Electricity is supplied by three main providers: CEZ, E.ON and EVN. Each companies targets a specific area of the country- the west, north-east and south-east respectively.
The electricity supply in Bulgaria is delivered to homes at 220/240 volts (V) with a frequency of 50 Hertz (Hz). If you’re moving from a country with a 110V supply (e.g. the US) your electrical equipment will require a converter or a transformer to convert it to 240V, although some electrical appliances (e.g. electric razors and hair dryers) are fitted with a 110/240 volt switch.
Check for the switch, which may be inside the casing, and make sure it is switched to 240V before connecting it to the power supply. Converters are suitable only for appliances without circuit boards or microchips that don’t need to be plugged in for long periods (e.g. heaters, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and coffee machines).
With regards to electronic appliances such as computers, games consoles, stereos, TVs and DVD players, it is best to buy them in Bulgaria rather than trying to bring them with you. Not only are they relatively cheap to buy in-country, it avoids compatibility and standards issues. What's more, many such devices are manufactured to be localised to a certain country or region, so bringing them with you could be more trouble than it's worth.
An additional problem with some electrical equipment is the frequency rating, which in some countries, e.g. the US and Canada, is 60 Hertz (Hz) whereas in Bulgaria it’s 50Hz. Electrical equipment without a motor is generally unaffected by the drop in frequency to 50Hz. Equipment with a motor may run with a 20 per cent drop in speed; however, automatic washing machines, cookers and electric clocks are unusable in Bulgaria if not designed for 50Hz operation.
In rural areas the power supply can often weaken or fail, sometimes for a few minutes and sometimes for several hours. Power cuts are fairly frequent in some areas, especially during thunderstorms and heavy rain. If you live in an area with an unstable power supply it’s advisable to buy a power stabiliser for a computer or other vital equipment to prevent it being switched off when the power drops.
If you use a computer, it’s also worth fitting an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with a battery back-up, which allows you time (up to 20 minutes) to save your work and shut down your computer after a power failure.
If the power keeps tripping off when you attempt to use a number of high-powered appliances simultaneously, it probably means that the rating of your power supply is too low. If this is the case, you need to ask the electricity company to uprate the power supply to your property, although your standing charge will be higher.
The possible ratings are 25 amps and above 25 amps. If you have high-power appliances such as a washing machine, air-conditioning, water heater and electric heating in an average-size house, you will probably need a higher-rated supply.
One of the most important tasks after buying a property (if you haven’t done so before) is to check that the electrical system is safe. The cost of having a home rewired is much lower than in western European countries.
Plugs, Fuses & Bulbs
Another thing to check before moving into a home in Bulgaria is whether there are any light fittings. When moving house, some people remove not only bulbs, but bulb-holders, flexes and even ceiling roses! Depending on where you’ve moved from, you may need new plugs or a lot of adaptors.
Plug adaptors for imported lamps and other electrical apparatus may be difficult to find for some countries, so it’s worth bringing some with you, as well as extension cords and multi-plug extensions that can be fitted with Bulgarian plugs.
Bulgarian plugs have two round pins for the live and neutral connections, usually with a recessed contact at 90 degrees to the pins for the earth connection. Small, low-power (under around 5 amps) electrical appliances such as table lamps, small TVs and computers don’t require an earth. Plugs with an earth must be used for high-wattage appliances such as heaters, kettles, washing machines, refrigerators and cookers.
Converters & Transformers
Electrical equipment rated at 110V AC (e.g. from the US or Canada) requires a converter or step-down transformer to convert it to 220/240V, although some electrical appliances are fitted with a 110/240V switch. Converters can be used for heating appliances, but transformers are required for motorised appliances. Add the wattage of the devices you intend to connect to a transformer and make sure that its power rating exceeds this sum.
Generally, small, high-wattage electrical appliances, such as kettles, toasters, heaters and irons need large transformers. Motors in large appliances, such as cookers, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers, need replacing or fitting with a large transformer.
In most cases it’s much easier to buy new appliances in Bulgaria. Remember that the dimensions of imported cookers, microwave ovens, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers may be different from those in Bulgaria and so may not even fit into a Bulgarian kitchen.
Connection & Registration
You will need to apply to the local electricity distribution company to have your electricity connected and must sign a contract specifying the power supply to be installed. If it’s a new property you will need to prove you’re the owner by producing a copy of the title deeds or a copy of the lease if you’re renting. You must usually produce your passport or residence permit. If you plan to pay by direct debit from a bank or post office account, don’t forget to take along your account details.
If you’re moving into an old property, you must also tell the utility company the name of the person who previously paid the bills (which will be on the title deeds). The bills are then transferred into your name, usually for a nominal fee. In many cases your estate agent can do this for you (probably over the phone); if not, it helps to take along someone who speaks Bulgarian.
Despite privatisation increasing the price of electricity, the tariffs in Bulgaria are still some of the lowest in Europe. Nevertheless, wages are also some of the lowest in Europe, so utility prices make up a large proportion of monthly expenses. For an average-size house, you should expect to pay around 60-80€ a month for all utilities, including water, gas and electricity, bearing in mind that gas makes up the majority of these expenses.
Meters are usually installed in a box on an outside wall of a property. However, if your meter isn’t accessible from outside your property and the property isn’t permanently occupied, make sure you leave the keys with a neighbour or make arrangements to have your meter read. If your meter cannot be read, you will receive an estimate based on previous bills, although it must be read at least once a year.
You’re normally billed for your electricity each month. Bills can be paid by direct debit from a bank or in cash at the post office (Post Bank). It’s also possible to pay a fixed amount each month by standing order based on your estimated usage; at the end of the year you receive a bill for the amount owing or a rebate of the amount overpaid.
These methods of payment are preferable, particularly if you spend a lot of time away from your home or you’re a non-resident. If you want to set up a direct debit or standing order at your bank to pay utility bills, you will need to take a copy of the deeds to your house, your limited company registration papers and someone who speaks Bulgarian.
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Bulgaria from Survival Books.