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Bulgaria Freelance Taxes: Detailed Breakdown
In the past few years I've been living in Bulgaria, working remotely as a software engineer (technically, “consultant”) for foreign companies (both European and US), and by now I have a pretty good idea about all the taxes and other business-related expenses one has to pay in this setup. Since it's ridiculously hard to find a good and detailed breakdown like that (most often you'll find that income tax is 10%, and dividend tax is 5%, which is accurate but awfully incomplete), I just decided to put this page together. After all, taxes here are pretty simple, unlike countries like US.
Note that what I'm going to be talking about is focused on this exact case: being a resident in Bulgaria, and working as a freelance software engineer (consultant) for companies outside of Bulgaria. So e.g. if your line of business is different (not considered consulting), or maybe you're not planning to be a resident here, then some rules will change and I don't know much details. Also note that this is not about employment. By “freelance” here I mean that I have some sort of Service Agreement with my clients, and I'm not an employee.
Bulgarian national currency is BGN, and as of now, its value is pegged to EUR with the fixed ratio of 1.95583. So, 1 EUR is 1.95583 BGN, and it doesn't change over time, at least not yet.
One more thing to mention explicitly before we start: this article is intended to help you with accurate estimations and planning, but it's by no means 100% precise, meaning, you can't rely on it for the actual accounting and tax reporting. It's only based on my personal experience paying taxes in Bulgaria. If you actually move to Bulgaria, get yourself an accountant before you start working.
Overall there are two options: either register a company, or register your business as an individual consultant (software engineering is generally considered “consulting”). I was doing both: I started by registering a company and worked like that for a few years, and at some point switched to being an individual instead.
If going with a company, there are more sub-options like whether one only gets dividends, or has a salary and maybe some bonuses from the company, but I was only doing the dividends, because, as per my accountant, it ends up being cheaper (although this is being countered by a HN user, who is saying: “Past a certain threshold, with a company, the best option is to pay yourself a salary every month”. Check this followup comment for more details. My math still doesn't show how this can be true unless you're making like 50K BGN monthly. And since I personally was only going the dividends way, this article only focuses on dividends, as long as a company is concerned)
A short summary of those options is: having a company is considerably less convenient and more burdensome; in my opinion, the only decent reason for going with a company is when your income is below certain threshold, because it's cheaper this way (or, well, if you don't plan to be a resident here but want to have your business registered in Bulgaria, then having a company is your only option, but as I said above, I personally don't have experience doing that and I don't know much details). Another reason to prefer working as a company is the limited liability, but I don't think it's much relevant for software engineers, because a reasonable Service Agreement with the clients shouldn't put a lot of liability on software engineers in the first place.
Also, keep in mind that those who are not EU citizens or permanent residents, pay a bit less business-related taxes due to health insurance: they pay other kind of health insurance, unrelated to income at all. Fyi in my case it was about 200 BGN per year (I was getting just some bare minimum required insurance), and since it's not a business-related expense, it's not included in the calculations below.
The TL;DR charts for both cases:
As you see, there is a tipping point where being a company stops being cheaper: for EU citizens or permanent residents it's around 8500 BGN per month, for others it's around 6000 BGN.
Source code to generate those charts can be found on github.
Now, let's break it down.
One has to pay the following business-related expenses:
- Income tax. It's the same for companies and individuals: 10%, but it's calculated against profit, and what exactly is considered profit is different for companies and individuals. More on that later.
- Dividend tax. Obviously it's only relevant for companies, and it's 5%.
- Social security (in Bulgarian, “осигуровки”). Technically, the percentages are large, but there are a few important details outlined below, so don't be too afraid when you see the numbers. The percentages are as follows: “ДОО” (State Social Insurance): 14.8%, plus “ДЗПО” (Additional Mandatory Pension Insurance) 5%, plus if you are an EU citizen or you have a permanent residence permit here, then also “НЗОК” (National Health Insurance Fund): 8%. And the two important details are:
- First, the amount from which those percentages are taken, is limited: there is minimal social security income (“минимален осигурителен доход”), and therefore maximal social security income (“максимален осигурителен доход”). Those numbers change (go up) nearly every year, and in 2022 (at least first half of it), they are 710 BGN and 3000 BGN respectively. So if your income is larger than 3000 BGN (doesn't matter how much larger), then all those social security percentages (14.8% + 5% + in certain cases 8%) are only taken from 3000 BGN. And if your income is smaller than 710 BGN, even if it's straight zero, then you'll have to pay social security as if your income was 710 BGN. And again, those exact thresholds are subject to change nearly every year.
- Second, what matters for those social security percentages is the income of an individual. Your company's income (if you decide to register a company) doesn't really matter here. Only the income of you as an individual matters. More on that later.
- Accountant fees: about 150 - 200 BGN per month independently of the income.
- Very minor, but for completeness also let's include bank fees here: assuming you'll need 2 accounts (one in USD or EUR to receive your income directly from your clients, and another one in BGN to pay the taxes and other Bulgarian expenses), for the company it's around 15 - 20 BGN per month, and for an individual it's 5 - 7 BGN.
Now, let's take a closer look at each of the two major options (company vs individual).
Working as a company
If you're working as a company, when you just received money from your clients, obviously it's not possible to simply start spending them on your personal things, since it's not your money. So first of all you need to come up with a plan on how to be making them your money. The approach that I was using is this: just wait for the end of year and then distribute dividends, and if I need money sooner than that, then make a loan from the company to myself (I'll explain more details about the loan below). It sucks to not have my personal money without having to do extra paperwork (to make a loan), but it's the cheapest way, so that's what I was doing.
Another option is to hire yourself, and pay yourself some monthly salary plus optionally bonuses: this way, you'll get your personal money every month, but it's a more expensive option so it defeats the purpose of working as a company in the first place. I'm not going into details about this option to hire yourself since I wasn't doing it personally and I'm not very familiar with all the subtleties. So, in the examples below I'll only be using the first option (dividends and, when necessary, loans).
Example calculations of net income
Let's assume our gross income is 10000 BGN.
As mentioned above, income tax is calculated against profit (that is, all incomes minus all expenses). However, when using a company just as a legal front for freelancing, the company's expenses are very small: only accountant and bank fees, so the tax is applied almost to the full received amount.
- First, calculate social security. As mentioned before, what matters for social security is the income of an individual; and since I do not hire myself, and don't have a salary or any other bonuses from the company, my income as an individual is zero. Therefore, social security is taken from the minimal amount (710 BGN in 2022), and the calculation is as follows: 710 * (0.148+0.05) = 140.58 BGN. Note that we didn't include the health insurance here; if you are an EU citizen or a permanent resident, you'll need to add 8% more here.
- Calculate tax base: deduct the expenses (assuming those are 150 BGN for the accountant, and 15 BGN for the bank), and also deduct the social security we calculated above: 10000 - 150 - 15 - 140.58 = 9694.42 BGN.
- Calculate income tax: 9694.42 * 0.10 = 969.44 BGN
- So the amount left on the company is: 10000 - 140.58 - 150 - 15 - 969.44 = 8724.98 BGN
- Deduct 5% dividend tax: 8724.98 * 0.95 = 8288.73 BGN
So from the gross 10000 BGN we got net 8288.731 BGN, which means we had to pay about 17.11% of taxes and other expenses.
Loans slightly reduce net income as well
The above calculations don't account for loans, so they assume you'd just keep your money on the company's account, and only get your dividends in the beginning of the next year. If you do need to get some money earlier though (which I think is common), then the loan will also reduce your net income, but not by much. E.g. I was lending money from my company to myself for 4% per year, therefore when the loan is liquidated in the end of the year, technically my company was making another small profit from those extra 4% that I pay back to it, and therefore this profit is taxable in the same way (10% income tax plus 5% dividend tax from the remainder, so in total it's 14.5% from those 4%, i.e. 0.04 * 0.145 = 0.58% per year).
So, in total, if e.g. I borrowed 50 000 BGN at July 01 (therefore I'll have to keep it for exactly half a year, paying extra 4%/2 = 2% of it back to the company), I'd additionally lose 50000 * (0.04/2) * 0.145 = 145 BGN, so for holding this loan for half a year, I lost 0.29% of its amount. Not very significant.
Working as an individual
As I briefly mentioned above, what is considered profit is different for companies and individuals. For companies it's easy: all incomes minus all expenses, since company must have dedicated bank accounts etc, but for individuals it'd be much harder to calculate reliably, since it's not too clear which individual's expenses are related to business and which aren't. So for individuals, government uses a simple model and introduces so called recognized expenses (in Bulgarian, “признати разходи”), which is a fixed percentage of the income. For different lines of business this fixed percentage is different, but for consultants, it's 25%. What it means is: government just assumes (recognizes) that, no matter how large my income is, I always pay 25% of it as expenses, and so the remaining 75% is now considered profit, and all the taxes calculated from those 75%. And it's pretty cool because, as you remember from the section above, the actual business-related expenses in our case are much lower than that. Effectively, the income tax becomes closer to 7.5%. And the social security which we have to pay reduces the tax base even more.
Example calculations of net income
Again, assuming our gross income is 10000 BGN:
- First, calculate social security. Now that the income is related to the individual, we need to look at the actual income amount, and since it's above the maximum (3000 BGN in 2022), we'll use 3000 BGN. Calculated as follows: 3000*(0.148+0.05) = 594 BGN. Note that we didn't include the health insurance here; if you are an EU citizen or a permanent resident, you'll need to add 8% more here.
- Calculate tax base: deduct the recognized expenses 25%, and also deduct the social security we calculated above: 10000 - 10000*0.25 - 594 = 6906 BGN.
- Income tax is 10% of the tax base, which is 6906 * 0.10 = 690.60 BGN.
- Fixed expenses as usual: accountant fee 150 BGN, bank fee 5 BGN, so it's 155 BGN.
- Therefore net income is: 10000 - 594 - 690.60 - 155 = 8560.40 BGN
So from the gross 10000 BGN we got net 8560.40 BGN, which means we had to pay about 14.4% of taxes and other expenses.
Other small expenses
While the calculations above provide a very good estimation, there might be other small expenses, like those:
- Banks may take a small percentage for the incoming wire transfers in USD, like 0.1%. To my knowledge, most Bulgarian banks do that; I know at least one bank who doesn't (https://procreditbank.bg/), but it sucks in other ways (e.g. exchange rates between USD and BGN are really bad, and there are very few branches). It's usually not the case for incoming wires in EUR, those are free.
- Accountants may charge something extra once in a while, like 70 BGN once a year to put together an annual report of some sort;
- As mentioned above, when working as a company, loans will also somewhat reduce your net.
Working as an individual requires somewhat lighter paperwork than companies.
Opening a company using an accountant will cost you about 300-400 BGN (or about twice as less if you want to do it yourself), and then if you decide to close it, it's a long process which lasts about 6 months and costs twice as much as the opening.
For individuals it's a lot cheaper, both opening and closing, but opening requires an education document translated to Bulgarian. This kind of translation will cost you perhaps 30-40 BGN and a few days of waiting; after that's done, you just go to the Registry Agency (Агенция по Вписванията), pay 10 BGN fee, and you get registered same day. Closing is equally easy.
In either case (company or individual), due to our line of business, most likely you'll also need to do the VAT registration. It's something like 150 - 200 BGN.
Once the initial paperwork is done, every month you'll need to download bank statements (online), and send them to your accountant, together with the invoices for this month.
Also at some point you might need to translate your Service Agreement with your clients to Bulgarian, but not necessarily, it depends.
That's about it. Not too much really.
How company is more burdensome
So apart from the difference in taxes:
- The most annoying issue is that the money I receive is not my money. I might want to do some investment or buy things, and I can't do that without making a loan first, which means more paperwork and slightly more taxes.
- As per my accountant, dividends have to be distributed as BGN, so if I have USD on the company's account and in the end of the year I want to just transfer USD as is, it can't be done: USD needs to be converted to BGN first. However, I was definitely able to make loans in USD, so at least that's a workaround.
Historical values of min and max social security base
Just in case you're interested:
- 2022: min 710 BGN, max 3000 BGN
- 2021: min 650 BGN, max 3000 BGN
- 2020: min 610 BGN, max 3000 BGN
- 2019: min 560 BGN, max 3000 BGN
- 2018: min 510 BGN, max 2600 BGN
- 2017: min 460 BGN, max 2600 BGN
- 2016: min 420 BGN, max 2600 BGN
The min social security base is usually the same as the minimal salary, and you can see more historical data there: https://kik-info.com/spravochnik/mrz.php
Get an accountant
And finally, let me reemphasize again that this info is only intended for a reasonably accurate estimation and planning; it's not enough for the actual accounting and tax reporting. If you actually move to Bulgaria, get yourself an accountant.
Taxes in Bulgaria, while not being the lowest in the world, are still pretty low. However if you're considering moving here, taxes should probably not be the only reason, as there are plenty of other things to consider. My own primary reasons to move here back in the day had little to do with the taxes, actually.
So, do your own research. I like a lot of things about Bulgaria, despite the fact that many locals tend to hate it, but it's definitely not for everyone.
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