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Bulgarians continue to use their own currency, the Bulgarian lev (abbreviated BGN), despite the fact that it is a member of the European Union and rumors of joining the euro have been circulating for a long time. When compared to Western European countries or the United States, Bulgaria is a country where changing your money into the local currency will give you a much higher return, which is one of the reasons why the Balkan state is becoming more popular with long-term travelers.

Bulgarian Lev History

The Bulgarian lev was originally introduced in 1880, shortly after Bulgaria won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The new nation needed money that represented its newly acquired status and was dubbed the lion’s name, which also served as the main symbol of the Bulgarian independence movement.

From the 1400s to the 1900s, Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule. People were dispersed throughout other countries and their sense of identity was somewhat diluted as a result of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian occupation.

After World War II, Bulgaria was dominated by the Soviet Union for many years and lost much of its distinctiveness. Bulgaria began a westernization process after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2001, Bulgaria joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 2007. While Bulgaria is a member of the Eurozone, it has not fulfilled all of the conditions for adopting the Euro currency. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian Lev is still in circulation for collectors. Lucky because the lev is typically well-designed and attractive.

First Bulgarian Lev Banknotes

Bulgaria did have its own currency while part of the Soviet Union. Bulgaria’s banknotes, unlike those in some other countries within the Russian empire, have always been fascinating and devoid of communist symbolism. The 1962 Bulgarian Lev (P-82a) is a fantastic example. The typefaces, hues, and guilloche patterns give the notes an artistic aspect rather than a practical one, as do other communist banknotes. The designs changed dramatically in 1991 when they began to emphasize Bulgaria’s religious customs and cathedrals. They also switched from a Russian printer to a German one at this time. The 1992 50 leva P-101a is a great illustration. It also has a clear picture of a letterpress from the 1920s – which for a collector is an intriguing item.

The 1997 series and every subsequent Bulgarian Lev banknote have incorporated the aesthetic and feel of pre-Euro German Deutschmarks. Many feature large holographic stripes on the front, along with a prominent portrait of a Bulgarian leader.

As the quality of holographic technology has improved, the holograms’ capabilities have increased. They’ve eventually been matched to the portrait. Bulgaria has been an early adopter of new Giesecke & Devrient (G&D) technologies, including hybrid substrates.

Given that Bulgaria will eventually convert to the EURO, it’s no surprise that its banknotes resemble Euro designs. 2005 commemorative 20 Lev (P-121a) is remarkably similar to a Euro note. It’s uncertain when Bulgaria will join the Eurozone, but it’ll be a shame if the country loses its currency.

The Bulgarian Lev Today

The leva is a solid currency today, valued at around 60 US cents. It’s used for all purchases in Bulgaria and cannot be paid in euros or dollars anywhere. The only two exceptions are gas stations in the main thoroughfares (catering to travelers bound for Europe or Turkey) and a few border regions but don’t rely on it, because it isn’t common.

Lev Banknotes

The lev is made up of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 BGN denominations. On the 2-lev note are images of prominent Bulgarians such as Paisiy Hilendarski. The author of the country’s first written history, as well as Pencho Slaveykov and Aleko Konstantinov. Information is provided in Braille, tactile markings, and audio descriptions. All notes include a tactile feature for blind people. The 2-lev note has been used less frequently since the debut of the two-lev coin in 2015.

Traveling Tips in Bulgaria

The 20BGN note is the most frequently produced forgery in Bulgaria. The best method to tell a genuine versus a counterfeit 20-lev note is to inspect it against light and look for the watermark in the top right corner. It’s fraudulent if there’s no watermark.

While foreign banknotes will be accepted in some situations, keep in mind that the conversion rate would be extremely unfavorable, so stick to Bulgarian currency.

In the big cities, credit and debit cards are widely accepted in department stores, supermarkets, and restaurants. However, small towns and businesses away from city centres generally only accept cash, so keep that in mind.

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