British expats spill the beans on life on the Black Sea coast
Issue 14, November 2007
by Libby Andrews; photography by Nina Lokmadzhieva
It is estimated that around 50,000 foreigners live in Bulgaria now and the number is set to increase as more and more people adopt the country as their home. Virtually every village in Bulgaria has its token Brit family and some are overrun with them. British expats it seems are discontent with life in damp and drizzly Blighty. The cost of living is too high and property prices are astronomical. Life there has become competitive, stressful and threatening. They feel trapped in the rat race and it's no longer a nice place to end your days or bring up your kids.
The majority of expats have decided to emigrate before they choose to move to Bulgaria. Most shop around for a new country, just as they would for a new car, comparing costs, performance and looks. Dreaming of owning a Mercedes, they realise that they must scale down or make do and just as they would opt for a second-hand family saloon car because it is cheap and reliable, they choose Bulgaria for the same reasons.
Yet few regret their choice. The benefits of a Bulgarian life - the climate, the relaxed lifestyle, low cost of living and safety aspect far outweigh the disadvantages - it is corrupt, they are ripped off and the infrastructure needs massive investment.
GRIT, COURAGE AND AMBITION
Nicola Hays' move to Bulgaria from Portsmouth is an unusual story and not only because she's just 19. Nicola moved to Kichevo, near Varna in July this year. She had been married for just 24 hours when she arrived. "I didn't want to honeymoon anywhere else in the world other than my new house in Kichevo. I was so excited about having a place of my own. Alan and I had been living in his tiny studio flat."
The couple had wanted to marry for some time, but had delayed because they could not afford to buy a property. "We were thinking of buying our own studio flat, but it was in a rough area of Portsmouth. We needed to take on a 35-year mortgage for £73,500. Looking back it seems a bit depressing; the apartment was only 20 ft x 9 ft."
Then Nicola noticed that prices in Bulgaria were phenomenally low. "I asked Alan if he would ever consider emigrating and I was surprised at how enthusiastic he was." Alan confessed he was sick of working 12-hour days as a builder with Travers and Perkins. Nicola's parents were so surprised by her initiative that they agreed to finance her property in Bulgaria as a wedding present.
She finds Bulgaria exceptionally quiet and under-populated and the shops rather basic. She misses English milk and sometimes gets homesick. "I feel a bit disorientated," she admits.
Nicola is learning Bulgarian and setting up a business for herself. "I have an hour's Bulgarian lesson everyday. I've also started to market my business teaching English to Bulgarian children." Husband Alan has already found that there is plenty of work for builders here and he found a job very quickly.
Does Nicola have an opinion of the EU and Bulgaria?
"Not really, I don't think it has made any difference yet and all that will happen is that it will end up like the UK with lots of high taxes. I love Bulgaria. It's relaxed and sunny and so cheap to live. We can manage on Alan's wage, whereas in the UK we struggled."
Nicola's get up and go is admirable and a compliment to her generation. She is determined to make her stay here work and at the moment she's enjoying the novelty of her new, married, expat life.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers