The local currency in Bulgaria is the Bulgarian lev (Leva/BGN).
This handy guide will introduce everything you need to know about Leva, and also offer a smart way to spend like a local wherever you travel using the multi-currency account from TransferWise, with free debit MasterCard.
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If you already have euros on hand, you might be wondering if you need to visit an exchange office, or if it’s possible to just pay in euros when you arrive in Bulgaria despite it not being the official currency.
Although you may see some prices marked up in euros in tourist centres whilst in Bulgaria. In most cases, this is just to make it easier for travellers to understand the costs - even if you see a price in euros, the transaction will usually be done in Leva.
|Names and nicknames||Lev, plural leva, short form in Cyrillic, as seen in shops: лв|
|Symbols and abbreviations||BGN, лв|
|1 BGN||One lev is divided into 100 stotinki (in Cyrillic: стотинки)|
|BGN coins||Coins are available in denominations of 1 and 2 leva, and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 stotinki.|
|BGN banknotes||Notes which are commonly used are 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 leva denominations.|
When you spend or convert into another currency, you always need to pay close attention to the exchange rate offered.
The only exchange rate that matters is the mid-market rate - this is the one you’ll see on Google. And, it’s the one that TransferWise will always offer - but that you’re unlikely to get from many providers.
Most providers actually hide fees in the exchange rate - this is called a mark-up. This means that you are actually paying more than the initial fees that are advertised to you. You should always check the rate that you’re offered, against the rate you see on Google - to check for these hidden fees.
Some places that offer currency exchange in Bulgaria, are:
- Crown Change has exchange offices throughout the city of Sofia, as well as branches in other popular cities and towns.
- Tavex exchange has several branches and you can review their rates online before committing.
- There are also many smaller exchange offices in the centres of larger cities - Vitosha Boulevard in the case of Sofia.
It’s fairly easy to get lev at an exchange office in the UK, so you could buy the currency before you travel if you want to. Alternatively, you can exchange pounds once you arrive in Bulgaria - just look out for exchange offices with transparent rates and fees, and avoid unlicensed services, or the pricey kiosks in hotels and airports.
Alternatively, you can choose to exchange your money once you arrive using a local exchange service in Bulgaria. However, it is always best to travel with some local currency when you arrive in a new country, and you may not always get the best rate at all exchange providers.
It’s pretty common for taxis to refuse card payment, so you might find you need currency upon arrival. In this case you can change cash at the airport - but the rates on offer are unlikely to be the best in town. Exchange services here, just like at your hotel, know they have a captive market. Their service is convenient, but it’ll cost you. If you must use these providers, it’s usually best to switch only a small amount, and then go into town to find a better deal elsewhere. Otherwise, find an ATM to withdraw the cash you need.
Make sure that the cash you plan to exchange is in good condition. You’re unlikely to be able to change damaged, marked or torn currency, so it’s worth keeping some crisp, clean notes for changing.
Get a free debit Mastercard card from Transferwise, and not only could you save time and money - you may never need to worry about sorting your travel money again.
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You can get your MasterCard with a free TransferWise multi-currency account. Top up your account in pounds, and switch online to the currency you need - or allow the auto-convert feature to do it for you. You can then withdraw local cash and spend as you travel, anywhere you see the Mastercard logo.
Credit and debit cards are widely used in Bulgarian towns and cities, in larger shops, hotels and restaurants. However, smaller restaurants and stores, even in the capital, won't be able to process card transactions. Check before you commit to a purchase.
Where cards are accepted you’ll find that Visa and Mastercard/Maestro/Cirrus, are most commonly accepted, with Amex taken primarily in tourist areas. Because Amex is the least widely used provider, it's always a good idea to carry an alternative form of payment if this is your main card.
Many people in Bulgaria prefer cash payment, so in general, it’s a good idea to keep a small amount of local cash with you.
Whenever you’re paying for things while abroad using a credit or debit card, you could be asked if you want to be charged in your home currency. A waiter or member of hotel reception staff might make this offer, for example. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), and can also be seen on ATMs.
DCC means that you can see the cost of the transaction expressed in your home currency at the point of payment. However, even if that sounds convenient, it's a bad idea. DCC transactions leave you exposed to hidden fees. Usually the base rate used won't be favourable and additional charges could be hidden beneath the headline number. Always opt to pay in the local currency instead.
Some banks’ anti-fraud technology will block use of cards if they suspect suspicious activity. Therefore, if you’re planning on using your card abroad, it’s a good idea to check if you need to let your bank know in advance.
It’s pretty inconvenient to find your account has been blocked or limited while you’re away - and in most cases it’s really easy to inform your bank of your travel plans with a simple online form or by calling into a branch.
In Bulgarian towns or cities you won't struggle to find an ATM. However if you’re headed off the beaten track, then bear in mind that most villages won't be covered by the banking network. Check out the locators below to make sure you can find a convenient ATM during your stay.
As described with credit and debit cards earlier, DCC also means you might be asked by an ATM, if you want to be charged in your home currency for the withdrawal. Always select to be charged in local currency, or you'll be handed the foreign bank’s exchange rate, which will never be as good as that your home bank can offer.
In Bulgaria you’ll find a good range of banking brands, most of which are regional banks which operate throughout the Balkan peninsula and beyond. It’s well worth checking if your home bank operates in Bulgaria, or has a partnership with another local banking brand. If they do, you might find you benefit from reduced or fee free cash withdrawals or other services.
- Unicredit Bulbank
- United Bulgarian Bank
- Raiffeisen Bank
- Piraeus Bank
Whether you’re heading to the capital Sofia, the Black Sea, to ski, hike, or discover the untouched highlands, you’re going to need some cash to make the most of it. Let TransferWise help you spend like a local and save money whilst you enjoy all that Bulgaria has to offer.
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