Brits in Bulgaria – Retirement or Adventure?

Features |Author: Henry Rowlands | April 22, 2009, Wednesday // 16:53|  views

The city of Veliko Tarnovo and its region have attracted a large number of UK expats. Photo by BGNES

Co-Author: Sandy MacDonald (The Telegraph)

Where GBP Still Buys Life with Dignity

You might, at some time wonder what it is that drove us British, like lemmings, to Bulgaria. Yes, it is a very beautiful country. Yes, the culture and climate are both fascinating and pleasing.

But the truth is, for those of us coming here to live; Bulgaria is a very cheap country to reside in, in comparison to the rest of Europe. Which is why we are always puzzled on hearing of young Bulgarians wishing to go and work in the UK. Why? OK, Welsh and Scottish mountains are almost as beautiful as Bulgaria's.

If you pay us enough, we will gladly dance about wearing any dress you choose. An event that regularly takes place in certain areas of Edinburgh at the weekend, so I am told. The weather, well, that is something completely different I have to admit. Sometimes the sun does shine in Britain, but its reporting is usually confused with UFO sightings, such is its rarity.

The problem in the UK, like Bulgaria, is the relative cost of living. A packet of cigarettes costs around BGN 15, a glass of beer may cost you anything between BGN 7 to 9. If you want to get an impression of how this feels without actually leaving the country, you can always try ordering a round of drinks in Sofia's new airport.

So how do Brits survive in the UK I hear you asking. Well some time ago, in the early 1970s someone produced the credit card, which meant that everyone who was working could afford to buy anything they wanted when they wanted it.

Therefore the producers and manufacturers and the taxmen were no longer tied to fixing shop prices exclusively to what people earned, but rather to what people thought they were worth. The result of this was that prices continued to increase while wages, in the interests of keeping national inflation down, remained rather stagnant.

Today when people approach retirement age, they are quick to realize that pension funds can barely keep them out of poverty. One solution to the problem is to move to Bulgaria where the British Pound can still buy a life with dignity even with the collapsing exchange rate.

Hindsight is of course a marvelous talent that every politician dreams to have. I am reminded of an incident that allegedly took place almost exactly twenty-five years ago when an economic adviser nervously approached the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and warned her of an impending severe economic downturn. She in turn pointed out to him that all the indicators showed that everybody was happy, industry was booming and unemployment was at an all time low.

The adviser then explained a simple fact of life to her, which was, that it had been twenty-five years since the last economic disaster, and that since the dawn of time every twenty-five years there was an economic downturn because the politicians and economists who had previously learned from their initial mistakes had retired.

Waiting for the Bus

Now there are two distinct groups of people who move here permanently from the UK. The retiree, who is economically enticed to relocate to Bulgaria and life's adventurers, such as myself, who seek out new challenges rather than letting them find us.

On my second visit to Bulgaria I found myself at the bus station in Sofia attempting to identify the words, ‘Veliko Tarnovo' and then to match them up with departure and arrival times. I already felt a quickening of my pulse at the very thought of being able to return ‘home' even though I had never seen the place.

I personally, after traveling all over Europe, had never visited a town that was so at peace with itself, a feeling of calmness and confidence exudes through the streets of the old capital, the very reason why it has attracted so many ex pats to come and live in the surrounding villages.

It takes nearly three hours for a bus to cover the distance between Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo. During this time a Brit I met told me nearly his entire life story, one that I have now heard countless times since.

Somewhere on the journey he actually asked me a question, "What are those women doing standing by the side of the road?". "Oh", I replied, suddenly roused from my involuntary coma, "they are waiting for buses, you see public transport here in Bulgaria is so good that all they have to do is stand there and a bus will stop".

Some weeks later I met Gerry again, this time he was driving a ‘Land Rover Discovery', because he quickly informed me, it was the best British car ever, and it cost lots of money. I asked him how he was finding retirement in Bulgaria.

Completely ignoring my original question he looked at me and said, "These Bulgarian women are very talented, I saw one of them recently waiting for a bus so I stopped to offer her a lift, I did not understand a word that she said but I think she wanted me to pay her to play the saxophone".

Making Europe Work

Now after more than 3 years living in Bulgaria, finding love and settling down to family life in Bulgaria at the age of 25 might seem strange to some and did to me before it happened. Bulgaria has many things to offer all different types of people, it obviously has its problems and struggles but in the end its beauty will outlast these and this will continue to attract foreigners who are looking for a bit of adventure.

In a recent research survey conducted by the agency for political, marketing and social studies "Mediana" revealed that among Bulgarians living abroad, about 8 000 are considering coming back to the country in the near future. No doubt they have come to realize that like in the brothers Grimm fairytale, the grass is not always greener in other fields.

The European Community of which Bulgaria is now a part of is a wonderful idea. One single trading block allowing for the free flow of goods and workers. Unfortunately, many countries within the European family look upon Bulgaria as something of a ‘scarecrow', they fear that overnight the entire population will relocate to either London or Madrid.

Here is truth, in the most recent figures available, the Indian community in the U.K, which is the largest immigrant population, in one year sent back to their families in India (still a non EC member) the equivalent of approximately BGN 1 500 M. We, as Europeans, have an important choice to make, we either work together as equals or Europe simply will not work at all.


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Tags: expat, british, Brits, Britons


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