Banks & Money
The Bulgarian official currency is the Leva and the Stotinki (shortened to stinki). There are 100 Stotinki in 1 Leva. 1 Leva is currently approximately equal to 35p (£1 is approx 2.8 Leva). Bulgarian's like to deal in cash and prefer any english money to be ‘crisp’ and new so try not to have ‘dog-eared notes. I always made sure that I took Bank of England notes with me, rather than Bank of Scotland.
Do not change your money at the booths on the street, often when I passed I heard people shouting at the person inside and threatening to call the Police. I personally found the best exchange rates at the following locations
- Sunny Beach Raiffessen Bank located within the Hotel Diamond (open Mon-Sat 8:30 – 19:00)
- Nessebar First Investment Bank
- Sunny Beach Hotel Bellevue
Tip: Try to exchange your money in the cities (Varna, Burgas), I generally found the exchange rates to be higher.
If you want to open a bank account it is possible. The best way I found was to apply in the bank for a debit card account (Maestro or Visa Electron). This type of account has the following advantages
- Direct debits possible
- A limit on how much money can be withdrawn in your absence (useful if you do not live in Bulgaria)
- Can be used at the ATM machines
- You can take your card back home with you leaving the account open for use the following year should you require.
- Card has a two year expiry date.
If you want to arrange any kind of banking/finance I would suggest it is one of the first things you do upon arrival. It can often take one, two or more visits to complete arrangements, and the time taken will be longer if a Bulgarian holiday is part of the time required. Make sure you have your passport with you as this will be proof of your identity. The cards can be used within the ATMs, I only used my card once outside the First Investment Bank within Sunny Beach (to withdraw all my money before leaving) so I cannot comment on the ATM charges. I did notice that the ATM appeared to only operate in Bulgarian (no English screen options), so I had to take educated guesses regarding which buttons to select. A receipt of the transaction was automatically printed at the end.
I visited the following banks
Sunny Beach Raiffessen Bank located within the Hotel Diamond (open Mon-Sat 8:30 – 19:00)
Sunny Beach First Investment Bank
Nessebar First Investment Bank
At least one or more of the employees serving could speak English, so there was no problem communicating.
At the time I opened an account I was told that only Bulgarian Nationals can control/view their accounts via the internet. Therefore if you wish to access your account from the UK, try different banks/accounts but be careful to check the maintenance costs for the account, these can sometimes be quite high (especially if you are only using it a few weeks/months a year).
There is no problem taking travellers cheques, they can be exchanged at all main banks. If you need to transfer larger amounts of money into Bulgaria (remember that there is a maximum amount of 8,500 Leva per person allowed in/out Bulgaria without declaration at the borders/airports) then other methods to consider that I have used are the following companies
I have not used this company for transferring money to Bulgaria but have for transfers to Germany for relatives. I do not see how the method would be any different. This is an online money transfer web site and relies on you having a bank account in the UK and Bulgaria. This would be no problem if you have previous been to Bulgaria and setup an account. The best reasons for using this method would be
- You may need some money but not sure how much
- You will need money but want to draw on it slowly
- You do not want to carry large sums of money/travellers cheques etc
To use Moneybookers.com you need to first set-up an account. Then within the profile of your account you set-up the bank accounts you wish to use (your primary bank account must be in the UK). Again I haven’t tried this but I would then set-up my second bank account as the one in Bulgaria. Before you travel to Bulgaria transfer money from your own UK bank into your Moneybookers.com account, this can take 1- 4 working days depending on how you transfer the money so do it at least a week before your departure date so you can see the money appear in your Moneybookers.com online account. Once you arrive in Bulgaria you can visit the most secure computer you know (i.e. a computer terminal you trust). My preferred location, the Post Office is an option since I have little choice when visiting Bulgaria. (The MoneyBookers.com web site uses security encryption for all important transfer therefore using normal ‘due diligence’ everything should be okay). You can then transfer the money from your online Moneybookers.com account into your Bulgarian bank account as you require, then visit the bank to withdraw the money.
Firstly I have used this method for transfer to a Bulgaria bank. HIFX specialise in providing currency exchange at rates better than most banks can offer, along with this service you can also opt for a one time free transfer of the exchanged money to any bank account in the world (I believe!). Therefore you not only only receive an excellent rate you save on the administrative charge for bank transfers. The only catch is that the amount you want to exchange must be greater than £5000.00. Therefore this method is good for oversea property purchases, etc. Another nice thing about this mechanism is that you can exchange money well ahead of when you would want to use it. This is useful if you felt the exchange rates were suddenly going to become worse and any exchanges you will have to do in the near future would possibly cost you more. To use HIFX you first have to provide some basic details about yourself and sign a declaration that you are willing to follow UK financial regulations (e.g. no money laundering, etc). Once you have completed this process you are provided with a user sign-on to the HIFX web site. The web site has you personal profile details and enables you to track the status of your exchanges/transfers. As I was purchasing property I kept a careful eye on the Pound/euro exchange rate, then telephoned HIFX to speak to one of their dealers and ask for a ‘spot’ exchange rate. The dealer will ask how much money you wish to exchange (the more money you are exchanging the better the exchange rate you will be given). If you are happy with the rate then the dealer will ask you to confirm acceptance over the telephone (this conversation is taped and is considered a legally binding deal). You will then be asked to transfer the money into your HIFX account within 2 working days and also specify the any banks you wish the money to be forwarded to. All relevant documentation with regards the deal will be sent to your address, the dealer can also arrange to email/Fax you copy should you wish them sooner, and they are also available within your account on the HIFX web site.
The only downside I found with the complete process (and I think this would be a problem with any such process) was that I had to ask the person receiving the money (i.e. in Bulgaria) if the money had arrived, i.e. there is no method of knowing when the money arrives into the bank being sent to. However most people know the person/people at the receiving end so this should not be a problem. HIFX are also very good at recording all you transfers in case there are any questions later. I would also add their service was excellent….