I don‘t want anyone who doesn‘t want me.Oprah Winfrey
So what changed at the end of 2018 and is it still possible for a foreigner to open bank account in Bulgaria?
Bank account opening in Bulgaria for non-residents and non-citizens
Bulgarians vs foreigners
First of all, what you may be still reading on the Bulgarian banks’ websites, as to their conditions for account opening, the required documents, etc. – the best you can do is to simply ignore it. It basically only applies to Bulgarians now (although it may not be explicitly mentioned). Bank account opening in Bulgaria by a foreigner is now a challenge, least to say.
The new challenges
If you are reading this, you are probably one of the many foreigners in Bulgaria who were rejected by the Bulgarian banks and have therefore failed to open a bank account (and have been left with that sour and unpleasant feeling of being turned down). So you are obviously wondering what went wrong. Well, there is a good and a bad news. The bad news, to start with, is that it is now difficult, even close to impossible for a foreigner to open bank account in Bulgaria (even if you have a local address). The good news is that you are not alone so you shouldn’t think you are being singled out. More good news is that while very hard now, it is still possible to open account in Bulgaria (both personal and company). It will however require more effort, a different approach, professional assistance and most importantly – determination.
The changes after 2018
Basically, what happened at the end of 2018 – beginning of 2019, is that foreigners in Bulgaria can not open (at least not easily) personal bank accounts anymore; they can’t also open company bank accounts and not even seed capital corporate bank accounts, which are needed for the registration of new Bulgarian company. As a result, virtually all company registrations by foreign directors and shareholders were put to a hold and consequently, the price of Bulgarian shelf companies that come with active bank accounts – skyrocketed. And if you think that having a Bulgarian address, either through a property purchase, through rental contract in the country or through a trusted friend in Bulgaria will help, then think twice. If you think that producing a utility bill will change something – no it won’t. From our experience, and even more importantly, from information obtained from high-rank bank officials, the Bulgarian banks are not interested in any of these. They will now open bank account to a foreign person only in the following 3 cases:
- If the person has a permanent residency status in Bulgaria. Please note that the applicant has to be in possession of Bulgarian permanent residency card (long term residency doesn’t do the job here);
- If the person has been introduced to the bank by professional company with outspoken reputation who will be able to assist in the due diligence procedures and the KYC standards;
- If the person is of exceptional character, well known to the bank and in general, with outstanding international reputation.
One may ask the logical question “why all of a sudden, foreigners are not welcomed anymore by the local bankers in Bulgaria”. There are two main reasons and we will try to explain them below:
Due diligence and KYC procedures – more important than ever
First and most importantly, banking is not as it used to be. Banking in the EU (and not only btw) is heavily regulated and the banks are fighting with a lot of bureaucracy in order to comply with regulations from all sides. There are comprehensive standards imposed on all Bulgarian banks and they now need to comply with heavy due diligence and KYC (know your customer) procedures. Needless to say these are far easier when the bank is opening an account for Bulgarian national than for a foreigner. At the same time, Bulgarians tend to establish much longer lasting banking relations (and hence invest and spend more money), for obvious reasons.
The other reason for the reluctance to open foreign bank accounts is the fact that the foreign clients require much more attention than the locals. Foreigners don’t speak Bulgarian (most of them) and are unaware of the established standards and banking products in Bulgaria. They have unrealistic expectations that are usually based on the banking system in their home countries and are expecting the local banking industry to adapt to their needs, which is obviously impossible. Additionally, the foreign client in Bulgaria is in general much more cost and fees cautious than the Bulgarians are and are consequentially spending (in fact wasting) a lot of time by trying to negotiate special conditions for their operations, something that is simply not possible. One study shows that the Bulgarian clients spend an average of 4 minutes when visiting a bank office while the foreign clients leave the bank after an average of 43 minutes.
With all that said, it is no wonder that the Bulgarian banks are eagerly servicing Bulgarians while foreign clients are being carefully selected and only a few get approved. Even if you posses large amount of money to start your banking relationship with, your chances get even slimmer as the due diligence requirements will increase exponentially, because of the amounts involved.
How can we help you with your bank account opening in Bulgaria?
We have outstanding and long lasting relations with virtually all banking institutions in Bulgaria. For our clients, we perform the ever so important preliminary due diligence procedure and are hence ensuring their successful bank account opening. We assist in personal bank account opening for EU and non-EU citizens, for Bulgarian companies with foreign directors or shareholders and even for entirely foreign legal entities. We believe our success rate to be the best in Bulgaria. If you have decided to open Bulgarian bank account, we strongly advise you to contact us prior to your bank account application being rejected, as the procedure then becomes more cumbersome.
When the Due Diligence fails
In some cases, the due diligence can show that the foreign applicant has some serious background issues, such as criminal history or bankruptcies. If that is your case, your chances to successfully open a bank account in Bulgaria are decreasing dramatically. Even then though, we strongly advise you to liaise with our relevant department (or your usual contact) in order to discuss your options.