Startup visa

Bulgaria has introduced a startup visa.

The provision is not yet in force but is expected to be shortly. Once in force, entrepreneurs keen to make use of it will still need to await the publication of regulations to be developed by a newly-created government agency.

This page covers in more detail:

  • What the start-up visa is
  • Who is eligible
  • What is the pathway to acquiring one
  • What is known about the detailed requirements
  • What does it entitle a holder to
  • Switching into other residence categories

Entrepreneurs wishing to obtain the new visa must have their project certified by Bulgaria’s State Agency for Scientific Research and Innovation (SASRI).

SASRI is itself a brand-new body, created in autumn 2020. It was set up to manage a government R&D assistance budget, including EU funds allocated to Bulgaria. SASRI will be responsible for some €860 m in 2021-2027, and is headed by an experienced civil servant who is also a former advertising executive.

SASRI’s approach and the criteria SASRI will deploy to assess and certify projects are as yet unknown publicly.

Based on similar visa routes elsewhere, these may include, eg:

  • the experience and potential of the founder
  • the potential of the project
  • the novelty of the technology,
  • whether the technology is covered by appropriate registered (or unregistered) intellectual property,
  • endorsements by seed/VC funds or other.

Whatever the criteria, it is SASRI that would issue a certificate to proposed applicants and it is this document that is termed the “startup visa”.

Once in possession of:

  • the SASRI certificate/’visa’;
  • a standard Type D (long-term residence) visa, and
  • having incorporated a Bulgarian company in which the applicant(s) hold(s) at least 50% of shares,

entrepreneurs can obtain a temporary residence permit.

It follows that a maximum of up to 2 individuals can benefit from the visa per project (since each must hold a minimum of 50% of the company at the time of incorporation). There may however be the opportunity for the number of people to be enlarged through appropriate structuring.

The visa can lead in due course to Bulgarian permanent residence and indeed, subject to passing a language test, to naturalisation as a Bulgarian and therefore EU citizen. Holders of temporary residence on the basis of the visa would not automatically have the right to travel visa-free elsewhere in the EU, but they would find obtaining a multiple entry visa far more easily than they might otherwise.

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© New Balkans Law Office 2024