The EU is a confusing beast! The name implies a “European Union” but in reality, only about half of the countries in Europe are members.
Is Bulgaria one of them?
Hers is a quick rundown of how it all works and what Schengen means for North American travelers.
Is Bulgaria in the European Union
Yes. Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since 2007. They joined the same year as their neighbours in Romania.
What Qualifies a Country to Join the EU?
To join the European Union, a country must meet what is called the “Copenhagen Criteria.”
Stability of institutions guaranteeing:
- Rule of Law
- Human Rights (Including respect and protection for minorities)
- Functioning market economy (including the “capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union”)
“Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.“
Does Bulgaria Have Full EU Membership
Yes. Bulgaria enjoys the benefits of being a member state of the EU. Citizens are free to travel, work, and go to school throughout the EU. Bulgaria has not yet adopted the currency of the European Union: The Euro
Why Doesn’t Bulgaria Use the Euro?
Certain economic requirements must be met in order to use the Euro. Some countries have opted not to use it at all, to maintain a certain economic autonomy.
Bulgaria doesn’t use the Euro yet, but they soon will. They have been planning to switch from their local currency – Leva – to the Euro for several years. Most recently they had planned to switch by 2022, but that has been pushed back to January 1, 2024.
Will Bulgaria Stay in the EU?
There is no reason to believe that Bulgaria will leave the EU at any point in the future. In fact the application to join the currency is almost irreversible at this point, and only the timing can change.
History of the EU (In under a minute)
The European Union that we know today, started in 1993. It was originally just 12 countries:
- Great Britain
- The Netherlands
- The Republic of Ireland
While this was the first European Union of that name, an agreement of European countries was first proposed in the 1940’s after WWII.
The idea was to have a treaty and enjoy some peace after years of war.
The first ever working agreement came in 1957 between just six countries:
- The Netherlands
- West Germany (Wow! Throwback!)
Today the European Union consists of these 27 member states, and almost every year more are in the process to join:
- Republic of Cyprus
- Czech Republic
There are countries on this list that have territories overseas.
Many of these territories are sort-of members of the EU under the OCTA – “Overseas Countries and Territories Association” – which is associated with the EU.
What European Countries are Not in the EU?
Currently 23 countries in Europe are not part of the EU. They are:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- North Macedonia
- San Marino
- United Kingdom (Left EU in 2020)
- Vatican City
Several of these countries are in the process of joining the EU, or are waiting to qualify.
Is Every Balkan Country Part of the EU?
Only Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and Slovenia are currently Balkan members of the EU.
Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia are all in the process of joining the EU.
Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina may want to join in the future, but do not currently meet the criteria.
If you consider parts of Greece and Turkey to be Balkan (as some do) then Greece is a member of the EU and Turkey is in the process of joining.
Is Bulgaria a Schengen Country?
The Schengen Agreement established a passport control and visa free zone that members can travel within freely. Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen area, and as such, guests need to go through passport control to enter.
Schengen vs EU
You might remember that the EU allows for its members to travel and work freely, so what gives?
Members of the EU are still free to come and go in Bulgaria without restrictions, but there is an internal border, unlike other countries.
If you take a train through several countries within the Schengen area, you will do so without ever having to show your passport.
If you travel through Bulgaria, you will get an entry stamp, and they will also check your passport when you leave.
What Countries are in Schengen?
The Schengen Area currently has 26 member countries. Most, but not all, are also part of the EU:
- Czech Republic
Will Bulgaria Join Schengen
Bulgaria has been waiting to join the Schengen Agreement, pending approval by all of the other countries involved. They should be part of the Schengen Area in 2022.
The Schengen Area is good news for citizens living within the zone, and bad news for travelers from outside the area.
Why is that?
There is a time limit for how long non-members can stay visa-free in the whole Schengen area – 90 of 180 days.
The more countries that get added to the agreement, the less time you can spend in each. This isn’t a problem for short term visitors, but for anyone taking a gap year, or being a digital nomad, this makes long-term travel in Europe difficult.
Simply put, you can spend only 90 days total in any combination of those 26 countries before you have to leave the Shengen area for another 90 days.
Bulgaria used to be one of the few European countries that you could go to while waiting out the 90 days to travel in member countries again. Soon a stay in Bulgaria will count towards your 90 total days.
Our other favorite country, Portugal, is already in the Schengen area.
When we finally begin our gap year we will need to spend time making new favorites, like Albania or Georgia!