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    Bulgaria Specific Immigration Information

    This page contains information about how to immigrate a spouse from Bulgaria. The information was gathered from personal experience. Feel free to add additional pertinent information that may prove helpful to future couples who may find themselves in a similar situation.

    Marriage in Bulgaria

    If you and your intended spouse plan on getting married in Bulgaria there are a few things you will want to do first.

    "If you are a U.S. citizen and wish to marry a Bulgarian citizen in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian authorities require that you make a statement before a U.S. consular officer, swearing that you are legally eligible to marry. The fee for notarization of this statement is $30. This service is conducted at the Consular Section on Mondays through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Please call the Immigrant visa unit in advance at tel. (02) 937-5444 to arrange a specific time. The statement must include the full name of the American citizen (please bring your U.S. passport) and the full name, date of birth and current address of the Bulgarian citizen spouse. This statement is not required if the American citizen spouse holds dual citizenship and is also a Bulgarian citizen.

     

    The sworn statement must then be taken to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be authenticated, before you may get married." (taken from [1])

     

    The above process takes a few days. You will need to budget a couple of hours for the Embassy in case of heavy traffic and if you want to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day to drop off your papers you will need to go early. The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also charge you a fee to authenticate this document. The authentication process is called apostillation.

     

    Apostillation is fairly expensive in Bulgaria. It used to be 15 leva for 3 days and 30 for 1 day. But they have recently raised the price significantly to approximately 70 leva for 5 days and something even more insane for 3 days. The Ministry will also probably send you down the street (a few minute's walk) to acquire 6 official stamps from the post office, these will cost about 15 leva. So make sure you have enough cash to take care of these fees. Normal apostillation takes several days, as I mentioned above, it can be rushed for an additional fee, as can practically any form in Bulgaria. If possible it would be best to simply spend a week in Sofia and wait on your documents or alternatively to return in a week to pick them up. Either way this is a rather expensive part of your VisaJourney.

     

    When you receive this authenticated document you will need to take it to the city office where you will schedule your civil wedding ceremony. Weddings in Bulgaria are generally on Friday or Saturday and need to be booked several weeks in advance. The civil ceremony does not require fancy wedding attire, simple dress clothes will do. If you plan on having an Orthodox Wedding ceremony as well you might need to convert before a wedding can be scheduled. There is another ceremony for this sort of process. The civil ceremony is the only one required for marriage to be legal. It is a good idea to ask for additional copies of your marriage certificate at this time as you will need them later. Also, you will want to get translations for them for use in the USA (Change of name, marriage status, the copy for the NVC, etc.) AND an apostillation for one copy (to make a photocopy of and send to the USCIS with your I-130).

     

    Make sure to get many photos from the wedding that include you, your spouse and your families together. Take photos on every trip you make together. Keep receipts for wedding rings, attire, etc that you buy together. Keep mail you receive with both of your names on it at your address in Bulgaria. (Get your family to send you this sort of mail while you are there!) These will serve as evidence to the USCIS of the bona fides of your marriage when you send in your I-130 documents.

    USCIS Phase

    Once you are married you will want to immediately begin the process of filing an I-130 if you both want to live in the United States. The fee for the USCIS to process the I-130 is $355. It is a good idea to fill out your G-325A's together so that you can check for mistakes. Explain to your Bulgarian spouse that a 'signature' in the USA means your entire name written in cursive. Be prepared to write your spouse's name in Cyrillic in the space provided in section #20 on the I-130 and the bottom of the first page on the G-325A. Gather the supporting documents to send in with your I-130 packet. See: [2]

    Evidence of a Bonifide Marriage is always the part of the I-130 packet that couples seem to torture themselves about. This is because even with the list of examples its rather vague and most of the time you don't have any of the information listed. DO NOT WORRY!

     

    I sent in the following:

     

    • Photos of my husband and I at our wedding with family included in the photos (I wrote, "Labeled Left to Right" then the full names of everyone in the photo and put their relationship to us in parenthesis next to their name. Ex: Jane Doe, John Doe, Lydia Doe (John Doe's mother), Georgia Bond (Jane Doe's mother). Don't bother sending more than 5-7 photos. I also put these photos in ziploc bags and stapled the back top flap of the bag to a piece of white paper, so it could still be opened. I labeled the top of the paper, 'Photos of (my name) & (spouses name) with family' or 'Wedding photos'
    • Some print outs of Skype conversations (You could send records of calls on Skype, phone calls, letters, IMs, any text based communication.)
    • Photocopies of birthday, Christmas, other occasion cards and letters.
    • Affidavits from family (These were ridiculous and cost indecent amounts of money to be legislated in Bulgaria.) Have the USC's family make these if anyone and have a notary notarize them for free or $2 at a US bank or a AAA (Triple A) office! It is much less hassle and the USCIS is more impressed with the USC's family approving of your marriage anyway.
    • You can also send:
    • Copies of receipts for things you bought together. (Your wedding rings, especially if they were inscribed with names, should have both your names on the receipt!)
    • Copies of envelopes and other mail that have both of your names on them.

     

    DO NOT WORRY IF YOU DO NOT HAVE MUCH TO SEND! A FEW PHOTOS IS STILL EVIDENCE. OTHER PEOPLE HAVE BEEN APPROVED WITH MINIMAL EVIDENCE. REMEMBER THAT THIS PHASE IS JUST TO SHOW YOU ARE MARRIED AND WANT TO BE APPROVED TO LIVE TOGETHER IN THE STATES, IT IS A CONDITIONAL VISA AND YOUR INTERVIEW IN 2 YEARS AFTER YOU RECEIVE THE VISA IS THE ONE WHERE THEY WILL EXPECT A LOT OF EVIDENCE OF YOUR MARRIAGE.

    Remember to put your Case Number at the right top of every page of your packet!

    Remember to make 2 copies of all documents for your records!

    NVC Phase

    Unlike the USCIS, the NVC will accept documents that are merely certified copies that have been translated. This means no more horrendous fees for apostillation! Remember to make copies of all the official documents as the NVC requires an extra copy so that they can return your originals at the interview. Also make 2 copies of everything for your records. Your spouse will need to show up to their interview with a copy of all of the documents in this packet!

    DS-230 Packet

    The fee for this form is $400. If you pay online, once your payment clears you can print out a barcoded coversheet to send in with your packet. If you pay by mail, you will either have to wait for the NVC to send you your receipt and coversheet or follow James' Shortcuts and print one of your own: [3] It is also a good idea to include a Table of Contents for your packets. You can find a template here: [4]

    Passport Photos

    If your spouse is taking their passport photos in Bulgaria be aware that not only do Bulgarian passport photos not match the size specifications of American passport photos but they also take theirs on a gray background. The best thing to do in this case is to have them take a normal sized photo at the photographer. Ask for a white background if at all possible (They will probably NOT have one), but relax about the gray if it is all that they have, the NVC will still accept it. Have the photographer burn the digital photo file to a CD and have your spouse email the file to you. You can then take it to a US pharmacy etc, to have it printed as 2x2 passport photos. (Don't forget to write the NVC Case Number, beneficiary’s full name, and date of birth on the back of the photos.)

    Photocopy of the Biographic Data Page(s) of Beneficiary’s Passport

    Simple photocopy, does not need translation, notarization or apostillation.

    DS-230 Form Parts 1 & 2

    Have your spouse fill out both parts but only sign the first part. DO NOT SIGN PART II.

    Original/Certified Birth Certificate of Beneficiary

    Copies of Bulgarian Birth Certificates can be obtained at the office designated for the area your spouse was born. They cost about 10 leva and may take up to a week to be processed (you can expedite processing for an additional fee). Your spouse can attempt being very nationalistic and criticizing the US Immigration policies to the staff of the Birth Certificate office in order to obtain their copy the same day and at no extra cost. (This worked for my husband.) The Birth Certificate must be translated and requires no further processing. MAKE A PHOTOCOPY OF THESE DOCUMENTS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PACKET.

    Original/Certified Marriage Certificate

    This document (which you probably should have gotten a couple copies of previously) if from the Bulgarian government, can be obtained at the Court House/Government Office in the city where you were married. Copies are about 5 leva and will need to be translated only. MAKE A PHOTOCOPY OF THESE DOCUMENTS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PACKET.

    Original/Certified Court Record - Certificate of No Previous Convictions

    This document can be attained at any Court House (i.e The same place you get a copy of your Marriage Certificate) in Bulgaria. They order them from the main office that holds these documents for all citizens and will have them ready for you in about 3 days - 1 week. Get an extra copy of this document while you are there, you will need another for the interview. This document will need to be translated only. MAKE A PHOTOCOPY OF THESE DOCUMENTS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PACKET.

    Military Records

    The Voenna Knishka, the military book/passport for Bulgarians that have rendered military service to their country is not permitted to be sent out of the country in any form. Some military offices in Bulgaria will be able to print small sheets of paper with pertinent but not secret military information to satisfy this requirement. Some offices will tell you that there is no such thing and that there is no need to send this information. If you call the US Embassy in Sofia, they will likely tell you something similar. In order to avoid an RFE in the event that your spouse's military office will not print information for you, you will need to go to the US State Department Website: [5] and print the Reciprocity Schedule for Bulgaria, highlighting the section about Military Records, and send in this print-off with your other documents along with a short note explaining that these documents are unavailable. MAKE A PHOTOCOPY OF THESE DOCUMENTS (IF YOU ARE ABLE TO ATTAIN THEM) TO INCLUDE IN YOUR PACKET.

    I-864 Packet

    The fee for this form is $70. If you pay online, once your payment clears you can print out a barcoded coversheet to send in with your packet. If you pay by mail, you will either have to wait for the NVC to send you your receipt and coversheet or follow James' Shortcuts and print one of your own: [6] It is also a good idea to include a Table of Contents for your packets. You can find a template here: [7]

    Before you are ready to send out the I-864 it is a good idea to order your tax transcripts from the IRS, they will take 1-2 weeks to be generated and mailed to you. Order the past 3 years of transcripts. Hopefully you also keep copies of your taxes and W-2's because it is a good idea to send them as well. You will also want to check out the current year's poverty guidelines for the USA to make sure that you meet or exceed 125% of the poverty level for income. Poverty Guidelines can be found here: [8]

     

    If you have a joint-sponsor or co-sponsor they will need the same information as well as a Copy of their Birth Certificate or Passport Bio page.

     

    Letters from your banks of account statements, letters from your employers, and pay stubs are also helpful in proving the ability to sponsor an immigrant.

     

    I-864 Instructions [9] Poverty Guidelines [10] Tax Transcript Information [11]

     

    REMEMBER TO MAKE 2 COPIES OF ALL DOCUMENTS FOR YOUR RECORDS. YOU SHOULD SEND ONE COPY WITH YOUR SPOUSE TO THEIR INTERVIEW AT THE EMBASSY.

    Sofia Embassy: Interview Phase

    Hristovi Family Experience:

    Medical Exam/Vaccines

    Before your interview you will need to get a medical exam at one of two places in Sofia. Link to Hospitals that provide the exams [12]. We chose VITA. If you have your vaccine records then you should bring them with you to the exam to assist the doctor in deciding what vaccines you need. The doctor will take an x-ray of your chest (which you will take with you to the interview AND on the plane in your hands through customs). The doctor will give you the shots that you need and a regular medical exam. The total price of my husband's exam was about 150leva. A friend's exam was a little less. These were both men. It is possible that if you are a woman under 25 that you will have to get the HPV vaccine that costs $150. So it is best to be prepared to pay more if necessary. At the end of the exam the doctor will give you an envelope with your vaccine and medical record inside that you will give to the officer at the embassy. Do not open this envelope even after it is given back to you with your passport in the mail after the interview.

    Interview

    Bring:

    • Bulgarian Citizen's Passport,
    • Marriage Certificate (apostillated/translated - The one you got at first for the USCIS),
    • Court Record (translated),
    • Marriage Confirmation Document (Удостоверение за семейно положение, издава се от общината по местоживеене) (translated),
    • Photos of you and your spouse (and your families if you have them) in many locations,
    • Letters, printed emails, any other evidence you think might help.


    (I brought copies of ALL the documents from the USCIS, NVC, and EVERYTHING else I had) They didn't look at it, but they were impressed that I had it.

     

    The interviews at the Sofia embassy seem to all be scheduled at 8am on a Monday. The embassy opens at 8am so don't expect to get your interview on time at all. You cannot wait on the street outside the embassy, you must wait across the street on the left. They will wave you over when they decide to let people in. I suggest if you want this process to take less than 3 hours, that you grab your spouse's hand and run for it, decorum be damned. Do not under any circumstances take photos anywhere near the embassy. We took photos of each other outside the building next door and were interrogated and had to show them all of our photos making us last in line to enter the embassy.

     

    Once you make it inside you will have to surrender your phones and electronics. Then you make your way down the stone walkway to the main building. Once inside you will wait in line until you get to the window. At the window they will take the Bulgarian citizen's passport and give him/her forms to fill out. Bring a pen, getting one from the desk is very difficult. Fill everything out in English. Once you turn these forms in you get to sit and wait. This can take an hour or so if you are unlucky. Bring a book or keep each other entertained if you both attend the interview. When they call your name you will talk to a Consulate Employee who will ask you a few things about how you met and why you got married. In our case we met online and decided to get married before we met...we married within 2 weeks of meeting in person. So the officer was a little incredulous. I think my being there (petitioner) made that go over a little better. She took a handful of wedding and other event photos from me and said that a Consular Officer would call my husband's name in a while. We waited another 30-45 minutes and were finally called again.

     

    The interviewer asked very simple questions about how we met, how many times I had visited my husband in Bulgaria, if he'd been to the US, if we'd met each other's family, where would we live, where did he work, where do I work? She saw that I had a huge folder of 'evidence' and said that I looked very prepared (I had mentioned that I had copies of several things the entire time she questioned us, such as letters and cards from my mother to my husband, etc.). Then she said that our story was 'very romantic' and that he would receive his visa in 2 days by mail. She then gave my husband a US flag pin. End of Interview.

    Entering the USA

    When entering the US you will fill out customs forms regarding the things you are bringing to the US in your luggage. Do not bring more than $100 worth of merchandise (gifts) on this trip. Your clothing and personal items do not count toward this amount. Do not bring anything that will cause you trouble upon entering. See the TSA website and ask your US spouse for help. Have your US address and information memorized or written down so that you can fill out forms regarding where you will be living. At customs/immigration you will be led to a waiting room. They will take your fingerprints and take your medical documents. In some cases they will take your x-ray. In Charlotte, NC which was my husband's POE they said they didn't need it (Exact Comment from Immigration Officer: "We don't deal with that .") so we have it framed at home on the wall... Bring your x-ray regardless in case they want it. Protocalls change by airport, by day, by immigration officer. Be prepared for anything. At the end of immigration they will give you documents about being new to the US and you will be allowed to leave customs and be reunited with your spouse. Welcome to America. :)

    So Here You Are in the USA?

    You may have checked a box on your DS-230 that says, 'Yes' I need a Social Security Number. This will most likely NOT assure that you get a SSN in the mail in 3 weeks after you arrive. When you go through Immigration they may tell you that you will get a SSN in 3 weeks. This is most likely NOT true.

     

    GO to the local Social Security Administration Office for your area and apply for one. Fill out as SS-5 [13] and bring it along with your current U.S. immigration document and your foreign passport with biographical information or photograph.

    Notes from another couple's experience:

    • Photos appear to be really important to them. The CO commented that she knew our whole story from the photos and didn't have any questions. I included 40 photos spanning our history - in photo display pages, each one labeled with a stickie on the front.
    • They seemed to be very impressed by photos of the Bulgarian spouse with the USC's family members.
    • They seemed to be really impressed with the fact that the USC came for the interview.
    • They didn't ask us a single question, really. Just told us everything looked great, but we were missing a surprise document. See below.

     

    NOTE: Bulgaria requires a document not mentioned anywhere else, including the actual checklist that they send you prior to the interview. It is some kind of marriage confirmation document from the mayor's office of the town in which the Bulgarian beneficiary lives (Удостоверение за семейно положение, издава се от общината по местоживеене). Get this and translate it before your interview. Of course, given the randomness of what they require, they may not require it for anyone else ;)



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