Christo was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Christo studied art at the Sofia Academy from 1953 to 1956 and went to Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), until 1957, when he left for the West by bribing a railway official and stowing away with several others on board a train transporting medicine and medical supplies to Austria.
Christo quickly settled in Vienna and enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. After only one semester there, he travelled to Geneva and moved to Paris in 1958. He earned money by painting portraits, which he likened to prostitution and signed with his family name "Javachef" while his early works were signed "Christo."