Bulgaria says goodbye


From March 31, Bulgaria and Romania will partially enter the Schengen zone. Air and sea border controls will be canceled. The land border control between Bulgaria with Greece and Romania, as well as Romania with Hungary, will remain in place.

The members of the Council of the European Union adopted the decision unanimously. For those who do not know the intricate structure of the EU, I will explain: this Council, which is also called not the government, but the Council of Ministers (Consilium), is, along with the European Parliament, one of the two legislative bodies of the EU and one of its seven institutions. Not to be confused with the Council of Europe, which includes the leaders of all 27 countries of the bloc. It was the decision of this top body, taken last year at a December summit, that was turned into action.

«This step will stimulate travel, trade, tourism, strengthen the internal market», said the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, which, in fact, is precisely the government of the association.

Let’s leave aside Romania, the tourist flow to which from Russia was insignificant, and try to understand what is fraught with innovation for Russian citizens who enjoyed vacations in Bulgarian resorts and had real estate there.

Let me remind you that Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since 2007. The issue of its accession to Schengen has been discussed since 2011, but during the voting a number of countries, including Austria, the Netherlands and Hungary, were against it. They doubted Sofia’s ability to implement effective border control and fight illegal migration. There were other complaints: the candidate had to meet a number of requirements related to the fight against corruption and organized crime. Vienna, by the way, held out to the last. It blocked Bulgaria’s aspirations with a veto, but nevertheless softened its position and gave the «go-ahead» to abolish passport control for Bulgarians at airports. The European Commission, by the way, believed that the brothers should enter Schengen fully and without restrictions.

«At the beginning of 2025 Bulgaria will become a full-fledged member of the Schengen Agreement. This will be facilitated by the construction of a strong fence along the border with Turkey and the deployment of an additional contingent of Frontex (the EU’s external border security agency) along our frontiers», said former deputy head of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry Milen Keremedchiev.

The Sofia authorities, however, are refraining from making predictions for the time being, although deep down they believe in the best. The Schengen will give new prospects for economic growth, development of tourism and trade, increase in the volume of direct foreign investments, realization of infrastructural projects.

It was announced that Bulgaria will start issuing Schengen visas from March 31. So far it is known that Russians will be able to apply for them through the visa center in Moscow. The application should be submitted not earlier than three months before the start of the planned visit. The country will be automatically connected to the Schengen visa system, so the provision of biometric data will be required. If a visa issued earlier by another member state of the agreement is canceled for a Russian tourist, Sofia will have the right to deny him his entry documents.

Stay in Bulgaria will be counted as days spent in the Schengen zone. It is possible to stay there for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period.

Previously, it was possible to visit this country using a Cyprus national visa. Now this loophole will be closed: Cyprus is not part of the Schengen zone. Nevertheless, it will be possible to travel to the island on a Bulgarian national visa, issued earlier, or on a Bulgarian Schengen visa.

It is specified that national short-term visas issued by Bulgaria before March 31 do not give the right to travel to other countries of the agreement.

Bulgaria’s international airports are already finalizing preparations for the upcoming «air Schengen». Air harbors will separate the flows of passengers from Schengen and non-Schengen zones.

Theoretically, the Bulgarian authorities could keep the validity of already issued national visas until the end of their term and continue issuing them during the transitional period. But then this process will require additional regulation. So far there is no clarity.

There is only one positive news: with the Schengen visa issued by Bulgaria Russians will be able to visit other EU countries «by air». For example, low-cost carriers fly from Sofia to Italy, France and Germany. However, this option is difficult to use due to the lack of direct air communication with Russia.

According to tour operators, the demand for tours to Bulgaria due to new visa difficulties will decrease. It is predicted that the vacation in Zlatni Pyasatsi will be comparable to Montenegrin: the tour will cost about 200 thousand rubles for one person plus visa. In this case, it is easier to go to Turkey.

Meanwhile, the way of Russians to the once hospitable Bulgarian land has become noticeably more complicated.

«Please note that from March 22 to April 1, Bulgarian visa centers by order of the consular section of the Embassy suspend the acceptance of short-term visas (type C)», — said the diplomatic mission.

Then, as expected, the consular service of the Moscow Embassy and the Consulate General in St. Petersburg will start processing the relevant applications according to the new formula. The duration of waiting time in the queue to submit documents «will be similar to other Schengen countries».