Bulgaria is not currently part of the Schengen Zone, but it has been working on changing that. So, where does that leave Bulgarian citizens? Do they need to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver or not, and if so, what kind of freedoms will it provide them with?

Let’s take a look…

What is the ETIAS?

ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System. It’s a system utilized by the Schengen Zone as a way of safeguarding its borders. All applications are completed online and are processed automatically, with manual reviews only kicking in when there are issues with the application.

The purpose of the ETIAS is to make sure that serious criminals are not granted access into the Schengen Zone, otherwise, those criminals would be allowed to move freely throughout many major nations. It prevents such issues by checking applications against international databases, thus preventing human traffickers, drug smugglers, and violent criminals from visiting.

Is Bulgaria in the Schengen Zone?

Bulgaria joined the European Union (EU) back in 2007, but it did not immediately join the Schengen Agreement. As a result of Bulgaria’s EU membership, its citizens are allowed to travel freely throughout the EU, including countries like Greece and France. They can even travel without a passport, providing they own a valid National ID.

Initially, Bulgaria tried to sign the Schengen Agreement, but there were many concerns about corruption and crime within the country and, as a result, it didn’t meet the criteria required of all Schengen countries. However, its inclusion in the EU means that it is obliged to join the Schengen Zone at some point in the future and it has been working hard to meet the criteria.

In 2020, Bulgaria joined the SIS II program. A year later, its bid to join the Schengen Zone was approved by the EU Parliament but eventually blocked. It continued to improve and stake its claim, and in late-2018, the EU Parliament voted to accept Bulgaria into the Schengen Zone.

Bulgaria may join the Schengen Zone by late 2022, at which point the ETIAS visa waiver program will become valid. If not, it shouldn’t be too long until it signs the agreement and the ETIAS takes effect.

ETIAS Visa Waiver for Bulgaria

Once Bulgaria joins the Schengen Zone, its citizens will be allowed to move freely throughout the region. Before that date, they still have freedom of movement due to the country’s inclusion in the European Union.

It doesn’t make a huge difference for Bulgarian citizens, but it will impact those wishing to travel to the Balkan country.

You can apply for an ETIAS online. You will need a valid passport, a credit or debit card, and a secure internet connection. The application should take just a few minutes to complete and it will require you to pay a €7 fee. Upon completion and approval, you will receive confirmation via email, at which point your ETIAS will remain valid for 3 years.

An ETIAS can be used to visit Bulgaria for up to 90 consecutive days. Once you land, you can also travel to nearby countries within the Schengen Zone, including Greece, which lies to the south of Bulgaria and is one of Europe’s most-visited nations.

Where Do Bulgarians Go on Vacation?

Bulgarians spend a lot of time in Greece, a Schengen country on the Bulgarian border. It’s not just about convenience, though, as Greece is one of the most-visited countries in the world and has an economy that relies heavily on tourism. Despite its proximity, Greece has a vastly different culture and history, with Bulgarians stepping out of the Balkans and into the Mediterranean.

According to travel company Kuoni, the country that most people want to visit—the one that they include on their bucket lists—is the Maldives. It’s a dream that they share with neighboring Romania, as well as Poland, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Which Countries Can Bulgarians Visit Without a Visa?

Bulgarians can use their identity card to visit most European countries and if Bulgaria eventually joins the Schengen Zone, travel will continue to be easy throughout Europe’s major nations.

Of course, not all of Europe is in the Schengen Zone, but some excluded countries still offer access to Bulgarian passport holders. The United Kingdom, for instance, allows Bulgarians to visit for up to 6 months at a time. Prior to October 2021, they could visit with only their Bulgarian National ID, but a passport became mandatory after this date.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Armenia, and Albania can also be visited without a visa or a visa exemption. Outside of Europe, Bulgarians can visit Argentina, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and many other major holiday destinations without needing to apply for a visa.