Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 12/22/10
Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Home is Canberra, about 33 hours (3 connections) away. LOT flies direct to more and more places, but many destinations still need a stop in Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
2.5 years, currently.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Accommodations range from smaller, new apartments in the centre of town, to larger, older-style houses farther out. Communte time really depends on whether you want to be closer to town or farther away, but it's not a big city, and for most it would be less than 20 minutes. Generally the standard of accommodation for internationals is excellent.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty much eveything is available through international chains like Carrefour and Tesco. Costs are slightly more than I'm used to at home in Australia.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cling wrap (it's really strange here!), rice crackers and water crackers (not available), tinned soup. There's not much you can't get, either in the normal shops or the US commissary (if you have access - all diplomats can.)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All kinds of food are available here - this was one of my biggest surprises. McDonald's and similar are plentiful. Everything else is here - excellent fusion/international/Polish cuisine, Asian (Indian, Thai, etc.) is available, although some leave more to be desired. Costs are quite reasonable - about 200zl for a nice meal for two with a glass of wine in a nice restaurant.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Being vegetarian and gluten-free here is not a particular challenge. Gluten-free products are readily available in shops, although restaurants are less used to catering for these kinds of diets and can't always tell you what's in the dishes.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None I'm aware of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Polish post is a bit disorganised but it seems to get there.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Good without being great - about 20zl per hour for basic cleaning.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
ATMs are everywhere. It's not a problem.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is one English-language christian service, as I understand it.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Not as much English-language news as I expected. There are monthly 'what's on' mags and a weekly business journal. Most expats have satellite TV for English news.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's not necessary, but the more you know, the better you'll get on. Still, it is a challenge.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think they'd find it quite difficult to get around. Footpaths are dreadful, and many trams/buses still have large gaps to get on.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Excellent, cheap, safe. Night buses go on a reduced schedule all night. If only we had such great public transport at home!
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I would recommend small and with high clearance - the roads are terrible, and parking is always hard. European cars are more popular than Asian, therefore easier and cheaper to have repaired, and more desirable for resale.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Everywhere! Free in almost every cafe in town. A huge improvement over home!
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It's fairly straightforward to get a contract with a local provider.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Poles LOVE animals. They will be very well cared for.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
In limited areas - teaching, proofreading. Jobs on the local market aren't well paid. It's possible to find other things, but it's about networking and contacts.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Standard business/business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
While you can get unlucky anywhere, in terms of crime, it's probably one of the safest cities on earth. On the roads, however, drivers are crazy, and speed limits are taken as minimums rather than maximums. Be careful!
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Emergency care is pretty good, as I understand it. Amulances arrive quickly and will save your life. If you have something less serious, it will be OK, although you will probably hope someone will bring you some decent food (from what I understand). Some go to UK/Germany for a second opinion or for chronic issues.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Six distinct seasons - from metres of snow and tops of minus 10 in winter, a slushy early spring, full spring, short-ish but precious (and can be warm) summer, autumn and breathtaking golden autumn. Bring all your clothes!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
A lot of our friends seem to be unhappy with the international schools, both American and British here. As a result, I would say the only type of people I wouldn't immediately recommend Warsaw to would be families with high-school aged children.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Not sure. It's definitely available, but I suspect variable quality and expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
As far as I know, through schools, although non-Polish speakers are limited to international activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium. Lots of expats are married to locals who keep more to themselves (generally). Others are usually pretty keen to meet others and make friends.
2. Morale among expats:
Mostly good. Some people hate it here - if you focus on the weather and the roads you will, too. If you make the most of the great things about it, you'll have a ball.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There's always something going on. Clubs, restaurants, some new bar, a film festival, philosophy discussions, christmas markets, music festivals. If, somehow, you get bored with that, you can travel the region on budget airlines for virtually nothing - or hop on a train for a weekend in Berlin, Prague or Budapest, for example.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all, although single women will probably mainly date within the international community. I don't know any men who've started out single and ended up that way. It's a great place for families - although you'll probably need a break from those long, cold winters.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
As I understand, being gay here isn't a particular issue. There are some gay clubs and a healthy social scene.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
People who are non-white will get some stares, just because almost everyone here is white.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling the country (Gdansk, Krakow, Torun, Poznan) and the region (Albania, Croatia, Belorussia, Ukraine); coming to understand much more about WWII and European history.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
So many places, so little time! Prague, Berlin, Budapest... Budget airline connections are great. Warsaw is a fascinating place, Old Town, Lazienki Park, Plac Konstitucji, Palace of Culture.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Boleslawiec pottery, travel, independent cinema tickets, winter clothes.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Being smack bang in the heart of Europe, with amazing travel opportunities, in a city where there's always something going on.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, although it's not a major attraction.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
in a heartbeat. Only sorry we will one day leave.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Preconceptions. More than any place I've ever been, Warsaw is what you make it.
3. But don't forget your:
Sense of adventure.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Polish House, R. Sikorski. Anything by Izaac Singer.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Mis (with subtitles), Polish TV series Czas Honoru (Time of Honour)
6. Do you have any other comments?
Warsaw is a fascinating city, and most people really love it. The ones that don't are usually the ones that let the winters beat them. It's worth trying to break up the winter with a trip somewhere warmer (and lighter) in the middle. There's a lot to be said for living in a place where it's not obvious you're a foreigner, but that is so different and where you can learn so much.