How to Avoid Crime and Scams in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is one of southeastern Europe's most interesting destinations, and – for now at least – it isn't swamped by masses of visitors every summer. Find out how to avoid crime and scams with these tips from our safety expert.

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Albena resort near Varna, Bulgaria Photo © iStock/Marholev

Thankfully the smaller crowds also mean petty crime is less common. But, you can still run into trouble, and there are pickpockets in certain areas. These places shouldn't be avoided all-together, but you should be sure to exercise extra caution.

Crime hotspots in Bulgaria

In Sofia, Sveta Nedelya Square and its underpass near the Sheraton Hotel and the underpass to Central Station are popular places for criminals, some criminals may be on drugs – so avoid these areas if you are alone or late at night.

The red light district near Pliska Hotel and park areas near Lion's Bridge, or Lvov Most, also are considered unsafe, and occasionally muggings do occur.

Resort areas like Sunny Beach and the mountain ski resorts can also be problematic with their growing population of scammers and criminals, who can be forceful and persistent.

Types of trouble in Bulgaria

  • Groups of children may try to pickpocket or mug you in the cities of Sofia and Varna
  • Although rare, bag slashers have been reported cutting purse straps on public transport
  • If you rent a car, park it in a secure area, and be wary of strangers who come to your assistance when your tyres have been slashed/deflated – it was most likely that person, who also stole your belongings from your car
  • Red light districts are always magnets for criminals, and in Bulgaria there are some gangs who operate in nightclubs and casinos of the red light districts – sometimes violent attacks may break out, including shootings and bombings between rival groups
  • Sex workers may rob people as well
  • Do not buy drugs on the street or in the clubs
  • At Sunny Beach, watch out for criminals posing as police who will attempt to fine you for vague offenses – always ask to see their ID
  • At some ski resorts, vendors will try to sell you "traditional" Bulgarian bells – they usually aren't genuine
  • ATM card skimming, credit card and internet fraud have become popular in Bulgaria
  • Take caution when withdrawing from ATMs, and try to avoid ATMs facing the street – especially at night
  • Scammers can also get your card details via unsecure wifi networks, so use only protected wifi networks which restaurants, cafes, hotels and others will offer.

Gypsies and begging in Bulgaria

There is also reported to be a "gypsy" element in Bulgaria which popularly gets associated with general beggars and people selling trinkets and other items. Keep a close eye on your belongings while in crowded areas.

Beggars often don't take no for an answer, and may hang around you for a while before they finally give up. If they try to sell you pirated DVDs or souvenirs, give a firm no and do not entertain the idea. Eventually they will leave you alone.

These people may ask how long you're staying, and hassle you each and every day to buy something. If you tell them to leave you alone when you first see them, chances are they'll not try again.

Beware of these scams, from the currency exchange to taxi drivers who are ripping-off tourists. 

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10 Comments

  • Velinda Wilson said

    I need help my 29 year old daughter has fallen in love with a girl from Bulgaria this girl is helping her get her passport and flying her from United States to Bulgaria she is from Sofia Bulgaria her name is Julia White I'm scared to death something's going to happen to my daughter and I have no idea what to do or how to check this out I look at her Facebook and I don't see no friends on her friends list but a whole bunch of news feed

  • AmeliaMcGrath said

    Hi Velinda, thanks for your comment. This seems like a personal matter, but if it were us, we would suggest speaking to your daughter and get to know her point of view, rather than relying on Facebook.

  • Mikko said

    Hi guys!

    I am just about to return to Estonia after being scammed by a Bulgarian lady.

    She was a receptionist and we were out for one date. She turned to me later on and invited me to visit her parents.

    This hotel integration worked like a charm for her benefit. I felt totally into her trap.

    Eventually I got here to Bulgaria to meet her but I guess that she has her linking with certain hotel chains here and several guys on the same round.

    Calculative and very well planned scam.

    So I created a fb-group to inform you all singles having to do something with these ladies here.

    Don't believe a word because those words will cost you a lot.

    Now going back and it will totally take over 24 hours. Nice holiday!

    The group: Bulgarian scammers for single men. Welcome to share your story.

  • Alfred said

    I think you should be ashamed writing this. Sounds like you copied some articles from the early 90s. Shootings, bombings, muggings, gypsies and prostitutes?!? Not on Sofia's streets in 2017. People high on glue?!?! Havent seen that for decades now!

  • Emily said

    Enjoying last day of vacation in Nesebar and totally love it. Very good food (and cheap) nice small beach and beautiful clean sea. Just in case we rent safe in our hotel, for our macs and documents when we are on the beach, but I do this in every country. For money change we used exchange place with sign of crown and there was never problem. Except our wifi connection in hotel nothing to complain. Its ok and easy to talk with taxi drivers about price before you get in the cab, bus public transportation works pretty well too. Plenty of clubs and cafes, good atmosphere. We are more travelers than tourists, visited half of Asia and almost all Europe, but I can recomend Bulgaria for relaxing holidays for everyone. Budget travelrs, young people searching fun in the beach clubs, families with kids even seniors.

  • cassandra said

    I recently moved to Sofia, Bulgaria from Honolulu with my boyfriend who is from Chicago. I honestly can't say enough good things about it. I have traveled all around the world and have seen many places that have issues similar to those described above, but Sofia is not one of them! I feel safer here than I did in Honolulu. We both really like Sofia and don't plan to move back to the states any time soon.

    Velinda, I hope that everything works out really well for your daughter. I can't speak for every woman in Bulgaria. I am sure there are unsavory people in all cities, but I will say that my biggest complaint about the women that I see here is that they are extremely beautiful and well-dressed (I was feeling a bit intimidated). It was later explained to me that people dress so nicely here because they were so oppressed under communist rule that they are now enjoying finally being able to express themselves through fashion and by owning nice things. So my biggest complaint about Sofia, Bulgaria is that people dress too nicely. It's a fully modern city. They have nice parks, recycling, and the cleanest metro I have seen (except maybe in Tokyo). It's lovely here.

  • Katya said

    Thanks Cassandra for sharing your positive experience!
    I agree that most of the information in this quite outdated. People do speak English (at least), and often 1 or 2 other European languages, even the guys at the carwash or petrol station speak English, especially in Sofia.
    Plovdiv is about to be a European capital of culture, Burgas and the area is very well developed, urban lifestyle is just like any other European country, except maybe the fact that social life is very active, people go out to cafes and restaurants all the time, also because this is easily affordable.
    It is undoubtedly the cheapest country in the EU. One of the fastest internet connections as well.
    Of course, if you go to distant poor areas and mountain villages the picture is completely different.
    But in any case people posing as police or people high on glue or shootings and bombing is something that is luckily far in the past now.

  • Chris Bellis said

    This doesn't sound much like the Bulgaria I know. There are gypsy prostitutes plying for trade on the outskirts of towns like Montana and Vidin, but not Sofia. Sofia is a pretty safe place, and even the taxi drivers are honest.
    If you want to go to a place where this article applies, try Russia. Now there, you really do have to have your wits about you. Not just gypsies, but a whole bunch of gangsters from the Caucasus.

  • Lee s said

    Thanks for the warning. I'll cross Bulgaria off my travel list and just head straight to Greece.

  • Jorge said

    I know Bulgaria like the palm of my hand and honestly, what you write is not Bulgaria at all. It is safer than most places in Europe, people are friendly.

    I suppose you have never been in Bulgaria, I have criss-crossed it since 1995 yearly for work and leisure. Even in the worst years in the 1990s, while not perfect, it did not reach the level of problems you portray.

    Many people here believe that you are likely to get shot by gangs in the US in every corner. Same quality of reporting, but in fact in relation to number of inhabitants the US is several times more dangerous for violent crime. Murder rate is higher, gun shots higher in the US.

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