MOTORING AHEAD

by Ani Ivanova

Buying a car insurance policy is essential anywhere but beware Bulgarian booby traps and read the small print

Whether a first-time visitor or longstanding resident you'll be aware of the recklessness of some Bulgarian drivers, exacerbated by poor roads and confusing signalling.

Aside from the legal requirement for third party insurance, this dangerous context should encourage you to act. When you add occasional car thefts and recent devastating floods, you'll appreciate that insurance is a vital precaution.

Any policy acquired in the UK or any EU country will automatically provide the minimum cover required to drive anywhere in the EU, including Bulgaria. You must display proof of valid insurance at this country's point of entry but you can also buy a policy at the border. Sales staff may not speak English but the certificate is written in English as well as Bulgarian, enabling you to decipher it.

If your motor policy expires and you are still in Bulgaria, you can always buy a new one from a UK insurer. Negotiating in your own language is often easier. However, if you hunt around for a local insurer, you could find a bargain.

Around 20 (non-life) insurance companies – Bulgarian and international – operate in the domestic market, along with a number of insurance brokers. Larger operators have English web pages as well as English-speaking staff in main offices. Free web-based quotes are unavailable so a phone call or a visit is essential. Be forewarned that your car registration plate could pose an obstacle. Only a few outlets provide motor insurance for foreign-registered cars. If, on the other hand, your car is equipped with Bulgarian plates, the choice is very wide.

Motor insurance can comprise a fully comprehensive policy for your vehicle that covers you for damage to your vehicle in the event of accident, fire and other natural disasters as well as vandalism and theft – or a combination of the above. The policy may be exclusive to Bulgaria or valid abroad. So it's vital to pore over the details, take a Bulgarian-speaking friend if possible and insist on reading an English version of general conditions and your own specific policy. The insurer may delay providing this but it always facilitates the process.

Unlike your own personal cover – which is voluntary – third-party liability car insurance is compulsory in Bulgaria. This ensures that the person responsible for a third party's injuries as well as damage to their vehicle is held to account. A car windscreen sticker confirms you as a policyholder. Traffic police perform regular checks and can impose a 100-500 leva fine on anyone, owner or motorist, without such documentation.

Customers who buy both their comprehensive cover and their third party liability policy from the same insurer usually enjoy discounts and/or bonuses. These include free roadside assistance in and outside Bulgaria as well as free cover abroad and passenger insurance. The price will depend on various factors such as liabilities, risks covered, vehicle type, location and mode of payment as well as your driving history. A basic third-party cover for vehicles with engines of up to 1,500 cc will cost about 115 leva.

If you want to travel abroad you must check if you are covered by the third party insurance you acquired in Bulgaria. Market liberalisation in mid-2005 enabled insurers to set their own prices. In 2006 many offered policies at discounts provided buyers agreed to drive only in Bulgaria. Hence, before travelling to Greece, for example, you need to check your policy. If foreign countries are excluded, you should visit your insurer and have an additional Green Card certificate issued. Obviously, you will also have to pay the extra amount originally deducted from your policy's premium for the exclusion.

A regular third party policy will cover you in all EU states as well as in Andorra, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. In the January- July period this year motorists travelling to Romania or Greece were required to carry their Green Card certificates, evidence that they have at least the minimum compulsory third party insurance cover required by the laws of the countries visited. Your insurer issues the document free of charge (except in aforementioned cases).

As of 1 August motorists with Bulgarian-registered vehicles are no longer required to provide Green Card certificates to enter another EU country. A Bulgarian registration number is deemed to be sufficient evidence of a third party policy. However, a Bulgarian-issued policy – remember to take it with you! – is usually in Cyrillic. So foreign traffic police you encounter, either routinely or in the event of accidents, will have problems understanding it. A Green Card certificate, written in English and universally comprehensible, will provide better proof of your third party cover and minimise trouble abroad.

If you travel to Macedonia or Turkey, obtaining a Green Card certificate is mandatory. Check with your insurer whether you have it or if you have to pay an additional amount to obtain one. Insurers vary on charging, dependant on whether they had calculated the accident risk in the 14 countries of your policy's Green Card system. It may seem self-evident but Green Card insurance does not cover vehicle damage, only a minimal liability for the country you are visiting. Vehicle damage is covered by your own fully comprehensive cover, if valid outside Bulgaria.

Note the risks included in your policy. A recent survey of local insurers showed few cover you for theft or vehicle robbery in Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Soviet Republics. It's also advisable to check your insurer's policy with respect to car repairs in case of breakdown in a foreign country.

In the event of an accident, contact the insurer and/or the road assistance body immediately as well as the police. Obtaining a police report is essential to lodge an insurance claim. In some cases you may be required to complete a claim form or provide additional paperwork. Cases generally take longer to be processed in Bulgaria than in your home country. The term regulated by law is three months.

SCOPE OF COVERAGE
Green Card insurance for countries outside the EU currently covers Belarus, Albania, Moldavia, Andorra, Morocco, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tunisia, Macedonia, Turkey, Iran, Ukraine, Israel, Serbia and Montenegro. Green cards are not available for Kosovo and border car insurance must be purchased.

LEVELS OF LIABILITY
1 January 2006 – 31 December 2009
For material damages: 200,000 leva. For non-material and material damages resulting in bodily injury or death: 700,000 leva for one person, 1,000,000 leva for two or more people.

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