Sofia, Bulgaria Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria 03/12/19

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes, this was our first expatriate experience.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

My home country is the United States of America and my home town was about a 45 minute drive from Washington DC. To travel between Bulgaria and D.C. usually took about 13 hours, plus any additional layover time. It was pretty easy to get to and not too expensive.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived in Sofia for one year.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission brought us to Bulgaria.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Government housing ranged greatly from what we saw. Our apartment was very spacious, had two bedrooms (one which had its own balcony facing Mt Vitosha), two baths, a living room, kitchen, and study. We were right next door to the embassy so trip to work was about 5 minutes.

In the city center there were also apartments that were on the top floor with a 360 degree balcony. Depending on traffic or weather it could take around 15-30 minutes to drive into the U.S. embassy.

About 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if weather was bad) outside the city, were the houses for bigger families. They were up the mountain and had two stories plus had basements.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

The cost of goods was surprisingly cheap, but sometimes it would be hard to find specific. Some of the items included coriander, chocolate chips, and american style beef. The biggest problem was finding convenience foods like canned soup of boxed meals. We learned very quickly that if we saw a food or brand we really wanted, we should buy it immediately. It might not be there next time you go to the shop.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We occasionally wished we’d sent things like canned soup, mac and cheese, or hamburger helper, but the raw ingredients, for the same meals, were easily available.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

In the center of Sofia there were many types of restaurants. They had fast food, pub food, french cuisine, bakeries, and so much more! When we ordered in, we usually used from Food Panda. When missing American style food and dining we went to the very popular Happy! Bar and Grill (similar to TGIFridays), or BOOM Burger. For fine french style dining we’d highly recommend Chefs, about 10 minute walk from the US embassy. Any time we had guests we went to Raketa Rakia Bar and Restaurant for a Bulgarian style meal, followed by Kanaal for an inexpensive craft beer.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

In our dwelling we never had issues with any kind of infestations, but we had heard that people in the same building occasionally had some issues with ants.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We only ever used DPO to send or receive mail, so we can’t say how the local postal service worked.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

While we never had household help, we knew people who did. They were usually inexpensive, would come clean the home, and cook a meal once or twice a week.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Inside the US Embassy there is a gym, free for staff, their family members, and marines. Outside the embassy we never sought out other gyms or workout facilities, but did notice a few while walking through town.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are widely accepted and generally safe to use. Like most European countries, when paying they will bring a card swiping machine to you, so you won’t have to worry about them copying your card information in the backroom. ATMs are common and plentiful, but we wouldn’t recommend using all of them. We advise only using Embassy ATMs or ATMs inside of banks, because credit card skimmers are a real threat in Sofia.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Sofia is a very diversely religious city. In one part of the city you can see four distinct religious buildings within a one mile radius of each other. We never sought out an English language service though so we can not speak on the subject.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Local language, both speaking and reading, is nearly essential in Sofia. While the educated Bulgarians will usually be able to hold a conversation in English, the uneducated will not. This in my experience hindered shopping, ordering at restaurants, and getting directions. When coming to Sofia you should know the basics of Bulgarian (hello, good bye, thank you, How much, etc.), but more importantly you must know the Cyrillic alphabet. Even if a word is pronounced in English, it will be written in Cyrillic. We learned this the hard way by going to McDonald's and trying to order, off the menu, a “??? Mak” which literally pronounced "big mac." We never sought after classes or tutors so we can’t speak on the subject.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Anyone with a physical disability would have difficulties living in Sofia. The side walks are littered with parked cars in such a way that would have us walking in the road. While elevators and escalators are becoming more common in buildings and malls, there are are usually no handicapped accessible entrances to those buildings. On top of all of that, Sofia is a very hilly city, which can make navigating the city, especially in winter, treacherous for anyone.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Though we never took the bus, train or trams, we can say that the taxis and subway system are very safe and quite affordable. The subway system can get you almost anywhere you need to go in the city and for a cheap price. The few times we took taxis were a little more nerve wrecking, but still an option we would recommend. The taxis would swerve to avoid potholes, speed to make it though lights, and cut each other off to get to exit ramps.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Sofia is so easy to travel in we never really needed a car, except to get out of the city. If we were to bring a car though, we’d recommend some kind of SUV. Especially after a rough winter roads in Sofia can take their toll on a car. Most people that lived in the city had a garage under or inside their building, which made burglaries much more difficult. I would not recommend any low riding car or sports car.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Due to unique circumstances we didn’t have to wait at all for our home internet to be installed. While using telenor they had an extremely cheap deal that included home phone, internet, and cable.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We are a data intensive couple, and M-tel was amazing. Fairly cheap, rarely dropped signal, and easy payment methods.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

We didn’t bring pets to Bulgaria so we can’t speak to veterinarians, kennels, or entry for pets. If bringing pets you may want to consider that stray dogs are plentiful in Bulgaria. Even though most of the strays in the city are tame and won’t bother you or your pet, there are some packs that are extremely territorial. Another think you might want to think about is the disease carrying bugs like ticks or fleas.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There were a few jobs for spouses and EFMs, but we never took advantage of them. It also would have been nearly impossible to get a job on the local economy without Bulgarian language.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are plenty of opportunities for volunteer work, but I never took advantage of those opportunities.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

The dress code in public spaces is casual. For example, during sunny weather we saw many people sun bathing in minimal or no clothes in public spaces. Winter usually made people dress more conservatively, but that is more to stay warm.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Like any large city petty crimes like pick-pockets and shoplifting are abundant. Just keep an eye out for your belongings.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

No particular health concerns in the city, but things like tuberculosis and rabies are more common in the village areas.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Overall the air quality is good in Sofia. Winter can get a little rough due to people burning things to stay warm, and because the mountains surround the city the pollution remains stagnant.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Seasonal allergies can be bad in Sofia. There are parts of the year you can see the pollen floating in the air, but over the counter seasonal allergy medications are easy to obtain.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

As with any temperate climate winters can be hard on most, since the sun is only up during work hours.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Sofia has very warm summers and very dry cold winters. During summers temperatures could spike into the 90s, but it was never extremely humid or dry. During the winter we were there, it snowed every day for a month! Temperatures could plummet into the negative degrees and it would be very dry. We used a humidifier regularly.

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Schools & Children:

1. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

we can not speak on this subject.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expatriate community was relatively large for a medium-sized embassy, and moral seemed great.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Most of our time was spent outside in parks or walking down a new road or path. Socializing outdoors was very common in Sofia, but we never looked for groups or clubs.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This city is good for everyone. There is a festive night life downtown, and plenty of things to see and do in the numerous parks scattered through the city. For families, there are play grounds every where and museums that share the rich history of Sofia.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

This city isn’t the best for anyone who considers themselves LGBT. While you can probably get around undetected, there have been previous physical attacks on the LGBT community.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Like everywhere around the world ignorance can be common and dangerous. It is easy to make friends with locals as long as you can speak the language. The biggest prejudice is toward the Roma population. It is widely believed that they are sub-human and have magical abilities that are used purely the harm others. This prejudice is so extreme that other races (South American, Middle Eastern, African) can be confused for Roma and receive the same treatment regardless of identification documents.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There didn’t seem to be a large amount of religious prejudice. The Roma prejudice (see above) was extreme. The gender equality was about on par with the US. Where women can have jobs, but are also expect to take care of the house and kids.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The views are AMAZING! From almost anywhere in the city you can see Mt Vitosha. There are so many parks to visit. We Visited Veliko Tarnovo. This amazing cliff side town is beautiful, but be warned it can be a workout to visit.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Park Center Mall was a great place to catch an English movie (subtitled in Bulgarian). Yuzen park (or south park) was directly behind the US embassy, and had tons of paths to discover, and events almost every weekend. 100 beers is a small beer shop downtown where you can get beer from all over the world. Even though its technically not legal, most people will have a beer in the park while enjoying a sunny day. When taking the subway be sure to visit to archaeological sites embedded in most stops along the way.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

I wouldn’t consider this a “shopping post,” but Bulgarian embroidery is well known and their Rose oil is ranked as one of, if not, best in the world. There are plenty of wood carvings and paintings sold around the city, but don’t get scammed with a knock off import.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Its very easy to safe money, the food is amazing, And the park spaces are very well maintained

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I'd known Bulgarian or at least their alphabet. I can not stress this enough for long time stayers.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely!

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations of a dark, bleak, or gray Eastern European city. Sofia has many influences from the Mediterranean and Europe which have not only affected the foods but also the culture.

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4. But don't forget your:

Humidifier, translator, and skis.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

not at this time

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Sofia, Bulgaria 05/17/16

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

We've lived in Central Asia as well.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

From Washington DC, there are flights to major European cities (Pairs, Munich, Frankfurt, London) and then flights to Sofia from there. The trip is somewhere around 7 hours for the longer flight and 2-3 for the Euro leg, plus all the layover time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

4 years, from 2012-2016.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. embassy family

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartments and free-standing houses. Embassy housing is very good, ranging from 5-30 minutes or so commute. We are very happy with our housing, although we would prefer to be in a complex with some sort of common area. (We are 1 mile outside of the public transport system range)

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Most things are available and relatively cheap. You can get fantastic yogurt and produce, usually fresh bread. There are tortillas, loaf style bread, pinto beans, bio / organic items, etc. However, things like chocolate chips and specialty items like gluten free flours are expensive if available.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Baking goods like chocolate chips, but almost everything else we use is available here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Happy Sushi, KFC. They are cheaply priced compared to the U.S. and most of the rest of Europe.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Our limited experience with mail has been very iffy - a postcard arrived to the U.S. a year after it was sent! We rarely use local mail, though.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available and relatively inexpensive. For cleaning help, most people pay around 10 lev (a little less than US$6) per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, don't know about costs.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Officially recommended not to use outside of the Embassy ATM, but many people do and have few problems.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Unsure. Lots of different churches here, Orthodox synagogue, and mosques.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Depends on how you live. Many people, especially younger people, speak at least some English.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

If you wanted to walk around downtown, it would require a lot of effort. Stairs, broken stones, etc.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are cheap, don't take trains or buses. There is a widely used Metro that's slowly expanding (if you live close to it).

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Anything for in the city, but smaller is better. If you want to go out, 4WD and snow tires are a good option. We have just a minivan, and other than parking in the city and one deeper snowfall, it's been fine.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, very reasonably priced. We pay around US$50 a month for cable tv, high speed internet, and VOIP phone.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cheap service, many choices. We've been happy.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Not quarantined, but getting them here requires the usual traveling hoops. No experience with vet or kennel.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Labor is underpaid here, so the hourly rate you could earn on the economy would be pretty low.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Orphanages, refugee camps, different churches.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Work is suits and business wear, after is anything. People here tend to dress up more to go out than we do in the US, but you'll see all types.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Pickpockets, general good security awareness needed.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Decent medical care, but not fully up to U.S. standards. That said, we know multiple people who had babies here, had emergency surgery here, or other procedures, and it was fine. Not ideal, and some cultural differences, but fine.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

We live a little outside the city and up, and it's good quality here. In the city itself, I think there are some days where it's a bit hazy, but it's not really a concern here.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

No experience, but nothing too obvious for these.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Similar to DC area. 4 seasons, some snow in winter, hot temps in summer.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

People are generally satisfied. Prices are high, though! Anglo American, British, French, even Montessori. Several homeschoolers here as well.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I don't have experience with this, but they have several "resource room" teachers, so I assume there is something.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, but we haven't used them. I don't think they are very expensive. We have an in-home babysitter / nanny, and pay 900 leva/month for about 40 hours per week (about US$520).

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

At schools, yes, and some sports summer camps. Many expat families spend the summers elsewhere.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Fairly large and good morale overall.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Have friends over for dinner, meet up at restaurants, lots of activities like runs, classes, etc.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes. Strollers are hard to use downtown as in most European capitals (cobblestones, lack of sidewalk or cars parked on the sidewalk, etc.). There is a big bar scene, clubs, music, etc.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Some, but not too bad. For example, I've been complemented several times on my parking skills. They are apparently shockingly great...for a woman.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Rila Monastery, hot springs trips, caves, Black Sea beach, visits to Greece, hiking and skiing in the mountains, Roman ruins in downtown Sofia...Lots to choose from!

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Going up into the mountains, hikes, hot/mineral springs, caves nearby. Lots of fun if you are wiling to explore.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Travel! Pottery and rose oil and other rose products, food at restaurants. Artwork and framing are popular items as well.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Tons of great local culture, gorgeous natural sights, and a generally less expensive cost of living. Fresh produce is good, tap water is drinkable, and quality of life is generally good as well. Within easy traveling distance of many countries - short flights and reasonable drives.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes. Life is cheaper here overall.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

expectations of first class Europe. Definitely Eastern European in flavor.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure.

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Sofia, Bulgaria 12/18/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Prague.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

D.C. Sofia is a small airport so you will need to connect to a major HUB in Europe or Istanbul.

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3. How long have you lived here?

14 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartments near the Embassy and a few in the center but mostly houses near the mountain.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Widely available and about 20% cheaper than in the U.S.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything and about 20% cheaper than in the U.S.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Lots of ticks.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and Pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Widely available and the standard rate is 10 lev.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, the Embassy has a decent one. Most others will cost about US$80-120 each month.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We are cautioned not to use ATM's and be careful with credit cards but I haven't heard of anyone having problems recently.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Not sure but I believe they are available.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by with just English but a little bit of Bulgarian helps a lot.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are cheap and safe. They have small metro which is nice, clean, cheap but very limited.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Small SUV but almost anything works here.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes and very cheap and very fast.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local plans are great and cheap.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No and good vet care.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No, not really as language is a barrier.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Several, just ask around.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Standard.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

No and health services are good.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

In the winter it can get bad/unhealthy if you are in the city. Most embassy personnel live on the mountain so the air is better there.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Like D.C. but a bit colder in winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No experience but I hear AAS is good.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes but no experience. You may hear otherwise but it is possible to find daycare for children starting at 1 years old.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Decent size and good morale.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Like any other big city.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Great for everyone.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Never heard of any problems and I know several openly gay people here.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Roma and refugees from Syria, Iraq, etc.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling to the Black Sea, experiencing all the various cultures that have inhabited this land, just being in the nature.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Amazing weekend visits all over the country and Greece and Turkey are a car ride away. Some really cool old communist monuments to check out.

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Nature is abundant, beautiful, and varied. Close proximity to Greece, Turkey. Cost of living to still relatively cheap compared to other European cities.

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9. Can you save money?

Maybe if you limit your regional travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Lots of ticks and stray dogs.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

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4. But don't forget your:

Ski gear and hiking boots.

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Sofia, Bulgaria 11/23/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No- 6 before.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government work.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Small apartments downtown and small houses by the mountain. No closets or storage rooms.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Same or higher than DC.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

10 levas p hour, US Embasy rate

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, expensive or free at the Embassy.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We pay with cash to eliminate the fees.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis, less than DC.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Same as DC.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, inexpensive.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Local providers.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

NO.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Same as every Embassy, public usually casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Like any other major city.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is bad in Sofia.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

OK away from downtown.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Bring your MED's.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

DC weather, colder in the winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

AAS is outstanding.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, around US$400.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Not many.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

MID size. Like always, few create issues hat affect everyone. 2015 is a big rotation year.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Movies, clubs, trips.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

You need to find your own entertainment, there is little Embassy community.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

In country not many, travel through Europe.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Black sea and few old cities in Bulgaria, other countries around Sofia or flying to northern Europe.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not much.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Easy life, could travel to Greece, Istanbul and near countries.

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10. Can you save money?

NO.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How far south it is to do road trips and Sofia is not Europe but an old Russian culture.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

NO, one tour is enough, we don't repeat countries.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

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4. But don't forget your:

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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Sofia, Bulgaria 08/16/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Lived in Germany and Turkey.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Seattle, WA. Takes about 2.5 hours from Sofia to Munich and 9 hours to Washington from Munich.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Excellent!!!! I mean it.. We live in Lozenetz and have a 3 BD, 4 BA, 225 m2 apartment. Those in Dragalevtsi and Boyana are also very nice (No apartments there. SFH only)

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We shop only from Metro (German chain) and spend about 150 lev a week for groceries.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I know it sounds odd and you cannot ship it, but STEAKS!!! No good quality steaks are available in Bulgaria. (recently Metro started selling Argentinian beef). Anything other, anywhere is just cheap cr*p.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Almost all of them are available here. VERY CHEAP!!

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

I have a nanny+housekeeper, and I pay 1200 lev/month. Mine is a little too expensive because she speaks two languages and has 20 years of childcare experience. You can find an average nanny for 700 lev a month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. One in Paradise Mall is my absolute favorite. (DoD personnel has free access to it as well, please ask your DATT).

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Just use the one at the Embassy.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

New generation is really good in English. Elderlies don't even speak a word of it.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. Please take Sofia off of your list you are a disabled person. I have a double stroller and never got to push it on the street as there are no proper sidewalks. (I can only push it at the Malls) One exception is that all Metro stations have handicap elevator!

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No. Cab drivers rip you off. No set taxi rules in Sofia.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We have an SUV. In Lozenetz area, you will get to see Maseratis, Ferraris, Bentleys parked next to each other almost every night, along with their bodyguards in Mercedes, BMWs and Audis :) I can swear that I haven't seen that many in Germany in 3 years!!

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. Very cheap as well. Internet + Unlimited calls to US and Europe + Cable TV is 45 lev/month with Blizoo.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We use MTel and are very happy with it. For two cell phones + unlimited data, we pay 42 lev/month. (20 euros)

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

View All Answers


Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes. Plenty but the pay is too low.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lopyan kids.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

US employees are usually in nice suits. LES are dressed a bit more revealing.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

ATMs. Bulgaria is one of the major countries in counterfeiting!

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Gladly we have a pediatrician on post and he is really good. Medical care is terrible in Sofia. Bulgarians don't understand what "Sanitation" means!! Tokuda is the most popular hospital here, but provides awful care.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Doable. Not bad.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Dry hot summers, cold winters, and.... hail storms. Make sure to get hail coverage on your auto insurance.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

AAS is the best.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

My favorite is Montessori School in Studentskigrad. That is the only daycare that provides your choice of organic food for kids. Others are very typical, just famous by being in major housing areas. I would not recommend them as most of them have only 20-25 m2 rooms for 10 kids to play ALL DAY. And they serve cakes and cookies as snacks, I thinks that tells a lot.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. Plenty. My son had yoga classes as well as swimming and piano. Kempinski hotel has good deals.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Happy. A very very happy community. So far anybody I talked to is very glad to be here. Embassy is really nice.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Plenty of Malls, restaurants, and Vitosha mountain hiking.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes for all. Almost all restaurants come with little playgrounds in Sofia. (But note, no high chairs at mall food courts).

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I think it is.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Haven't experienced any.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Sofia offers tons of indoor kiddo play areas. They are very nice and inexpensive. Great for parents with toddlers. Tap water is safe and tastes very good in here.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Buy a Martenitza on March 1, and wear it. It's a handmade bracelet that comes in only red and white that all the Bulgarians wear on that day.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Famous with rose oil, which I hate it..

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Cost of living is very low. We were able to save a lot in here. Sofia is close to Istanbul (1 hour flight or 4 hour drive) and Thessaloniki (same distance), so great for sightseeing. One thing will get you here as far as the culture: Bulgarians nod their heads in opposite direction than the rest of the world! So beware, no means yes, yes means no. Two types of weather here: Dust and mud. There's construction everywhere.

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10. Can you save money?

YES..

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Alphabet is in cyrillic. You must learn the alphabet, not the language. Many words are in Latin roots, easy to understand.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Definetly!!

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Anything except your high heels. Yes, no sidewalks in Sofia, but all women on high heels!! Go figure.

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4. But don't forget your:

Peanut butter..

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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Sofia, Bulgaria 06/03/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, have lived in 3 other foreign countries.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

East coast US. Travel time is about 15 hours, including layovers. You can connect via London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, and Frankfurt. Lufthansa via Frankfurt is the best connection in my opinion.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Corporate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is mainly apartments in the city and houses in the suburbs located in the mountain. Most foreigners live in the South Park area of Lozenetz close to the US Embassy, in the city center, and in houses in Boyana or Dragalevci. Apartments are usually not well kept and even if they are new they deteriorate quite rapidly given the scant attention owners place in maintenance. Traffic in Sofia has gotten worse in the last years,infrastructure has not improved and this makes commuting more time consuming and frustrating.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are about 10-20% cheaper than in the States, though with the plummeting dollar they are getting more expensive. I usually shop at Carrefour, which is similar to WalMart. Some people go the Belgian owned Piccadilly chain, which is more expensive. There's also a Costco type place called Metro, which is German. They have also recently opened quite a few European chain DIY stores, so shopping now is really convenient.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Clothing (it's very expensive here and little choice even with GAP now open). Other things I would ship would be Crest toothpaste, which they don't carry in Bulgaria.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

In the past few years, many new fast food chains have opened outlets in Sofia. There's McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, Domino's and Starbucks. There's also Nordsee, a German seafood place with outlets in the big malls which is good. What's missing in my opinion is a TGI Friday's or Chili's type place. In terms of restaurants the traditional Bulgarian restaurants are very good, Bulgarian cuisine is great. Ethnic restaurants are not very impressive. The best in my opinion is Indian. There's just one Tex-Mex in town and it's awful.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Plenty of organic vegetables. In general vegetables in Bulgaria are fantastic. The tomatoes and cucumbers are the best I've had. The cherries and watermelons are also great. The only problem is that they only harvest during the summer and during the winter they import veggies and fruits from Turkey and Greece, and excluding Greek oranges which are fabulous, the produce from those countries is mediocre.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Not many problems, some mosquitoes in the summer and bees and wasps.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Bulgaria Post is cheap, but they take forever. DHL and TNT are good options, but they are expensive (about 80 bucks to send a document envelope to the U.S.).

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We pay about US$300 per month and she comes in twice a week for the whole day.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, there are many choices at all price levels. A lot of men go to World Class Fitness Academy, a Russian chain offering modern equipment, though expensive. A lot of women go to Curves.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

More and more places accept credit cards, but it's still a cash economy. It's best to use ATMs inside banks, as they say a lot of others could have skimming equipment. There are ATMs on every corner or so it seems.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There's a Catholic mass each Sunday held in English at Sofia University's chapel. They also hold an Anglican mass every third week there. There's also a Baptist church in the suburbs holding services in English. I've seen some LDS members, but not sure where they meet.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Not much. There's the weekly Sofia Echo and the bi-monthly Vagabond magazine, neither of them are very good. Buy an Ipad or Kindle and get all your magazines like that, it will make your life a lot easier.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Plenty. Most people over 40 don't speak a word of English. Younger people speak more, but in general English language skills are very low here.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many! Sidewalks do not exist in most of the city, and when they do exist they tend to be in terrible shape. Infrastructure in general is awful and for people with disabilities it would be extremely difficult or even impossible to live here.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Local transport is cheap, but generally in awful shape. They have recently bought newer buses and trolleys, so it has improved somewhat. Be careful with taxis, as a lot of them rip-off their customers, and they are allowed to do so since Sofia doesn't have a city-set taxi fare.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Parking is a nightmare, especially in the city center. It seems like developers here never build anything that has any parking and local authorities don't require it. As a consequence, most people park in very creative ways (sidewalks, gardens, parks, etc.). I would bring either a small car you don't mind getting scratched up, or a smallish SUV which you could use to travel around.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, internet speed is great and prices are very low. I have 30 Mbps and pay about $15 per month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are three companies and they are all pretty bad and pretty expensive. Their customer service is terrible. Most people have M-Tel, which is owned by Vodafone. More people are switching to Globul, owned by a Greek company.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No, you follow the standard procedures for the EU (excluding the UK). When I brought my dog from the U.S., they didn't even check her papers in the airport, so procedures are not really followed or enforced.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Don't expect much considering that hospitals for humans are barely functional. Most clinics are primitive in terms of equipment and looks, though the vets I've dealt with have been generally ok.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really, wages are very low. An average salary is about 300 euros per month. A very good salary - managerial positions - pay about 700-800 euros per month.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Informal and similar to the U.S. Typically slacks and dress shirt for men and dresses for women. Few people -- mostly in banking -- wear suits to work.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The city is generally safe. In general much safer than cities of its size in the U.S. or Western Europe. There is an organized crime presence but they don't target people who don't mess with them. The organized crime figures tend to drive expensive European cars, have bodyguards, and drive like they own the roads.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

This is probably the weakest point of living here. The level of health care is dismal. State hospitals are decrepit, corruption is rife, and the service levels and sanitary standards are hard to believe, especially since this is an EU country. The best hospital by far is Tokuda hospital, a Japanese owned hospital that is clean, offers modern equipment and with generally good doctors. Though even there the doctors have a Soviet mentality where they don't think it's important to communicate with the patient about what they are doing or what the treatment will entail.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality in Sofia is pretty bad, there are many older cars and buses that contribute to the air quality. In the summer, with the heavy rains, it tends to improve. There is also a lot of dust in general.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Continental climate similar to D.C. You have four seasons with a cold, snowy winter. The summer is not too bad given Sofia's high altitude (about 2,500 ft and higher in the suburbs). The fall and spring are very nice.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

My kids are not school-aged yet, but most expats send their kids to the Anglo-American School (AAS). I've heard very good things about this school, but it's extremely expensive if your company or embassy is not footing the bill.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I've heard AAS has have the same programs as in the U.S.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are a few English speaking daycare centers, but I'm not too sure about their quality.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, there are several sport programs available, including tennis, golf, and soccer. I've even heard there's a little league baseball program, but I haven't seen it yet.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

On the smaller side. You really don't see many expats or other foreigners on your day-to-day activities, but they are out there somewhere.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

The nightlife in Sofia is good, there are many bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues. Things go on until late, similar to that of Southern Europe.

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3. Morale among expats:

Most people like living here.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's a good cities for singles, specially guys. For families, it's a bit more difficult given the limited choices available in terms of places to go with kids. Smoking is a big issue here and most restaurants don't separate smoking areas, so if you have children this is an issue, especially in the winter months when you can't sit outside.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Most people here are hostile towards gays. Bulgaria is still a conservative society overall. In the time I've been here I've never seen a gay couple walking in the streets or in the malls.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Most locals have a problem with gypsies. Unfortunately due to their own actions or those of the government, gypsies are not well integrated in society and are responsible for petty theft. Their presence is ubiquitous, they typically drive their horse drawn carriages in the middle of the city. Quite a sight in the capital city of an EU country!

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Visiting the Black Sea, beautiful monasteries, ancient history in the form of Roman amphitheaters, roads, mausoleums every time they dig it seems.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Travel to the Black Sea and the countryside. Bulgaria's nature is beautiful. Also cities like Belgrade, Bucharest, and Istanbul are about a 5-hour drive. Thessaloniki, Greece, and the Aegean are only a 3 to 4 hour drive from Sofia. With low cost carriers, traveling to all major Western European cities is affordable and easy.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are nice rugs, ceramic pots and pans, and some woodcarvings. Christian Orthodox icons are also nice.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Ability to travel in the area and in Europe.

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11. Can you save money?

The cost of living is about 50% lower than in Western Europe and about 30% cheaper than East Coast U.S. cities. Rent, utility bills, and helpers are significantly cheaper than in the U.S. That being said, the cost of living has increased drastically since accession to the EU in 2007 and will likely continue to increase, and more so when Bulgaria joins the Euro zone in 2015 or so. It's sometimes hard to imagine how people make ends meet with 300 euros a month.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No. I think three years is enough to discover Bulgaria (about the size of Tennessee) and visit the neighboring countries. If you like a very calm and laid back life then maybe this country would be good for you for a longer period. Many Brits and other westerners move here to escape the rat race they experience back home.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Ideas that this is Prague or Budapest. It's not. This is a third-world country in the EU, with Soviet and Turkish elements sprinkled with some small European elements.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of optimism. Hearing from Bulgarians all day about how bad this country is (the make it seem like it's worse than Haiti) will wear you down after a while. But things have changed and will change, Greece, Spain, and Portugal were not modern developed countries 20 years ago when they joined the EU.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Several works by Name Your Link describe Bulgaria in good detail.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

U.S. based Nu Image owns the largest film studio in Bulgaria and they have filmed several movies here with A list actors. Maybe a few movies you've seen were based in Sofia and you never even knew it.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Bulgaria is sometimes frustrating because of the lost potential. This country could be a very nice place: the nature is beautiful, there are amazing historical sights located here, and Sofia is a compact city with interesting attractions. Unfortunately the locals like to complain without end, while at the same time maintaining a very destructive attitude i.e. polluting, not working very hard, telling foreigners continuously how bad their country is, etc. Knowing how blessed Bulgaria is to be an EU and NATO member, it's hard to see how people could be so ungrateful. Many countries in the region would give everything to join the EU.

So many times it's a pity to see what could be and what is. The general contempt of the people and the incredible incompetence and corruption of the government angers you. Seeing the worst potholes I've seen in any capital city in Europe, trash everywhere, stray dogs, people driving horse-drawn carriages in the middle of the city, and other annoyances really get to you. I guess that communism is hard to clean off, even after 20 years. The mentality of the people is one of entitlement, they believe the government should do everything and that they have zero obligations. It will take at least one or two future generations to change this mentality and for people to become positive engaged members of their own society.

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Sofia, Bulgaria 10/30/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. We have lived in Nepal and Bangladesh. I have lived in England too, and my husband grew up in France.

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2. How long have you lived here?

We've been here 4 months so far.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Husband is staff for Peace Corps.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Routes usually go through Germany to get to Bulgaria. It takes about one and half hours from Germany.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There are apartments and large houses. Apartments are typically in the city itself. Houses are up on the mountain and are pretty nice. During rush hour, it can take 1/2 hour for me to go about 3 km from my house towards the city to get to the embassy.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We actually spend quite a lot on food, but we are a big family with 4 kids. We are probably spending 200 to 300 leva per week.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Dog food; not a lot to choose from here and it's expensive. Toothpaste; they don't have our typical American brands that I like. Spices for salsa (salsa seems to be a big deal here for some reason for the Americans). Spices for Indian food, and even instant spice packets to make various American dishes. Almonds. They are expensive here. Dried fruits, though they do have those here, in small amounts, but not a whole lot of variety. Saftey pins; can't find them here at all. Craft stores, convenience stores don't really exist here, so anything like that.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Lots of traditional Bulgarian food restaurants that are very quaint. McDonald's, Kentucky Fried, Burger King are here. Also Dunkin Donuts. The cost is farely low. Salads are around 3 to 6 leva per plate. A main entree might be 5 to 10 leva.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Insects are down to a minimum in my experience. Hardly any in the houses and we live in a very old one. There are beetles, but they are very small and scarce. Some people call them cock roaches, but they look like little beetles to me. Some mosquitos in the evenings.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

I have access to the US Embassy mail so it's very convenient.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Around 7 leva per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, there are large facilities for this.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

They are available and convenient all over. However they are not recommended to use on account of fraud. I did recently have a friend who experienced credit card fraud already since I have been here. Cards can and have been taken from the machines and sometimes they steal your pin number and make random charges to your account.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, mainly Christian Orthodox. There are some denominations. I have run into a few people who have a small Jewish Community.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

You can buy tvs here. Not sure about the cost for cable because we do not buy it. Not really sure about English newspapers either, we get our news online.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not a whole lot. Many people survive not speaking any. Quite a few Bulgarians speak English. They sure do appreciate it and encourage it when you do try to make the effort to speak though. I've had some experiences in stores where we can't understand one another, so we use a lot of hand gesturing. Being able to read Cyrillic would be very helpul to read food labels and street signs etc.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Walking around town may be a little difficult with the cobblestone roads, potholes, navigating a wheelchair would be a little hard.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, they are great and very cheap.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

4-wheel drive is good for navigating icy roads and the potholes. Small is also good because many of the roads are so narrow and difficult to access with a large car. Our garage even has very low clearance as well as our front gate. But a small easy to drive 4-wheel drive is a little bit difficult to find!

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

yes. I think around $10 / month is what we pay.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Not other than that I seem to have a lot of difficulty with the Bulgarian ones. They are always breaking on me, but that's my personal experience. And customer service is not too efficient. Right now, they still have my phone and it's been a month, repairing it...

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes, very good, both!

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Doing your own private business I have heard is a bit difficult to break into. Not really sure about local jobs available. Sometimes there are a few opportunities at the schools, but they are all I.B. so they usually want I.B. trained staff. American College of Sofia is a private school so they are a bit more lenient.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dressy, just like Europe. Women dress up here. It's the city life.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Compared to the rest of Europe it's a little polluted and dirty. Sofia, the capital is pretty polluted. It's nice out around the country.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

You know, I can't remember. I know we had to get a couple, but for the most part, it is pretty clean and healthy here. Not much in the way of diseases to worry about.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The biggest for me is the traffic and how fast people drive. It's a little tricky to walk around as a pedestrian and watch out for crazy drivers. The roads are bad, lots of potholes.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

I don't think nurses are as highly trained as in the U.S. The doctors seem fairly good. Hospitals are available for x-rays and seem pretty competent. The U.S.embassy evacuates to London for bigger health issues.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Very similar to Colorado, though a bit wetter than Colorado. They have the 4 seasons: it's warm and sunny in summer and only up to around 80 degrees farenheit, fall and and spring are temperate, some snow showers in spring. Winter is cold, snow and ice, down to the 20's 30's farenheit, sometimes down to zero.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

All 4 of my daughters attend the Anglo-American International School. My younger two daughters, aged 9 and 12, love it. Most of what I hear from this age range seems to be positive. My 9 year old loves to go to school. She is having a great experience. My 12 year old has made some good friends. My older two daughters are in the upper grade levels, grades 11 and 12. The academics are very rigorous. They only have the I.B. program (international baccalaurette). A lot of pressure is put on the kids to perform in school at this level. Kids seem to have rather low grades, especially considering that they require 5 or 6 hours of study per day. There is no time for much else other than school and studying at the upper grade levels.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I do not know. It's a state of the art new building so it looks to me like it could accomodate that.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, it's available. I think Wonder World is pretty good I have heard.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

The International school has a little bit. It is not a very high competitive level. The school is small so grades are combined and they travel to tournaments for soccer, volleyball, basketball. They do some after-school activities 2 days a week.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Medium sized.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very good. People are generally happy here.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

People get together and entertain a lot.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I think all of the above. The only thing that's a bit difficult for kids is during summer and off-time, trying to find activites and programs to keep them busy.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, I would think so.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No, not that I'm aware of.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Opera, ballet, concerts, ice skating, hiking on Vitosha mountain, camping, mountain biking, walking (people walk a lot here) eating out, outdoor markets, there are 3 malls, there are movie theaters an IMAX. The Black Sea Coast offers beach resorts. The villages around Bulgaria are interesting. There are museums and cathedrals in the capital. Rila Monastery and different sites are within a couple of hours driving time, some very nice sites to see.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Pottery, rose oil is the most widely produced in Bulgaria out of any other country in the world.

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9. Can you save money?

Well, it would seem so, but we haven't been...

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Ping pong table, basketball hoop, American appliances. We don't have enough room to set these things up and we keep blowing transformers with our appliances.

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3. But don't forget your:

Halloween stuff! Dressy clothes. Bring extra grow-into jeans and tennis shoes for the kids, good quality and affordable on those things is hard to find here.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Historian, by Kostova.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Historian, by Kostova.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Bulgaria is a really neat place. It's only 4 hrs drive from Greece. Maybe 5 to Turkey. A couple hours to Macedonia and Serbia from the capital, 6 hours to the Black Sea coast which is beautiful, and 4 hours to Romania. The Rila and Rhodope mountains are incredibly beautiful. Rose Fields are beautiful too. There are fortresses, colluseums and so much very very old history here. Very interesting mix of history & architecture. You can buy a 20-leva plane ticket to Holland from here on Wizzair! And 50-dollar flights to Italy are sometimes available. Also it's a 12-hour drive from here to Austria.

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Sofia, Bulgaria 02/09/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I've lived in Cairo, London, Madrid, and Mexico City.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I was there for corporate work.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Through Frankfurt or Milan it's about 15 hours including layovers.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Foreigners tend to live in apartments in Lozenets very close to the city center. Others live in chalet-style homes in Boyana and Dragalevci, lovely neighborhoods with many green areas and less pollution. There is a massive real-estate boom at the moment and you will see new neighborhoods and very cool apartment buildings being built.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are comparable to the U.S. in terms of price. There are a number of the German Metro supermarket chains which offer good variety. Carrefour is set to open its flagship hypermarket in Sofia very soon.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

None, you can find pretty much anything here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Sofia has an excellent variety of restaurants at great value. Bulgarian cuisine is not well-known around the world but it is of great quality. The pork and salads in Bulgaria are among the best I have ever eaten.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

All the major courier companies are here (DHL, FEDEX, UPS, TNT) although they are expensive. Bulgaria Post is less expensive but it is SLOW.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

About 10 Euros a day.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

This is still a cash-based society. Outside of restaurants, shops, malls and other established outlets, people expect to be paid in cash. That being said there are numerous ATMs all over Sofia.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a few protestant churches that have English language services and if you are Catholic there is a service in ancient Latin available.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The Sofia Echo is the English language newspaper. English language TV is available in your standard cable package. Basic cable will run you about 30 Euros a month.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Many younger Bulgarians speak English or other major European languages. Older people tend to speak only Bulgarian. Learning Bulgarian is definitely necessary if you wish to know the culture better and participate in business.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many older buildings in Central Sofia do not have elevators, some streets are in need of repair, and people tend to park on the sidewalks making it difficult for people with disabilities.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right, like in continental Europe and the U.S.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Very affordable and improving. The Sofia mayor is intent on modernizing public transport. Trams are being modernized and the subway (underground) system is being expanded at the moment to cope with the enormous growth of the city.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

The streets in Central Sofia are very small and crowded. For this reason I would recommend bringing a small SUV - this allows you to explore the beautiful countryside in comfort and not have problems with parking in Sofia.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes and of good quality. About 25-30 Euros a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

M-Tel, Globul and Vivatel are the biggest companies. I recommend buying an unlocked cell phone and buying a GSM card and using pre-paid cards.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

You can purchase calling cards from any newsstand and they are reasonably priced. VOIP is a good option if you have high speed internet.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a few places of good quality. Bulgarians love dogs.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

A growing number if you speak Bulgarian. The economy is booming and with the current demographics the country will need to begin attracting high quality employees.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dress tends to be more formal than the U.S. Suit and tie are necessary at most offices.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

The area in and around the Central Railway Station has some pickpockets. There is organized crime although they do not target people outside their circle. Otherwise it's much safer than any major U.S. city.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Tokuda Hospital is part of a Japanese healthcare company recently opened its doors and offers very good care. Bulgarian doctors are trained to a very high level but until recently facilities were antiquated. With the recent EU accession of Bulgaria and the booming economy, there is significant investment being pumped into the health care sector, clinics like Tokuda now offer state of the art equipment found in any major hospital in Western Europe or the U.S.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Continental weather: very cold winters and warm summers. You have the four seasons here.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The American College of Sofia (ACS) calls itself the oldest American school abroad and many of its graduates attend prestigious universities in the U.S. and in Europe. The Anglo-American School of Sofia is a newer school but has a good reputation among the expat community. There are public schools in Bulgaria that teach exclusively in foreign languages like French or Spanish that have a good reputation internally.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

ACS and other international schools have standard Special-Ed programs for children with learning disabilities.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Plenty of daycare options available at very good rates.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

There are a few Americans (mainly embassy personnel and a growing number of business people).There is a large British community that has retired here. Other major European languages and even Japanese are heard frequently in the streets of Sofia due to the growing number of tourists visiting this country.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very high in general although there are a few of the first-time inexperienced expats who only complain.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Plenty of excellent nightclubs in Sofia. Theater is of good quality. It is easy to make good friends in Bulgaria. People are shy at the beginning but after building up trust, they become life-long friends.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Great for singles, couples and families with children. With the extremely low birth-rate most Bulgarians love children and treat them as royalty in most restaurants, malls, and shops.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Bulgarians tend to view gays with suspicion but the overall climate is tolerant. One of the main chalga stars is a Gay Roma known as Asis.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No, Bulgarians are among the most tolerant people in Europe. Foreigners are treated with respect and many Westerners feel very welcome among Bulgarians.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Going out to eat, nightclubs in Sofia, and visiting expositions in museums. Skiing in Vitosha is only a short drive away (and that's only in Sofia). In the countryside there are numerous monasteries, ancient walled cities and fantastic skiing in Bansko and Pamporovo. In the summer the beaches of the Black Sea are refreshing. Greece, Turkey, and other great Balkan destinations are only a short drive or flight away.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are lovely wooden handricafts and clay pots in the countryside. The wine is of very good quality.

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9. Can you save money?

Absolutely. Sofia and Bulgaria in general is very reasonable in comparison with Western Europe. Prices have increased in the past year and the U.S. Dollar will buy you less these days.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely, Sofia is a very interesting eclectic city offering numerous jewels to discover. The country is very beautiful and great to explore. You will find some monasteries and historic cities and feel like you are the first foreigner to discover the place.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Impatience, things run at a different pace here.

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3. But don't forget your:

Winter clothing, it can get very chilly here in the winter.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Bulgaria joined the European Union on January 2007 and is experiencing a huge economic boom seen most evidently in construction of buildings, malls and infrasture like highways. This is a very interesting time to live in this city and witness the incredible changes that seem to happen practically overnight.

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