When a foreign citizen moves to live in Bulgaria, has received a long-term or permanent residence permit and wishes to drive within Bulgaria, they should replace their driver’s license with a Bulgarian one.
The driver’s license in Bulgaria is officially called a “license for driving a motor vehicle”. It also serves as an identity document within the country.
Under Article 162, Paragraph 2 of the Law on Road Traffic: Foreign nationals who are long-term residents of the Republic of Bulgaria may drive motor vehicles within the country with a driver’s license not issued by an EU member state or by another country, party to the European Economic Area Agreement, or by the Swiss Confederation, up to one year from the date of the residence document. In court practice, it is assumed the above applies not only to foreign nationals with long-term residence but also to those with a permitted continuous or permanent residence.
After the expiration of this one year, the foreign resident is required to replace their driver’s license with a Bulgarian one. If they fail to do so, they will be automatically given the status of an unlicensed driver and if this becomes known to the law enforcement authorities during a car inspection, they will be sanctioned with an administrative penalty, a BGN 100 to 300 fine, in compliance with Article 177, Paragraph 1, Item 2 of the Law on Road Traffic. The consequences resulting from the invalidity of policies, such as Civil Liability and Casco, can also be significant.
If a foreigner residing in Bulgaria (driver of a motor vehicle) holding a driver’s license issued in the EU, is driving within Bulgaria without having it replaced, the foreign license shall be revoked and replaced with a Bulgarian one if an administrative violation is established by the control authorities. The replaced license shall be officially sent back to its country of origin.
The specifics of the procedure for replacing a driver’s license generally depend on the country in which the foreign license was issued. Based on this, either the foreign document may be considered valid, or the driver shall have to retake the driving test.
To replace a foreign driver’s license without taking an exam, the document needs to be issued by a party to the European Economic Area Agreement or by the Swiss Confederation, or by a state which is a contracting party to the Convention on Road Traffic. In the latter case, the license should meet the requirements of Annex 6 of the Convention. In all other cases, the driver’s license can be replaced with a Bulgarian one after successfully passing the theoretical-practical exam.
When replacing a driver’s license of a foreign national, the rule says that the vehicle categories acquired abroad shall be matched to their equivalent categories specified in the Law on Road Traffic and the regulations for its implementation.
An important condition for replacement is that the foreign license submitted for replacement be valid. A driver’s license which is restricted, suspended, or revoked within another EU member state shall not be considered valid; the same applies if the license has been cancelled in another EU member state.
To submit an application for replacement, the foreign citizen shall be required to: