The two neighboring countries, Romania and Bulgaria, are usually fighting for the last spot in EU’s charts: from minimum and average salary, to corruption and quality of life, it’s becoming a habit to see these two countries at the bottom of all charts.
However, this does not mean that either Bulgaria or Romania are countries that you should stay away from.
On the contrary: all the problems that these countries go through at the moment are a good opportunity for those foreigners looking for a low cost of living opportunity in a country that is still very safe and nice to be in.
And since both countries offer a lot of unspoiled nature and many beautiful things to see (as well as things to do that range from traditional delights to ultra modern stuff you can do in the largest cities of the world), they should be considered a top choice for those looking for a cheap holiday destination, or those looking to move to a country where their foreign currency weighs a lot.
Today, we’re looking at Bulgaria vs. Romania and try to help you decide which of the two countries is the best one to call home. And if you just don’t feel like going through the entire article, let me give you a quick spoiler: they’re pretty much the same!
Fun test: check out the photos in today’s article and try to guess how many are from Bulgaria, and how many from Romania. Results at the bottom of the article.
Which country to choose? Romania vs Bulgaria
Like all opinions, this one can be considered biased, although I will do my best to leave subjectivity behind.
In case you don’t know, I lived in Romania almost my entire life, but also visited Bulgaria extensively over the past several years, although most of the time was spend in their seaside resorts.
But based on talks I had with friends that spent more time in Bulgaria, as well as the research I made, I am pretty much sure that I have a very clear picture of the two countries and today’s comparison will help you a lot in choosing between Romania and Bulgaraia.
How easy is it to retire or move in Bulgaria vs Romania
If you plan to live in a country, it’s really important how easy it is to legally stay in tha country.
Here, things are simple: it’s a lot easier to get a residence permit in Bulgaria if you are retired, than it is in Romania.
Romania has no retirement visa and you have to go through some hoops to be able to stay here long term, while Bulgaria offers a simple and straightforward pensioner visa.
If you come here with a job offer, it’s just as easy in both countries and usually the company hiring you will handle the visa work.
Also, if you have a bit more money in the bank and want to live in the EU, Bulgaria has a “real estate investment visa” that allows you to live in the country as long as you buy property worth around 300,000 Euros.
That is a ton of money indeed, but at least you know you have your option.
Have in mind that except for that property investment visa, none of the countries offer self sufficient individuals an easy way to get a visa and a residence permit. But if you are retired, it’s a lot easier to live in Bulgaria.
Cost of living in Bulgaria vs Romania
I knew that the cost of living in both countries is very similar, but I still went to Numbeo to double check the facts.
According to that website, the cost of living in Bucharest is almost identical to that in Sofia (both cities being the capitals):
All in all, based on my personal experience, I would say that the numbers are in reality even lower and Bulgaria wins the price race in some important categories.
For example, the prices for food and other items in their Black Sea resorts are lower than those in Romania if we’re making an apples to apples comparison.
You can find really cheap things in either place, but the general feeling that I had was that everything’s cheaper in Bulgaria.
This was one of the main reasons why I chose it as our summer holiday destination for the past 3 years: it’s not only cheaper, but the quality of service and that of the products is much higher than what you get in Romanian resorts (but more on that later).
And while this might not matter a lot if you only spend a few days in a country, when we’re talking months and years, it does.
Also, after taking a look at some real estate websites, it appears that buying and renting in Bulgaria is a lot cheaper than it is in Romania at the moment.
Prices in Sofia are similar to those in Bucharest (inflated, in my opinion), but in the “very cheap” range, it appears that you have more lower prices options in Bulgaria than you do in Romania, when looking at smaller towns and cities.
So when it comes to real estate, it’s not that Bulgaria is by default cheaper: just that you have a lot more to choose from compared to Romania.
And it’s always good to have more options, especially since at very low prices, the quality of the homes is not high in either country.
In the end, in terms of costs, things look pretty much the same, although Bulgaria is indeed cheaper. Spending 10% less on accommodation does add up at the end of the year, though so it’s important to have this in mind.
If you want to get a bit more in depth with this, I have a detailed article about the cost of living in Romania.
Things to see and do
Here, things are very simple and in my opinion, there are few countries that would deliver a different result.
Both in Romania and Bulgaria, you have tons of things to see and do: from the seaside resorts to the charming mountain towns, from unspoiled nature to extremely modern entertainment venues, you have all options available to you.
Each country has its major highlights and every city has more or fewer things to offer (depending on their size, mostly). But you can definitely never get bored and no matter which of the two countries you choose
In terms of beauty – or as I like to call it (like many others), eye candy – I would say again that things are pretty much similar. You can’t really go on and say “this country is ugly” or “that country is ugly” but even if you could, I wouldn’t go that far with either of today’s two competitors.
In the end, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder: if you’re looking for insanely modern architecture or, on the contrary, a lot of classical beauty… none of the countries actually offer a ton of either. In both countries, in the cities, you will see those ugly communist blocks of apartments… and they’re everywhere!
If you’re looking for natural beauty, I would say that both countries are equal once again, offering a similar climate and similar types of natural beauties: from large green plains to thick forests and beautiful mountains.
I can honestly say that if you were to be shown different photos from each country, without being told where each picture was taken, it would be impossible for you to guess if it’s Romania or Bulgaria, be it a city or natural beauty.
Safety, quality of life and local income
I did mix some things that are not really related – safety, quality of life and income – but somehow in my head they work well together. Yeah, what a soup of things to consider!
But still, I would say that safety and quality of life go hand in hand with local income and this is why they’re all together in one place.
When it comes to earnings, Bulgaria has the lowest salaries in the European Union, with Romania being around 125 Euros above in terms of median take-home salary. And when the numbers are already low (around 500 Euros), that 100 makes a huge difference!
Of course, this will rarely have a direct impact on a foreigner’s way of living, because most people going to these countries are not relying on local wages.
But they do have an impact over the quality of life and safety. Automatically, everywhere in this world, lower income results in a poorer standard of living and more violence, usually petty crime.
However, both Bulgaria and Romania can be considered generally safe – or extremely safe – if you stick to the larger cities and stay away from the more dangerous areas of a city (and even in that case, “dangerous” is an overstatement).
While on vacation in Bulgaria, for example, we had absolutely no concerns leaving our valuables unattended on the beach, while we went to take a bath.
We did not have piles of gold on each sunbed – just phones and very little money hidden in our bags, but still there was absolutely no concern that somebody might be interested in our devices.
However, there are stories from fellow Romanians whose cars have been stolen (like the entire vehicle!) in Bulgaria, or broken into.
As well, there are similar stories about various people having similarly unpleasant experiences in Romania: a Romanian family that we met in Sunny Beach this year, for example, said that they have decided against going to the Romanian seaside again after last year the villa they stayed in for holiday was broken into and everything they had was stolen.
Also, just a few days ago, while in Bucharest, I saw police around a car: its window was broken and the radio was stolen. My car’s mirror (and it’s a local Dacia) was also stolen once in the city I live in.
So things like this can happen anywhere but fortunately on very rare occasions. This means that I consider both countries, as long as you use common sense and take all the regular precautions, are generally safe. At least people are not normally carrying guns, so that’s a big win.
And finally, getting to the quality of life part, I would once again say that things should be pretty much similar in both countries.
Romania, having the higher earnings, probably gives locals a bit more in terms of quality of life, but generally this doesn’t apply to foreigners moving here or travelers who don’t really get to experience the local way of living.
Bulgaria does have a bit more to offer in terms of infrastructure (better roads and more miles of highways), but apart from that, I wouldn’t say that the two countries are much different.
Service quality in Bulgaria vs Romania
Based on my personal experience, I would say that customer service is better in Bulgaria, without it being over the top and unbelievably good. Just better.
Most likely, a foreigner would be treated about the same in both countries. I get the middle finger sometimes in Romania since I’m a local and people usually are a bit more polite and nice with foreigners and that’s why I probably have more to complain about.
In Bulgaria, on the other hand, I rarely had reasons to be disappointed by the customer service, even though on some occasions the staff I was interacting with had something more important to do (like browsing on their phone or talking to somebody who was not a customer).
So here, based on my own experience, the quality of customer service is slightly better in Bulgaria, but for a foreigner to both countries, I think things would be pretty much the same.
What to Choose: Bulgaria or Romania?
I personally believe that Bulgaria and Romania would offer pretty much the same thing to tourists or people interested to move in a cheaper part of the world.
Apart from the language and alphabet, a foreigner wouldn’t really feel a difference between the two countries.
The people look the same, the cities look the same, the roads look the same, the sea is the same, the mentality is pretty much the same… you’re most likely going to be treated the same no matter which of these countries you pick.
For long term living, unless you know the Cyrillic alphabet, picking up the language or reading any signs (or menus) in Bulgaria will be a bit of a challenge, but I think that would be pretty much the biggest difference between these two countries.
The biggest balance tipper is the visa situation. Since Bulgaria offers that pensioner visa and Romania doesn’t have one, it is a lot easier for people to retire to Bulgaria. But for everybody else, there’s no real difference.
So, yes, you would expect to have a winner in a versus situation, but in this case, the battle is a tie. Both Bulgaria and Romania are extremely similar and a foreigner would feel the same in either country.
So just pick the one that makes it easier for you to move into. If it’s equally easy (as in you’re not retired), then just toss a coin and see who wins.
(Photo test results: I challenged you at the beginning of the article to try to guess how many of the photos are from Bulgaria and how many from Romania. Except for the obvious screenshot from Numbeo, all the photos in this article are of taken in Bulgaria. Yup, exactly what you’d expect to see in Romania!)