Bulgaria is a criminally underrated beach destination. I am a Bulgarian citizen, so there may be a smidge of bias, but I lived and worked in France and the Netherlands for over five years. I moved back to Varna two years ago to spend time with my husband, enjoying the Black Sea beaches and sunshine.
After grinding away in expensive cities and cold climates, the warm coasts, relaxed quality of life, and the low cost of living in Varna called me home.
- <skip to budget details>. Monthly budget in Varna = $1,000
- Bulgaria is one of the cheapest countries in Europe.
- Varna is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts.
- Beach vibe and atmosphere at a fraction of the cost of similar cities on the Mediterranean.
Bulgaria is ideal for outdoorsy types and nature lovers, and there are numerous benefits to living in Varna. Still, I know for expat retirees and digital nomads, affordable living cost is the main attraction. With inexpensive al-fresco dining, discount summer opera, and no-cost fitness options, I don't blame them.
Why I Choose To Move To Varna?
Varna is not a megapolis, but it's the 3rd largest city (after Sofia and Plovdiv) with 500,000 inhabitants. The city, sitting on the Black Sea's coast, is locally dubbed the Sea Capital of Bulgaria. There are four well-known universities in Varna - Technical University, University of Economy, Medical University, and Varna Free University. The schools attract loads of international students through affordable fees and high-quality curriculums.
Another advantage for expats living in Varna is the many international companies and outsourcing businesses that have chosen Varna as a hub. These multinational corporations welcome native speakers looking for career opportunities. If you speak a foreign language, you will easily find a job.
Finally, as the weather is sunny and warm in Varna, beautiful weather allows you to spend more time outdoors, and that a tremendous difference compared to the deary Netherlands.
Let's go through the lifestyle you can afford in Varna, then breakdown the examples and details of Varna's cost of living.
The local currency is the Bulgaria Lev (BGN). At the time of this writing, the exchange rate is 1 US Dollar = 1.6 BGN, and 1 BGN converts to .21 Euros.
What Is The Cost Of Living In Varna?
|Total Monthly Expense||$1001|
|COST PER MONTH|
|Rent- Furnished two-bedroom apartment||365|
|High-Speed Internet/Cable TV||INCLUDED|
|Cell Phone- 15 GB Internet Per Month||13|
|Total Housing Expense||463|
|Home Cooked Meals 10 times per week||119|
|Light Breakfast with Coffee 5 times per week||41|
|Hot Stands Take Away 5 times per Week||82|
|Mid-Priced Restaurant w/ wine 2 times per Month||36|
|Total Food Expense||277|
|Movie Theater 2 tickets once per Month||16|
|Budget Night Out- 3 beers once per Week||52|
|Exercising and Jogging Outdoors- FREE||-|
|Monthly Pass Bus, Tram, Trolley||14|
|Monthly Pass Subway||18|
|Uber/Taxi 1 time per Week||21.66666667|
|Total Transportation Expense||53|
|Travel Health Insurance||50|
|Health Care Expense||50|
|60 minute massage 1 time per month||20|
|Personal Care (Shampoo, etc.) & Household Items (Soap, etc.)||20|
|Beautician Services for Facials||50|
|Total Personal Care and Misc Expense||90|
|Exchange Rate to $1 USD to Lev (BGN)||1.6|
EDITOR'S NOTE : Looking for more information on Bulgaria?
- Compare the Julia's cost of living in Varna to my monthly costs in Bulgaria's Capital city, Sofia
- Read another expat's take on life in Bulgaria in this post on "10 Reasons To Move To The Cheapest Country In Europe"
How do costs in Varna compare to the United States?
Let's add some context to the $1,000. Let's compare a medium-cost US city (Portland) to a city in Bulgaria (Varna).
The Top 4 essential costs in the US are housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. The lower cost of living in Varna could save you almost $20,000 per year.
Total Average Per Month
Save 66% on Major Monthly Expenses
Varna offers a high quality of life at tremendous value. With low real estate prices, cheap fresh produce, and affordable entertainment, Varna offers expats plenty of geoarbitrage opportunities to maximize their money.
HOW DOES THE COST OF LIVING IN VARNA, BULGARIA COMPARE TO OTHER CITIES?
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What Kind of Lifestyle Can I Afford On $1000 Per Month?
Lounging in the sun with fresh fruits and Bulgarian white cheese epitomizes summer in Varna
How Much Is Rent In Varna?
Real Estate prices are a crucial factor of your monthly budget and maybe the most important thing on your to-do list after moving abroad.
In European countries like the Netherlands it's near impossible to find decent accommodation at reasonable prices in the major cities. As an example, my experience looking for a one-bedroom apartment in Utrecht took me four months. I scavenaged a 70 sq.m. apartment a 20-minute walk from the city center for 900 EUR/ $1100 USD per month. I was thrilled when I moved in until I discovered my apartment was located in a sketchy neighborhood.
Fortunately, that is not the case in Varna. Accommodation costs are reasonable, with average prices for a decent two-bedroom apartment ( 70 and 100 sq.m. ) between 500 - 700 BGN/ $300 to $430 USD.
Your monthly costs will increase if you are looking for luxury housing or property close to the seaside. Compared to living on the beach in Western Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain, etc.), you will still find tremendous value with lower housing costs.
If you rent an apartment in Varna, very often, there is already electricity, water, internet connection in the accommodation. You will have to pay for them separately every month, as your monthly rental costs rarely include utilities.
For a rough estimate, I pay around 200 BGN/ $120 USD per month for electricity, water, internet, mobile, and Netflix for a household of two living in a 70 sq.m. apartment. Depending on your household, your monthly expenses may vary.
What are the best neighborhoods for expats?
From a personal perspective, the city center is not the ideal area to live in even if it's close to the sea. There are not enough parking slots in the central neighborhoods, and the infrastructure is terrible. The most international areas remain "Chataldzha" and "Briz."
Chataldzha neighborhood is close to the Medical University and the city center with proper infrastructure and many cute restaurants and cafes around to eat.
Briz is located a little bit further but is closer to the coast with a lovely sea
I live in a neighborhood between the airport and the city center and take a bus to work. It only takes me only 30 minutes to get to the city center, and I can even walk it.
With practical expenses like housing, electric bills, and transportation out of the way, it's time to jump to my favorite topic about living in Varna - food!
How Much Do Meals Cost In Varna?
An All-You-Can-Eat steak lunch can be found for $6
First, you need to understand that the climate here allows Bulgaria to grown an abundance of delicious seasonal fruit and vegetables during the warm months of the year.
You also have the luxury of specialized markets for meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetable shops where you can buy high-quality products. No matter if you are vegetarian, vegan, or a meat lover, you will enjoy delicious food at affordable prices in Varna. If you prefer grocery shopping and cooking at home, you can set up your monthly budget at 800BGN/ 500USD per month for three meals a day.
If you prefer doing your groceries at one go, there are big supermarkets like Lidl and Kaufland. I go to Lidl once or twice per week and cook over the weekend. During the week, I buy cooked food from the local supermarket. Bulgarian supermarkets usually have what locals called "hot stands" where you can buy cooked food to take away. Hot stands save you time, and they are cheaper than the restaurant. Cheap, tasty, and ready-made meals are a life changer for expats and busy people like me.
When I work from the office, I have breakfast and lunch outside. A coffee and a croissant outside will cost about 3BGN/ 2USD. Lunch at an inexpensive restaurant is around 6BGN/ 4USD. For the first two meals of the day, I only spent 9BGN/ 6USD.
Let's talk about eating outside (al fresco) in Varna. As the seaside weather warms up between April and October, Bulgarians love going out for dinner and eating al fresco. The Port of Varna has become a symbolic place for dinner with all the lovely restaurants where you can hang out with friends and family and have good food. Keep in mind that eating outside in Bulgaria is relatively cheap compared to Western Europe. However, if you do it regularly, it will have a significant impact on your monthly budget. A dinner outside, including one glass of wine, costs around 30 BGN/ $18 USD per person in a mid-range restaurant. Depending on the number of glasses of wine, your mileage may vary.
How Much Should I Budget For Entertainment?
Beach clubs are ideal for beers during the day with friends or cocktails and dancing at night
Entertainment and Sports
If you like working out and job outdoors, the Morskata Gradina (translated to Sea Garden) in Varna is the place for you. There are 850 acres of tree-covered walkways and running paths, and a seaside promenade stretching along the coast.
The moderate temps in the city allow you to exercise outdoors all year long. The city embraces outdoor fitness; you'll see locals getting their sweat on in nearly every schoolyard. You don't need a monthly budget for fitness here; you can have it all for free!
Relax in the sun and sand during the summer or stroll by the sea in the winter. Enjoy the vibe only comes from living on a beach,
What Does Transportation Cost?
Public buses all over town run roughly every 20 minutes and only cost 0.60 cents
Varna looks big on the map, but actually, it's very compact. You can easily reach every corner of the city by public transportation. No matter your commute, it will not take you more than 30 minutes to get to your destination. A car will save you some time on your commute, but if you don't drive, it's not a big deal. Varna's public transport is extensive. You can reach the farthest areas in Varna by bus with only a single connection. The public transport options between different cities and villages are well developed. Getting around is efficient and cheap; a bus ticket in Varna costs 1BGN/ 0.60USD.
Another plus when comparing Varna to Western Europe is that taxis are cheap. If you need a faster way of transportation, book a taxi. Affordable legal taxis are one of the main reasons why Uber is not more popular in the country.
INSIDER TIP : Taxi Scams- Like many cities in Europe, it is not unheard of for taxi scammers to prey on visiting foreigners. When I was living in Varna, I used the TaxiMe app on my phone in situations where a bus wasn't an option.
For traveling abroad, the city has an international airport (VAR). Low-cost airlines Wizz, Easyjet, and Ryanair, fly out of VAR. Several of the biggest European cities are a two-hour ($20) flight away. There are a train and bus station with regular connections to Sofia as well.
INSIDER TIP : Cost of Weekend Trips From Varna-This country has it all: golden sands beaches (we literally have towns called Golden Sands and Sunny Beach), gorgeous mountains and ski resorts, mystical historical sites, and many natural wonders to discover.
If you live in Varna, you can easily explore the Black Sea coast by public transport. However, if you are a hiking addict, all the mountains and ski resorts are closer to Sofia. Fortunately, there are several agencies organizing tours over the weekends. Your tour guides might explain everything in Bulgarian, but it's a simple transportation option if you don't have a car.
Other Miscellaneous Costs
Affordable Luxuries In Varna
Here are examples of the inexpensive prices for hobbies and activities in the city:
- Glass of wine - 5 BGN/ 3 USD
- Lesson at a yoga studio/ gym - 8 BGN/ 5 USD
- Swimming pool fee - 5 BGN/ 3 USD
- Opera/ theatre ticket (translated into ENG when the performance is at the Summer Theatre) - 20 BGN/ 13 USD
- Cinema ticket - between 10 and 15 BGN/ 6 - 9 USD
- Museum ticket - 10 BGN/ 6 USD
- Haircut men/ women 10 - 20 BGN/ 6 - 12 USD
- Massage 25 - 50 BGN/ 15 - 30 USD
- Facial treatment - 50 BGN/ 30 USD
- Nails 25 BGN/ 15 USD
- For readers, there is a public library with an international book section. Annual fees are around 10 BGN/ 6 USD.
Important Information About Moving To Bulgaria
Healthcare In Bulgaria
Bulgaria has grown into a medical tourism destination. While the public system is lower than typical European standards, the private health care system is advanced, well equipped, and cheaper than countries in Western Europe. Many doctors and staff at private hospitals are bilingual, so communication is not a significant issue.
The downside of healthcare in Bulgaria are the hospitals - many of them are in very bad shape. The equipment they do possess is old and there are not enough resources to buy new beds and make the patients' rooms comfortable. (I've been to the hospital twice last year, I know from first hand).
I've been to the hospital twice last year (for surgery). I've been operated by two very good specialists and I paid peanuts as I am covered by my employer. However, the hospitals I was in were terrible - old beds, bad food etc.
EDITOR'S NOTE : Mandatory Medical insurance for Foreigners- Expats with Bulgarian residence permits must have Bulgarian Health Insurance. The price for expat health insurance varies on age and coverage level (minimum coverage required is 60 000 leva/ $37,000). A local insurance quoted me $200/ 320 BGN per year for insurance with "high risk" sports coverage included (boxing, gymnastics, snowboarding). Since Bulgarian health insurance does not cover me outside the country, I included an international health insurance plan. My travel medical insurance costs $50 per month and covers me anywhere in the world outside of the US.
Will I Have To Pay Taxes Living In Bulgaria?
If Bulgaria classifies you as a tax resident, you will be taxed on your worldwide income. Non-residents are taxed only on their Bulgarian-source income, which has a very broad legal definition. This definition includes work performed in Bulgaria or real estate (rental or sale) income.
Note to Digital Nomads, any income from rendering services in the territory of Bulgaria is deemed Bulgarian-source income, regardless of from where or by whom it is paid.
You are considered a Bulgarian tax resident if one or more of the following apply:
- You are in the country more than 183 days in any 12-month period.
- You have a permanent address in Bulgaria (but only if their centre of vital interests is also in Bulgaria, please see below).
- Your "center of vital interests" (personal and economic ties) is in Bulgaria
Get A Free Tax Consultation and $25 off your US Expat Tax return
What Is Not Included In The Monthly Budget? Taxes!
Bulgaria has a double taxation treaty with the US. To understand how to minimize your expat tax liability, speak with a tax accountant for details. Nomadic FIRE has partnered with Expat Tax Specialists offering a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Full Disclosure, this is an affiliate link. If you use the link, I earn a commission from the company at no additional cost to you. You get the benefit of $25 off your return and a FREE 30-minute consultation with a Tax Advisor.
What Are The Visa Requirements For Bulgaria?
Being in the European Union, Bulgaria does not charge US citizens to enter the country. Americans can stay in Bulgaria up to 90 days out of 180 days visa-free.
For other nationalities, you can look up specific visa requirements here.
Bulgaria is in the EU but not currently a part of the Schengen agreement. They have applied to be part of the treaty, but as of 2020, they are still outside the Schengen zone.
Being outside the Schengen zone makes Bulgaria, along with Croatia, Romania, and Cyprus, a great way to refresh your 90-day allowance for Schengen while staying in the EU.
EDITOR'S NOTE : How can I stay long-term in Bulgaria? - If you have a government pension or social security, Bulgaria has a retirement visa for non-EU/EEA citizens (that's you, United States, UK, and Canada folks). The first step in a retirement visa is to apply for a "Visa Type-D" in the consulate of your country of residence (Visa D costs $118 and takes ~35 business days to process). This visa allows you to live in Bulgaria for 6-months and allow you to complete the application process for the long-term residence permit. You will need to renew every year, but after five years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit.
I will have a complete article detailing the requirements, documents, and step-by-step process for the visa Type-D and the long-term residence permit. Sign up below to get notified when the article is published.
Still researching the best cities for retirement? Check out our extensive Cost of Living collection for the best expat destinations. Get insider information and real examples of expat life from people who have spent years living abroad. I've compiled all the information you need: cost breakdowns, insider tips to save money, and detailed examples of the quality of lifestyle you can enjoy.
Final Thoughts: What Are The Drawbacks To living in Varna?
The biggest disadvantage of moving to Bulgaria is the health system. Healthcare is public, and it's very cheap when your employer covers your insurance. However, the medical treatment comes from private clinics, where if you don't have insurance, the expensive treatment costs become your responsibility.
Expats may have issues with the language barrier when communicating with doctors or hospital administrations. Ask a local friend for help if you need medical assistance. Bulgarians are very hospitable, and anyone in your social circle would be willing to assist.
Another con is the administrative paperwork. Non-EU Citizens require long-term residence permits. Again, you may need a local to give you a hand navigating that bureaucracy as well.
But, finding local friends or international communities will not be a problem in Varna. Local hospitality lets foreigners feel at home living here.
If you are a digital nomad or expat retiree looking for a low-cost destination in Europe, do not hesitate to buy a one-way ticket to Varna.
I have traveled to over 40 countries to give you the best ways to save, invest, and live overseas for less cost than in the US. After five years of traveling, my list of places to live keeps getting longer. To give you more information on the best places to live abroad, I partner with experts from the expat community.
You want insider information from people with feet in the street? I only work with expats with real-life experience living in countries you want to know about. Together you get updated info on the best neighborhoods, detailed Cost of Living examples, money-saving advice, and recommendations on the local places to eat, drink, and see.
Are you a travel blogger with information you can share on living in another country? Contact me and let's talk about collaborating on a guest post.
EXPAT CONTRIBUTION BY: Julia Dimova
My name is Julia, nice to meet you! I currently live and work in Varna, Bulgaria. I am a travel blogger, copywriter, and polyglot. I love traveling and discovering new places, meeting new people and cultures, and tasting local food. After having lived in France and The Netherlands for several years, I decided to come back home to enjoy the sun, the sea, and the relaxed lifestyle. Not to mention Bulgarian nature and diverse culture that I enjoy every weekend. I write a lot about Bulgaria and Varna in my blog www.orpheeway.com and will be glad to meet you in my homeland.