This article is translated by Survival Bulgaria Blog from the original publication in the newspaper Dnevnik by Elenko Elenkov which is here.

You do online shopping?

Here is what you should do in order to release a shipment from the (Sofia) Customs in Bulgaria. As of 1 January 2010 the value on which you have to pay VAT for any packages received outside EU is 15 EUR. This means that what is described below is most likely to happen for any online purchase which value exceeds the cost of a pair of socks.

The place where all packages from abroad arrive (in the described case it was a pack of t-shirts) is called “Sofia Customs Post Office” and is located at 84 Veslets Str. Near the train station.

And so on the note is says that I should go to…

Counter 23

Although the building of the Customs is renovated and looks more or less OK the counters from 23 to 31 are located in an extension which looks like scenery for The X Files. Exactly the same as the one where the American Government is keeping the proofs for extraterrestrial life. You are passed by people with carts carrying boxes labelled with the familiar world brands such as ?bay, ?mazon, USPS, UPS, etc.

In the best case scenario on Counter 23 you should pay the mysterious “fee for values” amounting to 4 BGN and to collect your package. My case is not this one since I ordered t-shirts from the USA.

The lady working on the counter looked at me suspiciously and says – “your package needs to be inspected. I will call” and at the moment she said so she called. In a little while came a person without uniform who asked me: “Is this about you?”

“I guess so”

“I will call an inspector”

“Well, fine.”

The guy disappeared and came shortly to call me to a hidden door leading to

Counter 30, but this time inside

This counter is something like a internal shack in which are located counters from 26 to 31. It is sounded by fan-heaters because there is no central heating.

I am now on the territory of the Customs Officers and I can see the people standing outside. Suddenly a Customs Officer came together with the person who “took me” from Counter 23 and they brought my box with t-shirts. Both of them had Stanley Knives with which they opened my box.

Inside, of course, they found t-shirts, invoice and couple of pins – a gift from the online shop.

“What is this?” asked the Customs Officer.

“T-shirts,” I answered in reply, “they should have be Christmas gifts but…” I was trying to build relation with the customs officers.

“What are these pins?”

“Well, pins. A gift. The shop gives them with every purchase.”

“Why they are not on the invoice? They don’t have value.”

“I guess they have some value,” I was telling them, “but they are gift. I haven’t ordered them.” and I start feeling that I am entering into some useless discussion because the officers think that I a doing some crazy smuggling of pins from California.

“Your need to get an EORI number and to fill a declaration for customs duties and VAT,” the Customs Officer said firmly.

“But the value does not exceed 150 EUR” I told him thinking that I know my rights.

“As of the new year the VAT is calculated on any package for individuals which value exceeds 15 EUR.”

“But the package was here before the new year?” I said with hope.

“Look, I cannot give you the package unless you pay the VAT.”

“??”, I said anticipating that the worst is yet to come.

“Go to counter 17 to get an EORI number and then come back here for declaration.”

“What is this EORI?”

“They will tell you…”

Counter 17 – registry office

At Counter 17 nobody wants to tell me what EORI is, but I have to fill one form with all my personal data that you can imagine. The lady there reviews the form and then she told me “Now you have to go and make a copy of your ID card.”

“Why do I need to copy it?” I asked knowing my rights under the Law for Protection of Perosnal Data. “All data is here and you can make sure that everything is correct after you compare them with my ID card.”

“Don’t argue with me. These are the requirements.”

“What are these requirements. In which law?” I asked again.

“Look, we have been on a special training in order to be able to work with personal data” said the lady.

“That’s wonderful but where does it say that you need to photocopy my ID card?”

The lady waived with her hand and left the matter to another lady to deal with me. The other lady knocked on the window on the counter showing me an excerpt from some magazine hanged there. In it was stated that according to Decree No. 4 from 3 June 2009 issued by the Minister of Finance the EORI register should be made for all entities in the Community. Probably “Community” means EC. I guess that this is something like an ID number but for the Customs. Great.

“But this is an excerpt from a magazine”, I told her.

“This is Customs Chronicle, Sir!” said the lady indignantly.

Customs Chronicle

“There is no doubt that this is Customs Chronicle,” I said, “but this is not a law and it has not been voted by the Parliament. You cannot make copies of my ID card.”

Here the lady with a swift move showed some receipt with her name on it certifying that she passed a training for work with a personal data.

“Why do you need to know that I have brown eyes?” I asked them “In the Law for Protection of Personal Data there is a clause which says that you should not collect more data than those necessary.”

She looked me in the eyes without understanding the joke (on the Bulgarian ID cards it is written the colour of the eyes), and here I understood that the cause for protection of my personal data is lost and that I will have to allow the State to break the law in order to be able to collect my t-shirts.

And then politely guided I headed to the place which is famous that has “xerox” in it which is…

Desk 21

The “xerox” at the Customs Office is not cheap at all. The service costs 0.40 BGN per page. After two unsuccessful attempts I had to pay 2 BGN for copying services which on the top of that break the law since they are photocopying my ID card.

I asked the lady “why it is so expensive” and she answered me “don’t you see that two pages jammed!” That is how I understood that failures of the Customs equipment is not a problem of the Customs but of those who are using their services. That was me.

And then with my filled form for EORI numbder and illegally copied ID card I headed to…

Room 13 – EORI number

Room 13 is not a counter. It is located at the third floor of the Customs Office – where the administration is. The purpose of this whole room is one person, probably University graduate, to enter manually filled by you EORI form in a computer and to print a page on a printer.
Room 13

“For what number are you here for?” He asked.

“What are the options?” I asked.

“The way I see it – for temporary.” Said the person and after that closed the door.

Later on I discovered that I can have permanent registration and to save these bullshit next time but this was when I read couple of forums.

The next 30 minutes are spent in a foyer with full ashtrays, old computers and doors propped up with piles of CDs. Smells awful of cigarettes but the Law for Public Spaces obviously is not applicable in here.

After 30 minutes of waiting in front of Room 13 I had the same form but this time printed on a printer and a little bit prettier. Plus a piece of paper with the number which looks like:


where the ten “?” are my personal ID number. While handing the papers the person from room 13 conspiratorially explained that I need to go to the Customs Manager for signature.

“The Manager? Are you sure? Where is he.”

“She is on the first floor, behind the columns”

“Which counter or room is this?” I asked.

“No number. Because they have not changed the signboard yet.”

Feeling some new restructuring I headed to…

The Customs Manager

There is no room number or counter. The manager is a busy woman. So busy that she has two secretaries. I entered in something like a waiting room in which there are no chairs for those who have to wait. I gave the secretaries the paperwork for signature. They waited too and couldn’t dare to enter Manager’s room. The Manager comes out screaming at another woman and the secretaries timidly approach her asking to sign my EORI number.

Without reading she signed the documents with a swift move in the corridor a little bit angry that they bother her with this. The way the whole thing is handled made me thought that there is still no established procedure how this is supposed to be done regardless of the fact that EORI numbers are issued for over a six months now.

Trying to understand why the Customs Manager has to sign temporary document for import of couple of t-shirts I headed back to…

Desk 17

At the well known registry office they looked severely at me because of the nano-scandal related to the personal data which happen about an hour ago. But they were proud that I have surrendered the precious victim – copy of my ID card. Then they placed another stamp on my EORI number and with fresh look I headed to…

Desk 28

Where was supposed to be filled the customs declaration. After I gave my temporary EORI number some clerk pushed in my hands the customs declaration with some tariffs, etc. With all this I had to go back to the new part. The declaration for my surprise comes with a floppy disk from the end of nineties which I have to present at counter “9 or 10″. I paid 8 BGN for the service.

Judging from all that happened so far I figured out that in Sofia Customs Office they never heard of the miracles of the local area network (LAN). I headed to the new part and in particular…

Desk 9

Here everything is shiny brand new with new computers. They are so new that they even don’t have floppy disk drives. And I have a floppy disk in my hand. The clerk at counter 9 took my documents and surprisingly pushed the floppy disk into an external USB floppy disk drive. I can’t believe that there is even such a thing. The whole system looks like someone put a rocket to a horse cart.

The clerk stamped my declaration and sends me back to the “Bank”, which is located at…

Desk 14

This is a joint-venture between UniCredit Bulbank and “Post Office at the Sofia Customs Office”. Thanks God at least here I don’t have to fill a form. For 42.53 BGN customs duties and VAT I have to pay 3 BGN Bank fee. I asked “why it is so expensive?”, but the answer was “These are the tariffs.” I headed back to…

Desk 9

Where I gave copy of the receipt proving that the customs duties and VAT are paid and the lady finally said that I have to wait for the money “to arrive”.

“Why do I need to wait – here is a copy from the Bank that I have paid,” I told her “what is the connection between the Customs and the Bank?”

“Hold on.”

30 minutes later obliviously the money “arrived” and the clerk proudly called me holding the customs declaration on which there was a nice stamp “Allow receiving of the goods.” And now I can proudly head back to…

Desk 30

Where my package with t-shirts was waiting for me.

But “We do not have the receipt for the values fee”, the lady said.

Here I have to go back to where it all started -

Desk 23

Where I paid 4 BGN “fee for values”, which before and now nobody can explain why it is collected. And back to

Desk 30

Where I took my opened box with the poor t-shirts in it and now I can go back to the office after 4 unforgettable hours spent at Sofia Customs Office…