Bulgaria lies in south-eastern Europe and shares 1,808 km of land borders with Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey and 354 km of sea border with the Black Sea between Romania and Turkey. Topographically, Bulgaria is characterised by four geomorphological regions. These are the Danubian Plain, the Balkan Mountains, the Transitional region and the Rilo-Rhodope region. More than two-thirds of the country consists of plains, plateaus, or hilly land at low altitude.
Bulgaria is home to over 7 million people and is one of the poorest countries in the European Union. It is also one of six EU members wich are not part of the Schengen Area who are legally obliged to join the area.
The communist era in Bulgaria prevalent since the end of the Second World War ended in 1990 and the country has since established a political democracy and market economy. Economically, Bulgaria is led by the industry sector, followed closely by wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services and then public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities. Two-thirds of Bulgaria’s export trade is Intra-EU as is their imports, mainly with Germany, Italy and Romania.
The country began a slow recovery after the global financial crisis and unemployment continues to decline. Macroeconomic challenges persist however in the form of stabilising the financial sector, raising potential growth, and attending to the effects of a shrinking population.
As an EU member Bulgaria’s social welfare system affords the following benefits to its residents: Maternity and paternity, child and other allowances and benefits, Healthcare, Sickness benefits, Long-term care, Persons with disabilities, Temporary incapacity to work, Accidents at work and occupational illnesses, Old-age and survivors, Pensions, Survivors’ pension, Social assistance, Social benefit programmes for long-term care and Unemployment benefits. Education is compulsory until the age of 16 and is free through state-owned schools, but not higher education schools, colleges and universities.
Bulgaria offers cultural and ecological attractions. It has the sea, mountains and ski slopes. In fact, Bulgaria is among the cheapest destinations to enjoy winter sports. Tourism includes balneology, SPA and Wellness, adventure, rural, congress, camping and UNESCO world heritage sites. With Greek, Ottoman, Slavic and Persian influences, the cultural and culinary options are so diverse and interesting. It has beautiful beaches, quaintly preserved old towns, mountain landscapes, history and at least 23 fairy-tale castles and umpteen fortresses.
It has seven cultural UNESCO heritage sites: the Ancient City of Nessebar, Boyana Church, Madara Rider, Rila Monastery, Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo and two Thracian Tombs, those of Kazanlak and Sveshtari. The three Natural Heritage sites are the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, Pirin National Park and Srebarna Nature Reserve.
In the capital city of Sofia, pleasant eateries, historic buildings and interesting street art and shopping are just minutes away from the alluring mountains and a world of hiking, skiing, mountain biking, snow-kiting and ice-skating.
Since Bulgaria is an EU member although not a Schengen country, any of the nationals from the 62 countries currently enjoying the benefits of the visa liberation policy will be subject to the new visa-waiver system in 2021. These nationals who don’t require a Schengen visa will have to apply online for the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).
The authorisation is electronically attached to the passport and will be valid for 3 years or until the passport expires. It has been implemented to curb terrorism and uncontrolled immigration issues in Europe, by identifying potential risks before they even reach the borders. The application process is much like Australia’s ETA, and takes only a few minutes. The authorisation is also granted within minutes. Applications carry a fee for anyone over the age of 18.
Australia and Bulgaria established diplomatic relations in 1972 and co-operate in areas of shared interest including countering terrorism, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), illegal people movements, international trafficking in drugs and other forms of transnational crime. The proposed Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement could provide a platform to expand bilateral economic links which currently sees two-way merchandise trade in Australia’s favour.
Australia’s major exports to Bulgaria included copper ores and concentrates, wool, paper and paperboard, and medicaments. Australia’s major imports included medicaments, cheese and curd, men’s clothing and pharmaceutical products. Both countries’ trade in services is negligible. Bulgaria is a member of the Australia Group and like-minded groupings including the Wassenaar Agreement, the Zangger Committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Currently, 2,916 Australian residents were born in Bulgaria and 5,431 residents are of Bulgarian ancestry, mainly as a result of inter-war migration.
Australians wishing to travel to Bulgaria, whether by air, sea or land, will need the new ETIAS pre-authorisation before embarking.