What The FAQ? #1: Taking and Spending Money in Bulgaria

Sep 11, 2017 No Comments by
Bulgarian Leva

Bulgarian Leva Notes and Coins (the 2 leva coin is missing from my photo)

What Currency Should I Bring To Bulgaria? In the first, of a new series of “What The FAQ?”, I answer the most Frequency Asked Questions on the topic of money. So hold on to your Leva, €Euro, £UK pounds, Shekels, Turkish Lira, Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen and $Dollars and read on

Disclaimer: This article is for information and entertainment purposes and in no way should be considered financial or investment advice.

The purpose of my blog today are some simples way for you can save up to 13% on everything you spend in Bulgaria. For example, £100 cash exchanged for Bulgarian leva at Gatwick airport today, 11th September 2017 gets you just 187.43 leva compared to 213.14 leva when exchanged in Sofia.

That’s 13%+ more cash you receive in the pocket compared to changing cash at the airport. Sofia airport rates are not much better; avoid.

 

Quick facts

Bulgarian notes and coins

Bulgarian notes and coins. 2 leva coin not shown in photo

1.  The Bulgarian Leva is pegged to the Euro at a rate of EUR 1 = BGN 1.9558

2.  Leva is the currency of Bulgaria (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgarian_lev). COINS: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 stotboinki coins and 1 and 2 leva coins.

NOTES:  5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 leva notes  (1 and 2 leva notes were replaced by coins but are still legal tender)

3.  Euro notes and coins are typically not accepted in bars and restaurants; use leva. Bulgaria has not adopted the euro, although the country is in the European Union. Shameless plug: save time and hassle and ensure you get the best in ski hire by booking your transfer services on banskoblog.com or  bansko app. Booking here means that you are welcome to pay your driver in Euros, Leva, UK Pounds and US dollars*. You choose. You save by not having to exchange any currency at the worst rates possible at the airport. Ask your driver to stop by the best value FX change, located by the NDK (see below) on the way to Bansko. Please indicate this in the comments section.

If you, like me, have had got home from a trip and opened your credit/debit card statement and seen a nasty surprise on the charges applied to overseas spending, then you’ve just seen how banks are highly regulated on domestic matters but for cross border transfers and foreign exchange they are very much less regulated.

 

TL;DR – “it depends”

If you’re into bring your UK£’s or Turkish Lira, Euros, Romania Leu, Israeli shekels or your US dollars to Bulgaria and you want to know the best place to exchange cash it’s “The Currency Exchange Office” on General D. Mihail Skobolev street. It is very close to Sofia’s NDK on Bulgaria Square. You’ll see the place I refer to marked with a star in the google map below. Crown exchange is shown on Vitosha Street in round the corner, which also offers very similarly competitive exchange rates.

The NDK is only around a five minute extra ride. You need to drive through the city centre, rather than the ring road. For a family of four you’ll save approximately €30 when exchanging around €1,000 compared to changing in Bansko.

 

The Bansko FX booths are generally okay, and usually offer better rates than banks. They are also much quicker, although there is a sort of perverse pleasure I had watching Bulgarian bank tellers completing screens and stamping multiple forms for you to sign. This pleasure is a one time thing only. After that, the slowness of it all is painful.

Avoid misleading money exchanges advertising only othe SELL rate and then giving you the unadvertised, and of course the much worse, BUY rate. It’s the BUY rate you need when buying leva with your £’s, €’s etc.

 

Banks and ATM’s

Should you need a bank or ATM, then there is an ATM at the gondola lift and an ATM outside the Kempinski Grand Arena Hotel (both are First Investment Bank). The next three ATM’s closest to the gondola are First Investment Bank (opposite the Lion Pub), Pireaus Bank (up the hill from the Kempinski) and Investment Bank (iBank) located at Bansko Royal Towers.

Never use a credit or debit card to obtain your cash, because, if you do, you’ll be paying very high fees.

What is the best way of taking money to Bulgaria? Should I buy cash before arriving in Bulgaria? Can I use my bank card? Are euros accepted? What is the currency of Bulgaria? and many more questions.

But the answer to the most FAQ: “What is the best way of taking money to Bulgaria?” is…”it depends“. It depends on what sort of money person you are.

 

What type of cash person are you?

We Swap, Monzon and Cryptopay cards

WeSwap, Monzo and Cryptopay.me pre pay travel cards. All come with great apps.

There are three types of person; when it comes to carrying cash money:

Type 1:   You’re happy keeping a larger amount of cash in your purse or wallet.
Type 2:  You’re prone to losing your purse or  wallet and/or you’re nervous about carrying larger sums of cash.
Type 3:  You’re okay carrying some cash but like to have back up option as well as cash in the form of  bank debit and credit cards.

Person Type 1:  ”You’re okay to keep take larger amounts of cash on your person”.

Bring your own currency and exchange it in Sofia. There is a Crown foreign currency exchange “The Currency Exchange Office” just off Vitosha by the NDK (The National Palace of Culture). Changing your cash to leva in Bansko, rather than Sofia, offers a worse rate; usually a 5% spread from mid rate to buy rate and a 10% spread between the buy and sell rate. Crown, for example, offer much worse rates in Bansko than in Sofia.

Euros to Bulgarian leva rate is always around 1.95 and the spread for UK pounds to leva from mid market rate (as per xe.com) is around 2.5%. Other currencies, such as Turkish Lira and US dollars are at good very rates as well.

Person Type 2: “You’re nervous about carrying a lot of cash”

If you dislike carrying cash, then being smart with cards is a good idea. Many credit cards add a “3% non-Stirling transaction fee”. Then they charge an extra £1.50 minimum, but often you’ll be charged a £3.00 ATM fee. The Halifax Clarity card is consistently the best of its type, but you are still charged interest on ATM withhdrawals (£1.50 per £100 approx.)

Over the past few years a new breed of card is serving the traveller increasingly well: Pre-paid travel debit cards. I have set out to try this new breed of card which come with dedicated apps and websites. There are two that I use and  recommend:

* WeSwap.com   A new debit card and accompanying app that lets you manage a large range of currencies e.g. Euro Dollar (Bulgarian leva expected by November 2017) in an very easy to use app. Add £500+ to your account and you receive perfect mid market rates with no fees.

It’s free to apply and if you use my affiliate link http://swp.to/en/nes5822. you receive £5 credit to your account and I receive £5 as well which helps me keep the live cams, blog, app and the content coming. I’ve found it very easy to swap between currencies. It isa super app and good for regular travellers, for digital nomads and those not wanting to carry so much cash.

* Monzo   This is a similar card but instead of switching between currencies you spend using UK pounds but converted at MasterCard mid rate that is only a little higher (less than 1%) than xe.com mid rate.

There are other pre paid debit cards worth a look especially Revolut and FairFX. But WeSawp and Monzo are the two I have used and are offering the most competitive rates. I will be trying Starling Bank, another UK challenger mobile app based bank. With all these you do need to be mindful that the initial great rates my not last for ever. I will reappraise the pre paid debit card market in six months to see what is good.

It’s worth noting that if you are in family or friends group, and you feel that some cash is advisable, then you can spread some cash between members of your group for peace of mind. It is also relevant that prepay cards may be fine for some people, but that are a little hassle to apply for, you have to carry them around and you have to remember yet more pin codes.

Person Type 3: Take a mix of cash and change in Sofia (Crown exchange near NDK - links to google maps) if you can, take good debit and credit cards and a pre pay card such as WeSwap. The same rules apply. Never exchange money in an airport.

 

How to avoid foreign exchange rate uncertainty

Paying for your lift passes, ski and snowboard hire and lessons before you travel not only saves you money on banskoblog.com but also means the payment fee is just 2.5%.

No surprises, no loss on currency conversion and no risk of your currency devaluation against the Bulgarian leva / euro if you are spending UK Pounds.

 

Bitcoin and Crypto currencies: The future for travellers?

Bitcoin user adoption: doubling in number of persons every year

Since December 2016 banskoblog.com has been open to accept bitcoin for payments, on request. No-one has yet opted to pay this way though. In December 2016 the Bitcoin price was around $750. It’s circa $3,900 now. Since then, we have seen millions of new people getting interested in Bitcoin, and other crypto currencies, that are not controlled by governments or banks. I’m interested to observe if more readers will be skiing on crypto this season. Or will you’ll just hodle?

Bitcoin is an interesting store of value and can be a medium of exchange. I must be boring right now and warn you, please never buy more bitcoin than you can afford to lose. The price is volatile both down and up. This article is for entertainment purposes only and cannot constitute financial advice.

Another shameless plug for bansko blog services: If you hold Bitcoin, Etherium, Litecoin or Monero then they are accepted for pre payment of ski and snow board hire, lessons, lift passes and transfers. In addition, if you pay with crypto currency them you save the 2.5% PayPal fee**. In addition, paying with crypto means you don’t have to worry about foreign exchange fees.

Should you decide to pay this way, then send me an email and we can retrieve your saved booking and send you the relevant payment public address. Should you wish to pay for hotel accommodation with crypto then contact me and I’ll recommend one or two Bansko hotels who can accommodate this payment method.

 

Crypto Debit Cards

Ski Bansko on Bitcoin: bitcoin accepted on banskoblog.com

Crypto currency pre paid debit cards are a new breed of card. They bridge the gap between holding your crypto assets — such as Bitcoin, Etherium, Litecoin, Monero etc — and actually being able to actually spend them. At the moment, not many outlets accept Bitcoin but many shops and venues accept Visa and Mastercard.

There are several new crypto currency debit cards worth considering. Crytopay.me is one such card I’m happy to recommend using when travelling, or just a way of spending your Bitcoin at home.

Please use my referral link because it gives you 25% discount off ordering the card and I receive a small referral payment too. This does not affect in any way the price you pay. It’s exactly the same, except you’re helping bansko blog improve and invest.

There are other similar cards such as TenX, Monaco, Change Bank, Centra and LOTcard.com. They are new but could mark the beginning of the largest transformation in banking and financial services we have seen. As an ex banker I find this sort of thing fascinating.

Whatever type of person you are, it pays to think about where you exchange your cash. I’ve seen in Bansko App’s in-app chat so many visitors ask about foreign exchange just when they are about to travel. So I know most of us leave this job until the last minute.

Conclusion

By exchanging your cash in Sofia and using a pre pay debit card, such as WeSwap, you save cash but keep flexibilit. You also gain some security and foreign exchange rate savings to the cost of your travelling spending money.* (Scottish notes and coins are not accepted. The FX booths do not accept them in BG).

Purchasing your ski hire, lessons and lift passes on banskoblog.com avoids foreign exchange costs and risks.

 

Useful resources

bitcoin.org

xe.com

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/prepaid-travel-cards

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/travel-credit-cards

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.moneysavingexpert.travelmoneymax - Android MSE Travel App

Be sure to sign up for the banskoblog.com newsletter which brings you more tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Bansko. Part two of this article will look in more detail at the best ways to send larger amounts to Bulgaria. Great if you’re buying a property, paying a season rent or are a digital nomad.
Got the Bansko Blog app? If not, then download the 5 star rated app today (it’s free) from the iTunes for iOS and Google Play app stores for Android.
Rest assured, your email is never sold or shared. I hate spam as much as you do.
Thanks for reading. Lance(lot).
** Excludes the cost of purchasing Bitcoin via an exchange and the miner’s fee for sending coin.
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About the author

I enjoy tech, apps, entrepreneurship, podcasting and collaboration with others. I love travelling as well as skiing, hiking, MTB, paragliding, cooking and good food.
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