The Ultimate Guide to Car Rental in Bulgaria

ultimate-guide-car-rental-bulgariaAre you looking to rent a car in Bulgaria and want to make sure that you get the best deal out of it? Or maybe you just want to learn more about what to expect and get some tips – either way, this guide is for you. We will go over all aspects of renting a car and cover everything from how to book it and save money to how to avoid surcharges and safe driving in Bulgaria.

What Do You Need to Rent a Car in Bulgaria?

In terms of documents all you need for car rental in Bulgaria is your driving license and your ID card or passport. These documents will need to be scanned at the rental desk. Keep in mind that in Bulgaria, only the big brands (Hertz, Europcar, Avis, etc.) are represented at the airport terminals and have the proper office equipment to scan your documents.

Smaller bulgarian rental car companies which provide a meet and greet service will usually have their rental agent use his smartphone to take a picture of your documents. If you think that this is not acceptable, be sure to bring your own printed copy of the documents.

A Valid Driving License

Since this is the main document needed to rent and drive a car in Bulgaria, make sure that you have it with you. Check the expiry date on the document just in case. If you leave your driving license behind – forget about renting a car in Bulgaria. If your wife/friend/companion rents the car in their name, don’t make any illusions that you can still drive the car with no driving license – it is illegal and and if get caught doing so, there will be a hefty fine. Not to mention the financial and legal mess you will get into if you have an accident with the rental car.

An international driving license may be required if the driving license issued to you by your home country is not written using the latin alphabet. Non-EU residents are advised to obtain their International Driving Permit before traveling.

ID Card or Passport

In addition to the driving license, to rent a car in Bulgaria you will also need your ID or passport. These documents hold more information about you – most importantly they contain your address of residence. Rental car companies need this information for legal purposes in the case of an accident and damage to the car or fines from speed cameras. So don’t think you can get away with speeding – your information will be handed along to the authorities and the fine will find it’s way through to you.

Credit Card

This is the big one – can you rent a car without a credit card? In Bulgaria, most local rental car agencies do not require you to have a credit card to rent a car from them. They do not have the legal prerequisites to oblige you to be liable for the car, with your credit card, and defend themselves in court in the event of an accident. They are simply not accustomed to this model of doing business yet.

When renting locally, expect to pay a deposit in cash or have the deposit amount blocked from your debit/credit card if you wish to use it.

We can’t speak for all local companies and things will inevitably change over time, but we know for a fact that Bulgarian agencies often do not require you to have a credit card and nor will they check your credit history when paying with a debit card.

You do however have a contractual obligation to take good care of the vehicle and be liable for any damage to it. They may not have your credit card details and charge you right away, but a lawsuit against you can still rule in favor of the rental car company and require you to pay for any and all damage you have caused.

So to recap – yes, you can rent a car in Bulgaria without a credit card, but this does not mean that you are exempt from liability.

Getting the Best Car Rental Deals in Bulgaria

Getting the best deal for your holiday or business trip car rental is a matter of thorough research and gaining knowledge into how the rental car business works. The most important thing you should know is that this is an industry where additional taxes can make up a very large part of the final price.car-rent-bulgaria-keys

How Much Does Renting a Car Cost?

So for example, in Bulgaria we get a lot of visitors during summer when tourism is at its peak and this is also when demand for car rental is highest. If you arrive at this peak time of year, expect to pay more for a car. In fact all Bulgarian agencies will have summer and winter rates. The price of car rental is mostly influenced by the type of vehicle you are getting – the more expensive a vehicle is to buy, the more it would cost you to rent it. All other things being equal, sometimes prices from one car hire agency to another can vary greatly due to internal policies. The country and city of your destination may also play a big part in forming your final price.

With so many factors at play you simply cannot have an expectation of what you should be paying for car rental in Bulgaria. Besides the obvious determinant of what class car you choose and how old it is, rental car companies have some pretty intricate ways of tricking you into thinking the price is lower than it actually is, so that you rent from them and not the competition.

Only market research will give you a good idea of how much a hire car typically goes for in Bulgaria during the summer season. But you should also be aware of marketing tricks which are commonplace for car rental websites. So to gain a deeper understanding of how everything works, let’s delve into the specifics of what the final rental price is comprised of:

 

Cost of Car Rental + (Insurance + Extras + Additional Fees) = Total Price

 

By default, insurance is not included in the price of the car – this is an industry standard. While you could theoretically rent a car for the base price, this is seldom the case. Firstly, and foremost, it is not advisable to rent a car without insurance as you will be liable for any damage to it – even light scratches will cost you dearly. Secondly, there always seems to be some sort of additional charge in the form of a circumstantial tax.

So why is this complexity needed – why not just quote a final price? Because this is how marketing works and high competition is the main reason why all these shenanigans exist. Put yourself in the place of a rental car company who wants to offer a lower price to be more competitive but it is simply not economically feasible. What do you do – you break down the price of car rental into its constituents and advertise only one part of the whole deal. For example, you have a final price of 39 EUR per day and take out the cost of full insurance coverage. This brings down the price and now you can loudly proclaim that you are renting out cars for as low as say 30 EUR/day. However, when someone actually makes a booking he will most often pay for the insurance and the car will cost them, you guessed it, 39 EUR per day.

This little trick with the insurance is somewhat acceptable as it gives you the opportunity to choose whether you want insurance or not and if not, you can actually rent the car for the advertised price. But marketing tricks do not stop there.

Taking the principle of breaking the price down went even further and now some companies are charging some ludicrous taxes. For example, in winter you may be required to pay the so called winterization fee which is not optional. They charge you for preparing the vehicle for winter conditions – winter windscreen wash and winter tyres.  How can this be separate from the price of renting the car when you are obliged to pay it either way?

So you may be asking, how much of this applies to car rental in Buglaria? The answer can range from all of it, to none of it depending on the rental agency. At Bulrent we never make false claims about the price and work with our partnering companies to unify their pricing with our all inclusive price model.  We believe that the advertised price should be as close as possible to what you end up paying at the end. All additional charges will be stated during the reservation process or before confirmation of booking.

This leads us to the next most important and very common question about pricing. When making a reservation, a lot of people ask us whether the price stated in the voucher is final. Bulrent will never issue a voucher where the price is not final. However, many Bulgarian rental car companies will and you could incur additional taxes both upon arrival and upon drop-off of the vehicle. What happens is that you get quoted a price and upon arrival, you are asked to pay more. The reasoning they give you can range from “we are sorry but we forgot to tell you” to “yes of course there is a tax, we’re surprised you didn’t know”. Some companies can get really creative with the types of taxes they require so beware of intentional tricks.

Rental Car Insurance

Rental InsuranceIn Bulgaria, local car companies usually include full CDW and third party liability insurance in the price and do not offer it as an option to pay for. This is great as you have almost full coverage and can only be liable with the amount of the deposit for intentional damage or damage as a result of negligence. Deposits are usually 100-250 EUR for most cars, but more for premium vehicles.

Paying the deposit amount is done at the rental desk or at the meeting point (airport/hotel). It is usually paid for in cash and later refunded the same way. Most rental car agencies support putting the deposit on your card. The rental agent will have a POS machine and pre-authorise the deposit amount, ring-fencing it so it cannot be spent elsewhere. Some companies may also process it as a payment and refund it after the car is returned.

The major car rental companies (Europcar, Hertz, and such) do not adhere to the abovementioned terms. Instead, their Bulgarian franchises have the same rules and policies on insurance as their European and even worldwide counterparts. Their security deposit amounts are much higher than those of local companies.

We highly recommend using a local car rental agency when visiting Bulgaria. Not only will the price be lower, but you will also get full CDW and the deposit amount will be only a fraction of what it will cost at the major companies.

Extras and Other Fees

If you require things like child seats, GPS, a cargo box and snow chains (in winter), be prepared to pay a little more on top of the car rental quote. Extras are charged by day, just like the car itself. There is usually a limit on the amount that you could be charged for a particular extra. Say for instance you want to rent a GPS and you are quoted 4 EUR/day for it. When renting for a week, you will pay 7×4=28 EUR. But when renting for a full two weeks, the price could be 40 EUR if the company has a limit for this extra.

To get the best deal on car rental extras, always inquire about the limit price if you are renting for a long period of time, as some companies may charge you in full and pretend there is no limit. You may also ask for a discount when renting 3-4 extras (e.g. two baby seats and a GPS). Bulgarian car rental companies will often make you a discount from an otherwise hefty extras bill.

Other car rental fees may also apply depending on your requirements. When booking a one way rental, a delivery/pick-up fee is applicable. Many people ask for renting a car in Varna and returning it in Sofia. Even the major brands who have offices in both cities will charge an additional fee for this. Local Bulgarian car rental companies will charge you around 80 EUR or more if the car has a higher fuel consumption. What they will normally do is send an agent to travel 6 hours to Sofia, so they could meet you and pick-up the car. Then the agent will head back and drive 6 more hours. You can see how fuel, travel costs and last but not least human labor, can all add up to 80 EUR or more.

Late delivery is another common fee. If you would like your car delivered at the airport at 2 a.m. – it is no problem, but it will cost you more. The late delivery fee is most often in the vicinity of 10-15 EUR for each pick-up and drop-off. Weigh your options here – one is to pay the late delivery fee, the other is to hire a taxi to drive you to your hotel. Taxis from the airport in Varna and Plovdiv are quite cheap (be sure to arrange for a reputable company to pick you up). In Sofia and Bourgas, where the distance to the center of the city is a bit longer, your taxi fare will cost more.

Having your rental car delivered at the hotel, the morning after you arrive, may be the better deal. This is because not only will you be saving yourself the late delivery fee, but you may also end up saving on half or even a full day’s rental.

So to sum up, there are quite a few things you should be on the lookout for to get the best car rental deal in Bulgaria. We suggest to always shop around and see what other companies will offer you. Make a thorough car hire comparison and choose the option that suits you best – mostly in terms of price, but also in terms of comfort. Insurance and extras can become a very large part of the rental car quote, so be sure to analyze your offers closely and determine if something seems overpriced.

At the Rental Desk

Tips for Renting a Car

  • Use a quote aggregator like Bulrent to get car hire comparison information.
  • Always book in advance. You may get a better deal as you will have a choice of vehicles.
  • Choose the smallest vehicle that would suit your needs. There is no need to pay more if you will not be using it.
  • Automatic cars will cost more. It’s definitely a convenience especially when you are abroad, but it’s up to you whether it is a necessity.
  • Considering registering more than one driver on the rental agreement? Rental car companies will charge you for additional drivers.
  • If you’re planning a lengthy trip, ask the company if they offer unlimited mileage.
  • Inquire about the insurance. Ask if it is included in the price or how much you have to pay for full CDW.
  • Bring your favorite tunes – a silent car is a boring car. Ask in advance what connectivity options the car stereo has – Aux, USB, etc.
  • Cross border travel will cost you more and may sometimes not be available at all. Always inquire beforehand.
  • Don’t fall for cheap car rental prices. They are usually for long-term rental and don’t include insurance.
  • Return the car on time. If you are late for drop-off you could get charged.

One of the main misconceptions that clients have with car rental is the rental desk. If you are renting from a local company, no matter if you are in Sofia, Varna, Burgas or any other European city for that matter, chances are they do not have a rental desk at the airport. At airport terminals you will usually find 5-6 of the major companies. There is simply not enough office space for all car rental companies providing service to any given location. This is why local companies provide a meet and greet service.

This means that you should be on the lookout for a car rental agent with a sign with your name on it. If you are not sure about whether the agency has an office at the airport, always be on the lookout for someone with a sign with your name on it, or simply read through your voucher (this should be indicated). If it’s not and you absolutely want to know before you set off, contact the car rental agency and inquire directly.

When you find your rental agent, you’ll have to get on with the paperwork. Some rental agents may have most of the rental agreement pre-filled, but even if they don’t it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to get it done. Companies which do not have a rental desk at the airport terminal, will usually have their rental agents fill out most of the agreement inside the terminal where there are benches, desks or other places you could write on.

Checking the Car

When all personal and reservation information is filled out in the car rental agreement, it’s time to go see the car. You will go out to the parking lot and the rental agent will show you the car and mark up any damage there is. Make a meticulous inspection and ask the rental car agent to document even the slightest damages. You could also take pictures with your digital camera or phone.

When the damage is all documented, go inside the car and turn the key so you could get a reading of the fuel gauge. You should have a full fuel tank and be expected to return it the same. If it is less than full, ask the rental agent to take a note of that and write it down in the agreement.

The fuel gauge on most cars should show the needle as being above the full line. Electronic ones simply show full. If the needle is even slightly below the full line, then the car has been driven at least 30-50 kilometers after it was last refueled to the brim. Make a note of this and simply do the same – refuel that many kilometers before the final drop-off point.

Start the car and see to it that all inspection lights go off. If there are any warnings notices or service lights, ask the rental agent to note it in the agreement or even give you another car if it could be a serious problem and something that could leave you stranded on the side of the road.

When all checks out the way it should and the paperwork is completed, proceed with payment. As already stated, the rental agent should be carrying a portable POS terminal – especially if you have specifically requested payment by card when making the reservation. Complete payment and sign the agreement, making sure that the deposit is also stated on the contract.

Before driving off, ask the rental agent how to exit the airport (if you have requested pick-up at the airport that is). You will need the parking ticket to get out, so be sure that it has been given to you. Expect to pay no more than 2-6 leva at the exit. If more is requested from you, then the car has probably stayed at the parking lot more than it should have and this charge is unacceptable. Either call the agent straight away or just pay the fee and keep the receipt to ask for a refund upon drop-off.

Should I Have to Pay for an Upgrade?

No reputable rental car company should ask you to pay for an upgrade if it can’t provide the vehicle model you have booked. After the booking has been secured, all upgrades are on the company and they cannot charge you more. Some car rental agents in Bulgaria are very manipulative and look for a quick cash-in, so they might pull the trick of selling you an upgrade when the rental car company’s intention was to provide you with the upgrade free of charge.

Driving in Bulgaria

Now that you have got your car and you’re all set to go, let’s dive into what it is like to drive in Bulgaria.

Girl Driving

Typically driving in Bulgaria is not much different than driving anywhere in the EU. Even most of the regulations are common, as Bulgaria is part of the EU.

Toll roads are non-existent (except maybe the Danube bridge for crossing into Romania), so do not worry about having cash for driving on the highway. All you need is a valid vignette sticker which should be supplied by your rental car company. Be sure to ask if the vehicle has a vignette sticker or check for yourself as fines can be hefty at around 150 EUR.

The condition of the roads has been improving over the last years, but it is still far from consistent so you should always be on the lookout for dangerous potholes. These can cause damage to the car for which you will be liable, and will ruin your plans if you have to call roadside assistance or replace the wheel yourself.

Sticking to the speed limit is important both in terms of safety and avoiding unneeded expenses. Speed cameras are installed on all main routes between the big cities, mostly in places where a speed limit of 60 is imposed and there is a gas station nearby. If you get caught speeding, you will get charged by the rental car company or receive the fine on your name (after the rental car company has forwarded your personal details to the authorities).

Aggressive drivers are common, but most of them will simply overtake you when an opportunity is presented to them and will head on their way. If a conflict occurs, do not engage in a confrontation with an aggressive driver. Some of them can be ruthless and cause damage to your car or even worse – injure you in a scuffle.

If an incident resulting in damage to the rental car occurs, always call the agency and tell them what has happened. You may also have to notify traffic police and call them to the scene of the accident so they can assess the causality leading to it and issue a protocol. They will also test all parties involved for alcohol use.

Conclusion

When visiting beautiful Bulgaria, the best way to get the most of your travels is to rent a car and hit the road. Getting a good car rental deal in Bulgaria, can be as simple as booking a cheap compact car from a local agency.

Making sure that the price is final and that it includes all you need – insurance, extras, vignette sticker, etc., and avoiding the gimmicks found on most websites will point you in the right direction and give you peace of mind. By following the advice given in this comprehensive guide, you are sure to get a good deal on car rental.

And most importantly knowing your way around the booking process and being aware of all the tricks that are used to inflate the price of car rental, will end up saving you money. Once the reservation is secured, you can focus on having a magnificent and memorable stay in Bulgaria.

Please share below your thoughts and experiences in renting a car in Bulgaria and any further advice you may have.

Stanislav Georgiev

Stanislav is a bachelor of Economics with interest in many different industry verticals. An entrepreneur at heart, he is currently a digital marketing specialist and manages a multitude of business websites. Stanislav is also a car nut with extensive experience in car rental, fleet management and automotive maintenance.

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