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MONEY & BANKS

Bulgaria's currency is called Lev (BGL), plural: Leva. One Lev is made up of 100 stotinki. The currency was redenominated in 1999. Now it is tied to the EURO and the exchange rate is fixed at EURO 1 = BGL 1,95583.

Exchange bureaux are found on all major streets in Sofia and large towns. Some of them, located in the downtown area of the city, charge commission but are not very up-front about it. Best to ask how much you will receive before you hand over your money. Don't be tempted to change money on the streets or you might be cheated. Travellers cheques must be cashed at banks and most charge a commission.

The country's banking crisis of 1996-97 has been stabilized through monetary reforms and the introduction of a currency board. Since 1997, the national currency, the lev, has been tied to the German Deutschemark. As the old currency had far too many zeros, the lev was re-denominated in July 1999 to bring it into a 1:1 ratio with the Deutschemark. The old lev bills will be in circulation until December 31, 1999 and from January 1, 2000 only the new lev bills of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 lev and coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 stotinki will be used.

Banks and change bureaus exchange most foreign currencies generally free of commission or fees; traveler's checks and credit card cash advances for a reasonable fee; rates vary so check around. Recently, the number of bank ATMs has increased dramatically and finding one in a major city or resort is not a problem. Major credit cards such as Eurocard, Diners Club, Mastercard, Visa and Access can be used only in the best hotels and restaurants and in very few shops. Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy, so don't be caught short. Banking hours are 9-4 Mon-Fri; many change bureaus work every day.

Beware of the Black Market. Although offering a more favorable rate, street dealers cheat. Do not exchange money outside banks and change bureaus.

Additional Tips: Change bureaus are the best place to change money as long as you do not accidentally use one that is going to charge you a fat commission on your transaction (6-8%, normally).
There are a few ways you can spot the gougers and avoid them:

  • 1. If there are three columns of numbers on the change bureau sign, you will get the worst rate - the third column, with low rates for transactions under $10,000. Avoid bureaus with three columns of numbers.
  • 2. If there is a sentence of fine print on the bottom of the table of exchange rates, be assured that the fine print does NOT say come on in, and you will be treated fairly without being ripped off.
  • 3. Look for change bureaus with a sign which says NO COMMISSION.

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