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Poland

Visas for PolandPoland is a party to the Schengen Agreement, and therefore nationals of the European Union (EU), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and those nationals of a designated country list drawn up by the Polish government, including US, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian nationals, are afforded visa-free entry into Poland for holiday or business purposes for up to 90 days.
 
Travellers who do not fall into the above categories are required to apply for a Schengen visa to visit Poland. All travellers entering Poland should have a passport valid for at least three months past the date of entry.
 

Schengen visas for Poland

 
Those who apply for a Schengen visa will need to gather the required documents, complete the visa application form, and submit these to the Polish consulate or embassy in their home country before they travel. 
 
All documents must be in English or Polish.

Documents required for Schengen visa application:
  • Passport with at least two blank pages, valid for three months from the last date of travel
  • Recent colour, passport-sized photo
  • Round-trip air ticket or itinerary to/from Poland
  • Proof of travel, health or accident insurance
  • Proof of sufficient funds during travel (amount required varies)
  • Proof of accommodation (hotel reservations, letters from friends, details of a tour, etc.)
 
If applying for a Schengen visa to travel to Poland for business purposes, it may be necessary to include a letter of invitation from the Polish business party and a letter from your local employer stating the purpose of your visit to Poland. If attending a conference, proof of registration and accommodation may be required.
 
In some cases, applicants may be asked to provide additional documents, at the discretion of the Polish embassy or consulate. It's common to be asked for proof of employment and proof of residence in your home country, as an indicator that you will return home after your trip.
 

Residence visas for Poland


Those wishing to stay in Poland for longer than 90 days for work or study, or for family reasons, are required to apply for a residence or temporary residence permit.
 
Applications for residence permits for Poland should be made to the voivodship (local municipality) where the expat intends to live in Poland.
 
Residence permits are granted for a maximum of two years, and can be subsequently renewed for a further two-year period.
 
Expats entering Poland may be required to show proof of sufficient resources to support themselves financially while living in Poland as well as sufficient health insurance for the duration of their stay.
 
Once an expat has successfully submitted their residence permit application, they will receive a residence card, which serves as confirmation of their identity during their stay in Poland.
 
*Visa requirements can change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
 

Moving to Poland

Expats moving to Poland will find themselves in an extremely safe country occupying a strategic position in the heart of Europe. Having effectively weathered much of the economic storm of recent years, Poland remains one of Europe’s best-performing economies. 

Poland has never been the most popular expat destination, and when the country officially joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, emigration statistics sky-rocketed, leading to a population decrease as hundreds of thousands of Poles left their homeland for greener pastures.

A history entrenched in foreign occupation, repeated post-war partition and high unemployment rates left a sizeable grey cloud on Poland's horizon, but a "shock therapy" programme initiated in the early 1990s, as well as a period of reforms, lead to a market economy that has only truly become successful in recent years.

There is an increase in work opportunities for enterprising foreigners and new arrivals usually find work in industries such as IT, finance, human relations, manufacturing and English-language teaching. Despite these opportunities, those looking to relocate will still face a number of challenges. Poland is well known for its tedious bureaucracy and, as a result, large infrastructural changes are slow to take effect. 

Salaries are among the lowest on the continent and the cost of living in Poland still remains on the lower end. Although public healthcare provision is adequate, the government spends the lowest percentage of its GDP on healthcare, and expats should explore their private health insurance options in order to have access to private healthcare facilities.

Although Poland’s public education system has undergone many positive changes in recent years and tuition is free to all children resident there, including expats. As Polish is the language of instruction in public schools, the majority of expats opt to send their children to international schools in Poland. There are a number of these to choose from, particularly in the major cities. 

Expats living in Poland need to prepare themselves for a relatively conservative environment, as strong family values and a powerful Catholic undercurrent still dominate the social milieu. Another potential difficulty is that, with the exception of Poland's vibrant youth, very little of the Polish population speaks English. This can complicate just about everything, from assimilation into the working environment to solidifying meaningful social connections.

On the upside, Poland's largest cosmopolitan centres, Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk, Wrocław and Poznań are gradually making their way onto the international stage, with a growing café culture, a thriving night-life, and an increasingly cutting-edge cuisine scene. There's a reason the Poles are known for their ability to have a good party, and a long legacy of vodka is only one part of the whole.

Expats moving to Poland with an optimistic attitude can certainly succeed, but the path may prove to be more difficult than in other destinations.

Essential Info for Poland

Population: Over 38 million

Capital city: Warsaw

Neighbouring countries:  Poland is bordered by seven other countries – Germany to the west, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south, Ukraine and Belarus to the east and Lithuania and the Russias enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast to the northeast. 

Geography: Situated in central Europe, Poland is a relatively low-lying country with access to the Baltic Sea along its northern border. Otherwise, Poland is mostly flat and interspersed with forests, low hills and lakes, with no natural borders, except for mountains on its southern borders. 

Political system: Parliamentary republic

Main languages: Polish (official)

Major religions: Catholicism is the dominant religion with over 80 percent of the population practising the religion.

Money: The Polish Złoty (PLN), divided into 100 groszy (singular: grosz). ATMs are widely available in the country's urban areas and credit cards are accepted at the majority of establishments. 

Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October)

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. 'Type-E' rounded two-pin plugs, with a rounded female contact are used.

Internet domain: .pl

International dialling code: +48. City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)22 for Warsaw and (0)12 for Krakow.

Emergency numbers: 112, the general European emergency number, is most commonly used in Poland. Individual emergency services can be contacted on the following numbers:  997 (police), 998 (fire), and 999 (ambulance).

Transport and Driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Poland. Public transport infrastructure is very good and it is possible to reach most locations by bus or train. Low-cost flights also connect Polish cities to the rest of Europe.  A car is only really necessary to reach more remote areas of the countryside.

Weather in Poland

Expats living in Poland will need to learn to cope with cold weather as the country is dominated by distinctively cold winters with the temperature threatening to plunge as low as 16°F (-9°C). Although the length of winter varies from year to year, with the season typically beginning in November and ending in March, it can be extended when eastern winds blow in from the Russian front. Snowfall is also common in winter, with snow sometimes falling even as late as April.

Spring usually lasts two months (April to May) and is characterised by rain and cold nights, with daily temperatures ranging between 41°F (5°C) and 59°F (15°C)

Although precipitation falls year round, it is heaviest in summer. The summer season (June to August) in Poland is moderate and average temperatures tend to hover between 68°F (20°C) and 77°F (25°C). Excessive heat is rare, but droughts can occur from time to time.

Autumn in Poland begins pleasantly and is marked by warm days, while the temperature begins dropping dramatically in the second half of autumn.

Embassy Contacts for Poland

Polish embassies abroad

  • Polish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 2632

  • Polish Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 12 830 855

  • Polish Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 499 1700

  • Polish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 207 291 3520

  • Polish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 0468

  • Polish Consulate General, Sydney, Australia: +61 293 63 9816

  • Polish Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 499 7844


Foreign embassies in Poland

  • Australian Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 521 3444

  • United States Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 504 2000

  • British Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 311 0000

  • Canadian Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 584 3100

  • South African Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 622 1031

  • Irish Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 564 2200

  • New Zealand Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 521 0500

Public Holidays in Poland

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Epiphany

6 January

6 January

Easter Sunday

12 April

4 April

Easter Monday

13 April

5 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Constitution Day

3 May

3 May

Whit Sunday

31 June

23 May

Corpus Christi

11 June

3 June

Assumption of the Virgin Mary

15 August

15 August

All Saints' Day

1 November

1 November

National Independence Day

11 November

11 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

 

Working in Poland

Expats who consider working in Poland may find that most of their prospects won't offer them the same purchasing power that they might find working in Western Europe, especially as salaries in Poland are some of the lowers on the continent. 

In Poland, most jobs require a five-day work week and working hours are generally from 8am to 4pm, although international companies often uphold a 9am to 5pm day. Although the unemployment rate in Poland is no longer an issue, the country has traditionally prioritised the employment of local labour, while neglecting the foreign labour force. However, as one of the only European countries that didn't fall victim to the recent recession, positions have become available in specific sectors. 


Job market in Poland

Poland's primary industries include automotive manufacturing, food processing, banking and construction. However, expats working in Poland will most likely find opportunities in areas that have seen recent growth, including IT, finance, human relations, business services and management.

As a huge proportion of the population speaks Polish, there's also a pronounced shortage of native English speakers. As a result, there are still many English teaching jobs in Poland, and in many cases, these positions pay more than a position in a large company with upward mobility.

What's more, foreign investment is filtering into Poland and this influx of capital comes with future plans for corporates and multinationals to set up operations in the country. The country itself is also looking to privatise more infrastructure, like the energy sector, shipbuilding and even the postal market.

That being said, working in Poland as an expat is still not the easiest of tasks. Inefficient local bureaucracy frustrates job creation and can prevent competition. Furthermore, as a result of a history of repeated foreign violation, Polish sentiment toward expat businesspeople can be cautious. In order to succeed, it's vital for expats to build relationships based on trust and respect. The Polish-English language barrier can also be a source of much misunderstanding.


Finding a job in Poland

Citizens of the European Union (EU), as well as the European Economic Area (EEA), do not need a work permit to be legally employed in Poland. All other nationalities are required to have the proper documentation.

If not headhunted for a specific position in Poland, expats can use both print publications and online job portals to find a job in Poland. Daily newspapers, both local and national, have designated job sections. Two popular options are the Monday edition of Gazeta Wyborcza, in its Praca (Work) section, and the Wednesday insert in Rzeczpospolita.

Otherwise, there are some Polish English-speaking recruitment agencies that expats might benefit from contacting directly.

Doing Business in Poland

Poland’s strategic position in the heart of Europe and its strong and still-growing economy has made it an attractive destination for foreign businesses. Expats doing business in Poland will find themselves in one of the best-performing economies in Europe.

The Polish labour force is generally well-educated and has a strong work ethic and Polish business culture is largely similar to what expats might experience in other European countries. The commercial centre in Poland is its capital and largest city, Warsaw. Although Poland’s main exports and economy remain largely focused on manufacturing and agriculture, the country’s services sector has grown significantly in recent years.

The growth of Poland's business environment is evident in its ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2018, in which Poland was ranked 27th out of 190 countries surveyed. Poland came first in ease of trading across borders and also scored particularly well in resolving insolvency (22nd), getting credit (29th) and registering property (38th). The areas in which Poland didn't score as highly include enforcing contracts (55th) starting a new business (120th).  


Fast facts

Business hours

Working hours are generally between 8am and 4pm, Monday to Friday and many Poles do not usually take a formal lunch break during the working day. If business lunches are held, they take place from around 4pm and may continue into the evening. Most Poles take their summer vacations in July and August, so it is worth bearing this in mind if planning meetings or business trips to Poland during this time.

Business language

Polish is the official language of business in Poland, although English may be understood and is often spoken among business circles in larger cities.

Dress

Business dress in Poland is formal and conservative. Businesswomen tend to wear suits with skirts or trousers, while businessmen generally wear dark suits and ties.

Greetings

Business associates greet each other with a firm handshake and direct eye contact. Introductions should include a person’s full name and title.

Gifts

Gift-giving is an established practice in Polish business. Gifts are usually given at the beginning of a relationship and at the completion of a project.

Gender equality

Women have equal business opportunities to men, although most high-ranking positions are still held by men.


Business culture in Poland

Business culture in Poland is formal. While Poles tend to be reserved, their communication style is direct and eye contact should be maintained at all times as it is seen as a sign of respect and trust. People are expected to say what they think and address matters directly.

Communication

Polish is the official language of business in Poland, although expats are likely to encounter many business professionals who are able to communicate in English, particularly in large cities.

Business structures

Business structures in Poland tend to be hierarchical and the style of management may seem authoritative as decisions are made at the top and authority is highly respected. In line with this, education and personal titles are revered and expats should not move to a first-name basis with their Polish associates until invited to do so.

Work ethic

Rules and regulations are respected and should be adhered to, while trust and honesty are also valued. Poles have a good work ethic, and it’s not unusual to work through the day without a lunch break, something that many expats may take a while to get used to.

Generational differences

Expats doing business in Poland may notice generational differences between older and younger Polish associates. While the younger generation may follow a more open and relaxed Western business style, the older generation may still be influenced by business practices which were prevalent during the old Soviet-style regime. 

Importance of family

Family and religion both play a central role in Polish society and culture, and this extends to the business environment. As such, most Poles prioritise their obligations to their family above others. 

Networking

Personal relationships are important and anyone doing business in Poland should aim to build close and trusting relationships with their Polish associates, as this is a stepping stone to building strong business relationships. As such, business meetings typically begin with some small talk so that trust can be built before any specific business negotiations commence. Topics of discussion usually include sports and family life, but issues such as money and Poland’s history and relations with its European neighbours should be avoided.


Dos and don'ts of doing business in Poland

  • Do arrive on time and prepare fully for a meeting, as this exhibits professionalism which will be respected by Polish associates

  • Don't address Polish associates by their first name until invited to do so. Titles are highly respected in Polish society and should be used when making introductions.

  • Do have business cards printed in both English and Polish. Have titles and qualifications printed on the card, as these are highly respected. 

  • Do try to build personal relationships and trust with Polish associates before trying to forge a business relationship. Especially as Poles tend to only do business with people that they share a trusting relationship with. 

  • Don't refer to Poland as part of Eastern Europe, as some Poles may take offence to this. The country should rather be referred to as being part of Central Europe.

Visas for Poland

Getting a visa for Poland is relatively straightforward, especially as the country is party to the Schengen Agreement. Nationals of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), as well as nationals of designated countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, are afforded visa-free entry into Poland for holiday or business purposes for up to 90 days.

Travellers who do not fall into the above categories are required to apply for a Schengen visa to visit Poland. All travellers entering Poland should have a passport valid for at least three months past the date of entry.


Schengen visas for Poland

Those who apply for a Schengen visa will need to gather the required documents, complete the visa application form, and submit these to the Polish consulate or embassy in their home country before they travel. Travellers may have to appear in person and all documents must be in English or Polish.

If applying for a Schengen visa to travel to Poland for business purposes, it may be necessary for expats to include a letter of invitation from the Polish business party and a letter from their local employer stating the purpose of their visit. If attending a conference, proof of registration and accommodation may be required.
 
In some cases, applicants may be asked to provide additional documents at the discretion of the Polish embassy or consulate. It's common for a person to be asked for proof of employment and proof of residence in their home country as an indicator that they will return home after their trip.


Residence permits for Poland

Those wishing to stay in Poland for longer than 90 days for work or study, or for family reasons, are required to apply for a residence or temporary residence permit.

Applications for residence permits for Poland should be made to the appropriate regional office where the expat intends to live in Poland.

Residence permits are granted for a maximum of two years and can be subsequently renewed for a further two-year period.

Expats entering Poland may be required to show proof of sufficient resources to support themselves financially while living in Poland as well as sufficient health insurance for the duration of their stay.

Once an expat has successfully submitted their residence permit application, they will receive a residence card, which serves as confirmation of their identity during their stay in Poland.

*Visa requirements can change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Poland

The cost of living in Poland is among the cheapest in the European Union (EU), alongside Romania and Bulgaria. In the 2018 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Warsaw, Poland's most expensive city, ranked 154 out of 209 cities.
 
Overall, Poland has a moderate cost of living index, with the larger cities being significantly more expensive than the rural areas, as is the case with most countries.


Accommodation costs in Poland

The cost of accommodation in Poland varies, but apartments closest to the main square in any Polish city – big or small – will usually be the most expensive. Expats who are willing to live a bit further out and manage a small commute will find better deals for apartments with larger living spaces.


Food costs in Poland

Eating out and buying groceries is generally cheaper than in most other Western European cities and prices for Polish products are very reasonable, but imported items will be significantly more expensive. 


Cost of transport in Poland

Public transportation is relatively inexpensive and students, pupils and senior citizens are eligible for discounts on long-term ticketing.

Poland's central location and the prevalence of low-cost air travel makes it easy and affordable to explore the rest of Europe while living in Poland. Airports can be found in all of the major Polish cities. 


Cost of education in Poland

Public education in Poland is free but it is not a viable option for many expats as the language of instruction is Polish. 

Most often, expat parents send their child to an international school where the students can continue to follow the same curriculum that they were studying from in their home country. Most international schools are found in Warsaw or Krakow. International school fees can prove to be a huge expense as fees are high, as are additional expenses such as the cost of school trips, uniforms and textbooks. 


Cost of living in Poland chart 

(Note that prices may vary depending on location and service provider and the table below is based on average prices for Warsaw in July 2018)

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

PLN 3,500

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

PLN 6,700

One-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

PLN 2,800

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

PLN 5,000

Shopping

Dozen eggs

PLN 9

Milk (1 litre)

PLN 3

Rice (1 kg)

PLN 4.50

Loaf of white bread

PLN 3.50

Chicken breasts (1kg)

PLN 19

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

PLN 16

Eating out

Big Mac meal

PLN 18

Coca-Cola (500ml)

PLN 5

Cappuccino 

PLN 10

Bottle of beer (local)

PLN 10

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant

PLN 70

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

PLN 0.30

Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

PLN 65

Basic utilities (Average per month for a standard household)

PLN 600

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

PLN 2.50

Bus fare in the city centre 

PLN 5

Gasoline (per litre)

PLN 5.20

Culture Shock in Poland

From a cultural point of view, Poland is a European country with customs and social norms which will not be completely alien to Western expats. 

However, there are some Polish cultural practices which may surprise foreigners and lead to feelings of culture shock.


Meeting and greeting in Poland

Greetings and farewells in Poland are marked with a kiss on each cheek for those who are on close terms, and the usual handshake for men and business acquaintances. Women shouldn’t be surprised if older men kiss their hands.

Poles do not say goodbye in doorways (including a handshake through a doorway) as it is thought to bring bad luck.

If learning Polish, it is a good idea to master and utilise the polite forms of address as soon as possible. For native English speakers this often feels uncomfortably formal, but for Poles it is second nature and while they are generally forgiving of mistakes, it is an easy way of showing respect.

Polish people are not in the habit of smiling gratuitously at strangers; if smiling at a stranger, expect to be met with a suspicious gaze in return.


Gift-giving etiquette in Poland

If invited to somebody's house for a meal, it is polite to bring a gift – flowers or alcohol are the most common choices, but sweets are another option. Give flowers in odd numbers and avoid blooms that have cultural significance, such as yellow chrysanthemums, which are used at funerals.


Dress in Poland

Business and work attire in Poland tends to be quite formal. Women generally wear shirts and suits, while men wear collared shirts and suit trousers. If doing business it's best to err on the side of formality. If teaching, the rules are a bit more relaxed, but in general very casual work attire is not considered to be professional. 

In most Polish houses, the householders don't wear outdoor shoes inside and it’s best to follow suit. Also, there is almost always a coat rack inside the door, where visitors will be expected to leave outerwear in winter.


Language barrier in Poland

The language barrier is one of the biggest issues for foreigners in Poland. Polish grammar and pronunciation make it difficult for speakers of Western European languages to learn. It may be easier for someone who already knows another Slavic language.

That said, if staying in Poland long-term, it is worth learning as much Polish as possible for the sake of convenience, as many services don't operate in English. Many young people know English and other languages, but expats will be more independent if they learn to conduct basic transactions in Polish.

On the positive side, Poles tend to be patient and appreciative of a foreigner's efforts to learn Polish.


Religion in Poland

Poland is a Catholic country, with a fair sprinkling of Eastern Orthodox, especially in the eastern part of the country. If visiting churches, one will be expected to behave in a quiet and respectful manner – keep hands out of pockets and voices hushed, and men should remove their hats (this doesn't apply to women). 

Also, be aware of church and other public holidays in Poland, over which almost everything will be closed. Christmas gift-giving and the main Christmas dinner take place on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day, as is the case in many other countries.


Bureaucracy in Poland

For those applying for a residency visa or setting up a business in Poland, the paperwork can seem overwhelming. Many systems are not yet computerised, so expect to fill in plenty of forms and stand in long queues. 

For expats who have a Polish partner, are a non-EU citizen and are applying for a temporary residency, be aware that part of the application process will be a home visit at the declared address with no warning so that the state can ascertain the credibility of an applicant's relationship and listed address. This may include invasive tactics such as rummaging through a wardrobe or requesting to see where private papers are kept. Both partners will be interviewed separately at the beginning of the residency process, to ensure that their stories about their relationship match – this interview will take place in Polish, so it may be necessary to have a translator present.


Racial identity in Poland

Poland, at this point in its history, is a culturally homogeneous country where the vast majority of the population is white and Polish-speaking. Consequently, many Poles are not used to interacting with foreigners and non-European-looking expats may find themselves the object of frequent stares and whispered commentary, especially from the older generation. There is no easy way to deal with this, apart from developing a very thick skin.


The urban/rural divide in Poland

Expats in Poland will most likely find themselves living in a larger city where it will be easier to find someone who speaks their language. It is worth noting that life in the countryside in Poland is very different to urban life – people are generally much poorer and may struggle when dealing with a foreigner. It is essential that expats planning to spend time in rural Poland learn some Polish and accept that interactions may be much more difficult than they are in Polish cities.


Money and salaries in Poland

If seeking work in Poland, do not be surprised to find that no salary is advertised. Interviewees will often be asked about their 'financial expectations' during interviews, with no indication given about what the prospective employer is ready to pay. It is a good idea to find out what the typical salary is for the job in question and to determine what an acceptable salary would be before going to the interview.

Accommodation in Poland

There are many different options to suit the budget and requirements of all sorts of expats looking for accommodation in Poland. Despite the diversity of options, housing demand often outweighs supply, so competition over accommodation can be fierce in desirable areas. 

Regulations for foreigners wanting to buy property in Poland are complex, and most expats living in Poland rather choose to rent property.


Types of accommodation in Poland

The types of accommodation in Poland vary widely and include older as well as more contemporary styles. The quality of housing has improved in recent years, and there are many options for expats, from Soviet-style apartment buildings and freestanding homes with gardens to duplexes, semi-detached houses and spacious modern penthouse apartments.

Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available in Poland, although unfurnished options are more common. Standard appliances such as a stove, refrigerator and dishwasher are often supplied, but air conditioning is rare in Polish apartments.


Finding accommodation in Poland

Expats looking for an apartment or a house in Poland can find property listings online or in daily Polish newspapers. However, for expats unable to speak Polish, this may be a difficult task and they may want to acquire the services of a real estate agent. Once a lease is secured, agents usually require a fee equivalent to at least a month’s rent for their services.

When choosing an area to live in Poland, expats should consider their proximity to their place of work and their children’s school, as well as access to public transport. The farther away from the city centre, the cheaper the accommodation, but the less access these areas have to services such as public transport, schools and hospitals. Rentals closest to public transport, such as Warsaw’s metro line, often cost more.


Renting property in Poland

Rental agreements are usually flexible and decided upon between the tenant and landlord.

Utilities such as gas, water and electricity are not usually included in the rental cost and are paid for by tenants. Additional expenses could also include general maintenance costs for the building such as cleaning and gardening. Expats should keep this in mind when budgeting for accommodation. 

A deposit of one to three months’ rent is often required by landlords, while some may even require six months' rental upfront.

Healthcare in Poland

Expats will find both public and private healthcare in Poland. Most Polish citizens use a combination of both, and expats will want to make sure they have some degree of private insurance, as costs associated with these services can become expensive if paying out of pocket.

Facilities and treatment are generally better in the larger cities, and emergency services are less reliable in the rural areas. Poland also has a smaller number of doctors than many countries with a similar population size, and these individuals are usually located in the major cities.


Public healthcare in Poland

The Ministry of Health regulates national healthcare policy and oversees the state-financed system, the National Health Fund (NFZ), that supports it.

State care is compulsory for all Polish nationals and all official residents and contributions are usually deducted directly from salaries, with self-employed individuals being required to make a personal payment to the NFZ. 

The standard of public healthcare in Poland is adequate, though many of the hospitals may be of a lower standard when compared with hospitals in Western Europe. Despite this, there are excellent public facilities which cover more treatment plans than might be available at private medical centres – there are often no private options for cancer cases, for example.

Expats will need to obtain a personal identification number (PESEL) before officially applying for public health insurance. Once the application is approved, individuals and their dependents are given an official medical insurance card and are entitled to free health services in Poland.

EU nationals who hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or an E-111 form are also able to receive free public healthcare. This includes access to primary care, specialist outpatient care, hospital treatment, dental treatment and ambulance transport.

One disadvantage of public healthcare is the fact that the NFZ issues quotas on the number of free state procedures doctors can perform. For this reason, those needing either consultation or minor treatment may find themselves on a waiting list for months before receiving service.

A further issue is that it is necessary to first get a referral from a General Practitioner (GP) in order to consult a medical specialist, further increasing the waiting time before receiving treatment. 


Private healthcare in Poland

Private healthcare in Poland is often used to supplement the public sector. Expats will find that many nationals choose this option to avoid the long waits and painstaking bureaucracy of the state system. In fact, many of the same doctors that work for the NFZ have private practices on the side in which they can bypass the limits of the quota system and treat patients as they see fit.

Private treatment is relatively affordable, but continuous treatment will certainly pull at an expat’s purse strings. As such, expats should explore their private insurance options.


Pharmacies in Poland

Pharmacies are widely available in Poland and some in the major cities are open 24/7. Although expats will find a wide selection of over-the-counter medicines in Poland, these are often more expensive than in other EU countries. The state does not sponsor most prescription drugs and some medicines associated with long-term illnesses, such as asthma, depression, heart disease and diabetes, are only partially funded.


Health risks in Poland

Although there are few health risks in Poland, expats should visit a health specialist to ensure that they have the latest vaccine information.

Expats walking outdoors should be careful of tick-borne diseases such as encephalitis. Tick bites can be avoided by using appropriate insect-repellant and wearing long trousers. 


Emergency services in Poland

Emergency services in Poland are often prone to time delays, especially in areas outside of the major urban centres. The time between calling for help and receiving treatment is much longer than that found in other Western countries, so it might sometimes be faster for patients to make their own way to treatment centres. 

If a person is not close to a hospital with an emergency room, a GP is required by law to treat them in their home.

Individual emergency services can be contacted on the following numbers:  997 (police), 998 (fire), and 999 (ambulance).

Education and Schools in Poland

The Polish education system has undergone many positive reforms in recent years, marking an overall improvement to the standard of education in Poland.

Expat children are allowed to attend public schools free of charge. However, due to the fact that teaching in public schools is in Polish, and a general expat preference for their children to continue their education in line with their home country’s curricula, most foreigners choose to enrol their children in international schools, of which there are a number to choose from.

Compulsory education in Poland begins at age 5 or 6 with a preschool year and continues for 12 years to the age of 18. At 16, students write standardised tests which will help determine which school and type of school they will attend in the next level. Students have the option of choosing between general high school, technical high school or vocational high school. 

The Polish school year runs from September to June. The three major holiday periods are over Christmas and Easter as well as a winter break in late January or early February.


Public schools in Poland

The majority of children in Poland attend state or public schools. Tuition is free for all children attending these schools, including foreign children. However, this does not include the additional costs of textbooks, school uniforms, lunches or general stationery and school supplies, which parents will have to pay. Despite the high standard of education and free tuition, most expats in Poland don't send their children to public schools as the language of instruction is Polish.

In the case that expat parents do decide to make use of public schools in Poland, it's important to know that attendance is determined by where a child lives and schools are required to accept all children residing in their territorial catchment area. Children are not obliged to attend their nearest school, however, and parents can request that their child be allowed to attend another school outside of their residential area. In such cases, it is up to the director of the school to determine whether the child will be accepted or not.


Private schools in Poland

Private primary and secondary education is relatively new in Poland, having only been introduced in the late 1980s. Private or non-state schools are partly funded by the government and partly by fees and donations by parents and other organisations, such as religious orders. As a result, many private schools in Poland are run by religious or social organisations.

The language of instruction at these schools is generally Polish or a minority language. They are independent of the government and are not restricted to following the national curriculum. Fees at private schools in Poland can be quite high.


International schools in Poland

There are a number of international schools in Poland which cater to numerous nationalities, including American, British, German, French and Japanese expats. Most international schools in Poland are based in Warsaw or Krakow, and there are also a handful in Poznan and Wroclaw. While most of the schools follow the curriculum of their home country, some also offer the International Baccalaureate programme.

Places at international schools in Poland may be limited and expat parents should therefore plan in advance when making arrangements for their child’s education in Poland. Consideration should also be given to the cost of education at international schools, which are often an expat's highest expense. 

Transport and Driving in Poland

Poland has good road networks as well as an extensive public transport system that makes getting around Poland an easy task for expats whether they prefer to drive, fly, or go by bus or train. It is also easy to travel to cities outside of the country via plane or high-speed train.


Public transport in Poland

Poland’s large cities all have extensive public transport networks. There is also an exhaustive system of intercity trains and buses for travelling around the country and to other countries in Europe. Tickets are easily available from kiosks, machines at stations and on the buses and trains themselves.

Trains

Trains are one of the most popular ways to get around Poland. Intercity, EuroCity and express trains serve the larger cities in Poland, while the regional and local trains stop in smaller towns and villages. Fares will depend on the type of train, the class and the route. 

It is possible to travel by train between all of the major cities in Poland and also to travel to cities outside Poland such as Budapest, Prague, Berlin and Vienna. 

Buses

Poland boasts an extensive intercity bus system and buses cover areas that aren't serviced by train routes. Tickets are reasonably priced and can be bought at kiosks or from the driver on the bus.

Both PKS Polonus and Polski Bus are reputable companies that offer well-priced tickets.

Taxis

There are many reliable and safe taxi services in Poland, but expats should be wary of unofficial looking taxis that hang around outside train stations and some hotels. These could take advantage of foreigners and overcharge them. Legitimate taxi companies usually mark their cars with logos. Legally, the driver should have a meter and a cash register in the cab and drivers are obliged to give passengers a receipt when they pay the fare. 

Taxi fares are reasonable but increase on Sundays, holidays and late at night. Expats may be able to secure a discounted rate if they phone and book the taxi in advance.

Alternatively, rideshare apps such as Uber and Taxify operate in Poland's major cities. Many expats prefer using these apps as it gives them more control over routes and service prices while diminishing language barrier issues.


Driving in Poland

Expats who wish to travel around Poland by car should be able to do so relatively easily. Road conditions are good, but snow and ice in winter can be hazardous. Expats should take the proper precautions and be sure to abide by all road rules to ensure their safety when driving in Poland.

It is required by law that drivers in Poland have their headlights on at all times. Fog lights may only be used when there is fog or heavy rain, and rear fog lights may only be used when visibility is less than 164 feet (50m). It is also advisable that expats fit their cars with winter tyres to ensure safe driving during the winter months in Poland.

Driver’s licences

EU citizens can use their home country’s driver’s licence in Poland. Other expats, however, will need an International Driving Permit for the first six months they are in Poland. After this period, they will need to apply for a Polish driver’s licence, for which they must pass a driving test and provide medical certificates.

Once expats have received their licence it is important that they keep it in their car, along with their car insurance documents, at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions about Poland

Expats considering a move to Poland will naturally have many concerns about life in this culturally rich country.

From transport concerns to salary expectations, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about expat life in Poland.

What is a PESEL number, and how do I get one?

All new expats moving to Poland for more than three months will need to register at a local district office (urzad gminy), and will need to obtain a PESEL number (Public Electronic System of Population Records). Citizens of the European Union (EU) must register within 30 days of arrival, while non-EU nationals will need to register within four days of arrival.

To register for the PESEL number, expats must bring their passport and appear in person at a public office. This unique 11-digit number reflects one's date of birth, sex and a specific number allotted to the registering individual. The PESEL is vital for completing many bureaucratic affairs, like opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage.

Do I need a car in Poland as an expat?

Poland's larger urban centres, like Warsaw and Krakow, have cost-effective and efficient modes of public transportation. Buses, trams and state-of-the-art subway systems are available for use, and plenty of package deals exist for ticket purchasing. Night buses and meter taxis are also plentiful in the main urban centres.

On the other hand, if living outside of any of the large Polish cities, or even if living in a suburb on the periphery of the centre, it will be necessary to buy a car in Poland. 

Driving culture in Poland tends to be aggressive. Speed limits are often not adhered to, and overtaking is the norm.

What kind of salary can an expat working in Poland expect?

Expats with a quality education, and who have gained valuable experience in a specialised field, like IT, can expect to earn a salary above the Polish average. Otherwise, earning potential in Poland is quite limited compared to Western Europe.

That being said, the cost of living in Poland is among the lowest in continental Europe.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Poland

For many years, and until the beginning of the 1990s, banking in Poland was hampered by an inefficient state monopoly as state banks operated with outdated banking technology and a shortage of trained personnel.

Polish banking has since transformed and expats moving to the country will find a good number of both local and international banking options. Each have different fee policies and different account options, so it’s highly recommended expats do some preliminary research to find which will work best for them.


Money in Poland

Even though Poland joined the European Union in 2004, it has not yet adopted the Euro. The Polish currency is the Złoty (PLN), which is divided into 100 groszy. 

  • Notes: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 PLN

  • Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 groszy and 1, 2 and 5 PLN

Expats can change money in banks or kantors (exchange offices). Banks will likely charge a commission, whereas the kantors usually provide better exchange rates and don't charge a commission.


Banking in Poland

PKO BP is the largest and most popular national bank in Poland, while Citibank, MultiBank and MBank (a purely telephonic/online services bank) are most commonly used by expats. Bank staff generally speak English, and online banking can also be done in English.

Smaller, more traditional Polish banks and branches may not have English-speaking staff readily available.

Banking hours in Poland are generally from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Opening a bank account in Poland

A local bank account is necessary for day-to-day expenses and is needed in order to receive payment from employers.

Expats can use their passport and residency card (Karta Pobytu) to open a bank account. In cases where an expat doesn't have a residency card, it is often adequate to sign a declaration of residency.

A small monthly fee is required to maintain an account, and additional charges for transactions and direct debit orders also apply.

ATMs and credit cards

ATM machines are plentiful and conveniently located around the major cities, however, they are rarer in rural areas. Credit cards are widely accepted.


Taxes in Poland

Expats living and working in Poland qualify for tax status based on the amount of time they spend in the country, or the nature of their employment contract.

Those who are residents, or who spend more than 183 days of the tax year in the country, will be taxed on their worldwide income.

Poland has a progressive tax system, meaning that according to the annual income earned, expats will be taxed between 19 and 32 percent.

It is necessary for expats to register for a tax identification number (NIP) upon arrival. This is a 10-digit number that is also required for social security payments. It can be requested and applied for at local public tax offices.

Expat Experiences in Poland

When considering a move to a new country, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Poland and would like to share your story.


Leonie Müller is a 40-something-year-old mother of four living in Krakow, Poland. She grew up in South Africa, but has spent most of her life living as an expat. Read her experience of expat family life in Krakow.

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Rose Moore is an Australian expat living in Poland. After living in Australia for a few years, she decided to move to Poland with her Polish husband. Rose works as an English teacher, freelance writer, editor and translator, all while adjusting to life as an expat and mother of infant twins. Read more about her expat life in Poland.

Lois is an American expat living in Poland. She moved to the western city of Poznan in 2011 when her husband was transferred there with his company. Although Lois finds the Polish bureaucracy and customer service somewhat of a challenge, she finds the quality of life in Poznan to be excellent. Learn more about her expat experience in Poland.

Vice-Principal of International American School of Warsaw, Christopher Uden, gives some advice to expat parents on the ins and outs of international schools in Poland in this exclusive Expat Arrivals interview.