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February 2007, 09/02/2007

Dear Valued Stara Planina Properties Client,

We have dedicated this newsletter to practical matters related to visiting and living in Bulgaria. Please feel free to suggest any topics you are interested to read about.

Living Costs in Bulgaria

Many of those who are planning to travel to Bulgaria would be interested to read something about the cost of living. Since 1989 Bulgaria has been going through transition from state controlled economy to an open-market economy. During the early years there were fluctuations in the development but during the last 10 years the economy has stabilised. The incomes of the local people and prices gradually are increasing but they are still considerably lower compared to Western Europe. The local currency is the Bulgarian Lev (the plural is 'Leva') or BGN. The Lev is pegged to the Euro since 1997 at a rate of 1.95583 leva to 1 Euro. So how much you can expect to spend for some of the most common goods and services?

Some costs of food bought from supermarkets and shops are: loaf of bread (0.7 kg) – 0.3 euros, pork – 4.5 euros/kg , chicken – about 2 euros/kg, traditional Bulgarian white cheese – about 2 euros/kg, yellow cheese – 4 euros/kg, fresh milk – 0.6 euro/litre, 10 eggs – 0.8 euros, bottle of beer (0.5 l) – up to 0.6 euro, potatoes – 0.4-1 euro/kg.

Fresh organic fruits and vegetables which are produced in Bulgaria are normally very delicious and cheap but are only seasonally supplied. For example fresh tomatoes cost less than 0.5 euro per kilo during the summer. During the winter many of the fruits are imported and the prices are two-three times higher.

The white goods and electrical products if they are the most up to date tend to be about the same price elsewhere but older models tend to be significantly cheaper.

The biggest differences in prices can be found in the hospitality services. A breakfast in an ordinary restaurant costs about 2 euros, dinner about 5 euros, and supper – 8 euros. There are more expensive luxury establishments where the prices are several times higher but rarely you would pay as much as in Western Europe.

Tap water in Bulgaria is usually good to drink. In addition mineral water of excellent quality is sold everywhere bottled and sealed for a cost of approximately 0.30 euros for 1 ? litres. Domestic natural factory-packed juices cost about 1 euro per litre.

Tea and coffee is offered everywhere in the country. Coffee is more popular amongst Bulgarians and strong espresso is usually served costing between 0.40 and 1 euros depending on the brand and establishment. The local habit is to drink herb infusion instead of proper tea but the later is also available. The costs are similar to the coffee costs.

Wine and alcoholic drinks are on sale in many restaurants and specialised pubs. The price of a 0.75 l bottle of good dry wine varies between 6 and 10 euros. For about 20 euros per bottle you can enjoy some of the best Bulgarian produced wines. In the shops wines are sold between 3 and 5 euros for normal quality and 10-15 euros for high quality Bulgarian wine. The price of a 0.5-litre bottle of rakiya (traditional Bulgarian spirit drink) normally is about 4 euros and if you wish to purchase something of better quality then you have to spend 6-10 euros.

Some of the other living costs are less cheaper compared to the western standards. There are no standing charges for electricity and water. Normally a household of four pays less than 15 euros for water and less than 25 euros for electricity during the summer. During the coldest winter months one household would usually pay up to 100-150 euros bills if electricity is used for heating. Gas is used only in few Bulgarian cities although the gas infrastructure is being developed currently.

Council tax and garbage collection fees are very low. The council tax of an average centrally located apartment in the bigger cities would not exceed 20 euros and for a rural property would not be more than 5 euros per year! The municipal garbage collection fees would also depend on the location and would not be more than 80 euros per year for an average centrally located apartment in the bigger cities and 15 euros per year in the villages.

Property insurance costs are based on the property value. Typically rates vary between 0,1% and 1% of the value to cover all risks apart from robbery. The rate is at the lower end if the building is new.

Taxis are quite cheap with costs of 0.3-0.5 euros per kilometre with costs in Sofia and some resort areas being higher.

In summary it is fair to say that costs are lower in Bulgaria and generally speaking visitors to the country have a greater spending power than the locals so in practise can enjoy a higher standard of living.

Prepaid SIM Cards

If you are spending a week or two in Bulgaria and want to keep in contact with home you would need to consider whether to bring your mobile phone. If you do so and use your own SIM card you will soon find out that you pay a lot for both incoming and outgoing calls. One way to save some of these costs is to purchase a prepaid SIM card whilst in Bulgaria as it is easily the least expensive solution.

First you need to check if you mobile phone is not coded from your original phone operator to work only with their SIM card. If this is not you are free to choose your way.

There are three mobile phone operators in Bulgaria: MTel, Globul and Vivatel. Each one of them provides the prepaid SIM card service. For Mtel this service is called "Prima", for Globul – "Be Connect" and for Vivatel – "Vivatel".

With a Bulgaria Prepaid SIM Card you will have a Bulgarian phone number (do not forget to ask for it when buying the SIM card from the shop) and will receive calls for free. You will also pay lower rates for both international and domestic calls than you would pay if you are using roaming service through your original mobile operator.

The prices of the cards vary depending on the valid offers but would usually start at about 20 Bulgarian levs (about 11 euros) or even less. The prices of the calls also vary with current rates of about 0.23 euros per minute for calls to all Bulgarian networks and 0.12 euros to limited group of numbers chosen by you. The costs of the international calls start at about 0.40 euros per minute.

The calls duration will be limited by the amount you have paid initially but you can easily add more time by purchasing a recharge voucher. These vouchers are sold in different denominations at tobacco shops, magazine kiosks and any convenience store. Even if you have zero credit on your SIM card your incoming calls will still be allowed.

You must add money to your SIM card at least once every 12 months or your account and corresponding phone number will be deactivated. The twelve month period begins from date of last recharge or initial activation.

If you need further information on the rates and services you can check the websites of the mobile operators:
Mtel, Globul or Vivatel.

8 Years since Bulgarian Medics were Imprisoned in Lybia

Today, on 9th February 2007, is 8 years since five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were imprisoned in Libya. They were sentenced to death for intentionally infecting with HIV more than 400 children in a Libyan hospital in Bengasi. During the investigation the medics were tortured in order to admit to committing the crime. Later the charges of the Libyan prosecution were based on the testimonials given by the nurses under these circumstances.

Several world-renown scientists (including the French professor Montagnier who was the first to isolate the HIV virus and the Italian Professor Vittorio Collizzi) have proved that the infection was caused by poor hygiene and the contamination happened in 1997 - more than a year before the Bulgarians were hired to work there.

A number of media and non-governmental organisations have today arranged events throughout Bulgaria hoping to attract the attention of the European and world public and to provoke governments to undertake serious political steps to free the medics. The slogan of the campaign is 'You are not alone'. As part of the initiatives today at the same time the Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Armenian and Evangelist priests will pray for saving of the lives of Valia, Valentina, Snejana, Kristiana, Nasya and the Palestinian doctor Ashraf.

As part of the campaign representatives of the Bulgarian Medics Solidarity Project in London handed a petition to the German Ambassador addressed to Dr Angela Merkel, the German Prime Minister and current chairperson of the EU.

The hopes of the Bulgarian public are that policy will achieve freedom for the nurses as scientific proves cannot lead to fair conclusion of the trial.

Several Airports in Bulgarian to be Given on Concession in 2007

The Bulgarian transport minister Petar Mutafchiev announced in January that the Ministry will initiate concession tenders for the airports in Gorna Oryahovitsa, Rousse, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora in 2007.

Currently two of these airports are operational. Charter flights land at Plovdiv Airport during the winter season and traffic from the Sofia Airport is redirected to Plovdiv in case of bad weather. The Gorna Oryahovitsa airport, which is located 10 km from Veliko Turnovo, operates cargo and small private flights but no regular or charter passenger flights. The airport was used for domestic flights between the 70s and the 90s. The hopes are that some low cost air companies will start to fly to the airports once they are modernised.

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