How does a small town in the mountains of Bulgaria become a digital nomad hotspot? Well it doesn’t hurt that the Bansko cost of living is so low. This is definitely one of the best bargains in Europe for remote working nomads.
This year I’m going to take my third and fourth trips to Bansko, Bulgaria, a speck of a town that has less than 10,000 residents. First, I’m taking a group of people on a ski trip to there and Borovets, with two nights in Sofia in the mix. They’re paying less than $900 each for a nine-day trips with skiing, rentals, lodging, and about 12 meals. But then this summer I’m heading back again for a few weeks, this time with my wife along.
I filmed most of the video you’ll find below when I was there for the Bansko Nomad Fest. I was on the main stage as a speaker last year, but this time I’m staying in the audience and checking out who else has something to share. Then lots of hiking, hot springs, pool parties, and more.
It’s easy for a big city like Bangkok, Barcelona, or Mexico City to become a digital nomad hub. You can fly right in and then have everything at your fingertips. When a small town in Bulgaria attracts 200+ nomads to live there though, there usually needs to be a catalyst. In this case it’s Co-working Bansko, founded by a duo of expats, the sponsors of the annual conference. Then you’ve got all the reasons they stick around: skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, lots of group activities, low taxes for those who get residency, and low costs.
The local currency is the lev, which usually trades around 2 to 1 with the euro, then it can vary against the U.S. dollar depending on how the greenback is doing against the euro. When I was there last summer the dollar and euro were almost at par, but now it’s around 1.81 lev to one dollar.
Bansko Cost of Living: Renting or Buying an Apartment
I could have bought a condo last summer when I was there and put it on my American Express card. I have to admit that I was a little bit tempted. There were studio apartments for sale for a shade more than €20,000 and one-bedroom places for around €30K. I kept hearing about some residents there buying an apartment so they could use it three months a year and then having it serve as their personal storage locker the rest of the time—a place where they could leave their belongings when they went traveling.
What kept me from making this brash move, besides having to explain it to my wife, were the rental prices. Because a place I originally rented last summer got pulled out from under me a couple of months before, the owner put me into another of his for the same price of €260 (plus electricity, which ended up being €12 more after the fact). This year I saw the same place available for the dates I’ll be there and I had to lay out more: €300 this time. I snatched it up anyway because it’s a light-filled, spacious place with a great kitchen. That’s at the high end of the market here.
You’ll take a little tour in this video and also see what else is available in town to rent or buy. This wasn’t a fluke, it’s actually above what most long-term residents are paying.
When I was there for the Nomad Fest, I met quite a few people paying around 200 euros per month for their apartments because they had signed a one-year lease. Think about what that equates to: the cost of one night in a so-so hotel in Paris on London, to one week of Airbnb rental in a basic place in most of Europe, to 1/10 of the median price of an apartment in many U.S. cities these days.
As you’ll see from the real estate office window listings in that video, you won’t have to spend much if you’ve got some cash to invest. It’s rare to see any listing priced above €100,000 in Bansko unless it’s a multi-unit building or a large house. Most of the inventory is condos since this is a ski town, generally €20-30K for a studio, €25-45K for a one-bedroom, and €45-85K for a two-bedroom. The higher ends of those scales usually put you in a nicer building, maybe one that has a pool and sauna, plus ones with southern exposure command more because they stay warmer in winter.
These prices will go up over time if the area becomes more popular with expats and Bulgarians with money–we have seen this moving before–but Bansko already went through a big boom and bust at the end of the 00s and there are plenty of half-finished buildings and empty lots that will be developed as soon as demand warrants it. For now though, prices still aren’t at the peak they were at almost 15 years ago.
Utility costs aren’t much of a factor in the warm months since it doesn’t get all that hot here in the mountains. Utilities will be much higher in the winter when you need to stave off the cold. Electricity can top 100 euros I’m told for a large apartment that doesn’t get the sun all day, though I did see a fair number of solar panels popping up and a lot of condos and homes have wood-burning fireplaces. You can drink the tap water though as it’s mountain-pure — or just fill up your bottle at a public fountain after the snow thaws.
Food and Drink Costs in Bansko
Bulgaria can be a bit tough for vegetarians and even tougher for vegans since there’s cheese or yogurt in almost everything. Most restaurants have at least a few items on the menu that will work though and fresh vegetables are crazy cheap here. I kept gorging on cherries because they were so inexpensive and picked ripe. Those were one of the few produce items that were more than one euro per kilo.
If you don’t have any restrictions though, Bulgaria is a dream at mealtime. There are a lot of hearty pork items, garlic bread, and other comfort food choices, but also a lot of relatively healthy salads and vegetable items to offset that. I generally paid between €4 and €10 for a meal at a restaurant, but these were nice places with character right in the center of the tourist zone. Nobody expects a tip higher than 10% and it’s generally okay to leave a few coins at a simple place.
Even in a tourist restaurant with a great view or atmosphere, €3-5 is a pretty common price for a main dish or meal-sized salad. If I just grabbed a cheesy banitza, pastry, or sandwich at a take-out place, that was usually less than a buck-fifty.
Speaking of less than a buck, there’s a very long list of things you can get for a buck or less in Bulgaria. On the food side that would be a lot of street food, at least a pound of fruit, about a half pound of olives or cherries, five bread rolls, a sizable packet of peanuts, an ice cream cone, and dozens of different snack bars that are great for hikes.
If you visit the Sunday farmer’s market and come with 10 euros to spend, you might want to bring a backpack to carry it all home. Unless you buy some of those sausages they’re grilling that smell really good…
A coffee is often a buck or less to go, a tad more in a cafe, a tall boy beer is less than a dollar at any store. It’s pretty good beer too, though most of what you’re choosing from is different variations on European lagers unless you get an import from Germany or the Czech Republic. Bulgaria fits my criteria for what makes a great beer destination: a beer in a cafe is often the same price or less as a soda or bottled water.
Wine is one of the best deals of all in Bulgaria, so you’ll be a happy camper if that’s what you like to drink. This is one of the cheapest wine destinations in Europe, with plenty to pick from that’s produced domestically. It was better than I expected overall, with the bottles for 2 or 3 euros being drinkable and the ones going for 5 or 6 were quite good. When you order a glass of wine at a restaurant, it’s generally $2 to $3.25 and they’re not shy about filling up your glass.
Transportation Costs in Bansko
Transportation doesn’t factor in much to your Bansko cost of living. After getting to town on a comfortable bus from Sofia, which will cost you around €10 from the central station or €22 direct from the airport, you probably won’t spend much else on transportation. You can walk everywhere in town here, so I only took one taxi the whole time I was there, a bit less than $5 to get from the bus station to my apartment with the luggage.
I also hopped a minibus with a friend to get to a trailhead high up in the mountains. It was so little I can’t even remember but I think it was around 5 euros round-trip. The drop-off was at a hiking hut where you can spend the night for about €12. They serve meals and beers there too, for very reasonable prices. When you go hiking around, it’s going to look a little something like this in summer:
Some expats do have their own car here because the buses don’t go to a whole lot of places without going to Sofia first and the train passing through here is a narrow-gauge one that you ride more for fun than for transportation. This part of Bulgaria is not far from Greece, however, so it’s actually closer to head to the mainland shore of Greece than it is to head to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. This April I’m taking a bus to Meteora via Thessaloniki and that looks like it will cost me around 50 euros.
Gasoline costs more than the USA, but is on the lower end compared to many countries in Europe. As I write this it’s about €4.5 per gallon (4 liters), or $5.
Other Bansko Costs in Bulgaria
I can tell you one thing you probably won’t spend money on in Bansko and that’s shopping. Unless you want to buy out-of-fashion clothing or cheesy souvenirs, there’s not much around besides skiwear in winter.
If you do want to go skiing here, it’s already cheaper to ski in Europe than it is in the USA and then this country costs less than most others in that regard. The lift tickets for the current season are €45 for one day, €85 for two and it’ll cost you €12-20 a day for a rental package. As with most places, it’s best to get a 10-visit, 20-visit, or full-season ticket if you’re going to be living here.
There are hot springs nearby in Banya, set up like big swimming pool complexes but with always-warm water coming out of the ground. I went to of them while I was there and we had some kind of group package price, but if you pay individually it will be 10 to 20 euros depending on the time of day you go, with kids charged less. These places have a bar and restaurant, so you could spend hours soaking your muscles. See one of them here that has everything in English.
Going out to party won’t cost you much in this town, so the bars are packed during ski season. If you bring 20 euros with you for drinks you’ll be set for the night unless it’s a club with a cover charge. During the summer they’re a lot more mellow and many of them near the ski gondola are closed outside of winter.
There is an ice skating rink in town that’s open all year. Admission is €5 and it’s another 5 to rent skates. There are two small bowling alleys in Bansko that will set you back about €4 per person. In the summer you can ride the gondola up and slide down Europe’s longest water slide. Of course you can spend more for excursions outside of town:
A local SIM card with 10gb of data will cost less than €5. A phone plan with unlimited data can cost as little as €16 for a month.
You have to sign up for a monthly program to join the Coworking Bansko organization and besides the work space, you are buying admission to a club. They arrange a dizzying number of activities each month like poker nights, hiking trips, strategy game nights, soccer matches, and vacations to other locations. That costs €155 per month including tax or less if you commit to a longer period. If you want the social aspects but won’t come to work there more than once per week, there’s a discounted “Home Office” option.
So how much would it cost you to live in Bansko for months on end, averaged out? I’m guessing that if you didn’t have a car, you could easily get by for under $1,000 per month without trying very hard, even belonging to the co-working space and living in something larger than a studio.
If your budget was $1,500 per month, basically poverty wages in the USA, then you could totally live it up here and go out to eat every day. You might start dialing it back for lifestyle reasons because you’re gaining weight and partying too much. If you’re netting more than $2K a month, add regular travel to the mix or a season ski pass and rentals. Woo-hoo!
Related post: the cost of living in Bulgaria in general.