Now in force: A detailed procedure for obtaining a start-up visa in Bulgaria   

Introducing: The Start-up visa

The Bulgarian government recently adopted legislation allowing entrepreneurs to receive the so-called “start-up visa”, which can serve as the legal grounds for obtaining a residence permit in Bulgaria.

The start-up visa was first introduced into Bulgarian law back in March 2021 via amendments to the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act (see Introduction of the start-up visa in Bulgaria). They were aimed at reinforcing Bulgaria’s position as the leading regional IT Hub by fostering the growth and competitiveness of local innovation companies.

The start-up visa was not introduced as a standard visa sticker in a passport – it came with a requirement for entrepreneurs to prove that their start-up business is high-tech and innovative. However, the law indicated that secondary legislation will be adopted to regulate the procedure, with which the authorities will decide if the respective project is indeed high-tech and innovative.

The procedure

As of 14 October 2022, this secondary legislation is in place – the Council of Ministers adopted an “Ordinance for the terms and conditions for issuing, extending and revoking of a certificate for a high tech and/or innovative project, called start-up visa” (“Ordinance”) which will allow for the flow of entrepreneurs towards Bulgaria to be strengthened.

According to the Ordinance, the issuance, extensions and revocation of the certificates will be done by the Minister of Innovation and Growth. However, each application will be preliminarily reviewed by a group of experts from various fields – the Bulgarian Patent Office, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, representatives of professional organisations and businesses, and last but for sure not least - representatives of non-governmental organisations focused on start-ups and equity funds. This preliminary review will result in a consultation opinion of those experts if the respective project qualifies as high-tech and/or innovative. Each of the reviewing experts will be bound by a non-disclosure and confidentiality requirement, which is significant when it comes to new business ideas.

In line with the international nature of the application for a certificate for a start-up visa, it can also be submitted online and in English.

The criteria

The application will be evaluated based on the following criteria:   

✓ Business plan and presentation of the project (resembles the pitching usually done for potential investors);   

✓ Financial forecasts and current financial funds available;   

✓ Client network;   

✓ Registered patent or utility model – for EU, US or OECD;   

✓ Secured investment of at least BGN 100 000 from a fund or a letter of intent for such an investment from a fund;   

✓ A Seal of Excellence under Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe;   

✓ Other rewards won by the project in specialized competitions;   

✓ Letters of intent or actual agreements with Bulgarian partners;   

✓ Other requirements.

Each criterion brings a certain number of points to the respective project. In order for a positive resolution on the issuance of the certificate to be passed, the project must collect at least 8 points. Of course, the Ordinance takes into account that start-ups do not usually come backed by an investor or another type of financial injection. For this reason, the highest number of points (five) will be attributed to the business plan and presentation of the project.

Also, since start-up businesses are rarely a “one-man show”, the Ordinance allows for additional two key team members to be included in the certificate. This means that three people can relocate to Bulgaria and start executing and managing the project on-site.

The impact

Making the start-up visa process fully functional is expected to reaffirm Bulgaria’s position as a leading regional tech and innovation hub. This, combined with other measures – such as the introduction of entirely new types of companies for the needs of starting a business, should have a positive impact on the Bulgarian start-up ecosystem.