15 June 2011

Driving in Bulgaria

The Essential guide

General info

Driving in Bulgaria is on the right side of the roads and overtaking is on the left side.
Minimum driving age is 18 years. Children under 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat. You should have a valid driving license and carry it always with you when you drive. Obligatory vehicle documentation consists of registration card, annual technical inspection card and “third party liability” insurance.
Motorcyclists must always wear a helmet.

It is not allowed to drive & talk on a mobile phone unless you are using a hands free system

Headlights should be always ON in the period between 01 November and 01 March.

Signs in Bulgaria are in Cyrillic and Latin on major roads. Still in the countryside some of them could be in Cyrillic only, so it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Winter driving in Bulgaria should be done with caution as some areas of the country experience severe winter conditions. It is highly advisable to have your car equipped with winter-tires (although this is not legally required) and it is the law to carry snow-chains with you during the winter period (01 November – 31 March). 

It is advisable to drive defensively as sometimes locals may be reckless, travelling at high speed and switching lanes without indicating.

Always try to avoid road rage!

Never leave any valuables (including the front panel of the CD-player) in the visible areas of the car, especially in bigger towns and tourist areas.


Since Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 roads are improving with every year.
Still many of the roads can be often bumpy, with poor asphalt surface and without markings of the road lanes (especially B-roads in the countryside). Motorists should drive with greater attention on countryside roads, especially when driving at night time as pot-holes or unlit farm carts and animals are a hazard.

There are 3 motorways in Bulgaria:                      
-         Trakia – A1
-         Hemus – A2    
-         Maritsa – A3
They have usually 2 lanes + 1 hazard lane.
Speed limit is 140 km/h. (but on most sections it is reduced to 130 km/h)

Trakia Motorway (A2) - Exit to Kostenets and Muhovo

Toll roads:

There are no toll roads in Bulgaria. However if you are to drive outside the build-up areas you should obtain a   Vignette. This is a road-tax valid for all roads in Bulgaria. It is a sticker that you should put on the right-bottom corner of your windscreen. Note that before that you should write the registration-plate number of your vehicle in the space provided. Also do not throw away the receipt and the plastic-sheet left after putting the sticker. Keep them both in the car.

The prices in 2012 for a vignette for a regular car are as follows:
1-week vignette: 10 leva
1-month vignette: 25 leva
1-year: 67 leva


Speed limits in Bulgaria are as follows (unless other stated by road sign):
-         build-up areas: 50 km/h.
-         open roads: 90 km/h.
-         motorways: 140 km/h. (but on most sections it is reduced to 130 km/h)

From 26th June 2012 the speed limit on Bulgarian motorways was increased to 140 km/h. But in fact this is efective only for limited parts - the most newly build or repaired section. On the other sections it usually 130 km/h, 90 km/h or other signposted speed limit.

Beware of speed cameras or traffic patrol cars with mobile radars. “Speed traps” are quite common in Bulgaria, especially on the main roads and during the summer holiday season. Be careful when a main road goes through build-up areas (towns or villages) as right after the sign with the name of the settlement the speed-limit is 50 km/h. “Speed traps” are very common at such places. There is a certain allowance for over speeding with about 10 km/h above the limit to which you will not be fined.


Parking your car in bigger cities in Bulgaria (and especially in Sofia) is in most cases not for free.
Watch carefully the road signs when parking on the side of the streets.

Beware that your car will be either towed away or blocked with a
wheel-clamp if you park without paying in a blue-zone or at other no-parking areas.  


Expect very soon a detailed guide on parking in Sofia at www.drivebulgaria.com 

Traffic police

If a representative of the traffic police stops you, pull over the vehicle, turn off the engine, do not leave the vehicle and wait for the police-officer to approach. You could be asked to present the vehicle’s documentation (which consists in registration card, technical support card and “third party liability” insurance), your driving license and international passport (or national ID-card for EU citizens).

There are often routine-checks carried out by the Bulgarian Police, so you could be pulled-over even if you have not committed any violation of the Bulgarian Traffic Law. DO NOT try bribing the police officer on any occasion! This might have been a common illegal practice in Bulgaria during the 1990’s, but today you might get into serious trouble trying to do this!


The most common violation of the traffic law in Bulgaria is over-speeding. If you are caught in doing so, you will be fined as follows:

Build-up areas:

Speeding Offence
Up to 10 km/h over the posted limit
20 leva
11 km/h to 20 km/h over the posted limit
50 leva
21 km/h to 30 km/h over the posted limit
100 leva
31 km/h to 40 km/h over the posted limit
200 leva
41 km/h to 50 km/h over the posted limit
300 leva
Over 50 km/h over the posted limit
350 leva and Licence Disqualification for 3 months

            Open roads:

Speeding Offence
Up to 10 km/h over the posted limit
20 leva
11 km/h to 20 km/h over the posted limit
50 leva
21 km/h to 30 km/h over the posted limit
100 leva
31 km/h to 40 km/h over the posted limit
150 leva
41 km/h to 50 km/h over the posted limit
200 leva
Over 50 km/h over the posted limit
300 leva and Licence Disqualification for 3 months 

  ▪ Drivers (with less than 2 years of experience) with blood alcohol content (ascertained by a medical test) from 0.5 to 1.2 per mill, have their driving license suspended for a period from 2 to 12 months and pay a fine between 300 and 600 leva.
 ▪  For a repeated violation, the fine is from 1000 to 2000 leva and driving rights are suspended for 1 to 3 years.

  ▪  Drivers (with more than 2 years of experience) driving with blood alcohol content from 0.5 to 1.2 per mill have their driving license is suspended for a period from 1 month up to 1 year pay a fine from 200 to 500 leva.

 ▪  For a repeated violation, the fine is from 1000 to 2000 leva.

 For driving with alcohol blood content exceeding 1.2 per mill, the law provides for up to 1 year of imprisonment.

In case of refusal to be tested for alcohol or narcotics test, the fine is from 500 to 1000 leva and the driving license is suspended for 12 to 18 months.

Remember to always fasten your seat belts on the front as well as on the back seats – it saves lives and it is the law. The fine for not putting your seat belt on is 50 leva.

Petrol stations
On major roads, in and around bigger towns there are quite a few petrol stations. Bigger petrol stations in Bulgaria include:
Most of them have as well small shops and cafes for a snack or refreshment. In some remote country areas petrol stations could be few and far between. 
Generally customers pay at the cashier desk (international credit and debit cards such as VISA and MasterCard are at most of the places accepted). Self service at the petrol station is not very popular. Normally you should leave some tip directly to the personnel.
The equipment listed below is required by the law and you should always carry it in your car:
  • first aid kit              
  • fire extinguisher
  • spare tire
  • car-jack
  • safety jacket
  • hazard triangle
  • snow-chains (* only for winter periods)
Emergency telephone numbers

112 – European emergency line (all kind of emergencies)
150 – Ambulance
160 – Fire Brigade
166 – Police
165 - Traffic Police
These are 24-hour toll-free numbers that may be reached directly from any telephone.

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