Volunteering in Bulgaria

Volunteering in Europe Here’s everything you need to know about our volunteer programme in coastal Bulgaria including how it works, how to get there and how to stay safe. This unique programme only accepts 6 volunteers per week and is filling up fast for July and August. Call us now on 01603 280702 to enquire and reserve. Or text your enquiry to 07554002930.


About the Bulgaria project

Bulgaria

Volunteer in Europe, in one of the prettiest coastal towns in Bulgaria and surprise yourself. A safe country to visit and the people are friendly. Bulgaria’s coast is also known as the Algarve of Eastern Europe. It attracts thousands of holidaymakers every summer to its beaches including increasing numbers of British holidaymakers to the holiday resorts at Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, both close to Varna where the volunteer programme is based.

The Bulgaria volunteering program is organised by a dedicated local support team which organises placements for the volunteer team that are administered by the local council and municipality and can be extremely varied. You might be playing and dancing with children, helping disabled children ride for the first time, painting city murals and taking out the elderly for some fresh air and sea views. Local youth volunteering groups also often ask for help from our volunteers and provide an optional opportunity to work alongside local people and youth groups from beach clean ups to local arts festival promotions which can be great fun and an opportunity to meet and make friends with local volunteers. So do come with an open heart and mind to explore and experience different activities with different sections of local society.

What is it like working with children?

Activities are mostly art/play or supervision-based so anyone who likes playing games or setting up art and craft activities will feel comfortable. This is the easiest volunteer activity to prepare for in advance by bringing some art and craft materials from home in addition to some outdoor play equipment which you can re-use if needed. In the summer there is always another volunteer next to you so you won’t feel you are leading anything on your own unless you want to. No experience is required. Children’s backgrounds at different projects vary from marginalised Romany children to children with varying learning difficulties. Working with children may or may not take up a full week, but there is no need to bring a full week of activities just in case as extra stationery can be bought easily in Varna. Volunteers have also run lovely art and craft sessions for the elderly who would otherwise be left sitting.

Can I organise outdoor games and teach sport?

Absolutely, although space may be limited at some projects. But sometimes even the simplest activities indoors can be great fun such as musical chairs or heading softballs. Ask the local team on arrival which of the following week’s projects have space for activities so you can prepare in advance.

When will I be volunteering?

Community volunteering with children takes place on a part-time basis between Monday and Friday according to the local project and community needs and the group always travel together to the projects with their group leader. Volunteers can opt in and out of the schedule as preferred but volunteers are encouraged to take part in every activity available as the schedules can change. There will also be occasions to travel further afield to reach projects or villages which receive few volunteers although these trips are always on a voluntary basis but may provide a unique experience to discover more of the country. A favourite volunteer excursion is to the Romany gypsy hillside community south of Varna to play and teach informal English. Self-directed health placements are also available for students and qualified nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and art therapists at community projects and residential homes. 

Will I have free time?

Weekends are always free and with so many activities on offer and places to visit along the coast you will not be short of things to do. And of course, not forgetting the beach on your doorstep, the main attraction for all visitors to the coast. Scroll down to the Free time section for details on places to visit.


Free time in Bulgaria

There is plenty of time to explore Varna and take a tour both at the weekend and midweek between activities. It’s best to arrange after arrival as it’s more fun in a group with new friends you have met amongst the other volunteers.

volunteers-kayaking-july-2004-bulgaria

Volunteers reach the sea at the end of their kayak tour along the Kamchiya river

Kamchiya Forest Reserve

Price from just £30

40 minutes south of Varna on the coast, Kamchiya forest reserve is a UNESCO biosphere and offers marked trails, boat tours and guided kayaking trips along the Kamchiya River. Meet in Varna for a full day’s kayak tour including training, kayaking, BBQ and beach walk (the river ends at the sea). Approx £30 including life-jackets. Discounts can sometimes be organised with a large enough volunteer group if taking a tour midweek. Speak to your coordinator about how to book. Bring drinks, snacks, suncream, a second set of clothes and a towel.


kanarva-beach-bulgaria

Kavarna Bay

Kavarna

Price £5 with snack

Kavarna’s little beach and bay is a joy to spend a day at on a lazy summer weekend. The locals are friendly and there are fewer of the large hotels found elsewhere along the coast. Cafes, restaurants and shops close by. Make sure you bring enough suncream, beachwear and beach towels.


sunny-beach-bulgaria

Sunny Beach, Burgas

Burgas beach

Travel costs only

Burgas beach in the main town is a draw for surfers because of the waves so if you want to have a go, hire a board at Morski Klub. The best beach along this stretch of coast is Sunny Beach (pictured) which attracts thousands of holidaymakers every year from all over Europe. Take a bus, approx. 20 miles north of Burgas but worth it! The programme’s regular taxi driver will be happy to quote you for a trip to Burgas and beyond which saves the effort of public transport.


freetime-walk-in-varna

Group on free walking tour of Varna

Free city walking tour

Price Free!

Check out the Free Varna walking tours to learn more about this city’s cultural roots and recent history and to get your bearings on where everything is in town. Recommended.


waterpark-bulgaria

Aquapolis water park, just up the road from Varna

Water parks

Free city walking tour

There are two water parks. The closest to Varna is Aquapolis (pictured) and Aqua Park to the south of Varna at Sunny beach near Nessebar village. The parks provide enough activities for an afternoon when you’ve done the beach and there are cafes for snacks and drinks inside. Popular with families on holiday in nearby hotel.


varna-cathedral-interior

Pop in to Varna cathedral when you are in town

Varna Cathedral

Free entry

Free entry or £3 to take photos. The exterior hides a wonderful interior of ornate orthodox icons. It is well worth a visit if you are interested in churches and local culture. The cathedral is on the way to many projects as the usual meeting point after lunch, so it is likely that if you do not make a visit at the weekend, you can fit in a quick visit during a lunch break.


monastery-varna

Original staircase of the monks at Aladzha cave monastery

Aladzha Cave Monastery

Entrance £2.50

2 miles inland from the Golden Sands beach resort is a good example of a Bulgarian monastery cave dates from the 12th century and it is believed to have survived until the early 1700s. To get the most out of a visit, climb the stairs around the complex. There is a good sea view from the top. The monastery is a worthwhile half day visit for anyone who enjoys history and atmosphere. Easy to reach by bus and restaurant nearby. Or take a taxi (£2 each if shared between 4) to get there and to get back to Varna, take one of the footpaths down to the beach at Golden Sands resort and take bus from there.


nessebar-varna

Nessebar, is often called the Pearl of the Black Sea and has been compared to Dubrovnik in Croatia

Nessebar village

Bus £5

When you have visited Varna and the beaches, Nessebar makes a good half day trip further south along the coast. It is an ancient town dating back to 425 BC when it was a Greek colony and important trading centre. It was then fought over by waves of different Byzantine and Bulgarian invaders. Following capture by the Turks it’s importance lessened. The wooden houses came into fashion in the town in the 1800s and are a popular draw for day tripping tourists. In 1983, Nessebar joined the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.



More information

Can I choose what I want do?

A varied weekly schedule is organised for your volunteer group based on project availability and local requests for volunteers. Volunteering with children is available for at least half of the week Monday to Friday, other volunteer activities are usually included to enjoy a wider experience of the country and people.

What can you tell me about a couple of projects?

OV Volunteers have worked amongst the Roma gypsy community south of Varna since 2014 organising activity sessions for children and teenagers between 5 and 16 years old. Many Roma here still live in inadequate hand-built housing. Socially isolated, suffering racism and stigma from many Bulgarians due to ignorance and previous high levels of crime which resulted from high unemployment, their community effectively became ghettos.

Traditionally Roma families like to bring their children up as adults from an early age, making them tougher to withstand what life will throw at them. Arranged marriages are still common, daughters married off young before rival gypsy ‘tribes’ can abduct them, often arranged by their parents, educational advancement was ignored completely. Both boys and girls often drop out of school between 11 and 14 or are removed by their parents as soon as they can read and write. 

A small number of the poorest children arrive with signs of physical abuse such as cigarette burns on their arms and legs although this is in no way typical of a Roma family, but it does happen. If there is any child you are concerned about your group leader will pass this information on to the local social services team who support the volunteering programme.

Another popular project is the learning disability centre in Varna in the basement of the municipal hospital. Fun and play is the main focus. You are also likely to meet other local and foreign volunteers during holiday periods. During the summer the local council prepare a programme of activities for the children to take part in outdoors. As a volunteer it can be quite fun going around and exploring as a large group.

Two established summer activities include putting on a theatrical performance and an art exhibition. Some volunteers in 2014 also helped run a fundraising stall by the seafront in the Sea Gardens.

There may be occasions to teach English informally to older children between play activities, if you would like to know how to teach read our guide for novice TEFL teachers.

resources-for-bulgaria-project

Materials and mini craft projects are always in short supply so bring what you can from home. It needn’t cost the earth – a box of finished toilet rolls could be useful to a variety of art projects.

bulgaria-volunteer-and-child

With disabled children it is the one to one attention that is most needed. Volunteers fill a much needed gap as there is never enough funding to have a ratio of paid local staff for one to one.

Can I make use of my nursing/physio/occupational/art therapy skills? Or gain experience in a related field?

UPDATE April 2018: Although the occasional day visit may be made, full time spaces are now full for nursing/physio volunteers. Currently there are two project centres for the elderly which offer hands on experience alongside qualified and experienced staff. These two placements are ideal for anyone interested in or already working in a health related field.

Can you tell me more about the two centres?

The first centre is in central Varna opposite the beach. A state-run institution, there are two wings, one caring for 100 elderly residents and the second for 40 disabled residents, currently aged between 50 and 97 years old. Residents stay in dorm style rooms.

Each section has a broad permanent team of qualified nurses, a doctor, therapist, physio and a team of healthcare assistants. No dementia is present and the centre is exclusively run by the state with no fees charged for residents. This does however mean that conditions are basic and will not match those found in similar institutions in the UK, hence the need for volunteer assistance to come in and brighten up the residents’ experience.

In the summer everyone is encouraged to get out as much as possible ideally to the beach opposite or for walks or wheelchair strolls along the promenade and gardens. The bus stop is only 200 metres away or volunteers can get off the bus sooner and walk to the centre along the beach itself.

The second centre is across town and provides a home for 107 elderly residents, 50% of which suffer from Alzheimers and dementia. It is 60% funded by the state, with the remaining 40% coming from resident’s contributions. Because of the extra funding, meals are provided for volunteers.

There is a great need here not only for care but group and art therapy. Similar to the beach front centre, a broad range of qualified staff are present and there is an English speaking doctor on site. As for many institutions in Bulgaria, facilities and staff may be present but there is still an air present of old fashioned institutions rather than the carpeted, cushioned homes and private bedrooms found in many care homes in the UK.

Why are volunteers needed to work with the elderly?

Both centres have been trying to encourage and promote volunteering themselves. Despite efforts and a strong volunteer force in Bulgaria working in projects for children, in 6 years there has been not one single volunteer, Bulgarian or foreign who has offered to volunteer to work with the elderly. On the first visit the OV team made, the staff’s faces lit up at the prospect of just a single volunteer, not least a student nurse. Despite some basic facilities and qualified staff, both centres still have an air of the communist institution rather than the carpeted, cushioned lounges that can be found in UK care homes. It is hoped that volunteers can help improve every day life for residents even if it is not possible to change the physical environment for the time being.

Do I need experience for working in a health or care setting?

No experience is needed but after being introduced to the staff on day one, you will need to be self-directing your experience in the same way you would volunteering in a similar setting in the UK as it is unlikely your coordinator will be able to stay with you throughout the day to translate and guide you. Few staff if any speak English so it will be useful to learn some Bulgarian greetings and phrases and take a dictionary and phrasebook with you.

learning-difficulties-centre-varna

The disability project located at the city hospital.

gavroche-children-at-table

Art and craft is popular, here children at the Gavroche project.

What is a typical week’s children and community schedule?

The weekly schedule should be displayed in the volunteer apartment, ask your co-ordinator if you can’t see it displayed. For a typical day, volunteers leave the volunteer accommodation in a group at around 09:00 or 09:30 in the morning with your co-ordinator on foot or by bus returning at around 3/4pm if working a full day. Some days volunteering may be in the afternoon, leaving the apartment at lunchtime to return to the apartment or city centre at around 6pm.

Usually the volunteer group returns to the volunteer accommodation at the end of the volunteering day if finishing in the afternoon, and heads to the beach which is a short stroll away, before freshening up and heading back into town to eat or relax at around 6/7pm. There is a basic kitchen at the accommodation for those preferring to cook but cafe meals are considerably cheaper in Bulgaria.

Activities for the children are usually planned the day before or in the morning just before you head off. Your co-ordinator should not be replied on to organise the activities for you. They will be expecting that volunteers will produce most of the ideas for activities! So don’t be shy and have a go at planning one or two art and craft ideas or a song with actions or outdoor team game.

Please note that the schedule below is only an example of what the schedule was for most of 2017 and should not be taken as fixed. Like any volunteering schedule in the UK, schedules can change depending on the requests of projects and their other commitments. It can be quite a challenge to fill up a week with lots of different settings without a schedule change here and there! Changes can sometimes be at the last minute with no opportunity to re-organise a new project in time so free time can be taken to explore Varna or relax by the beach.

New projects can also appear on the schedule when help is urgently needed. During 2014, volunteers took off a few days to help decorate a disabled children’s centre,  ride alongside children with the local Riding for the Disabled organisation, helped with flood clear up work in the shanty town and helped run a charity stand at a festival in the Sea Gardens.

  • Monday Morning: Roma children day centre project, 3 – 6 year olds. Afternoon: Varna children’s home.
  • Tuesday Morning: Roma day centre project. Afternoon: Free.
  • Wednesday Morning: Free. Afternoon: Fun and games at shanty town just south of Varna.
  • Thursday Morning: Roma day centre project, 3- 6 year olds. Afternoon: Different group same project.
  • Friday Morning: Art/Craft at elderly care home followed by stroll for sea views and fresh air. Afternoon: One off project organised by local council and youth group.
  • Saturday/Sunday Free time. Spend the weekend on the beach or explore the area. Volunteers normally get together to explore as a group. Scroll down to the Free time section for popular options.

How will I get to the projects each day?

The volunteer group travels together to each project. This is organised by your group leader who escorts the group together from the volunteer accommodation to the project. Occasionally volunteers may make their own way as a group if more practical when enough volunteers know the route or meeting point already. Transport costs are shared by the volunteer group. The method of transport depends on the location of the project visited. This can be shared taxi, bus, train or on foot.

Most sessions last about 2 hours, excluding travel time and your leader will aim to include two activity sessions a day although schedules are subject to change. Some projects further afield may require more travelling but the added dimension, scenery and new faces and friends can be worth a longer journey time. £23 – £25 per week should be enough to cover weekly transport costs in the Varna area as Bulgaria is considerably cheaper than the rest of Europe.

If you would rather opt out of an activity further afield that’s fine, but the experience of seeing more of the country should make up for the extra travelling time and cost.

making-a-tower-at-the-childrens-home

A competition to make the highest tower using straws at the children’s home in Varna.

volunteer-group-at-shanty-town-varna

For shanty children, volunteer visits are the only activity the children experience without prejudice.

Are meals provided?

This is a self-catering project. There is a simple stove in the apartment but most volunteers prefer to eat their main cooked meal of the day outside. There are plenty of cafes and bars to eat out and supermarkets within easy reach to cook and prepare meals at the volunteer house if you prefer. If eating out, a generous slice of freshly baked pizza is about 70 British pence, similar for a kebab. There are plenty of vegetarian options available in Varna.

For home comforts there is a Mcdonalds and a Costa Coffee on the main pedestrian promenade in Varna town, although rarely have volunteers felt the need to visit. The biggest restaurant chain is ‘Happy’ and can be found all over Varna.

Popular with volunteers for a special night out, they are clean and modern serving a mixture of fast food and healthy snacks. And no Bulgarian is needed when you order, you can simply point at the photo on the menu!

What do I need to take for the children?

Art and craft activities are a good safe investment but leave anything which requires careful instruction and there’s certainly no need to spend a lot of money! The younger children will often find a toilet roll or paper plate, glue stick and coloured wool far more interesting than a beautiful picture to colour in with glitter pens!

When preparing resources, as a rough guide, prepare for three tabletop activities for between 1 and 5 children/adults for each week of your stay. Sometimes you can re-use these at another location if you have leftover materials or other volunteers may have left materials behind when they finished their stay.

Art and craft ideas should be suitable for any age or at least adaptable as the exact schedule cannot be known in advance before travel. For example, one week the volunteer group may be using up all their art and craft resources quickly, whilst the next week there may only be one art session with the elderly.

Although you do not need to bring ten pairs of scissors and twenty pencils, it can be useful to bring two or three of the essential tools such as scissors and glue for your specific activity. Try to bring just what you need for your idea rather than general supplies. If you are on a tight budget or cannot stretch to pay extra luggage allowance, take one of each on an ’emergency basis’. This way you know you have what you need if there is nothing available and no one else can lend you their scissors. Tip: children’s plastic scissors have been found impractical and frustrating, best to stick to classic metal scissors.

It is always a good idea to also bring some outdoor (or safe indoor) play equipment as it can be hard to know how a session will go. Sometimes the group may sit working at tables the entire time, whilst another time the children might be more active. Soft balls, velcro bat’n’ball, children’s cricket (soft balls only!) etc.

Party and team games are also extremely popular especially if all volunteers and children can participate together. For example, a game like Duck duck goose requires no resources at all! Other similar games can be found by searching inside You Tube, a search for ‘childrens team games’ should produce thousands of results. Another fun one involved clothes pegs, see if you can find it and others similar.

Random resources are great too. Volunteers have taken the game Hungry Hippos, Facepaints (Snazaroo best and safest for sensitive skins) and childrens jewellery/bracelet sets. Back in 2014 loom bands were huge, there might be something new this year.

What do I need to take for my stay?

To keep the programme as affordable as possible volunteers will need to bring their own bedding. Between June and August take a single duvet cover to sleep inside or a very light summer sleeping bag with a pillow for comfort.

Although there is no malaria in the area as it is quite forested in the surrounding areas and humid it is a good idea to use insect repellent for days when there can be midges.

Clothing-wise, check the weather before you arrive and take what is comfortable. For volunteering, best to leave your very short shorts and cropped tops for the beach and stick to comfortable appropriate clothing when volunteering. Knee length shorts or loose trousers and T-shirts in the summer is ideal.

Don’t forget to bring beach wear, sun cream, sandals and a beach towel if you plan on enjoying the beach. It is too good and too close to miss out on.

A daypack is essential at all times to carry equipment and a drink to projects and a money belt under a T-shirt is practical to keep money safe as there are pickpockets in the summer season which target Varna. You should wear your daypack on your front in crowded areas as there is some pickpocketing in crowded areas.

How will I get back to the airport?

Your co-ordinator will help organise a return transfer with the team’s regular driver to Varna airport/train station or Burgos airport. Simply ask a couple of days before your departure as your return transfer plans might change closer to departure and you will want to re-confirm.

How will I pay for my project?

An invoice will be sent by email shortly after we have received your flight. Click on Pay Now to see what the invoice covers and the dates. This is the easiest way to pay. Email us if you are travelling soon and have not received an invoice. And don’t worry if you forget, if we have your flights already – we’ll send you a reminder before you go!

What happens if I book with a friend?

Let us know at the time of booking if you are travelling with others. Everyone staying at the same volunteer accommodation volunteers together, that way you can volunteer together.

What do I need to know?

You need to know that Bulgarians shake their heads from side to side when they mean yes and nod when they mean no. It can get more confusing when they swap this around for their foreign visitor to help them! Although most young people and staff in bars and restaurants understand English here are some useful words and phrases you may want to use everyday:

  • Kak-see – How are you?
  • Kaksee-vadush? What’s your name?
  • Bloggo-daree-a? Thank you.
  • Nareecebeeram – I don’t understand.
  • Pree-at-no-mee-a – Nice to meet you.
  • Angleeski – English.

You will hear locals say “super super” a lot, so if anything’s good or you understand something you can use “super super” too. If you see anyone rolling their eyes – they’re not bored or disinterested, they are engaged in the moment and following the conversation. So be careful you don’t over react or pull a face when someone rolls their eyes, it should not be confused with the Anglo-saxon custom.

volunteers-at-beach-bulgaria

The beach is close by wherever you are! Here volunteers at the Kamchiya Forest Park.

september-volunteers-kayaking-bulgaria

Volunteers take a kayak trip in the Kamchiya park.

How much free time will I have?

The volunteer schedule is part time and organised between Monday and Friday so there is plenty of time to explore and relax. There is occasionally a day or afternoon off in the week to relax or take a short tour. Because of the proximity of the beach you may find you can sometimes squeeze in the beach mid week between activities and use your weekends to explore local places of interest. Further afield, volunteers have taken short trips to Bucharest in Romania which you may like to do during a weekend or after your stay on the programme. Scroll down to the Free time section for more ideas.

How will I keep in touch with family?

Unlock your phone before travel and get a new SIM on arrival. Mtel and Viacom are the most widely used by visitors. You may need to show your passport as ID to buy a SIM. There are still internet cafes in Varna to stay in touch with home.

Do I need a visa?

European passport holders only require a valid passport to enter the country and stay for up to 90 days. European citizens staying longer register with the police and request a permit. If you hold a different passport and require a visa to enter Bulgaria, we can provide you with a supporting letter of introduction to assist your visa application. Allow an extra 2 to 3 weeks to prepare this for you.

How do I get there?

There are many ways to travel to Bulgaria, with flights starting from £90 return if bought in advance. The simplest way is to fly to Varna. We will organise your airport pick up and transfer to the volunteer house automatically for £20. A cheaper alternative in high season is to fly to Sofia with one of the many budget airlines including Easyjet and take the train or bus (7 hours, approx £12 each way).

A pick up can be organised from Varna train or bus station if you overland and there are regular departures from Sofia throughout the day. An alternative city to fly to is Bourgas, the next town 2 hours down the coast from Varna an airport pick from Bourgas costs £55 which can be shared by up to 3 passengers depending on luggage!

A more straightforward option of flying to Varna yet still saving the pennies is to buy a return to Sofia but add on a one way flight from Sofia to Varna for about £50 then take the coach or train back to Sofia after your stay. There is a direct coach which drops off at Sofia airport.

What happens on arrival?

Our regular driver will be there to meet you (Varna airport/Bourgas airport/Varna train station) and take you to the volunteer accommodation. They always have a sign so you won’t miss them. They will also wait if your flight or train is delayed.

What do parents need to know?

Although the programme accepts volunteers of all ages, being in Europe it is ideal for novice volunteers, or those looking for worthwhile volunteering closer to home. The age range of our Bulgaria volunteers can vary enormously from 17 to 50, although the majority will be aged 18 to 25.

For worried parents, Varna is an easy town to navigate and feels very much like a typical old-fashioned English coastal town like Bournemouth. The centre of town is mostly pedestrianised, it is a family resort town and the atmosphere is peaceful with whole families of three generations promenading late into the evening. The group leader also escorts the group to the projects each day so volunteers will not have to find their own way to projects in an unfamiliar city.

Parents should be aware that younger volunteers will not receive individualised attention from their volunteer group leader when not volunteering. Outside of volunteering, all volunteers are expected to be independent enough to mix in with everyone and organise eating out and shopping with the rest of the group without the need for their group leader’s assistance.

It is not practically possible for the group leader to be in all parts of the city with all volunteers at the same time as everyone may want to do different things in their free time, although the group leader may occasionally enjoy a meal out with the volunteer group if invited! 

What level of support is provided?

The local group leader assists the volunteer group to travel to projects and is there to help with any advice and assistance from volunteering to arranging a doctors appointment. They are local people who know the area inside out and will advise on all the best places to eat, shop and explore.

But this is Europe and one of the easiest coastal towns to live in and wander around so outside of volunteering you should not need them with you at your side 24/7 other than getting to projects.

It’s fun to explore and wander the pedestrianised streets and parks with your fellow volunteers between your volunteer activities.

How can I look after my health?

If you are a European citizen, take a European Insurance Card (EHIC) with you which will entitle you to the same immediate medical attention available to Bulgarians. If you are in the UK, apply online through the NHS website for your EHIC card which lasts for 5 years and will cover you for all future holidays in Europe. However, as for any trip abroad, even with the EHIC card, you should also purchase travel insurance which will provide a flight home for more serious illness or accident. Tap water is generally safe to drink although it might not taste as good as home.

The Cheshma (drinking fountains) offer fresh, pure water to drink. Bulgaria does suffer from a stray dog problem, although a rabies jab is not required as the risk is low and all main hospitals have specialist rabies clinics. Most stray dogs tend to stay away from people. Although Bulgaria is not a malaria region, like Scottish forests in the summer, they do have mosquitos, so it is advisable to bring a repellent to prevent annoyance. However the most common irritation in the summer months will be over exposure to the sun if you have spent a day on the beach.

In the summer, make sure you take it easy with gradual exposure, take a white T-shirt to cover up until you are used to the sun, use a high factor sun cream and drink plenty! You won’t want to miss volunteering in the week because of sunburn at the weekend!

How can I travel with other volunteers?

We will Buddy you up with another volunteer so you can fly out together, just let us know at the time of booking. Even if you do travel alone, the local team are there and you will rarely be the only volunteer as new volunteers arrive every day or two. You can also:

  • Add yourself to the Buddy List to meet other volunteers, travel together or simply find a familiar face when you arrive.
  • Join the volunteer community on Facebook and like the page to connect with other volunteers, receive recent pictures, stories and updates.

What happens after you have booked?

  • As soon as you have booked with the once-only £125 registration fee (this covers one or more projects within a year), you will receive a welcome email confirming your booking and explaining in more detail how to get organised for you trip. The Bulgaria programme is very popular for those wanting a great volunteer experience closer to home so early booking is essential. This programme has fixed dates and extremely limited spaces. Please check after booking that our confirmation email has your chosen dates before buying flights.
  • We will Buddy you up with another volunteer going to the Bulgaria volunteer programme arriving around the same time so you should have a good chance to travel together if you wish to
  • You will also receive a Welcome Pack with some useful information which will include project specific advice on what to take, how to prepare and travel health recommendations

Below is an example timeline for a volunteer travelling in July 2019

  • As soon as possible : After registering and you have received confirmation by email, get flights to Bulgaria. Flights cost £120 to £250 return if booked in advance with the budget airlines. The simplest way to fly is to Varna if this is your first time volunteering/travelling abroad. If you are travelling overland by train or coach from elsewhere, shortly before you travel we will put you in touch with your in-country volunteer coordinator to organise a train station pick up.
  • Add yourself to the Buddy List to meet other volunteers, travel together or simply find a familiar face when you arrive.
  • Join the volunteer community on Facebook to see recent pictures from projects and other interesting stories and updates
  • June : Purchase travel insurance and apply for a medical certificate from your doctor (this is required for all volunteers in Bulgaria regardless of the volunteer organisation you book though) See our travel health section for more information on jabs.
  • No visa is required before travel to Bulgaria for European passport holders for stays up to 90 days. If you require a tourist visa to enter the country – contact us if you require letters of introduction which we can prepare for you
  • As soon as you have flights to Bulgaria: Email us your flight so we can prepare the local team for your arrival and pick up. Volunteers flying to Sofia airport will still need to send us flights to confirm their place on the team and approximate arrival in Bulgaria. Let us know which train or coach you intend to take and allow plenty of extra time between arrival at the airport, transferring to the train/bus station and purchasing tickets.
  • At anytime : pay for your volunteer programme – we will send you an invoice by email to pay online – don’t worry we will send you a reminder if you forget as long as we have your flights or dates already!
  • We will organise your pick up and transfer when you arrive.

Bulgaria at a glance

Bulgaria is a great option if you’re looking for a programme which offers you a beach location with volunteering. Alternatively you may be on a tight budget as flights to Bulgaria start at around £90 return if bought in advance. Bulgaria is a modern, easy going nation of 7.36 million with a social culture. Despite its geographical position, Bulgaria is more similar to Northern Europe than it’s Mediterranean cousins. Since the fall of communism in 1989, the people have embraced democracy and a market-free economy.

Bulgaria has increasingly become a tourist destination for visitors from Western Europe both at the beaches in the summer and at its winter ski resorts. In the summer Varna effectively become the summer capital drawing everyone to the beach from the family to the in crowd from the capital and wealthy tourist from Eastern Europe.

The summer holiday season lasts from June to September and the temperature in the region turns sub-tropical with the sea water averaging 23 – 27 degrees Celsius. The weather is generally warm or mild until the end of October and occasionally into the first week of November.

Want to know more?

If you have any questions big or small on any aspect of our Bulgarian coastal programme or would like to check dates please contact us at the earliest opportunity.Alternatively complete an easy enquiry form with your contact details and we’ll be in touch! Want to volunteer in the winter or spring or with a larger volunteer group? Then take a look at our Morocco programme where direct flights from the UK and Europe start at as little as £50 return.

Placement at a glance

Volunteer ExperienceEnjoy a varied schedule in different settings and help with playwork,outdoor games,informal English teaching, visits to care homes to provide company to the elderly and occasional manual work and assistance to local charities.
Age 17+
Support A group leader escorts your volunteer group to the day's activity.
Project location Projects in and close to Varna. The volunteer apartment is centrally located close to all shops and cafes and only 15-20 minutes walk from the beach.
Accommodation Volunteers stay together in dorm-style apartments and shared houses in Varna. Occasionally a centrally located modern hostel is used when not enough bookings for the apartment or for the occasional days when the accommodation is overbooked for a few days. This is organised for you. Rooms may be mixed sex. We will try to avoid this wherever possible but sometimes flights are bought later by the occasional volunteer without always confirming with us first! :)
Working hours Variable part time hours depending on the week's schedule. Your volunteer organisor attempts to fill up the week but timings will depend on the local projects and charity's plans for the week of your visit as their needs can change. When there is a break in the schedule the beach is only a short stroll from the apartment!
Language Bulgarian. You are not expected to know any Bulgarian, indeed many Romany children you may work with have their own language and dialect, closer to Turkish.
Getting to projectVarna is the best airport or try Bourgas further down the coast although transfers will be more expensive (for flights visit: skyscanner.net) this is the simplest way to arrive. Some volunteers fly to Sofia then take the train to Varna, approx £15, 7 hours.
Minimum stay 5 days. Most volunteers arrive on a Sunday and depart the following Saturday or Sunday. If more convenient a flight arriving on a Monday morning is also possible but be aware volunteering may be therefore limited if arriving too late on Monday to join an afternoon project. The following Sunday night accommodation may not be available if there is a new arriving volunteer on their way.
Project operatesJune - September. Extremely limited spaces. This project has fixed start/end days. Arrival day is Sunday, departure day can be Saturday or Sunday. Volunteers arriving Saturday can be met at the airport/train station as usual and then transferred to a pre-booked hostel of their choice. Hostelbookers.com and hotels.com are popular sites to prebook rooms.
When to applyMaximum group size is 6 volunteers. Call us now to enquire and reserve on 01603 280702.
Costs£125 per week covers all accommodation, organisation of placements and your group leader who organises your group's weekly placements. Flights/food/local transport/personal spending excluded. Allow £5 - £10 a day for transport and meals.
Airport Pick-up ServiceAvailable from Varna airport/train and bus station £20. Bourgas airport £55. Payable on arrival in British pounds to driver.

Accommodation info

  • Shop 2 minutes Shop 2 minutes
  • Bars 5 minutes Bars 5 minutes
  • Chemist 5 minutes Chemist 5 minutes
  • Bus 5 minutes Bus 5 minutes
  • Taxis 5 minutes Taxis 5 minutes
  • Cash machine 15 minutes Cash machine 15 minutes
  • Bank 15 minutes Bank 15 minutes
  • Wifi usually available in volunteer house for Whatsapp calls. Wifi usually available in volunteer house for Whatsapp calls.
  • Wifi usually in house Wifi usually in house
  • Laundry- 5 mins + small fee Laundry- 5 mins + small fee

Basics, what to take?

  • Summer visits: Duvet cover (not duvet) or summer weight sleeping bag and pillow.

More info

Accommodation: To keep programme costs as affordable as possible volunteers stay together in a functional traditional Bulgarian/Communist style volunteer apartment in Varna city centre in shared (occasionally) mixed sex dorm style rooms. Apartment has modern bathroom, lounge/sleeping area and communal kitchen. Please be aware that the appartments are basic and functional. Support: Back-up and support during your stay available when needed from your English speaking group leader, although most visits are hassle-free, Varna feels pretty much like Brighton or Bournemouth in the UK, except there’s a sandy beach and the sea’s considerably warmer!

Meet the project team

the team in bulgaria

You could not be better looked after in Bulgaria with help and support at every step of the way. Our Bulgaria volunteer programme benefits from a knowledgeable group leader who knows the town inside out. They will do everything they can to make your volunteering programme smooth and enjoyable from day one.

Your English speaking group leader carries out a variety of tasks to support your volunteer group which includes : arranging the visits for your volunteer group with the local charities, communities and institutions, escorting your group to projects, being on hand at projects to translate between volunteers/children and local staff, organising the weekly volunteering schedule, organising project transport between the volunteer house and the projects when needed and helping with any accommodation issues that might arise during your stay (for example, if the Wi-fi needs a nudge!).

As Bulgaria is a gentle seaside town not dissimilar to the look and feel of many towns in Northern Europe, the UK included and with few of the irritations of far-flung exotic more edgier countries, you will be expected to take care of yourself between volunteering activities in the same way as you would at home when not working or between lectures at University. You certainly will not need an escort to stroll around Varna, find the beach and somewhere to eat as you would not need to at home when living in a coastal town.

Main points to stay safe: Pickpocketing is quite common in the summer, so wear your bag on your front where possible, do not leave your phone in your back pocket, two volunteers were caught out in 2016. Because of the stark Communist style of housing in Bulgaria you may sometimes feel like you are in somewhat less than salubrious surroundings and it takes a bit of getting used to, but really, there is no difference to anywhere else in Europe, it’s just the architecture letting the place down.

The benefits of your local in-country team

What is a volunteer coordinator?

Every project has a volunteer coordinator. This is the person responsible for organising your volunteering and looking after your welfare needs during your stay and they are all English speaking.

What experience do volunteer coordinators have?

All our coordinators are local people with knowledge and experience gained over many years of supporting volunteers. They have a deep knowledge of their local community, providing an invaluable source of information. 9 in 10 coordinators at our destinations have between 5 – 7 years experience and 7 in 10 of our coordinators have supported more than a thousand volunteers each (current as of August 2013). If they don’t know where to buy Parmesan cheese when the shops are shut, no one will!

Who are volunteer coordinators?

At some destinations the volunteer coordinator will also be the manager/director of the project you are volunteering if you are based in one location. Examples of manager/coordinator projects will be Kenya-Mombasa/Peru/Cambodia/South Africa/Argentina/Uganda/India. Some destinations require an independent volunteer coordinator because there are many projects volunteers go to. Independent coordinators will organise a variety of placements at many different projects in the local community throughout your visit. He/she will liaise with all the projects/schools/hospitals on your behalf to organise schedules for your volunteer group. Examples of volunteer programmes are: Morocco/Ghana/Tanzania/Kenya-Masai/Malawi/Mexico-Merida/Ecuador. Thailand and Nepal offer a mix of both.

Is there only one volunteer coordinator?

Coordinators have other staff supporting them, from drivers to housekeepers, and cooks and assistant coordinators. Support team size varies between project type and time of year. The typical size of any support team will be 5 – 7. There may also be a long stay volunteer helping out The Uganda school project had at last count 15 local staff supporting volunteers which ranged from security to water carriers!

What do coordinators do?

  • Airport pick up Your in-country coordinator will organise your pick up and make sure you get to the volunteer house as smoothly as possible. If your coordinator does not meet volunteers from the airport, their trusted regular driver will be sent to meet you.
  • Liaise with local projects If you are on a mixed volunteer programme (Morocco/Ghana/Tanzania/Kenya-Masai/Malawi/Mexico-Merida/Ecuador) your coordinator will be regularly liaising with the projects you will be going to today, this week and next, organising suitable times and communicating schedules to the volunteer group.
  • Help organise specific placements Coordinators will also ensure that volunteers with special preferences eg. medical/building can get involved as fully as possible in their preferred area of work.
  • Show you around and help you to locate things Need a Sim card? Want to buy some paintbrushes for an art session tomorrow? Speak to your coordinator – they will advise on where, how to get there and prices.
  • Provide an orientation on arrival This may take the form of a more formal meeting for all new arrivals by your coordinator or through informal advice, long stay volunteers, handouts, information on the noticeboard as per needs dictate. This will usually include any important cultural awareness if this may affect your stay. For example bare tummies should be covered in Ghana for example otherwise the children won’t stop giggling!
  • Help you when things go wrong We are often asked what happens when things go wrong. Your local team are the experts on getting you the help you need immediately. They have seen it all before (in a nice way) and are well experienced in looking after hundreds of volunteers each year with all the usual niggles from sunburn to upset tummies. Whether you need a doctor in the night for sickness or you want to try out a new project or move bedroom or volunteer house. If you have remembered to print off your project contact details and leave them with family (these are sent before travel to all volunteers) – your family can also contact the coordinator directly. Or they can call us and we can put them in touch. But if you need further assistance or advice we are here to help you. Contact us straightaway and we might be able to make the niggly issues go away. For any country related crises which may occur which would require volunteers to return home, your coordinator and their team will ensure everyone is safely escorted to the airport or Embassy as per the advice provided by each volunteer’s government together with any additional support that may be required.
  • Help you when you feel unwell Coordinators are the first port of call if you think you may need medical assistance. They will organise an escort to the local clinic/hospital and make sure you are well treated. They can also contact home and will be happy to speak to parents to explain how you are. If you are volunteering alone, they may also stay with you in the hospital or request that a member of their staff and a volunteer keep you company as it can be quite daunting to be in a foreign hospital, even if it is only an infected mosquito bite! Most health problems are minor and with a day or two’s bed rest either at the volunteer house or the local hospital and plenty of water, most volunteers are back to their normal selves again. While on the subject of hospitals – make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover local medical bills and repatriation. In developing countries and where medical care is mostly private, it is not uncommon to be admitted into a private room for something which would be treated as an out-patient back home. Without insurance, hospital fees can be as much as £200 per day. For doctors appointments when you only need a prescription, your coordinator will help you to locate the nearest doctor/clinic. For these it is often easier to pay on the spot and not claim on the insurance. Expect to pay approx. £5 – £15 per consultation and £5 – £20 for basic medication.
  • Organise excursions Your coordinator knows all the best trips and best prices which volunteers over the years have participated on and recommended. If the options are not posted on a notice board ask your coordinator what is available and how to book. Typical prices across all destinations as a very rough guide: £30 – £40 for a day’s activity, £200 – £400 for a trek/budget safari for 3 – 5 days. Most volunteers go together in a group for more fun and get discounts. Additional trip discounts for volunteers are available in Ghana and Tanzania.
  • Return transfer back to the airport Your coordinator can organise the return trip back to the airport for you, simply ask a few days before your flight. This is not automatically organised as many volunteers will have made friends and may leave the project a day or two earlier to sightsee before flying home, want to go shopping right up to the last minute or forget that the transfer was booked and have already jumped in a taxi!

Placement map

Call us today on 01603 280702

Image gallery

Bulgaria specific questions

Do I need experience?

No experience is required to be successful on the volunteer programme. Whether you work on the health care programme or the teaching and play work programme, everyone is welcomed to come. For volunteers wanting to take on a care role it is recommended that you have some previous experience of working or volunteering independently in a similar setting as supervision is not always available.

When do I choose what I will be doing?

For the community programme, a schedule is organised each week according to the request of local projects and charities. The aim is to provide as varied a schedule as possible which will be of benefit to the children/adults and the community.

How do health care placements work?

Two weeks are recommended for health volunteers in case of delays and schedule changes by the institutions they are volunteering at. In the event of any changes, health volunteers are invited to participate on the community programme. On arrival it is expected that volunteers will shadow staff for between 1 and 2 days and help with non-medical/health aspects, for example at meal times or taking a patient/resident outside in their wheelchair for some fresh air. Following supervision and assessment by the senior nurse and doctor in charge, a more active role in all aspects may be encouraged according to your skill set and confidence. Most placements will be unsupervised and local staff speak limited or no English, health volunteers should therefore be confident and independently active towards their role.

How can I prepare for the general volunteering programme?

It is a really good idea to learn some basic phrases, we include a basic list on this page. A Bulgarian phrasebook or dictionary will be essential. Quality guidebooks on Varna town do not yet exist although most brand names guidebooks on Bulgaria will contain a section on Varna or the area. 

To get more out of your stay it is helpful to do a little reading on this fascinating region of Europe before arrival. If you don’t have time to source history and travel guides, sit down with a coffee and look at Wikipedia pages on Varna and Bulgaria, it won’t take long and you will get much more out of your visit.

What should I be aware of?

There can be pickpocketing in the summer months so keep your bag on your front in crowds. The architecture can be strange for British visitors, still reminiscent of the Communist/Russian style with long streets of grey concrete tower blocks and the odd Communist statue here and there. Hopefully the location of the volunteer apartment close to the town centre and beach and the volunteering will make up for the tower blocks, so typical of this ex-communist corner of Europe!

I would like to fundraise for the projects specifically – what do they need?

Fundraise before you travel and speak to the volunteer group leader to find out which projects would welcome support then buy the resources they need in Varna or make contributions directly. It can often be helpful to do it this way round as needs change or you may have a favourite project you have volunteered at which you would like to help.

Will I be met on arrival?

There are three options for pick-ups from (i) Varna airport (ii) the train station in Varna or (iii) Bourgas airport which is further down the coast. An airport transfer from Bourgas takes 1.5 to 2 hours and can cost around £55 so do allow extra time and the budget if you choose this option. 

What do I need to take?

Do bring conservative clothes for volunteering with children – a standard T-shirt (not strappy vests) and jeans or knee-length shorts are acceptable in the summer months. For health placements bring your own uniform if you have one from home, or wear office-type clothes which identify you as a member of staff.  

Where will I be staying?

Volunteers on both placements share the volunteer apartment together in (occasionally) mixed sex occasionally) in Varna city centre about 10 minutes walk from most cafes and shops.

Is Bulgaria safe?

Very. There is nothing that will happen or could occur any differently than would occur in England. One volunteer described Varna like Brighton in the UK if it had a sandy tree-lined beach hot weather and warm sea.

Do I need a visa?

Bulgaria is now part of the European Union. European passport holders do not require a visa to enter the country.

Are there fixed arrival dates?

The Bulgaria programme has fixed start days and limited spaces (max 5) so early booking is essential. The programme runs from June to September. Start days are Sunday (or Saturday), departing Saturday or Sunday but spaces are limited.

I am worried about travelling on my own – can I buddy up with someone?

Yes we can buddy you up, just let us know at the time of booking. But if you are travelling alone, don’t panic, most volunteers travel alone and this will be their first experience of volunteering abroad.

What if I am on my own during my stay?

If you are the only volunteer for a few days (rare but it can happen for a few days early season and last weeks of the summer programme), you will be escorted in the usual way to the projects by your volunteer coordinator who will work alongside you at the projects and they will provide some additional company for you out of volunteering hours until the next volunteers arrive. Please note we cannot refund any programme fees for any volunteer leaving the accommodation to stay in a hotel or hostel elsewhere whilst they volunteer.

Will I need any jabs?

Only the usual boosters you would need from time to time in the UK. There isn’t any malaria in Bulgaria but they still have midges from the surrounding forests so it is essential to get a good strong repellent in case you need it.

How will I get back to the airport?

Your support team will organise a taxi back to the airports or the train station, or with the driver if he is picking someone else up. Alternatively, the journey back to Varna airport can be made easily by taxi direct from the volunteer house for about £15.

Latest reviews

Average Review Rating: from 2 reviews.

Angela Coren – Bulgaria

Here's my review of my time in Bulgaria.Bulgaria was a surprise, I wanted to do something in Europe then found the project on the OV website and booked straight away. I learnt a lot during my stay especially about the suffering of the Roma gypsy people, not just in Bulgaria but in the region as a whole. It has defi...

Read More

Leah Maxwell – Review

Why did you want to volunteer? To travel and put something back by helping others.Do you feel you made a difference, how? I think we helped every project, it was a great team and we did lots of interesting activities with the children.What did you do for fun? Nights out in Varna centrum and the beach front b...

Read More