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5 Cultural Challenges for the Expat in Bulgaria (and How to Overcome Them)

Relocating to another country can often be a daunting experience wherever you end up, and Bulgaria is no exception. Here, you’ll find a more of a light-hearted approach to the cultural challenges for the expat in Bulgaria – rather than the minefield of property or legal problems that many expats have experienced from moving here.

1. The Language

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first! Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet which can cause endless confusion for foreigners in reading and pronunciation. There are no simple ways to overcome this except to learn as you go along and don’t get bogged down by making mistakes. Bulgarian people, especially in the rural areas, are very patient and will continue speaking to you regardless of whether you understand or not, so just go with it and pick up common words until you too can start using them in sentences!

2. Dinner Courses Served at Random Times


A mild irritant to some folks, but you’ll have to get used to the fact that your main course might arrive before your friend’s starters, or that someone else’s desert has been served while you’re still eating your main. Don’t let this spoil your meal – as it has with some moaning diners – people I’ve been with have solved this by ordering their food course by course….and have triumphed with everyone eating the right course at the same time.

3. Yes or No?

Expats and visitors alike find the whole concept of the Bulgarian nod of the head to mean no and a shake to mean yes to be very confusing initially. Although not the only culture to use this form of communication, Bulgarians use a slight wobble of the head to express the positive but most people also understand that, as a foreigner, you’re likely to do the opposite. However, it’s up to you to decipher whether they actually mean yes or no, otherwise you could be faced with the opposite to what you asked for or agreed to!

 4. Stray Cats and (Barking) Dogs


This might sound alien to some of Bulgaria’s established expats but it’s a common annoyance that runs through many new residents that I’ve met. Listening to your neighbours’ dogs barking until the early hours of the morning is something you can do little about. Instead of going psychotic from lack of sleep, the only way to overcome this issue is to get yourself some ear plugs! As far as stray, city dogs are concerned, they’re usually harmless and despite wandering the streets in packs, there’s nothing to fear. Cats, on the other hand are everywhere including open air restaurants and cafes, and most restaurant staff will shoo them away on your behalf…or you can choose to feed them after finishing off your meal.

5. On the Road


It’s not just the drivers you have to be aware of when driving in Bulgaria – seriously deep potholes can cause blowouts and the wintery, bad weather can unnerve even the most experienced driver. If you can, ignore the speeding blacked out cars, impatient lorry drivers, lack of indicating and random parking, and you’ll be fine! If you encounter a slow, non-Lada driver, it could be they’re on the phone, so just stick to the rules of driving safely and be aware of potential hazards.


Have a cultural difference you’ve struggled with whilst traveling or living in Bulgaria? Feel free to share them in the comment box below.



4 Replies to “5 Cultural Challenges for the Expat in Bulgaria (and How to Overcome Them)”

  • I think you mean that Bulgarians nod to mean ‘no’, and shake their heads to mean ‘yes’.

  • Hey there, this some really nice sum up of the nuisances you can encounter in Bulgaria. I don’t think you can hear a dog barking in the middle of the night in big cities but it is probably a common occurrence in the rural areas.

    The picture of the Cyrillic alphabet is of the Russian one however, I think it is a good idea if you changed it to the Bulgarian one for clarity’s sake.

    • Thanks for the head’s up on the image…didn’t take a closer look!:))

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