Moncao - Our Villa



Cost of living, health services, climate / weather, and lack of crime.

Current average monthly running costs for this villa amortized over a 12 month period;

House / council services tax / rates: €29.17*
Electricity: €120
Cooking gas: €20
Heating oil: €75
Mains water: €20
Garden equipment maintenance, etc: €30
Phone line: €12
River pump license: €0.12
Firewood: €20 (cold winters only)

Total: €326.29 per month (€3,915 per year)

The house tax figure of €29.17* is actually the total for all existing (13,700 sqm) grounds. The total of €3,915 per year is what many people pay in property tax alone for smaller properties and grounds in the South of Portugal and elsewhere in Europe. The present owners admit to being high electricity users, so this could be reduced.

If you prefer an easy life, it is perhaps also a good idea to hire a gardener and pay a handyman as and when needed. The present owners have a superb gardener who is willing to carry on with any new owners. In addition, a local plumber and handyman basically maintains the heating boiler and water systems inside and out, plus paints fences, walls, etc. If you had the gardener come in 2 half days a week and the handyman as and when needed / he has time, the approximate monthly cost would be;

Gardener: €208
Handyman: €160

Total: €368 per month (€4,416 per year).

This is exceptionally low for a property like this with a swimming pool, plus such extensive grounds and superb location / views. It would be very easy to put one or two log cabins in the upper grounds without impacting the main grounds / property, or perhaps rent out the top guest floor as an upscale bed and breakfast and be financially self-sufficient; see development / tourism potential. With instant tourism accommodation licensing and without any expensive alterations / work whatsoever, the new owners could rent out the top floor of the property as an upscale tourist B&B and receive enough income within 8 to 16 weeks to pay all of the above.

Bread can be delivered to the property but the present owners prefer to go out for coffee every morning and buy bread and cakes then according to their fancy. By the way, their two coffees and two cakes cost an incredibly low 2 Euros in Portugal; that is the cost of one coffee in many other areas of Western Europe! A freshly made cheese and ham roll costs only 1 Euro. If you indulge and go to a quite fashionable cafe in Ponteareas, Spain, your morning coffee, a freshly squeezed orange juice and Spanish bruschetta will cost you an almighty €3.45 each.

For details of food costs, etc. please see below.

Climate wise there are four distinctive seasons. From early June to late September, it can get very hot here, 40° Celsius or a little more. During the winter, if a low pressure system comes down through France and then Spain, on a thankfully infrequent cold day, it can get down to -4° Celsius but this is rare. Being on the large river, the property tends to be a little cooler in the summer and a little milder in winter than other nearby areas. For example, when you drive from this house and it is say 3° Celsius in winter, when you go on the road just a few Km away between Salvaterra and Ponteareas in Spain, you can expect to find freezing fog and -2° Celsius. If it is a normal winter, there is snow on the mountains around Melgaco. If it is a cold winter, snow falls and lays on the mountain tops across the river from the villa in Galicia (Spain).

During a cold winter, the current owners get through about 600 litres (about 400 Euros) of domestic gasoline (hot water and central heating) plus 1 or 2 small trucks of firewood (they use this in the fire from around 4pm onwards); a truck of oak or mixed wood already cut for use costs 120 Euros delivered. During a mild winter, they simply do not light the log fire in the evenings, except for effect, as the fire makes the living room very warm indeed. The villa has double glazed windows, shutters and an insulated roof. Unless it gets bitterly cold, the fireplace is actually ample for heating the middle (main family / accommodation) floor if you preferred this to central heating. Many winter days are actually sunny and around 14° Celsius; the area is generally 4° or 5° warmer than southern England. During the summer, when it is 40° Celsius just up the road on the main road, it is around 35° Celsius at this property because of the cooling effect of the river. During the summer the winds normally come from the South / South West. During Spring and Autumn, normally from the South West. The winter can see winds from any direction. Winds from the South West normally mean rain, but you get less than the UK. Air quality here is exceptionally good most of the time. You are on the edge climate wise of where you can successfully grow certain (hardier) bougainvillea and guava outdoors.

The pace of life is much slower here but people jump to your help when you really need them. Ask your plumber to come and service your boiler and you will have to make several phone calls over a couple of weeks to remind him. If you boiler breaks down, he will drop everything and be there within half an hour. Go to the Post Office and people will jump the queue but only to ask for a form; old ladies will sit on the bench inside and expect to be let in at the point they would have occupied if they had stood in line. People are curious, and you will be aware of old ladies looking out of their windows to see what is going on. This is so they do not miss a passing neighbour or friend and to keep an eye on the world; as a consequence and because of attitudes generally, crime is virtually nonexistent. People greet each other by kissing cheeks and they like to get to know everyone, so strangers stand out but not in a bad way of you have just moved here.

There is a health centre in Monção with a good sized emergency department, but serious cases get referred to the public hospital's emergency department in Viana do Costelo, an hour away. Actually the local public doctors and hospital staff are well equipped, exceptionally dedicated and do an amazing job, but adages regarding the Portuguese health care system do have a good deal of truth to them. Actually, if you were to fall seriously ill, it is an option to simply drive one minute more and go to the health clinic in Salvaterra, which has a paramedic service to the large public and private hospitals of the area (they have a legal obligation to treat you, not that they consider it just a legal duty). You can also make a private arrangement with the local "Bombeiros (fire brigade and ambulance service) to take you to a Spanish hospital; the Bombeiros now have a paramedic ambulance service. The current owners are registered with the health centre in Salvaterra and a superb full service (including emergency) private hospital just 20 minutes away in Vigo and would use this option in an emergency. The same for check ups, screening and general health care needs. Porto in Portugal is another option, but this is a 60 minute drive away. Most people consider the Spanish health care service much faster and more extensive (most Portuguese private medical insurance programs cover treatment in Spain); being on the border you have immediate access to this and so can benefit from the best of both worlds.

You are entitled to free state health care in Portugal (and Spain) but, if like the current owners, you would like health insurance for faster and perhaps better private treatment / hospitals, a policy with Spain's largest health care provider Sanitas seems to make more sense than taking out a Portuguese policy; for the existing owner's family of four at 2200 Euros per year, it is around 500 Euros less and they would much prefer to have Spanish rather than Portuguese private health care. However, there is another option with the Portuguese health insurance provider Tranquilidade who give you Spanish Sanitas cover (but only 80% of the cost) as well as Portuguese private health care cover (for a family of four the cost would be just over 2700 Euros per year). Dental plans can be inexpensively added to both of these and there is International cover included as well, for when you are travelling. A prescription in either Portugal or Spain normally costs around 4 or 5 Euros; most prescriptions are "open" and can be refilled without the need for a new prescription each time.

When it comes to schooling, you have the option of free (if you are legally and registered resident in Portugal) public schooling from the age of 6, plus superb free state run pre-schooling from 3 months old if required. The local semi-private pre-school is another option and exceptional; it costs around 75 Euros per month for each child of foreign residents without special allowances (some locals are not charged, then there is a sliding scale up); the actual cost depends on the child's age. Classes are limited to 25 children and have two teachers per class, often plus one trainee / attendant. Preschool hours are 7am to 7pm and include all meals / drinks for the children during that time; they have a good old fashioned school canteen which prepares fresh food dishes daily. Portugal views preschool as a service to parents to allow them to continue to go and work, hence the low cost and hours covered. The current owners can not speak highly enough of this school and its staff which both of their children go / have been to; they have frequent school trips out and festival parades through town (like the one below). Moncao has comprehensive public schools and now a technical college. Private International schools exist in Galicia (Spain) approximately 40 minutes away, and in Porto, around 50 minutes drive from here.

School Children's Festival Procession

The current owners have a vegetable garden, fruit trees, grape vines, etc. but it gets very "disheartening" when you can buy peas, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, mandarins, oranges, pears, apples and other produce in season for less than 1 Euro per kilo! Their neighbour often stops them in citrus season to ask if we want any mandarins (for free); the same neighbour once gave them a whole lamb because they allow him to graze his sheep on some of their land. Pork is very inexpensive here, as are certain fish; sardines are only 1 euro a kilo in season (2 Euros a kilo the rest of the year) and often dorado (sea bream) and the local sea bass (grey mullet) can be bought for 1 to 2 euros per fish. If you are prepared to eat the same produce as the locals, you can live very cheaply indeed. The current owners blanch and put a lot of seasonal vegetables into their large chest freezer not just because of cost, but because of taste; local and their own produce is grown organically and tastes better than packaged frozen food. The present owners grow their own super sweet corn for example then blanch and freeze it, as the locals prefer a hardier variety for animal meal and bread. The water of the River Minho is exceptionally clean and the trout from the river can be caught for next to nothing and taste a hundred times better than farmed trout.

With access to several supermarkets and local open markets, you are able source an incredible range of products not just to eat but for the house and clothing. The present owners tend to go to one of Vigo's hypermarkets once a month to stock up on certain items (including English beer at a third of the price it is in England) and look for promotions and anything different, but they are spoilt for choice locally. Large supermarkets in Monção include Continente, Pingo Doce, Mini-Preco and Coca (local supermarket). In Valenca you will find a Lidl, Intermarche and Froiz (Spanish supermarket chain with outlet in Portugal). Across the river / border in Spain between Salvaterra and nearby Ponteareas is an exceptionally good Eroski supermarket. In Vigo just as you enter the city and therefore very conveniently located is an Alcampo Hypermarket. Moncao market is every thursday (normally) and the larger market at Valenca on wednesdays. Ponteareas Spain has an excellent market (especially for cured hams and breads / cakes) every other Saturday. The fish market and butchers which form part of Moncao market are open most days. Bread and fish can be delivered to your door / gate early each morning; the existing owners get a large wholemeal long loaf 5 days a week delivered for 12 Euros a month.

You can chose between Portugal and Spain as to what you buy for a large number of goods and services, including petrol / diesel and domestic heating oil. Because the Portuguese people are notorious tax cheats (everybody, but everybody it seems cheats on tax if and when they can), the government desperate to collect taxes to pay for public services slapped a luxury tax on things like cars and TV's. TV's are no problem, as you can buy them in Spain and use them in Portugal under EU law. But cars are different as they have to be registered in Portugal unless you secure a Spanish ID Card. The EU has already declared the Portuguese car registration system illegal, a de facto / hidden tax, and are now suing the Portuguese state into compliance. This is not as dramatic as it might first seem, but basically Portugal has a few years to get tax revenues elsewhere (enforce income and regular sales tax), before it will have to tax cars at the same rate as Spain.

The present owners cook mostly using propane gas (replacement cylinders) which are delivered to the house for 18 to 19 Euros each per 11 Kg tank (11Kg being the weight of the propane not including the tank); 1 tank of propane lasts them 6 weeks. Mains water costs them 55 Euros per quarter (3 months), except when they fill their large swimming pool up in late May / early June (costs about 40 Euros extra). The rates / land tax / house tax / council tax cost 316 Euros per year. The electricity bill during the summer (highest cost period as you likely will use air conditioning and certainly use pool plus irrigation motors) is 175 Euros per month. Although the basic minimum wage for Portugal is lower (EU minimum wage levels), 5 Euros per hour is what most people here work for; the hard working gardener / housekeeper comes in 2 days (normally 2 to 4 mornings) a week and they give her a little more. The present owners have an exceptionally good handyman who is also their plumber; he works for 10 Euros an hour when he has free time and is an exceptionally diligent, hard working person. If you employ someone full time you will pay a lot more one way or another. The local contract gardening company quoted 300 Euros per month to maintain the grounds, but the present owners feel they get much better value and more from their part-time gardener; if it is too hot or raining, she does housework instead. If you bought a large lawn mower for the vineyard, upper and lower fruit gardens and upper grounds and mowed everything yourself, you would only need occasional help from a gardener (for the bank area and general weeding). One of the nearby villagers is a gardener and has expressed an interest in doing some part time work.

A list of typical items' costs

Lean beef nouveau - 5.90 Euros per kilo
Fresh tuna steaks - 5 to 10 Euros per kilo (depending on season)
Mackeral - 1.5 Euros per kilo
Cooked medium prawns (in shell) - 7 Euros per kilo
Superb smoked ham - 8 Euros per kilo
Presunto (aged 6 to 8 months) - 11 Euros per kilo
Small fresh marinated ready to BBQ chicken - 2 Euros
Generic Dutch and German lager beer - 24 cents (0.24 Euros) per small can
Rioja and other quality red wines - 1.5 to 2 Euros per bottle
Borba Alentejo and other quality white wines - 1 to 1.5 Euros per bottle
Budget Spanish Cava (Champagne) - 2 Euros per bottle
Quality Spanish Cava - 4.5 Euros per bottle
1250gm Tin of dog food - 0.89 Euros
20 Kg bag dry dog food - 7 Euros to 14 Euros
Bananas (1 Kg) - under 1 Euro
Large Pineapple - under 1 Euro
Pears, Apples and Oranges (in season) per Kg - 0.80 Euros
Bag of salad mix - 1 Euro
Avocados (in season) - 1.5 Euros per Kg
Atlantic Sardines / Mussels - 1 to 2 Euros per Kg (depending on time of year)
Fresh plaice (fish) - 4 Euros per Kg
Marinated olives (garlic, chili, etc.) from the deli - 4 Euros per Kg
Potatoes - 20 centimos (0.20 Euros) per Kg
Medium sliced loaf of wholemeal bread / large white - 0.8 Euros
Fresh baked crunchy white 450g bread loaf - 0.79 Euros
Tin of sardines in tomatoe sauce - 40 cents (0.40 Euros)
Fresh whole corn fed (semi-free range) chicken - 6 Euros (2.99 per Kg)
200gm Pack of ham - 1.5 Euros
Ham / chicken sliced at the deli - 4 to 10 Euros per kilo (depending on quality)
4 Pack Bio digestive fruit yoghurt - 95 centimos (0.95 Euros)
Bottle branded scotch whisky - 8 Euros
Whisky cream liqueur (generic Baileys) / generic rum - 4 Euros
Large bag potatoe crisps (cooked in olive oil) - 1 Euro
Iceberg lettuce - 75 centimos (0.75 Euros)
5 Litres best Portuguese spring water - 90 centimos (0.90 Euros)
20 Litre bag of potting compost - 2 Euros
1.5 Litre carton of quality supermarket ice tea - 50 centimos (0.50 Euros)
Quality trousers for child - 3 to 5 Euros (local market or supermarket special)
Large adult leather / suede coat - 50 to 80 Euros
Pair quality leather adult shoes / boots - 10 to 40 Euros
2 Meter high barestock apple tree - 3.5 Euros

For eating out, see the Monção / Valença / Melgaço and Salvaterra do Miño / Porriño pages.


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