Monday, October 1, 2012

Cost of Living - Bills

One of the most important considerations when purchasing a second home, or moving to a new country, is the cost of living. Whilst many people move for peace a quiet (plenty of that here!), for adventure, for lifestyle choices, or for a new start, there are those who move away to live more comfortably from savings or pensions. One of the major attractions for me when moving to Romania was the ability to live well on quite little. Properties are still quite affordable (although they are expected to start rising again soon as more tourist and facilities come to the countryside) and, although there are plenty of opportunities to whittle your savings away on expensive consumables here just as in the west, the cost of living for those willing to immerse themselves in a Romanian way of life is considerably lower.

It's very hard to estimate exactly how much you are going to spend on bills per month because everyone has a different lifestyle and using the facilities to a greater or lesser degree, but I'll do my best to give you some idea of the costs.

Council Tax - Unlike in some countries (especially the UK) council tax her is still very reasonable. It is calculated based on the material the building is constructed from, the utilities it has, the amount and type of land, and its age and location. As an approximate guide, a large Saxon farmhouse in a village which doesn't yet have sewage, with about 150m2 of buildings and 2000m2 of land, can expect to be taxed about 100 RON/year. Yes, that's about 25 Euro per year. If the house is your second property, not your primary residence, then the council tax is 65% higher.

Electricity - Obviously a hard one to judge. Most people in the villages only use the electricity for the lights and the TV. They cook on gas or wood and heating is generally wood-fired too. In this case, you wouldn't expect to pay more than about 10 Euro per month. If you run an electric boiler or electric central heating, AC in the summer, have a TV in each room, a PC, electric kettles and sandwich toasters, irons and washing machines, and so on, then it's going to be considerably more, maybe around 75 Euro per month.

Wood - One of the pleasures of country living is heating a room with a wood-burning stove, cooking on an Aga-like wood oven, or simply cooking 'al fresco' on a barbecue. Wood can vary in price in the countryside depending on the type of wood and who you buy it from. A the higher end of the market, a cubic metre of wood 'stern' (meaning including the air between the logs) will cost you around 100-150 RON (20-30 Euro). In some locations, such as Saschiz, where wood production is a village industry, locals have the right to buy up to 10 cubic metres of wood at a reduced rate of 40 RON/m3 'stern' (about 8 Euro). Depending on how long you spend their during the winter, how hot you like it, and how harsh the winter is, you might need between 10 and 15 cubic metres to see you through till spring.

Gas - Few villages in the region have gas mains, but if they do the price per MWh is around 115 RON including VAT. If we assume an average yearly consumption of 18'000 KWh, that would give a monthly gas bill of about 40 Euro. That would probably assume a gas-fired central heating system and a gas cooker, but of course it depends again on how hot you like it and how much your cook at home. Alternatively, you can use refillable gas canisters, which cost about 100 RON (20 Euro) to buy second hand, and about 70 RON (15 Euro) to refill. Most larger villages will have someone who can exchange your empty for a full canister. One canister would probably last the average cook about 2-3 months.

TV - Most villages probably don't have access to cable TV providers, but for those which do, you can expect to pay from about 5 Euro a month (for basic Romanian channels) up to 20 Euro a month (for packages including films and documentaries). If you don't have cable in your village, there are some satellite providers, such as RomTelecom's 'Dolce' service, which costs 12 Euro per month, plus a few extra Euro for various additions (HD, films, sports, etc.) If you just want to pick up terrestrial TV, then licence fee is paid via your electricity bill (whether you use it or not).

Telephone - If you have cable TV from one of the main suppliers (UPC or RDS) then you can get a package from them that includes telephone. The cost of this will depend on the package and things like free minutes and so on. It's complicated, but it's probably no more than 10 Euro per month (plus whatever calls you make beyond your free minutes). RomTelecom works out at about the same - around 10-12 Euro a month with some free calls.

Internet - Again, if you have a cable contract from UPC or RDS, then you can get a package with internet as well as cable TV and telephonics. Depending on the speed you want, this will probably cost between 5 and 10 Euro extra. Alternatively, if you have a contract with RomTelecom, you might be able to get ADSL through the phone line, although you can probably only get around 10-15Mbps in the countryside, assuming they've installed a digital exchange - more when I've tried it myself!

Very approximate no-guarantees calculation of monthly bills for a average house in the Tarnave Mare region, assuming full-time occupation and average heating and power usage:

Council tax: 100-200 RON
Electricity: 100 RON (lights, TV, PC, washing machine, not used for heating)
Gas: 110 RON (gas heating and some cooking, averaged over year)
Wood: 50 RON (some heating, occasional wood stoves)
Telephone (plus ADSL): 120 RON
Cable TV: 60 RON
TOTAL: 450-550 RON = 100-120 Euro/month

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