"I'm here for the singing ladies, not the numbers stations."
July 29, 2010 10:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm leaving for Bulgaria tomorrow with a bunch of professional radio/recording gear. Kindly lavish me with advice on getting there and back with all my equipment intact.

I'll be in BG for two weeks visiting the Koprivshtitsa festival and doing a bunch of other projects, all funded by fans and supporters. I'm a professional radio producer by day, but my employer isn't involved in this particular expedition, so I'm more or less on my own.

This is my rig. It all fits in the pictured bag.

I've never taken quite this amount of gear before, so I wanted to ask about best practices for arriving in, traveling around, and departing Bulgaria safely. Specifically:

- What do I have to declare to Customs before and/or when I arrive? Are there forms I should be looking for? And will I need different ones for departure and arrival?

- Should I bring a letter or some proof of my project? If so, what? (Again, this isn't for my employer; although I do work in radio and much of my gear overlaps, this particular trip is my baby.)

- I hear the theft situation can be quite significant at the Sofia airport. I understand one can ask for a private inspection of one's bags when passing through customs. Is this true, and how can I best shield my gear from the greatest number of eyes at the inspection?

- Will it attract even more undue attention to have a tiny (1") padlock through the zipper, or would this actually be a good idea?

- Anything else I might not be aware of, specific to traveling in this recently-acceded EU country with its own unique economic and cultural circumstances?

Thanks in advance.
posted by mykescipark to Travel & Transportation around Bulgaria (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am a foreigner living in Sofia, Bulgaria at the moment and am a TV Director, Producer. The advice I am about to dispense is from my own experience so I take no responsibility if you choose to follow it and it doesn't pan out that way...heh.

First of all there is a lot of misconceptions about Bulgaria, since the 90's when there really was a lot of trouble Bulgaria has come a long way. It is way safer than most places I have lived or visited. Corruption of police has been pretty much stamped out. There is still a large mafia presence, but they prefer to stay out of the public eye, so you'd be pretty unlucky to have a problem with them. Just don't mess with people in Black cars.

You don't say where you are coming from, if you're coming from the EU then there is definitely no problem. There are no forms to fill out in this situation. Where ever you are coming from you will have more trouble leaving the country than entering, in terms of going through an X-ray with your audio equipment, only because they will want to make sure it's not a bomb (no problems with duty).

I have been in and out of customs at both airports in Sofia about 30 times over the last three years and have never ever been checked once entering the country, with tapes, camera and audio equipment. Only once was to a non EU country though, Russia, and the only thing different was filling in an entry card on the way back in. Didn't have to declare anything.

I would advice having a letter stating what your project is, but seriously don't think anyone will ever need to see it. Just make an official looking letter from your own 'company'. Might need it when exiting the country as you're equipment will attract some attention at the x-ray I imagine.

I have never heard of there being a theft situation at Sofia airport, maybe this is a story from the 90's also. If you are carrying your equipment on your person I don't think you need a lock. I also don't think anyone is going to take an interest in your equipment at the airport, thieves (if there are any) and customs. The new airport is comparable to Singapore airport on a small scale...new, nice, safe.

Travel advice, there are a few dodgy taxi companies around. If you are catching a taxi at the airport, make sure you catch it from the stand outside to the right as you exit. Check the tariff just to be safe, nothing should be over $1. This is the rule for catching taxis in Sofia, if the tariff is under $1 then they are good guys. I haven't had trouble with taxi-drivers, but I imagine there's the odd bad one like in most countries.

Obviously be careful travelling with your equipment in the rest of Bulgaria, like you would anywhere else. There are pick-pockets, but far far less then there are in London, Rome, Madrid and I have never met or heard of anyone having their stuff stolen.

The only other thing is the driving here is not too great. So if you're driving prepare yourself for that. Also there isn't a great deal of English going on but it's fine. Enjoy yourself and don't be too worried. Sorry that was long.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 11:32 PM on July 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Superb!
posted by mykescipark at 12:05 AM on July 30, 2010

Best answer: I used to be an assignment editor for a US TV network, and when our guys carried gear from one country to another for a quick in-and-out shoot they always listed all their gear (including serial numbers) on an ATA Carnet issued by the Chamber of Commerce in the country of origin. It saved a lot of hassle, was a useful document in case of loss/theft, and proved to authorities on departure that you hadn't left anything behind, sold it, etc. This was many years ago, and DOUBLE A SIDE seems to be far more up to date with his experience, so I'll humbly bow to that. But it seems to me that, if you have time to set this up before departure, it can't do any harm and might prove useful if you run into a random spot-check at Customs or similar.
posted by aqsakal at 2:01 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Totally agree with Carnet. Good to have if you have time. But your gear is so small so I don't think anyone will care.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 3:56 AM on July 30, 2010

Just more anecdote, but I was in Bulgaria last year which a bag full of pro photo gear (maybe $6k worth) and had no problems whatsoever. Declared nothing, never got hassled, no issues. Double A is right--get a taxi from inside the airport--they'll give you a slip of paper to give to the driver. If possible, get your hotel to call cabs for you rather than hailing them on the street. I tended just to walk, and take buses between cities.

My time in Sofia was really amazing. I'm sure you'll have a great time. If you get a chance, there was an outdoor bar behind the National Gallery of Art that had fantastic mojitos.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:43 AM on July 30, 2010

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