After Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 and their citizens have been able to work across the EU since 2014, certain amount of people in the UK, Germany, France and other Western European countries are concerned about possible floods of immigration from there. Tabloids claim foreigners take jobs from natives and get benefits they pay for, leaders of right parties criticize European immigration policy and finally referendum in the UK takes place in summer.

Migration in the EU often seems a one-way flow, from Eastern to Western Europe, from the new members of the EU to the old ones. Many people have a vague impression that countries like Bulgaria are poor post-Soviet states which certainly can’t be attractive as a place to live. It makes it difficult to think about migration as a two-way process which it was meant to be and it is.

More than 25 years have passed since Bulgaria was a Soviet state. Now in its cosmopolitan towns with an international city vibe people from all over Europe feel comfortable and spend time with joy. Maybe one of the best examples is Varna, an adorable city at the Black Sea which resembles tiny sea gems in Italy and Portugal with its stylish cafes and old churches. People from the UK, Germany and France come here to live and seem to be content about their choice. E&M asked Europeans in Varna why they moved and what they like about the city.

Photo courtesy of Olga Pavlova

To study medicine at A bar near the sea

Filipp Wessman, a student of Medical University, from Cologne, Germany, moved in 2013.

‘Where else can you study at the beach? You should enjoy it! It’s something unique about Varna. I and my friends often go to a beach bar to do homework or just chill out. The weather is good most of the year, once we even swam in December! It was fun.

I chose a university in Varna mostly because of the location, and the city totally met my expectations. People speak English or German, there are a lot of nice places to visit and you can go out at any time – I feel comfortable here. I’m waiting for my German friends to come in summer – I want to show them the city, they must like it as much as I do’. 

To transfer business and pay less taxes

Didier Cuber, a businessman from Lille, France, moved in 2009.

‘I’m doing translations from German to French for companies in Germany and Switzerland, mostly for BMW Switzerland, and I can work anywhere. In Germany where I lived for several years, taxes are 50%, in France 33%, here I pay 10% – it’s a huge difference.

For the first time I came to Varna for holiday in 2002. I knew Bulgaria would join the EU in 2007 and I decided to move here. Then I travelled around the country, and I still think Varna was the best choice.

In Bulgaria everything is open all the time: you can fix problems with the car 24/7, all shops and restaurants work on Sundays and holidays. Last year I was in France and couldn’t have lunch at 3 pm, not even a sandwich. Another thing, in Varna you feel safe and secure, for seven years I haven’t seen any fights or other trouble. All in all I like it here much more than in France.

What I don’t like so much about Bulgaria: you will pay much more for everything if you don’t know the right people. The good thing is, it’s not so difficult to get to know them, Bulgarians are very open. It took me one year to establish connections, but now I can have all things and services for the right price.

I bought an apartment here located 100 meters from the sea. My friends from France, Germany, Switzerland said the same place in these countries would cost one or two million euros. That’s what many people don’t understand: the sea is the sea and the sun is the sun everywhere – in Nice, in Monaco, in Varna.

To open a language school and make lots of friends

Mark McTaggart, a director of the British Academy, from London, the UK, moved in 2003. 

‘I worked for the British Council in Varna from 2003 till 2006, when they closed it. At the time there were no schools with native speakers in the city, and I had a choice – to set up one or leave Varna. I decided to stay.

I think it would be difficult to start business here without a Bulgarian partner. I am lucky to have one . She worked in administration of the British council and now deals with the authorities and documents, she’s very good at that.

Photo courtesy of Olga Pavlova

The hardest part is recruiting teachers, and the sea and the weather is certainly one of the main selling points. Now I worry a lot about the referendum in the UK this summer: if Britain leaves the EU, it will be a huge problem for us – all the teachers will need to get work permission. At the moment they need almost nothing, we just register them.

Since the school is open I have tested all the students, and we have 450 of them every term. So I got to know a lot of people and now meet acquaintances all the time – on the street, in the restaurants, basically wherever I go. In London and other big cities in the UK you’re just an anonymous person, while in Varna you have much more friendly feel, and it suits me better.

I’ve been here for 13 years, and before that I couldn’t stay anywhere longer than 6 months – it’s amazing it has lasted so long. I’m planning to stay – the business is doing well, so it would be silly to leave’.

To teach English and eat healthy food

Benjamin Parkin, a teacher in the English Academy from Worthing, the UK, moved in 2012. 

‘I didn’t come here because of Bulgaria, I decided to move because of the details of the job – the fact that I’m going to teach exam courses to adults. Also I liked the school: all the teachers here are native English speakers, atmosphere is friendly, the staff are funny, kind and considerate.

I’ve been here for 4 years but haven’t explored much of the country yet, because Varna is kind of difficult to escape, especially in summer when there are a lot of tourists and more activities in the evenings.

Of course there are a lot of things in the UK which are easier to do and of higher quality, let’s be honest. For example the city desperately needs multi-storey car parks, although I hate them in general. But all in all I like it here: people are nice and easy to get on with, food in the markets is excellent and women are good-looking’.

Photo courtesy of Olga Pavlova

To write music and travel along the coast

Wolfgang Purkhard, a musician from Kaiserlautern, Germany, moved in 2012.

‘Bulgarians don’t understand why I live here, while in Germany you can earn more money. Well, I worked a lot in Germany – 5 days a week as a woodcarver, and on weekends we played in bars with a band. Now I can do I want, so I live here writing rock and rhythm-and-blues music and playing guitar in bars occasionally. Maybe later I will record some of my songs.

When I decided to move from Germany, I spent a year and a half travelling. I lived in Paraguay, Thailand, South Africa and then chose Bulgaria: it’s close to Germany, prices are twice lower, climate is great, and landscapes are as beautiful as in South Africa. I traveled by car along the seacoast to Turkey and to Romania – it was amazing.

Only when I bought a phrasebook did I discover that they had a different alphabet, so it would be harder than I thought to learn the language. But I managed to do it, and now it’s easier to me to talk in Bulgarian than in English.’

Obviously Bulgaria has something to offer to Europeans. Mild warm climate, picturesque landscapes, healthy food, solid city infrastructure, low prices as well as good opportunities for work and business attract people with different goals and social positions from all over the EU.

So migration goes both ways, and everybody wins in the end. While some Bulgarians move to the UK, Germany and France, people from these countries migrate to Bulgaria and find better life here. And if we look at the whole picture we will see all Europeans move freely searching for the right place which can be in Bulgaria as well as in the UK or Germany. 

Cover photo: Kamen Kunchev (Flickr); Credit: CC BY 2.0

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    Olga Pavlova is a journalist from Russia currently living in Varna, Bulgaria. She worked as an editor at InStyle and Conde Nast Traveller magazines in Moscow, finished the London School of Journalism in 2015 and now is writing about travelling and lifestyle. She is interested in Italian art, Russian literature and European cinema.

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