This article is inspired from a questions we have received from a very intelligent couple from Israel. They are willing to retire in Bulgaria, but are facing the problem of opening Bulgarian bank account and finding a reliable housing for the purpose of immigration.
People say that the best time in life comes after you retire. True or not, but our parents and grandparents deserve good life after they stop working. So how can a foreigner retire in Bulgaria if he has pension from his home country?
Foreign pensioners can obtain visa D and residence permit in Bulgaria
Unfortunately however, this doesn’t come without its caveats. The Bulgarian foreigners law stipulates that:
Foreigners who hold visa D and have received the right to a pension according to the Bulgarian legislation, to that of their country of origin or of another country and have sufficient means of subsistence in the country (Bulgaria) may obtain a long-term residence permit.Art. 24 (1), p.10
In other words, in order to obtain Bulgarian residence permit, the foreign pensioner has to meet the following two criteria:
- to be a pensioner (to have the right of a pension in any country) and;
- to have sufficient means of subsistence to financially support himself while in Bulgaria.
So far so good, but let’s see what the regulations to the foreigner’s law say.
The Regulations to the foreigners law
The provisions of the foreigners law are clarified in another official legal act – the Regulations to the law. These Regulations stipulate that:
For obtaining the right of long-term residence on the grounds of art. 24 (1), p.10 of the foreigners law, the foreigner shall submit the documents under Art. 14 (1) and:
1. a document issued by the competent authorities of the respective state, certifying that he has received the right to a pension;
2. document issued by a Bulgarian bank, certifying that there is an available account on which the respective transfers from the pension will be received.Art. 23
And the relevant Art.14 (1) of the Regulations, requires from the foreigner to submit:
- a copy of a regular passport or a document substituting it with the pages of the photograph, personal data, visa D, when required, and the seal for the last entry into the country; to verify the authenticity of the copy, the original of the passport or the document substituting it shall be also presented;
- document for paid state fee;
- evidence for suitable housing in Bulgaria;
- compulsory medical insurance;
- evidence of stable, regular, foreseeable and sufficient means of subsistence, without resorting to the social assistance system, in an amount not less than the minimum monthly salary, the minimum scholarship or the minimum pension for the country, for the period of residence on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria;
- a criminal record certificate issued by the state of which the foreigner is a citizen, or by the state of his / her habitual residence – upon initial submission of the application.
From all required documents, the “hard to get” ones are the document, issued by Bulgarian bank and the evidence for suitable housing. So let’s see why are these so difficult to get.
Certificate from Bulgarian bank
This is the “game over” for many. “Why”, you will ask? Simply, because Bulgarian banks reject most of the foreigners who want to open bank accounts in Bulgaria.
In best case scenario, the bank will ask the foreigner to present residence permit first. Only then the bank may eventually open him a bank account. But how can a foreign pensioner present such, when he needs a bank account in order to obtain it? It’s like the “chicken and egg” paradox. So for most “would be” foreign pensioners in Bulgaria, this requirement is the end of the road. And this is quite unfortunate. Bulgaria has so much to offer to people willing to retire in the country.
Is the requirement for Bulgarian bank account legal?
We think NOT. The foreigners law, doesn’t specify anything about having Bulgarian bank account in order to apply for pensioner’s visa and residence permit. The Regulations to the law however require having Bulgarian bank account. By definition, the Regulations only supplement the law. The Regulations may not impose additional requirements and if there are such, the Court should overrule them.
It is not 100% clear whether the requirement to have a bank account in Bulgaria, where the foreign pension is to be received, is an additional requirement. One could argue, that this is normal and logical, so the Regulations are only explicitly mentioning it. And indeed, the law says that the foreigner must have sufficient means of subsistence to financially support himself while in Bulgaria.
We think however that the requirement to have Bulgarian bank account doesn’t result from the requirements of the foreigners law. There is nothing wrong or irregular if the foreigner receives his pension abroad and then spends it with bank or credit card. He can also pay his bills in Bulgaria straight from his foreign bank account.
Even more, nowhere the foreigners law states, that the foreign pensioner has to use the money from his pension in order to support his stay in Bulgaria. The law only stipulates, that the foreigner must have the “right to a pension” and sufficient funds. Nothing about where and how this pension is to be paid out or transferred to. So, we think, the Regulations have “invented” an unlawful requirement for the applicant to have Bulgarian bank account. We believe, the Bulgarian courts should start ignoring this requirement so the foreign pensioner should be enabled to obtain residence permit without having their pensions paid over to Bulgarian banks.
Suitable housing in Bulgaria
This is another “chicken and egg” problem. To have suitable housing, a foreigner should either own or rent property in Bulgaria. But renting long-term without residence permit is problematic, least to say. The address that the foreigner will provide will be inspected thoroughly by the immigration authorities, so a suitable housing doesn’t equate to a formal address in Bulgaria.
As to the legality of this requirement, we believe it is legal for 100%. Although the housing requirement is not foreseen in the law, but in the Regulations only, it is a vital conditions that everyone has to meet.