Friday 24 February 2017

Advice for Newbies in The Balkans - by Patrick Brigham

The Editor:
Living in the Balkans is a bit like falling down an unexpected hole, where- as in Alice in Wonderland – on arrival, nothing is what it seems. The official government edicts from the capital, in whichever country you are living, are often not the same as other parts of the same country. Whether this is a matter of rugged individualism, of incipient Bolshevism, is a matter for further discussion. That is why the official British Government disclaimer, has its virtues in reality, and must be taken seriously. The following is all official British Embassy advice, with my cryptic comments in italics, in-between.

British Embassy Disclaimer: Please note that this information is provided as a general guide only, and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual, neither can it be regarded as legal advice. definitive information should be obtained from the Bulgarian/Greek authorities or by consulting a suitably qualified professional. The British Embassy bares no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided on the external websites, quoted and cannot guarantee that it is comprehensive and up to date.


Permanent import of vehicles – Change of residence certificate
: European Union nationals, resident in another European Union state for at least two years, who decide to transfer their place of residence to Greece, are exempt from VAT, and Registration currently levied in Greece on:

Cars (owned and used privately)
Pleasure craft
Mobile caravans
Within one month from the date of importation, owners of such vehicles must appear in person at the nearest Customs Authority, to request exemption from payment of registration and VAT. The owner will then be granted special Greek registration plates. Vehicles entering Greece are also required to undergo a test at a Vehicle Technical Control Centre (KTEO). A vehicle imported under the above regulation may not be transferred, leased, pawned or lent, nor its use assigned in any other manner without prior approval of the customs authorities. In the event of transfer, lease, pawning, lending or assignment of the use of such a vehicle before the lapse of one year, the total amount of tax due shall be collected.

A full list of requirements and more detailed information is available through-

Greek Ministry of Finance:

Director of Customs
Ministry of Finance,
40 Amalias St
Athens 105 62

Tel 210 324 5552 / 210 324 5587

The Editor: Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on! The only way that provincial Greek Customs is going to wear this, is if; whilst you are driving from another EU country in your nice nearly new car, you bring a new Greek wife or husband with you! Also, the only way that you will get any kind of response from the Greek Ministry of Finance, is if you have a friend working there. Sending a registered letter is a waste of time; or especially phoning, because each time a new assortment of officials is assembled at the ministry, all the paperwork mysteriously disappears. Buy a Greek car, pleasure craft, motorcycle or mobile home, and it’s a doddle – well, most of the time – but beware hidden costs, guarantees, and the availability of spare parts. Most Greek mechanics are well trained and dependable, and many speak English and German.

Customs formalities: From 1 January 1993 EU nationals visiting Greece may freely import and re-export personal effects and are not subject to any customs controls or other formalities at points of direct entry from another EU Member State. However, for vehicles, please see the above paragraph. The Greek Embassy in London provides information on moving residence to Greece.

Property purchase:
It is important that you retain the services of a competent lawyer to assist you in any purchase and we recommend that a lawyer works independently of the other parties involved in the transaction. There is no Legal Section at the British Embassy and Consular staff are not legally trained; therefore we are not able to advise you on legal matters, interfere in private disputes over property, or other issues. However, we can provide you with a list of English-speaking lawyers. Please note the disclaimer. You may also want to approach a notary public or a Greek broker for authoritative advice in this matter.


Registering with the Bulgarian authorities:
British citizens can enter Bulgaria without a visa and stay for a period up to 3 months. If you intend to stay for longer than 3 months, you will need to apply for a long-term residence permit from the Migration Directorate of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior.


The Editor: This can be a nightmare, and is best shared with a friendly and patient lawyer. Despite claims by the Bulgarian Authorities that they have competent linguists on board, take it with a pinch of salt! These people are masters of procrastination, and pedantic to the point, that you might believe that they really don’t want you in their country at all. A leftover from previous times, this is where the unwary will experience at first hand, how life was under Communism. The mildest glitch in your paperwork will cause you to visit on another occasion – increasing your costs and frustration- and any infringement of a time requirement, will attract a fine. Beware these smiling acolytes, who often disappear for hours at a time – allegedly on immigration work – in order to have a leisurely lunch nearby. Marie Louisa is a Sofia hellhole!

British nationals who have resided legally in Bulgaria for a period of five years on the basis of a consecutive long-term residence permit are entitled to a permanent residence permit. Step-by-step guidance in English on obtaining long-term and permanent residence permits is available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior’s Migration Directorate’s website. For further information and feedback, please contact your local migration office or call +359 (2) 982 4808, email:

The European Commission guide to free movement is a useful source of general information and guidance to your rights as an EU citizen. Your Europe Advice provides custom-made legal advice on your rights within the EU free of charge, within 8 calendar days and in any official EU language.

The secret of a successful long-term move to Bulgaria is to integrate with your local community as much as possible by learning the language and by learning as much as possible about the local laws, regulations and customs.

Social security rights: For information about social security rights and pensions, please read the UK leaflet designed to offer you a basic introduction to your pension, benefit and healthcare rights and responsibilities. Don’t listen to rumours. Instead, use our list of official sources to start planning ahead today.

The Editor: You may be employed quite happily in Bulgaria, and enjoy the work experience, but there is still a reluctance for you to receive any form of state benefit, pension, or even free health care if you are a foreigner. It is regarded by many as a form of robbery – from the Bulgarian state that is – because as a foreigner, you are expected to arrive in Bulgaria, with vast financial resources. Many expats do not bother to collect the small Bulgarian pension – no matter how long they have worked in Bulgaria or at least over the 15 year limit – but it is well worth the aggravation, if nothing else, than to prove that EU legislation has some bearing in fact.

Healthcare: You can find out more about how to plan for your health care if you are going to live abroad on a permanent basis on the NHS website. If you are planning to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis, you must register with the National Health Insurance Fund and then choose a GP and a dentist. This will entitle you to the basic public health care package available for Bulgarian nationals. There are a number of private health insurance funds which offer various healthcare plans based on an annual fee. These plans can top up the services available under the basic public health care package depending on your individual circumstances and needs.

The Editor: There is no guarantee that private clinics are any better than the Bulgarian state health service, other than having certain language abilities. In any case, these private clinics do not always have specialist consultants, and often manned by GPs, there is a tendency to ship any serious case off to the local hospital. At this point, patients are usually advised to have necessary or occasionally even unnecessary procedures, and it is a moot point whether this is not the time, to go back to one’s own country, to receive treatment, if you are permanently resident in Bulgaria.

Before you go to Bulgaria on holiday make sure you bring a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, and take out private travel insurance. UK state pensions: If you have retired and you live in Bulgaria/Greece, you may be able to claim your pension from the UK. For detailed information on how to claim your state pension, please check the Pension Service or the Department for Social Development.

The state pension changed in April 2010. More people now qualify for a full basic state pension. Find out about the most important changes and what they mean to you. To find out when you reach State Pension age, use the State Pension Age Calculator.

If you live but have not worked in Bulgaria, you should claim your UK state pension by contacting the International Pension Centre (IPC) in the UK by telephone: +44 (0) 191 218 7777.

If you spend time in both the UK and another EEA country or Switzerland, and are unsure about how this affects your UK pension, benefit and healthcare rights, always consult the relevant UK authority.

Moving to Bulgaria/Greece once in receipt of a state pension:
If you are moving to Bulgaria/greece from the UK, you should inform the IPC of the changes to your circumstances. This will prevent any problems with your pension payments. It will also help you to get the right access to healthcare in Bulgaria/Greece.

Life certificates for UK state pensions: If you have received a life certificate from the UK Pension Service it is important that you reply as quickly as possible, otherwise your benefit man be stopped. You’ll need to get it signed by a ‘witness’ and send it back, as instructed on the form.

Check the list of people who can witness a life certificate – this is now the same as the list of people who can countersign a passport photograph, although they don’t need to live in the UK, or have a British or Irish passport. The british Embassy in Bulgaria/Greece, no longer provides life certificates for british nations, claiming british pensions abroad.

“Spending time out of the UK, whether for a holiday or to live, doesn’t necessarily mean that your benefits will be affected. But failing to notify your local benefit office of time spent abroad is considered an offence and could lead to prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.”

You may still be able to claim some benefits if you travel or move abroad, or are already living abroad, and what you’re entitled to depends on where you are going and how long for.

For further information on what benefits you can and cannot claim if you live in Spain see the information on benefits if you are abroad. Information about local Bulgarian benefits and pensions is available from the National Social Security Institute.

The Editor: Generally, claiming one’s pension is a fairly painless process, and many pensioners live quite contended lives in Bulgaria, where their UK pensions seem to go a long way. However, there is the little matter of which bank you choose to collect pensions, and my advice is to stick to foreign owned banks, which have a good relationship with ATM machines nationwide.

It has not been my intention to gainsay the British Embassy, in any country within the EU, but it is often the case that their websites are either hard to navigate – especially for some oldies – who have difficulty in gathering the correct information. Having been away from England myself, for some years now, there has been little first hand information which might effect me, and so I have tended to ignore the possibility, but there will always be a little surprise somewhere, especially with driving licences and passport renewals.

Most of the official websites make it sound all too easy to live abroad, which is not always true, especially with Brexit on the horizon, and many problems will mount up, causing retirees and expats to wonder about their future.

1 comment:

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