Bulgaria ranked 61st out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. Bulgaria scored well in the areas of trading across borders (21), protecting minority investors (25) and enforcing contracts (42). That said, it achieved an unsatisfactory score for ease of starting a business (113) and getting electricity (151).
Bulgaria has become a promising country for foreign investment since its assertion into the EU in 2007. The low corporate income taxes, low costs of doing business and fast internet also make it an attractive country for expats to start a business.
Business culture in Bulgaria
Business culture in Bulgaria is informed both by the societal importance placed on relationships and by the historical collectivism of Bulgarian society, which has traditionally prioritised the group over the individual. Relationships built on trust are central to succeeding in local business, but these can take time to develop. Networking is therefore an important part of doing business in the country.
In line with the importance of forming relationships, face-to-face meetings are highly valued in Bulgarian working culture and meetings are often prolonged affairs. Bulgarians often make their points directly, or they rely on body language to convey their meaning.
Many new arrivals are initially confused, as head shaking and nodding have opposite meanings – in Bulgaria, head shaking indicates a positive, ‘yes’, while head nodding indicates a negative, ‘no’.
Business hours are Monday to Friday 8am or 9am to 5:30pm.
Bulgarian is the official language. English is increasingly used in business circles, especially within multinational companies.
Business attire is generally formal and conservative, but business casual and other less formal attire may be accepted in some industries.
A firm handshake, direct eye contact and addressing people by their titles is appropriate.
Gifts are only given on special occasions and, due to a history of corruption, gift-giving can be a sensitive affair. It’s therefore best to present a thoughtful gift as opposed to an expensive one. When invited to a colleague’s home, it’s customary to bring a gift for the host. Chocolates, wine or flowers are acceptable.
Gender equality in the workplace has been a priority of the government for a number of years. The gender pay gap is lower than the EU average and Bulgaria is among the EU countries with the highest number of women in management positions. That said, he share is still not yet equal, although women and men are considered equal in the workplace.
Businesses follow a hierarchical structure whereby seniors make decisions, but the consensus of everyone involved is sought beforehand. Business hierarchy is also impacted by Bulgarian society, in which older people are given more respect.
Communication is formal and importance is given to using correct titles. First names are reserved for family and close friends. Face-to-face meetings are preferred and communication is direct. Despite this directness, many meanings are communicated through gestures and facial expressions.
Bulgaria struggles with a legacy of corruption. Although visible progress has been made in battling corruption, nepotism and bribery are still perceived as being prevalent in Bulgaria’s public sector. The country's adopted EU recommended legislature to help curb corruption.
Dos and don'ts of business in Bulgaria
Do be punctual
Do organise meetings in advance and confirm the meeting the day before.
Do address business colleagues by their titles, as first names are reserved for close friends and families.
Don't try to rush things. Business decisions can take time as associates get to know a person to determine whether they are trustworthy
Do remember that head shaking means yes, while head nodding means no.
Do make personal, face-to-face meetings instead of meeting online.