The source of the article is: https://my.plovdiv.digital/digital-nomad-guide-to-plovdiv-bulgaria-the-chiang-mai-of-europe-d7f258fb4413#.6cu5n2p8n
Photographer: Euvie Ivanova
If you aren’t from Europe, you have likely never heard of Plovdiv. Although it has recently appeared on some “up-and-coming” lists of locations for travel and living, it’s still one of the best-kept secrets in Europe. For digital nomads, it ticks a lot of boxes. From the low cost of living and high quality of life, to the hiring & business opportunities (lowest taxes in EU), the very fast WIFI, the healthy lifestyle options, nice weather, great food, nature, culture, and many other factors, it makes it an easy choice for a home base in Europe.
Those are the words of Euvie Ivanova - a nomad who compares Plovdiv with Chiang Mai of Europe. The traveler has been in our city for a whole year, exploring it brick by brick. She has caught moments of sights and reserves as the Old Town, the Main Street, the Roman stadium, the Ancient feather. She has caught the mood of the citizens and the spirit of the streets. She has caught also places as Bee Bop Cafe, Cat and mouse, Pavaje. These are her impressions and opinions about the country and our city.
When my partner and I came to Plovdiv in the summer of 2015, we loved it so much that we decided to make it our home base for the next year. I even signed my first long term lease. I have just applied for my permanent residency in Bulgaria.
Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria with about 400,000 inhabitants, and is a major cultural, production, education, and sports center in Eastern Europe. Since Bulgaria became a part of the EU in 2007, citizens of most Western countries can travel there visa-free for 3 months. It is also possible to get longer-term visas, or even residency and citizenship. Plovdiv is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and the 6th oldest in the world, dating back some 8 thousand years. The 2,000 year old Ancient Roman Theatre in Plovdiv is still used for shows!
The most impressive sights of Plovdiv:
Great lifestyle output
Plovdiv has a lot of comforts and a very low cost of living. As a nomad you can have a great lifestyle in Plovdiv for around $1,500/month. As an expat (staying 3 months or longer), you can have an upper-middle-class lifestyle for less than $1,000/month. Most locals live on less than $500/month. The lifestyle output is higher than what you get for the same price in Ho Chi Minh City, and is comparable to Chiang Mai. Plovdiv is one of the cheapest places to live in the European Union.
Some of the fastest internet in the world
Bulgaria has some of the fastest Internet in Europe — and in the world. Actual speeds vary, but it’s not uncommon to have 30mb/s down at a cafe. Free WIFI is available at most cafes and restaurants. If you get your own fiberoptic cable hooked up or go to a co-working space that has it, you can enjoy up to 100mb/s internet.
Great cafes and work environments
There are tons of unique cafes with great coffee costing around 1.5 leva, or 75 euro. You can sit there all day with your laptop, and no one minds.
Most places serve some sort of food too, so you can just keep ordering and don’t have to interrupt your work. Plovdiv has a co-working space with desks for rent starting at 99 leva per month (50 euro), and also a hack cafe.
Delicious and healthy food
Bulgarian food is healthy and delicious, borrowing from Greek, Turkish, and other Eastern European culinary traditions. Lots of fresh grilled meats, fish, and vegetables. Plus fresh local fruits. Oh, and the dairy. Bulgarian yoghurt and cheese are amazing and world-famous. A big meal at a sit-down trendy restaurant in the center of the city will set you back around 10 leva (5 euro) per person. A meal at a simpler restaurant, sandwich shop, or food stall is 2–4 leva (1–2 euro). Fresh squeezed juice is widely available at cafes and restaurants, with the usual choices being orange, grapefruit, carrot, apple, and beet. A glass usually costs around 4 leva (2 euro). There are also many supermarkets and several farmer’s markets where you can get groceries if you choose to cook at home. The prices are much lower than in most other European countries, and the quality of produce is excellent. Bulgaria in general is a major food manufacturer, and there are still many traditional practices in use. The cattle are often raised outdoors rather than in pens, and many vegetables are grown without the use of chemicals. The Trakia valley around Plovdiv in particular has been famous for its fertile soil for thousands of years. Many wars have been fought over this area, and at one point it was feeding most of the Ottoman army.
Many brand new, furnished apartments available for less than 300 euro / month
When I first came here, I was blown away by what kind of accommodation I could get here for the price. In Chiang Mai or Ho Chi Minh City, a decent 1-bedroom apartment with a kitchen that is close to the center will cost you at least 500 euro/month, likely closer to 1,000. In Plovdiv, I found lots of much nicer 1 bedroom apartments for under 600 leva (300 euro) per month. Brand new, hardwood floors, full kitchen (with washing machine and oven), air con, balcony, nice furniture, everything. With most long-term rentals, you will have to sign a lease. That said, with the deposit being only 1 month rent, you can easily ditch that lease later. If you are bootstrapping, you can get a simpler apartment in the center for around 400 leva (200 euro). Add on around 100–150 (50–75 euro) per month for utilities (internet, electricity, water, etc).
Nice climate, hot summers and mild winters
Plovdiv is located in southern Bulgaria, and has a subtropical climate with strong continental influences. Summers are hot and humid, with daytime temperatures between 20 and 35 degrees, sometimes as high as 40 in June-August. The winters are cool but usually mild. In December to February, daytime highs are 5 to 13 degrees, and nighttime lows are -3 to 3 degrees. There is usually some snow. In rare cases, it can get really cold in December or January, but overall Plovdiv has some of the mildest winters in the country. It is milder than the one in Prague, Budapest, or Berlin. March-April and October-November are shoulder seasons, when you get a combination of summer and winter weather. 2015/2016 winter was the hottest one on record (hello global warming), so in was 20 degrees during the day on most days — even in February. It still got below zero several times in December-January. The rain is more or less equally distributed throughout the year, so you get some rain and some sun during all seasons. Plovdiv has more sunshine than most of Central Europe, and is comparable to Italy or Spain.
Many sports facilities and parks
Plovdiv is a major sports centre, and has one of the largest sports complexes in Eastern Europe, with a stadium, soccer fields, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor gyms, a rowing channel, and many other things. There are also many private gyms in the city with monthly membership ranging from 30 to 100 leva (15–50 euro) per month. Grand Hotel Plovdiv (ex-Novotel) has a fancy gym with pool and sauna that costs around 100 euro per month. There are many parks in Plovdiv including several tree-covered hills, a riverside, and many car-free streets and paths where you can go jogging. Almost every park has outdoor exercise equipment. Plovdiv also has a 6-story tall indoor rock climbing wall, an indoor ice skating rink, a rowing channel, and many yoga, dance and martial arts studios around the city.
Hiring opportunities of local talent
Bulgaria has a budding IT sector, with several international companies setting up offices here. There are many smart, young, educated, english-speaking people looking for work, which means great hiring opportunities for foreign business owners. An average office worker gets around 700 leva (350 euro) per month. If you pay more than these wages, you can get some really talented and keen team members for your business. Some areas Bulgarians are often strong in are programming, design, and other creative and technical fields. Customer service and tech support seem to be other popular fields for hiring, and many international companies outsource these jobs to Bulgaria.
Ancient history, modern arts & culture scene
Plovdiv is one of the oldest living cities in Europe and the world — at 8 thousand years, it is older than Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem. At different points in history, it was ruled by Thracians, Macedonians, Byzantines, Romans, Ottoman Turks, and Bulgarians, leaving architecture, traditions, and other cultural heritage from each of those civilizations. The city centre has architecture from many periods, and it’s a wonderful trip through time just strolling down the Main walking street and the Old Town area. Plovdiv also has a rich art & design, theatre, and music scene — both traditional and modern. There are many big and small festivals happening throughout the year.
Notable events & organizations:
Kapana Fest is a music & arts street festival that happens in Plovdiv every June and September. There are many live performances, craft and food vendors, and workshops.
One Foundation hosts three week-long cultural festivals every year: One Design Week, One Architecture Week, and One Dance Week
WakeUp! is a 4-day long open-air music & culture festival that happens every summer in the foothills of Rhodope mountains, close to Plovdiv.
Plovdiv Opera holds a number of live open-air performances every summer at the 2,000 year old Ancient Theatre, and include opera singers from all of Europe.
The Plovdiv International Fair hosts a number of fairs every year, you can check the event calendar here.
Plovdiv is located in the Thracian valley, almost at the foot of the Rhodope mountain range. Within only half an hour by car or bus, you are in beautiful mountain wilderness. There are many hiking trails and occasional cute cobblestone villages to explore. There are also some lakes and rivers to go swimming and fishing. Hunting and foraging for wild berries/mushrooms/herbs is also common here. People come to Bulgaria from all over Europe to do that. Asenovgrad, for example, is just 30 min away and costs 1.5 leva (0.75 euro) to get to by bus or train from Plovdiv, and has many hiking trails and some notable ruins too. Bachkovo monastery & village is another spot that is just 30 min away. There are several ski & snowboard resorts in Bulgaria (most are around 2 hours away from Plovdiv by car). Bulgaria is one of the cheapest place in Europe for winter sports.
Expats & Locals
There is a small but nice expat scene in Plovdiv. The thing about Plovdiv in general is that people live here not because they have to, but because they want to. The people don’t come here for the job opportunities or other obligations, they come here because it’s a lovely city. Most foreigners living in Plovdiv can be put into these groups: entrepreneurs doing business in Bulgaria or online, university students (there are 5 universities in the city), and people who have a Bulgarian partner. Most of the expats I have met here were in their 20s to 40s. Bulgaria also has a fairly large retiree expat crowd, but most of them live in the countryside. The expat crowd also mixes with the locals quite a bit, particularly with the Bulgarians who lived abroad and then came back. Bulgaria is a member of the EU since 2007, but is not in the Schengen zone yet. EU citizens and citizens of most developed countries can spend 90 days in Bulgaria without needing a visa. Holders of a Schengen visa can also enter Bulgaria for up to 90 days. Otherwise, you can apply for a 90 day tourist visa at your local Bulgarian consulate. You can check the visa requirements here. If you have business contacts in Bulgaria, you can apply for a 90 day business visa which is renewable. For longer stays, it is possible to get a D-type visa, which allows you to stay in Bulgaria for 6–12 months on the basis of: work permit, freelancer, student, Bulgarian ethnic origin, married to Bulgarian citizen, member of the family of EU citizen, etc. The D-visa process is a bit complicated and I recommend that you contact your local Bulgarian consulate for an exact list of documents you will need. For EU citizens, the process is much more simple than for others.It is possible to get residency in Bulgaria, including for tax purposes (see tax section below). For EU citizens, this is quite simple. For other citizens, you need to get a D-visa and a bunch of other documents first. Navigating the bureaucracy is a bit difficult if you don’t speak Bulgarian, so I highly recommend that you get a friend or a paid professional to help you. Many young urban Bulgarians speak one or several foreign languages, with the most common being English, Russian, and German. If you speak several European languages yourself, you are sure to find a common language here. Many young people speak English, especially those working in sectors that deal with tourism like hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. Overall, the level of spoken English is better than in Thailand or Vietnam. However, old people or those from the countryside often don’t speak English — but you can always get by being friendly and making an effort to understand them, or by trying another language like Russian or German. Do try to learn some Bulgarian though, locals will really appreciate it and will be much more helpful. I happen to speak some Bulgarian, so I try to use it as much as possible. But in times when I don’t know how to say something, I just say it in Russian or English, and I am always understood in the end.
Taxis in Plovdiv are plentiful and cheap. An average ride within the city costs 3–6 leva (1.5–3 euro). Reputable taxi companies always have a four-digit number on the side of the car and a phone number you can call. There are a few rip-off companies, or just solo opportunists posing as taxis. You will end up paying much more if you use those. I usually use one of these taxi companies: 6155, 6665, 6160, 9199. Taxi drivers are often from the countryside and don’t speak much English, so it is best to have a piece of paper with the address written down in Bulgarian, or show them the place on the map. Plovdiv center is easy and pleasant to get around on foot. There is a 1-km long walking street with many car-free side streets. There is also a brand new network of city bike paths for those who prefer two wheels. Plovdiv has local bus system, which cost 1 leva to take (50 cents). There are also many buses and trains that can take you to other cities in Bulgaria, and other nearby countries. Plovdiv has a small international airport with a few companies flying to London, Moscow, and some other European hubs. For more options, Sofia airport is 2 hours away by bus and has a much larger variety of flights available. You can easily do inexpensive weekend trips to several European countries by air or land.
Nightlife and Bars
There are many funky bars in Plovdiv, mostly in Kapana district and around the Walking Street. Many bars serve a variety of cocktails, beers, and wines, and are open late. Some serve shisha or have live music. Outdoor patios are very common. You can find a party at any time of day or night, if you know where to go. Although it’s not as crowded or varied as large cities, the atmosphere makes up for it. A cocktail at a bar will set you back 4 leva (2 euro). A bottle of wine at a restaurant or bar is around 15 leva (7 euro). A beer is 3 leva (1.5. euro). If you get your liquor at the supermarket, it’s 6 leva (3 euro) for a bottle of wine, and 1 leva (50 cents) for a beer. The cultural difference between Bulgaria and other European cultures are not so major, and foreigners dating locals is very common. There are many young people from all over Europe living in Plovdiv, as it’s a major university town.
Bulgaria in general is not a very LGBT-friendly place. Homosexuality is not illegal, but it’s socially frowned upon, particularly by the older generation. That said, things are changing and among themselves, young people are quite open. Plovdiv has an LGBT cafe on „Kurtevich“ 3 st., and a gay bar Caligula on “Knyaz Aleksandar” 30 st. Sofia also has a small pride parade happening every summer.
Bulgaria has great shopping. They are a major manufacturing centre in EU. Big brands like H&M, Zara, and others have factories here. There are also many small independent brands of clothes and shoes that are high quality for the price (those are my favourite — so many unique styles). You can get high quality mens leather shoes for 70 leva (35 euro), and womens leather sandals for 20 leva (10 euro). There are several malls, as well as many shops along the Main street. The handmade / craft culture is also alive and well, so you can buy many beautiful things made with love — pottery, carved wood, textiles, jewelry, rose oil cosmetics, etc. Many of these are located around the Old Town and Kapana areas. There are several farmers markets in the city where you can buy fresh local produce, wild herbs, honey, pottery, and other goods. Plovdiv also has a budding health product scene, with new health shops popping up monthly. You can easily find vitamins, supplements, and organic products. The currency of Bulgaria is leva, which is pegged to the euro at a rate of 1.95, so 1 leva is approx. 0.50 euro cents. There are many banks and ATMs, as well as money exchange booths. Getting a bank account is super easy for foreigners. I set one up in 15 minutes with only my rental contract and phone number in hand. I got two accounts actually, one in leva and one in euro, and each of my bank cards with have Visa and Mastercard built-in respectively.
Medical services and health insurance
There are many modern medical clinics in Plovdiv with dental work, surgery, and other medical services available at lower rates than Western Europe or North America. Medical tourism has been developing here in the last few years. If you decide to stay in Bulgaria long term, you will need to get health insurance. Unika offers 1 year of health insurance for 160 leva. This covers any accidents or unexpected illness.
Bulgaria has a 10% flat tax rate for both personal and corporate taxes, which makes it an attractive place to have residency or register a business. Several European companies are based here for that reason (and also for the labour). It is quite easy for an EU citizen to become a tax resident of Bulgaria. It’s possible to set it up in a couple of weeks. For non-EU citizens, the process is a bit more complex and takes longer, but still possible.