Local Customs and Health in Bulgaria: Travel Tips

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Before you go to Bulgaria, here are a few tips on local customs and health so you know how much to tip, what to do if you come across wild dogs, and what you need to know about air pollution.


Photo © iStock/sfabisuk

Air pollution in Bulgaria

Air pollution is a serious concern in Bulgaria. Get used to seeing smoke, and be prepared for poor ventilation systems in enclosed areas, such as shopping centers, where smoke may trickle in.

In 2012 Bulgaria introduced a smoking ban prohibiting smoking in all public places including bars, restaurants, clubs, offices and sports stadiums. So, if you're a smoker, keep this law in mind.

Local interactions

  • Some people do speak English in Bulgaria, but many signs are in the Cyrillic language. Learn some important phrases before you go, and become especially familiar with driving signs if you are driving yourself around the country
  • Bulgarian head gestures for "yes" and "no" might surprise you. If you shake your head from side to side, you are saying "yes," and a nod means "no"
  • You should use the Bulgarian forms of Miss, Mrs. and Mr. when speaking to a local, unless otherwise directed
  • If you are invited somewhere by a Bulgarian, give wine or flowers as a customary thanks
  • You may also have to take your shoes off in some homes – ask politely before entering to be sure
  • Shake hands with men and women, and introduce yourself with your first and last name
  • It is illegal to cover your face in Bulgaria
  • This should go without saying, but offer your seat to anyone elderly or pregnant when traveling on public transport.

Local customs in Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy, so make sure you carry cash on you at all times
  • One local custom in Bulgaria is to tap the salt shaker twice on the end of the table before seasoning your food
  • Meeting to drink coffee is a big cultural and social custom, and locals usually order their coffees as short, long or double
  • Tips for restaurant service are expected to be small; try rounding up to the nearest dollar
  • If you have been invited to a birthday party, be prepared for lots of drinking
  • The Bulgarians have a lot of holidays, including the saint days, or name days, related to the ones for which they are named.

Wild dogs in Bulgaria

Surprising to some, Bulgaria has some really interesting wild animals, in particular, wild dogs – especially in Sofia, where they can be found in Borissova gradina (the Garden of Boris).

They mostly keep to themselves, but do not try to feed them or aggravate them in any way. Rabies is endemic in Bulgaria; so if you are bitten, seek medical treatment immediately.

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