Bulgaria and Romania are officially part of the Schengen area

from March 31st, 2024

Schengen street board - BULGARIA

After the long awaited Schengen membership of Bulgaria, now (from 31.03.2024), Bulgaria becomes officially a Schengen member state. We will explain here what the consequences of the Bulgaria’s accession to Schengen will be. We will mainly focus on what the Bulgarian Schengen membership will mean to the foreigners, who are holding Bulgarian visas or residence permits. But first, let’s start briefly with what will change for the Bulgarian citizens.

Schengen and Bulgarian citizens

Basically, for Bulgarian citizens, Schengen is nothing, but a few minutes (or even seconds) less waiting time at the border. Bulgarian citizens are enjoying ultimate freedom of movement within the EU. So Schengen is nothing that relates to their travel or living rights. At all EU borders, Bulgarians are passing freely and the Bulgarian Schengen membership is irrelevant to the Bulgarians’ rights.

The biggest hurdle to Bulgarians is the Bulgarian-Greek border, where waiting times can be annoying during the holiday season. Now that Bulgaria is in Schengen by air and sea (from 31.03.2024), this will not change immediately. However, it has been already decided that the land-borders checks will be lifted in due course as well.

The Council shall endeavour to take a decision lifting checks on persons at internal land borders.

COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2024/210 – 30 December 2023

All in all, Schengen is irrelevant to the unrestricted rights of free movement of the Bulgarians. As citizens of the European Union, Bulgarians enjoy the same rights as all other EU citizens – period.

Schengen and the foreigners with Bulgarian visas and residence permits

The Bulgarian accession to the Schengen area is big news for the foreigners, living in or visiting the country. For them, the Bulgarian visa or residence permit becomes a real freedom tool! It is now a quite different document from what it was in the Bulgarian pre-Schengen era. So let’s see what is changing now that Bulgaria becomes a member of the Schengen area.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Bulgaria and Schengen

Below are the most important questions that we were asked by our clients in the first days after it was decided that Bulgaria is joining Schengen. Our answers are based on the decision of the EU council and the relevant legal acts. It is possible that some of the answers will be adjusted at a later time. This will be based on the exact implementation of Bulgaria and Romania’s Schengen accession.

The Decision of the Council of the European Union

First things first. We will start with the most important part of the official decision of the EU Council. It is important to mention that the decision is already published in the Official Journal of the European Union:

From 31 March 2024, checks on persons at internal air and sea borders with and between Bulgaria and Romania shall be lifted and the provisions of the Schengen acquis referred to in the Annex shall apply to Bulgaria and Romania between themselves and in their relations with the Kingdom of Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Kingdom of Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of Estonia, the Hellenic Republic, the Kingdom of Spain, the French Republic, the Republic of Croatia, the Italian Republic, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Poland, the Portuguese Republic, the Republic of Slovenia, the Slovak Republic, the Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden, as well as Iceland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Kingdom of Norway and the Swiss Confederation.COUNCIL DECISION (EU) 2024/210

So let’s see what will all that mean for the foreigners who hold Bulgarian visas and Bulgarian residence permits.

Bulgarian short-term Schengen visa

Bulgarian Schengen short term visas

Starting from 01.04.2024, Bulgaria will be issuing Schengen visas. The Bulgarian issued Schengen visa will be good for travel to Bulgaria, as well as to all other Schengen member states. This is great news for many foreigners of course. As from April 1st, they will be able to use their Bulgarian short-term visas to access all Schengen countries.

The validity of the Schengen visas

The Schengen visa is valid for a short term stay of up-to 90 days in any 180 day period. The exact length of the validity of the visa is explicitly indicated on the visa sticker.

Schengen visa doesn’t guarantee entry

Prior to Bulgaria’s Schengen membership, Bulgarian national visas were good for travel to Romania, Cyprus and Croatia. Now, anyone with Bulgarian Schengen visa will be able to travel virtually everywhere in Europe. It is essential to comprehend though, that the Schengen visa doesn’t guarantee entry. The visitor may be required to provide additional documentation at the entry point. Such can be for example proof of sufficient means, documents showing the purpose of the visit, etc. This obviously applies to all Schengen visas, irrelevant of the issuing country.

Schengen Bulgaria by air and sea

Travelling by land, air and sea within the Schengen area

Even though the land border checks between Bulgaria and the other Schengen countries will still remain for some time, this doesn’t affect the right of the Bulgarian (Schengen) visa holders to visit other Schengen countries. And this right will apply to all type of transportation (border crossing) – by air, sea and land. In other words, Bulgarian Schengen visas will be valid for travel to all Schengen countries. And it is irrelevant of whether the travel will be bi airplane, car, bus, train, boat, etc.

Bulgarian national visas issued prior to 31.03.2024 will automatically become equivalent to Schengen visas on 01.04.2024. This is if these are short-term visas with maximum allowed stay of 90 days during a 180-days period.

residing long term in Bulgaria

Bulgarian residence permits are good for travel in the Schengen zone

Probably the best news for the foreigners, residing in Bulgaria is that their residence permits will be good for visa-free travel to all Schengen member states.

With a Bulgarian residence permit one can now (from 01.04.2024) visit other Schengen countries for a period of 90 days in every 180-days period.

Staying long-term in another Schengen country with Bulgarian long-term residence permit

Visiting other Schengen member states with your Bulgarian residence permit is allowed, for as long as your stay is compliant with a “short-term visit”. This is to say – maximum 90 days in each 180-days period. As there are no border checks between Bulgaria and the other Schengen countries (currently only by air and sea, but soon by land too), it is unclear how the authorities will be able to asses the time spent in another Schengen country. We urge all our readers however to observe the legal rules and not to overstay the 90-days rule.

Some additional thoughts about the impact of the Bulgarian Schengen membership

Bulgarian Golden visa and Schengen visa-free travel

Bulgarian Golden Visa

Investors from all over the world have been strongly interested to obtain Bulgarian citizenship and passport. Bulgarian residence permit has never been as desired as the residence permits of Portugal or Greece for example. This was due to the fact that with Bulgarian residence card, the foreigner could not travel visa-free to the Schengen countries. At the same time, Portugal and Greece were offering this opportunity. But now everything changes. Bulgarian residence permit becomes a real Golden Visa and the interest from the international community is already skyrocketing.

Getting Bulgarian residence permit will become more difficult

At the same time however, we expect that the authorities will tighten the regime of granting residence permits to foreigners. Bulgaria has now engaged to safeguard the Schengen area even harder than before. And with the sharply increased interest for the (now much more desirable) Bulgarian residence permit, immigration authorities will be more vigilant than ever.

An interesting hypothesis for the illegal foreigners in Bulgaria

We will have a theoretical problem when an illegal foreigner in Bulgaria (no visa, no residence permit) decides to visit another Schengen member state by air. As there are no border checks at the airport, it seems that the foreigner will be able to freely leave Bulgaria and enter the other Schengen country. But the reason for not lifting (yet) the land border checks between Bulgaria and the Schengen countries is exactly, because of the fear of illegal immigrants from Bulgaria. So how will this illegal foreigner be stopped? We believe this will be handled by the airlines, who will receive clear instructions not to allow illegal foreigners on board. Such rules are already in place and the airlines are financially responsible for transporting illegal immigrants. We believe that these rules will be applied even more strictly at the Bulgarian airports during check-in.

Bad news for some British citizens

British citizens are big fans of Bulgaria, often chasing the cheap booze or the rustic life in the countryside. After Brexit however, many Brits found themselves in a difficult situation as to how to legalize their stay in Bulgaria. It was then when many found the “backdoor” of staying 90 days visa-free in Bulgaria, then leaving for Greece for another 90 days and then returning back. This arrangement will be not possible anymore, as both Greece and Bulgaria will be Schengen member states.

We believe we have covered all aspects and have answered the most important questions about the Bulgarian Schengen membership. If you have any remarks or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.