Interview with Jonathan Allen The British Ambassador to Bulgaria. Investing in Bulgaria. Living in Bulgaria

Jun 25, 2014 No Comments by

The British Ambassador to Bulgaria, Jonathan Allen, talks to me about investing in Bulgaria in part 1 below and part 2 above.

and in part 2 below…

…we talk about his personal experiences of Bulgaria as a place to live

 Bulgaria Now is available to be downloaded on iTunes.

Download the podcast here, or on your mobile device.

or on and in the Bansko App blog.

Audio notes below.


Part 1: Business in Bulgaria; introduction

Jonathan, who has been in the foreign service for 17 years, explains the history of the Ambassador’s Residence, where we are sitting on the sofa chatting. This fabulous building is 100 years old this year.

Jonathan explains that there’s lots of interesting blog posts to read; go to for more (see more links at bottom of page). The Ambassador’s Residence building has been Jonathan’s home since January 2012.

My portable recording studio setup at The Ambassador's Residence

Thoughts on foreign trade and investment in Bulgaria

  • British companies do “pretty well and have a good experience” in Bulgaria.
  • Stable economic climate
  • Currency board BGN leva is pegged to the €EUR
  • Advantageous 10% tax rate
  • Impressive staff — highest quality, high skilled staff
  • Corruption — not likely to be experienced
  • Problems arise when dealing with officialdom
  • Inefficiency and bureaucracy and stamping pieces of paper that is a problem for all.
  • Not enough transparency about public procurement


Ways to avoid investment pitfalls

  • Take professional advice
  • Think about a lawyer in a different city than where you are buying
  • Ensure your advisor is not connected with the vendor
  • Get people who know what they are talking about
  • Embassy tries to keep a support network
  • British Business Association; in process of being established
  • British Network Evenings; arranged by Vesey Crichton and Lance Nelson and hosted at the British Embassy
  • Embassy help where there has been problems
  • Has gone to prime minister to get the law of the country applied fairly and equally
  • Success in many sectors such as software companies, property investors, pharmaceuticals (Astra Zeneca), William Hughes (car parts)

Jonathan gives an example of Provident a lending company where he managed to get the right people together to support business here.

To my question of how can British investment catch up with other countries investment in Bulgaria? Jonathan replies that British companies seemed to have moved their focus. However there is a pick up in activity now.

He is now seeing new people and companies coming to Bulgaria and investing.

Jonathan says the strategy is to sell Bulgaria as part of Emerging Europe. Present Emerging Europe as something different from the “exciting countries” such as India/China/Russia. Emerging Europe (and its new EU member states) are doubling the general growth. Emerging Europe has high growth, with less risk. Bulgaria has a growing middle class.

Russian invasion of Ukraine question. We need more focus on a diversification of gas supply. There’s an opportunity for the “Aberdeen Cluster” to invest in this region.


Geographical considerations

Bulgaria is a medium sized country. Similar population Austria and Sweden. Talk Bulgaria up; not down in size.

It’s not that small.

Bulgaria has five different transport corridors. It’s the most linked country in Europe.

  • To the North West ultimately to the UK
  • Then to the East through to Turkey. Special mention that Turkey has a High Speed rail network that will link ultimately to the markets of central Asia. Long term access to the Middle East will be the reality, in the future.
  • Heading south we reach to Greece and then North Africa.
  • Look to the west and the rest of the Balkans and all the opportunities these countries present.

Put your European HQ in Bulgaria and you have access to the whole continent and Turkey and Asia to the east so many markets.

Far enough away from Russian border — far enough away due to the Black Sea. Road and rail infrastructure is behind in Bulgaria.


The Ambassador’s top tips

  • Get a local partner
  • Invest in some consultancy
  • WYG is a Leeds based consultancy; doing rather well. (
  • Sit down here in Bulgaria with your business partner 
  • Have a meal together. Get to know each other
  • Work on a contract basis first
  • Open up an office later
  • Employ local staff

And from then we moved to part 2 of the interview…


Part 2 Living in Bulgaria. “It Gets Under Your Skin”

View looking north from Vitosha. Eastern part Sofia and airport.

How do you find living Bulgaria?

  • Daughter Lucy (now 3) and son Benedict, who was born here
  • What’s not to like?
  • Goes skiing and hiking to Bansko 
  • Enjoys Sozopol
  • Skiing Borovets, Vitosha, Bansko 
  • Greece, Serbia Romain, Croatia, Macedonia (Lake Ochrid).
  • Fantastic quality of life

Jonathan would like to remove all the high emission cars on the road.  Would like a few more activity places for children. Loves the mountain (Vitosha)  located at one end of the city.

Great restaurants… be they traditional Bulgarian, International all at great prices. Stunning red wine.

Likes the parks: South Park, for example, is manicured has flower beds, hills, lakes, forested parts and kids areas.

He likes the museums, such as the Boyana Church for the frescos. National History Museum in Boyana (just a few metres off the main road to Bansko!).

Treasures are priceless.

Took the Duke of Kent to see the treasure: Why does no one know about this? You see it and you’re “blown away”.

Thracian… crossroads for civilisations. You find everything here.

Plovdiv is his favourite city. 25,000 seater Roman stadium. Amazing classical period ruins in Plovdiv. TIP: Go see their archaeological museum.

Jonathan’s wife supports Sofia for nomination as the European City of Culture for 2019; Jonathan supports Plovdiv.

FACTOID: Famous Bulgarian tennis player, Pironkova is from Plovdiv, ed


Veliko Tarnovo comments

  • Network of consular agents.
  • Lots of British citizens in the Veliko Tarnovo region.
  • Very well integrated into a huge cumber of communities. Community solves its problems Bulgarian neighbours will help.
  • Agree on the welcoming and supportive people in Bulgaria. Family and friends have strong traditional bonds. Very warm people in general.
  • 7,000 Brits. Another 8,000 who come to Bulgaria seasonally.

Follow the Embassy on Embassy and personal Twitter feeds Facebook accounts. This is the quickest way to get information.

Follow Jonathan on twitter. He loves the Rhodopi. It feels as if you’re stepping into the middles ages.

You have got everything in Bulgaria. People come here… and then they stay.


Seasonal produce discussion

  • Tomatoes are like no other
  • culture of in-seasonal produce
  • Wonderful food flavours

Even in cities, people have a close connection with the land. The food tradition is really heartening to see. Jonathan comments on the dedication to gather wild herbs for tea when staying in Plovdiv.


The British Ambassador a “huge enthusiast” for Bulgaria

  • Came as a newly married.
  • And will leave with incredible strong ties and memories.

“Its a country that gets under your ski and won’t let you go”

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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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