Published on 26.05.2021. This article is based on the information given by lawyer Valery Petkov during the webinar “Access to a bank account by foreigners in Bulgaria", that took place on 20 May 2021. Updated on 22.06.2022.
Payment account with basic features (PABF)
This payment account is different from the standard bank account. You have a legal right to open and use a payment account with basic features, therefore if the bank refuses to open you a PABF, it must issue a decision, stating the reasons why. Moreover, you have different options to protect yourself against such a decision.
You can open such a PABF if you are:
- legally resident in Bulgaria, even if you do not have a fixed address
- an asylum seekers
- you are residing illegally but your expulsion is impossible for legal or factual reasons
You cannot open such an account for business purposes!
What does a PABF offer you?
It gives you access to the following services:
- opening, operating and closing of a payment account
- placing funds;
- cash withdrawals at the counter or at automated teller machines (ATM);
- the following payment transactions: direct debits; payment transactions through a payment card; online payments; credit transfers at ATM and POS terminals and counters and via the online facilities of the bank.
These services should be free of charge or for reasonable fees irrespective of the number of payment transactions made on the account.
How to open such an account?
You need to submit a special application. You need to specify at the bank that you want a payment account with basic features and not a standard bank account.
You should provide details about why you need such a bank account and how you plan to use it (limit of transactions, payment sources, international/domestic transfers).
Banks must open you this payment account or reject your application within 10 business days after receipt of all required documents.
What are the required documents?
You need to present an official identity document and personal data (name, date of birth, place of residence and place of birth).
Residence documents (residence permits), a foreign driving license, that is not issued by the Bulgarian authorities and your green registration card issued to you as an asylum seeker by the State Agency for Refugees are not "official identity documents".
The bank may also require other documents such as:
- Property deed/lease agreement
- Labor contract /services contract
All information that you provide to the bank should be correct.
Reasons for refusal
Banks may refuse to open you a payment account with basic features if:
- You already have such an account in the same bank or with another bank in Bulgaria;
- You have more than one payment accounts in the same bank or in another, which allow you to make use of all the basic payment services unless you have received notice that your account will be closed.
- Оpening such an account would breach the law concerning the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing.
Banks cannot reject you just because you come from a higher-risk country and/or have legitimate reasons for providing less robust evidence of identity. However, in practice, banks tend to refuse to open a bank account on such grounds.
What to do when your application is refused?
In case your request for opening of PABF is denied, the bank shall issue a written decision providing reasons for the refusal - not later than 10 days after receipt of all required documents.
Here are some options with which you can try to challenge this decision:
1) Filing a complaint to the bank
In its refusal decision the bank shall inform you of the procedure of filing a complaint against a rejection and of the opportunity to refer such complaint to the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) and the Payment Dispute Conciliation Commission, and shall provide contact data.
The procedure is conducted in Bulgarian or in another language if agreed between you and the bank.
The bank is obliged to rule on any written complaint filed on paper and to inform you of its decision within 15 business days of receipt of the complaint. By way of exception, the time limit may be extended to up to 35 business days.
2) Complaint to the Payment Disputes Conciliation Committee.
If the bank does not rule within the time limit, or if the decision is unsatisfactory for you, you can refer your complaint to the Payment Disputes Conciliation Committee.
You can do that only when the internal complaint procedure is exhausted.
This procedure usually continues 3 months. It is free of charge.
You have to file your complaint in writing, and via e-mail or online through the website of the Consumer Protection Commission.
The Committee shall draft and adopt a written proposal to settle your dispute. If both you and the bank accept the proposal, it will have the force of an agreement between you.
3) Complaint before the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB)
A complaint may be submitted before BNB. BNB can:
- impose fines on banks who violate the law; or
- give mandatory directions/guidelines
4) Claim before the civil court
If you can prove that you have suffered damages due to the refusal of the bank to open you a bank account with basic features, you can file your claim before the civil court.
You do not need to exhaust your options for a complaint before the Payment Disputes Conciliation Committee.
The civil court can oblige the bank to pay you compensation. However, it may not oblige the bank to open you a payment account with basic features.
5) Complaint on the ground of discrimination
If you have enough data that the refusal was unlawful and was based on discriminatory grounds (for example because of your nationality) you can:
- file a complaint in Bulgarian before the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination ; or
- open civil lawsuit before the court.
6) Appeal before the administrative court
You may ask the administrative court to rescind the unlawful refusal of the bank to open you a bank account with basic features. You can appeal before the administrative court even if the bank does not respond to your application within the 10-days term prescribed by the law.
To define what is the best option for your specific situation, you may consult a specialist.
For more information what the recording from our webinar that took place on 20.05.2021:
This article is created under the project "Legal aid to financially disadvantaged refugees and immigrants during a pandemic by using and improving the Migrantlife.Bg platform", implemented by the Foundation for Access to Rights - FAR with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area.
The project "Legal aid to financially disadvantaged refugees and immigrants during a pandemic by using and improving the Migrantlife.Bg platform" is implemented with financial support in the amount of EUR 10,000 provided by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project “Legal aid to financially disadvantaged refugees and immigrants during a pandemic by using and improving the Migrantlife.Bg platform” is to offer modern digital solutions for access to reliable information and a lawyer during a pandemic.
The entire responsibility for the content of this article lies with the Foundation for Access to Rights - FAR and under no circumstances it can be assumed that this content reflects the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Operator of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria.