Bulgaria is a Balkan nation with a Black Sea coastline along its eastern edge and attracts many tourists to its beautiful beaches and charming cities. A laid-back lifestyle, safe environment and welcoming population add to the attractions. With corridors to western Europe and the Middle East, Bulgaria is in a rapidly-developing region with bags of potential for go-getting entrepreneurs. It offers a favourable business climate with competitive costs, affordable real estate and a well-educated workforce. Bulgaria could be the perfect stepping stone for those looking to expand their business into Eastern Europe.
Bulgaria has been in the European Union (EU) since 2007. It is expected to become a member of the Schengen Agreement, operating the new visa waiver program, Electronic Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), by the end of 2022. Many countries’ nationals can travel visa-free for a 90-day stay within 180 days. Those Third Country Nationals (TCNs) who are not visa-exempt can apply for Bulgaria’s C Short-Term Visa for tourism or business purposes. As an EU member, Bulgaria also practices the free movement of persons, services, goods and capital, which is a boon for citizens of the EU and the European Free Trade Association countries; they do not require a visa to enter the country or a work permit.
All other citizens wanting employment (Third Country Nationals – TCNs) need documentation. Many companies expanding into new territory look towards a Professional Employment Organisation (PEO) and Employer of Record (EOR), such as Bradford Jacobs, to set up their business, recruit staff and operate payroll to save time and money, including acquiring immigration and work documentation.
As with most countries, Bulgaria protects its borders and requires documentation to enter, stay and work there. Some nationalities, such as those from the European Union and European Free Trade Association (EFTA), due to the free movement of persons, do not require a visa or work permit and can travel on their passports. They have an advantage over Third Country Nationals (TCNs), who do require both visas and permits.
However, for those TCNs who are visa-exempt, certain business activities can be undertaken within the 90-day visa waiver period. Such as:
Travellers may still need to provide proof of health insurance to cover the duration of stay, proof of accommodation in Bulgaria, enough funds to cover the trip, return tickets, any invitations, or itineraries.
Short-Term Employment for TCNs
This is classified as 90 days in 12 months. For Tour Operators, this is extended to 180 days. Those who are visa exempt do not require a short-term C visa. Otherwise, this must be applied from the Bulgarian consulate or embassy in the home country. Reasons for employment include the following:
Instead of a work permit, short-term employment needs to be registered. Applicants must satisfy certain conditions and prepare the necessary documents.
The Bulgarian company registers employment with the Employment Agency at least ten days before employment starts, and a receipt is needed. Once registered, the company informs the General Labor Inspectorate within seven days after registration where the employee will be working. The employee must keep his parent company’s contract and stays on the company’s payroll rather than the Bulgarian company.
Long-term employment requiring permits and visas
For options 1 and 2 above, transfer or providing services, workers can apply for an EU Intra-company transfer permit (EU ICT). To qualify, employees must be specialists, managers, or trainees working in Bulgaria for at least one year. These employees also apply for a National D Visa at an embassy or consulate, which allows them to stay in the country for longer than three months for employment purposes. A Residence Permit must be applied for well before the D Visa expires.
Those who do not qualify for this option can apply for a Work Permit (for posted workers).
Note: Work and Residence permits are tied to a particular job and a designated company. If the employee wants to change careers, the process must start again. However, there are changes in the pipeline from the EU Single Permit Directive recast policy 2022 (Article 14).
The spouse, or children under 18, can apply for a D Visa to join the permit holder. This permit can take up to 14 weeks to process and is valid for the work contract for up to one year.
Typically, for option 3, most employees will be working for a Bulgarian-registered company on a contract that requires long-term work permits:
Highly-qualified researchers of Option 5 can apply for the EU Blue Card for Researchers and a work and residence permit.
The primary work documents for Third Country Nationals that could be a part of your company’s expansion into Bulgaria or companies already registered in the country are:
Plus, the National D Visa to enter the country.
Note: European Union and European Free Trade Association nationals do not require visas or permits.
Important: Check which documents (listed below) must be translated if they are not in Bulgarian. Also, if they need to be notarised or ‘legalised’ and if originals are required. Check to see if they can be signed by hand or electronically and if they need to be dated at a specific time before they are submitted.
The detailed documentation must be checked with the Bulgarian Embassy as more may be required depending on which country they are applying from or exceptional circumstances. Many of the documents online, for instance, are in Bulgarian.
General documentation typical to the Single Permit, EU Blue Card and EU ICT Permit process:
Extra steps/documentation for Single Permit
Extra steps/documentation for EU Blue Card
Extra steps/documentation for the EU ICT Permit
D Visa documentation
The D Visa is applied through a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in the home country or country of residence at least three months before the planned visit. Complete the application online (typed), download and sign it and gather the paperwork for submission. An appointment should be made, and each country’s embassy will have its procedures.