ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants; smaller guesthouses or rural businesses may only accept cash.
ATMs that accept major credit cards (ie Visa, MasterCard and American Express) are common, found in all sizeable towns and cities. The total amount you can withdraw depends on your bank's own restrictions.
Foreigners may be approached on the street (especially in Sofia or Varna) and asked to change money, but this is illegal and there’s a high chance you’ll be given counterfeit leva, short-changed or robbed, so don't do it!
Bulgarian banknotes come in denominations of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 leva. Coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 stotinki and 1 lev. Prices for smaller items are always quoted in leva or a fraction of a lev, eg on a bus ticket the fare will be listed as ‘0.50 lv’ rather than ‘50 stotinki’. Some shops will not bother to give change less than 1 lv in value. It's wise to bring exact change or small bills for minor attractions, which seldom seem to have change.
You cannot rely on using a credit card exclusively in Bulgaria; use it to get cash from banks and for major purchases only. Credit cards are commonly accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops in the big cities, towns and tourist resorts, but acceptance is less widespread in more rural areas. Some places, particularly the more expensive hotels, will add a 5% surcharge to your bill if you use a credit card.
The local currency is the lev (plural: leva), comprised of 100 stotinki. It is almost always abbreviated to lv (лв). The lev is a stable currency. For major purchases such as organised tours, airfares, car rental and midrange and top-end hotels, prices are often quoted by staff in euros, although payment is possible in leva, too. Bulgaria has no immediate plans to adopt the euro as its national currency.
|New Zealand||NZ$1||1.22 lv|
|Romania||1 lei||0.43 lv|
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Foreign exchange offices can be found in all large towns, and current rates are always displayed prominently. They are no longer allowed to charge commission, but that doesn't always stop them trying; always check the final amount that you will be offered before handing over your cash. Avoid exchange offices at train stations, airports or in tourist resorts as rates are often poor.
When changing money, make sure that the foreign banknotes you have are not torn, marked or grubby, otherwise they may be refused. Similarly, make sure that any leva given to you are not torn or marked. The best currencies to take to Bulgaria are euros, pounds sterling and US dollars. You may have trouble changing less familiar currencies, such as Australian or Canadian dollars, but you should be able to find somewhere in a city such as Sofia, Plovdiv or Varna that will accept most major international currencies.
It’s also easy to change cash at most of the larger banks found in cities and major towns; the exchange rates listed on the electronic boards in bank windows may offer slightly higher rates than foreign exchange offices, but they may charge a commission.
- Bars Serving staff don't expect tips per round, though leaving a small tip when you leave is appreciated.
- Hotels Expectation of a tip for hotel staff is rare except in very high-end places.
- Restaurants In some restaurants a 10% service charge is already added, although waiters may still round up the bill or not return with your change.
- Taxis Metered-taxi drivers usually expect to keep the change from a fare.
Travellers cheques are not as popular as they once were and can only be changed at banks. Many only accept American Express and Thomas Cook, with commission rates as high as 3% to 5%.