Migrating to Poland can be a great adventure, but it also has its challenges. Choosing to live in Poland, especially if you don’t have Polish roots or connections and know nothing about the country, will likely involve a steep learning curve.
Accommodation in Poland
PRO: Accommodation is affordable and generally easy to find
Compared to other European capitals, accommodation in Warsaw is very affordable. Outside Warsaw, expats will find it even cheaper. Of course, this partially reflects the fact that salaries in Poland are much lower, but those with a good job with an international company will have no trouble finding a decent place to live for a relatively good price. Polish cities are fairly high density, so expats can usually find a place to live which suits their taste and doesn’t involve a monster commute.
PRO: English-speaking realtors available
Expats can generally find an English-speaking real estate agent to help in the search, though this might be slightly more expensive.
CON: Small apartments and limited space
People in Poland generally live in apartments, and expats may be surprised at the small amount of space they seem to require. Whole families live in 40 or 50 square metres, and as a rule the living room also doubles as a bedroom with a foldout couch serving as a bed. As a consequence, many places are a lot smaller than one may be used to.
CON: Furnished apartments not always to the modern taste
If you are renting a furnished apartment at the cheaper end of the spectrum, be prepared for outrageously hideous furniture. Even if you have no interest or expertise in interior design, you will find it hard to ignore the sheer ugliness of some of the offerings.
CON: Complicated security systems
Many apartments in the suburbs are in Fort Knox-style blocks requiring passwords or multiple keys to get in. Some have on-site security guards who rarely speak English, so you may find that you or your friends have difficulty penetrating the perimeter of the complex to get to your own house.
Cost of living in Poland
PRO: Relatively inexpensive compared to other European countries
The costs of basics such as supermarket shopping, eating out, public transport and, as mentioned above, rent, compare favourably with the costs in other European countries. Drinking beer in a bar or pub is also much cheaper than in Western Europe. Movie tickets in smaller cinemas tend to be cheaper, and in big multiplexes more expensive.
Lifestyle and culture in Poland
PRO: Typical European culture
Polish lifestyle and culture is close to that of other European nations, which makes it easy to build relationships and make friends.
PRO: Vibrant night life and entertainment in Polish cities
In Polish cities you can find a vibrant range of urban life –
exhibitions, concerts, talks, slow food events, film and music festivals, and so forth. Museums and galleries are plentiful.
Summer in Poland is all about being outside and there are lots of great things to do outdoors such as windsurfing, kayaking, hiking in the mountains, camping, going to the seaside and bike riding.
PRO: Poles are multilingual
Younger Poles frequently know other languages (most often English) and are informed about world events.
In some arenas (most notably when dealing with older people and government departments), old communist bureaucracy and customer service ethics prevail. Don’t be surprised to be met with obtuseness and unhelpfulness when trying to organise matters such as your residency or work permits. Older women frequently display this attitude and often work in supermarkets and other lowly customer service roles, where they may delight in making your life as hard as possible.
CON: Long working hours and high pressure in the work place
Poles work hard and spend long hours at the office. Whether this will be expected of you in your job depends on the culture of your company and the nature of your role. There is a lot of competition for steady, well-salaried employment and this can lead, on occasion, to strained and suspicious relations in the workplace.
No matter how much a person can love the cold and snow, the short days and large amount of time spent indoors can wear one down. If your home is in more temperate climes, this is a good time to visit it. In a bad year, the winter can last six months, and Poles often cite it as a good reason for emigrating.
CON: The Polish language
Though it’s not difficult to find an English speaker to help you navigate, when you are travelling outside major cities or dealing with older Poles it will be invaluable to know some Polish. Unfortunately, it’s far from being the easiest language in the world for an Anglophone to wrap their tongue around – those who are committed, talented at languages and shameless enough to make a fool of themselves on a regular basis may find a year of serious effort may or may not get them conversational. When making progress, though, expect to be applauded far and wide by the natives; many foreigners never even manage to learn the basics.
Healthcare in Poland
PRO: High standard of inexpensive private healthcare
First class healthcare is available in Poland; you can find medical staff and equipment of the highest calibre. Compared to other countries, private healthcare is relatively cheap, and when one works for an international company or a well-regarded Polish company, some sort of private health package is usually part of the deal. English-speaking doctors are also not hard to find.
CON: Long waiting times for public healthcare
The public health system is an antiquated and overloaded old beast; if expats are unlucky enough to have to resort to this as their only access to medical care, it’s not unheard of to wait up to a year for an appointment with a specialist.
CON: Doctors have a poor bedside manner
Polish doctors are not known for their bedside manner and may come across as unsympathetic. Progressive ideas about patient self-advocacy and ideas such as birth plans and keeping the patient informed are still in their infant stages and far behind what expats might find in Western Europe, Australia or the United States. Expect to be treated with brusqueness or impatience, even within the private system, if you try to assert yourself.
CON: Hospital food
Those unfortunate enough to require a stay in hospital should not be surprised to get a diet of bread and gruel. Make sure you can get somebody to bring you supplementary food.
Education in Poland
PRO: High standard of education
There is no need to worry about getting an inferior education in Poland. A BBC article from June 2012 stated that Poland’s reading scores on an international education assessment test were better than those in the UK and the US, as well as France, Germany and Norway. Educational reforms mean that the Polish system is constantly improving.
For those who want their children to attend an international school, this option also exists in a number of major Polish cities. There are also a number of courses which allow students to study in English at university level.
CON: Public schools can be overcrowded and there is little emphasis on individual development
Public schools in Poland often have large class sizes which can mean the emphasis falls on discipline rather than learning.
Teachers’ earnings are on the low end of the scale, which can affect morale.
The emphasis is often on success as measured by test scores, rather than developing critical thinking or creative abilities. This can make children less inclined to try new things out of fear of failure.
Transport in Poland
PRO: Developed and affordable public transport system
Most Polish cities have well-developed and comprehensive public transport systems. Some of them, including Warsaw, also have city bikes which expats can pick up and drop off in various places.
Transport around the country is also affordable and well developed; even small villages usually have a functioning bus line, even if it only runs a couple of times a day. There is also a well-developed rail network and quick, reliable trains run between all major cities, as well as between Warsaw and other European capitals.
All flights from Warsaw currently fly through Okęcie Airport, which is very close to downtown Warsaw. This means it’s possible to avoid the budget airline curse of arriving at an airport which is nominally Warsaw but it actually in the middle of nowhere.