." American author Mark Twain's tongue-in-cheek assessment of his somewhat dubious linguistic skills in The Innocents Abroad serves to remind us even today that learning to speak a new language presents a cultural, as well as a guttural, learning curve.

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I WON’T SEE YOU IN COURT

Bulgaria's troubled judicial system and its courts are among the institutions most harshly criticised by the general public, the politicians left, right and centre, and the EU. Viewed with a combination of fear and reticence, it has been accused of being sluggish, cumbersome, ineffective and very corrupt. Reform in this area was one of the EU's key requirements in the process of entry negotiation.

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AN ISSUE OF ASSURANCE

There were hopes at the end of last year that Bulgaria's EU entry would mean motorists could tear up their "Green Card" certificates and freely drive their Bulgaria-registered vehicles abroad without the need for one. These expectations lingered until the very end of 2006, but now it looks as though there is still a while to wait before Bulgaria-registered cars abroad are exempted from requiring a green card.

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COMPLAINING TO THE ARMENIAN PRIEST

Scholars disagree about the exact origin of this relatively recent Bulgarian idiom. Some claim that the priest in question was an important man in Istanbul in the 19th Century, who even had connections in the Supreme Porte. Those wishing to express their dissatisfaction with the inefficiency of the Ottoman bureaucracy would use him as an intermediary for their interests; a simple call from the Armenian priest was said to be more helpful than dozens of official letters to the various levels of the administration.

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