The answer is ‘YES’. But with there are a number of caveats. We advise you to read this article carefully and contact us immediately if you have even the slightest doubt about your rights!
Citizens of countries with which Bulgaria and the EU have a visa-free regime can obviously enter Bulgaria without a visa. Such are the citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, Brazil and others. Passport holders of these countries can visit Bulgaria and the EU for tourism for up to 3 months without an entry visa.
Citizens who need a visa for Bulgaria, but are family members of EU citizens
This article will examine the legal status of third-country nationals who do not have visa-free regime with Bulgaria. Such are, for example, the citizens of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, etc. In particular, we will examine the legal possibility for these foreigners to visit Bulgaria without a visa obtained in advance, in case they are family members of citizens of the European Union.
How can citizen of a country with visa regime enter Bulgaria if he is a member of the family of an EU citizen?
The status of third-country nationals who are family members of EU citizens is regulated in:
THE LAW ON THE ENTRY, RESIDENCE AND LEAVE FROM THE REPUBLIC OF BULGARIA OF THE CITIZENS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE MEMBERS OF THEIR FAMILIES (hereinafter referred to as the Law)
The main rule for entry into Bulgaria of foreigners from third countries
Art. 4, para 2 of the Law states that:
A family member of a citizen of the European Union who is not a citizen of the EU enters the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria with a valid passport and visa, when such is required ….
So far, everything seems clear. And at first glance logical. If a foreigner needs an entry visa for Bulgaria in general, he also needs one even though he is a member of the family of an EU citizen.
The exception – EU Directive 2004/38/EC
Without going too much into the details, the EU directive gives a number of rights to the EU citizens and their family members. One of the main such rights is the right of family members of EU citizens to travel freely between Member States.
The provisions of the directive have been transposed into law in Bulgaria, but somehow “shyly”, even “slyly”, to describe it in non-legal language. At first glance, the legislator has obviously intended to comply as much as possible with the European regulations. But at the same time, the texts in the Bulgarian law seem to be written in such a way as to be as vague as possible with regard to the rights of the foreigners from third countries.
The key – Article 4, paragraph 5 of the Law
The provision in question states that:
When a citizen of the European Union or a member of his family who is not a citizen of the EU does not have the documents under para. 1 and 2 (ie visa and even a passport), before taking action for non-admission, he is given the opportunity to obtain the necessary documents or to certify by other means that he has the right to free movement.
In practice, this means that a third-country national – a family member of an EU citizen – has the right to enter Bulgaria, even when:
- does not have a visa, even if one is required;
- does not have a valid passport.
This right is objectified in the case that the foreigner can:
- prove that he is a member of the family of an EU citizen;
- obtain the necessary documents (visa and / or passport) or prove otherwise that he has the right to free movement.
What does this mean in practice
In practice, the legal provisions mean that a foreigner – a third-country national and a family member of an EU citizen can enter Bulgaria without a visa obtained in advance.
In this case, this citizen will have to be given the right (at the Bulgarian border) to prove that he or she is a member of the family of an EU citizen with whom he or she is traveling or is joining. If this happens, the citizen of a third country will have to be issued entry visa and admitted to the territory of Bulgaria.
Theoretically, by the same legal logic, a foreigner who does not have a passport should also be allowed to enter Bulgaria. This is of course if the same conditions as above are met. In practice, however, it will be extremely difficult to issue a passport or a replacement document at the Bulgarian border to a foreigner. Without a passport, it would be also practically impossible for the foreigner to travel to Bulgaria, either by air, land or sea, as passport is usually required to board any international transport.
Unfortunately, there are many problems when it comes to entering Bulgaria without a visa. First of all, the Bulgarian border authorities are hard to be convinced that the foreigner is a member of the family of a European citizen. As a rule, all “irregular” passengers are denied entry and the foreigner may not be even listened to. The Bulgarian border authorities have also other, completely legal means to refuse the entry of the foreigner, even if the slightest doubt occurs.
Buying air tickets and especially boarding a plane without a visa is also uncertain. Airport staff, as well as the border authorities, do not have the necessary legal training to always be able to act adequately. Airlines have a huge financial responsibility for transporting illegal immigrants and their caution is understandable.
How we assist EU third-country nationals to protect their rights
If this article relates to you and you don’t want to take any chances, the best thing you can do is to contact us. Our specialists will make sure that all your documents are in order. At the Bulgarian border you will be greeted by a lawyer who will explain to the border authorities your rights and avoid the risks of not being allowed entry into the country.