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September 2007, 14/09/2007

Home Utilities and Services

Home utilities are important issue for those who are planning to moving to Bulgaria and for owners who rent out their property. With this article we will try to give you an idea of the prices and rules related to the major services - electricity, gas, water and land-line phones.

Electricity

For decades Bulgaria was one of the major exporters of electricity to most of the Balkan countries due to the existence of a large nuclear power station in Kozludui, on the river Danube which had produced cheap energy, together with several major thermoelectric power plants. Due to political pressure from the EU Bulgaria had to close four of the six nuclear reactors by end of December 2006 and thus the capacity of the country's electrical production was reduced significantly. As a result Bulgaria's exports were reduced to minimum and the prices of the electricity increased by more than 10% in June 2007 and another increase is expected in just few months.

For many years electricity in Bulgaria was supplied by the state. Now some of the major thermoelectric power stations are privately owned together with the middle and low voltage infrastructure which was privatised in 2006 (now owned by a German, Austrian and Czech companies). Thus the electricity bill will be one of your major spendings especially in the winter months when it is cold and in the hottest summer weeks when the use of air-conditioners is common.

The current prices per kilowatt for the households in Bulgaria are as follows:

  • Day zone - EUR 0.040 per kWh
  • Night zone - EUR 0.015 per kWh

The night zone runs from 22.00-06.00 during the winter and 23.00-07.00 during the summer. You would need to have a clock installed in order to use the night hours discount. Otherwise you would only be registered for a single tariff. You can apply and pay for a change to the dual tariff system at any time.

There are no standing charges although the new owners of the electrical companies are negotiating with the government a minimum charge to be paid for each electric metre which has not been accepted.

The electricity supply in Bulgaria is delivered to homes at 220/240 volts with a frequency of 50 hertz. This means that most imported electrical appliances should work in Bulgaria. The plugs are of the two-pin type fittings (unlikely the three pin fittings used in the UK) which means you will have to either fit a new two pin fitting to your cable or use an adaptor. The best option is probably to stick with the UK fitting and to use an adaptor because the two pin types do not incorporate overload protection.

Interruptions to the power supply are surprisingly common in Bulgaria including the main cities. In the cities the reason is generally some upgrading operation in the system. In many of the villages the low-voltage infrastructure is above the ground (on high electric poles) and thus a heavy rain, snow or thunder storm often leads to power cuts. You should keep a good supply of candles or other independent light sources to see you through these frustrating occurrences.

When you buy a property you should ensure that all existing electrical bills (and others) have been paid on the property since the liability stays with the property. The next step is to have the bills transferred into your name or the name of the company through which you bought the property.

Bills in Bulgaria should be paid on a monthly basis. If the meter is located inside the property a representative from the electrical company will need to enter the property. If there is nobody to let them in then an estimate will be made. Bills can be paid direct in the offices of the electrical company and in the post offices but it is best to arrange payment through your bank. The procedure to execute this task varies between the banks and the different electrical companies so please check with the relevant parties. You may decide to leave payment in the care of an agent or property management company. If this is the case then you will need to arrange with them access to funds in order to arrange the payments. The average monthly bill for a family of four people in the summer would be 30-50 euros but in the winter it could be much more if you have electrical heating system.

Communal Central Heating

Central heating is only available in the cities and not all their quarters are included in the central heating network. It is supplied by local companies which are often owned by the municipalities and were subsidised in the past. The cost for the central heating has been increased a lot during the recent years as the government stopped to pay subsidies and the infrastructure is old and in need of modernisation.

The cost for central heating for an average apartment in the winter months would be between 60 and 120 euros which includes hot-water supply. There are standing charges which can be significant especially if you do not use your property.

Gas

Bulgaria imports nearly all its gas from Russia. The network is limited to some of the cities but is expanding. The cost of piped gas is lower than electricity but the cost for the installation should also be considered. Some people still use gas bottles mainly for cooking purposes. Bottles can be bought from petrol stations or delivered direct from suppliers.

As with electricity bills you should ensure all central heating and gas bills are paid prior to completion. The same general guidelines apply for them as for electricity when it comes to changing the name on the bill.

Wood

Wood is still a very popular source of energy in Bulgaria and in particular in rural areas. Wood is considerably cheaper than any other fuel source. One chopped cubic meter of wood costs EUR 30 (wood is generally cheaper to buy during the summer months). A property of 150 sq m would consume between 10 and 15 cubic metres over the winter. The problem with wood it is messy to use and the burner needs stocking at least twice a day. Often the mayor in any village is your best contact point to source wood. The wood comes in large pieces and you can employ someone to chop it up and stack it in the store for a small amount of money. Avoid using suppliers that quote unusually cheap prices per tonne of work. These people are probably operating illegally and taking wood from unauthorized locations which is leading to the depletion of Bulgaria's forest population.

Oil

This fuel source is not so popular in Bulgaria but is more convenient than wood in the rural areas. Again it is delivered in bulk. Although it is cheaper than electricity to run the initial instalment costs are higher than other heat systems.

Water

Water supplies in Bulgaria are metered. If your house is not already connected to the mains water supply make sure that you get a quotation for connecting the property prior to committing to the purchase. Piped water supply coverage in Bulgaria is extensive however there are some instances in more remote rural areas where supply of water is dependent on wells. If your property only has water supplied through a well one should get an expert in to check whether it is fit for domestic consumption. In some instances rural properties have both a piped water supply and a well. In this instance the well should really only be used for gardening purposes or filling a swimming pool.

Despite considerable investment in upgrading the system not all rural areas are well serviced by water and shortages and stoppages are common place. Even in some of the cities supplies can be cut off for up to 2 days in cases of major problems with the supply network! So keep an emergency supply of bottled water.

Telephone

The main telephone service provider in Bulgaria is BTC. In Sofia and some other large cities there are other suppliers of telecom services such as Orbitel.

In Bulgaria the telephone line and number is registered to a person living at an address. When you buy a property the seller will have to either close the number down or take it with them to a new address. Therefore you will have to apply to open a new line through the telecom company when you buy the property. This involves taking proof of ownership of the property and your ID if the property is owned by an individual and company papers if the property is owned by a company. The process takes about a month and costs about 40 euros. Prior to agreeing to connect your property the telecom company will have to carry out a technical check to ensure that there is capacity in the local junction box to add your new number. The standing charge for the private phone service is about 7 euros per month and includes a small number of local calls.

BTC offer an array of telephone (and internet) services so check carefully which package suits your requirements. National call costs are in line with other countries but international calls tend to be more expensive. Public telephone booths can be found in all the towns and villages but take only phone cards which can be purchased from specialist outlets.

EasyJet Launches Low-cost Flights to Sofia

Low-cost airline Easyjet is launching a new route from the UK to Bulgaria in November. Flights from London Gatwick to Sofia will start from November 6th 2007. There will be three flights per week for EUR 50.98 return including taxes. There will also be two new Easyjet services starting from Liverpool airport in November and December.

EU Drivers Violating Rules in Bulgaria will Loose Their Drivers Licenses

New changes in driving regulations in Bulgaria have taken force since 1st September 2007. Accordingly Bulgaria's traffic police now have the right to take away the driving license of EU citizens who violate the driving rules. At present drivers who are caught speeding 30 km for the second time will have their driving licenses taken away for a period of three months and drunken drivers will loose their licenses for up to one year. Until now foreign drivers usually received only minor fines for such road violations. According to the new legislations the violator's home country has no right to replace the confiscated driving license with a fine or any other penalty. Reciprocally Bulgarians who do not observe local driving regulations while driving in another EU country will have their driving licenses confiscated in accordance with relevant legislation of the country.

Billionare Bill Gates to Invest in Bulgarian Libraries

Bulgarian Culture Ministry and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launch a project for public access to information through the internet in more than 1000 Bulgarian libraries. The project is called Global Libraries and its aim is to provide wide public access to information and communication technologies and to stimulate the development of Bulgarian libraries as major information centers. The project will be executed within three to five years according to the Culture Ministry.
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