Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 02/05/12
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?
US East Coast, with very few direct flights. 12 - 14 hours with varying locations for stopover. Frankfurt, Munich, London, Paris, etc.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The Embassy provides nice housing. They have a mix multi-level townhouses, single family homes, large apartments. They can be choppy layouts with little closet space, but they are comfortable. If your housing is not provided by your employer be aware Warsaw is one of the most expensive cities in Europe for real estate. Apartments are small and expensive.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are much less than the US and you can get many of the same KINDS of things. Not same brands. New products are always appearing. Oreos & Peanut Butter has even appeared on the shelves since we've arrived. We like to use the local farmers market style sellers for produce. It's fresher and even cheaper.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing you can find whatever you need here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's a lot here if you need it. Cost is the same maybe slightly less than the US. No Taco Bell or Wendy's but KFC, McD's, BK.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
There is some in the local hypermarkets. Learn the words you need in Polish as very little is translated.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes in the summer when there is a lot of rain are huge and may carry away small children and animals. We are given encephalitis shots when we get here, but the tick problem is really more in the countryside.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use embassy mailroom services.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Housekeepers are inexpensive. About $7 or $8 per hour. Mine comes once a week stays all day and does the laundry and ironing too, which is great because dry cleaning is very expensive. You can find full-time help if you need it. Good people get snatched up quickly.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. There are many through out the city. They are expensive, about $100 a month, but most are nice.
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?
You can use them all here pretty safely, but as always keep an eye on your accounts. This is a quickly growing economy and the society is quickly shedding its former communist ways. So opportunity brings opportunists.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are some.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Local satellite network has some English language programming with CNN international, BBC, Euronews and France all in English but other programming can be limited. We use VPN with Netflix. There are a couple online English language local newspapers. I've heard of some people using a satellite service from the UK but I'm not so sure it's on the level.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some is helpful. The more you know the better. You can get by without it, but there are many people who don't speak English. I've found that the more I learn, the better my time is and when I use it, bad grammar and all, I get much more help when I need it.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Some. Things are continuing to develop, but are nowhere near what you'd be used to in the US.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transit is safe, reliable, efficient, and usually clean. But be prepared for your personal space to be invaded on a regular basis and sometimes body smells can be overpowering. It is expected that you give your seat to elderly.
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?
Small and fuel efficient is good, but people have everything here. I've even seen the really big American SUVs around. But fuel is expensive about $7 or $8 per gallon. Parking spaces and garages are small. Keep it in mind when planning. We brought our own car which is a midsize SUV and even sometimes that feels too big. Don't bring anything you don't want to get dinged because everything will. Drivers are very selfish and discourteous. The lack of respect for personal space translates to driving as well. My best advice would be to be mildly aggressive, highly defensive, and expect everyone around you to do something unexpected so you are always on guard and ready to react.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We've had little problems getting it and it's pretty fast. Early evenings and sometimes on weekends it can get finicky or slow. We pay about $50 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are several large companies that provide contracts with phones or you can bring an unlocked phone and put in a pay-as-you-go SIM card. I've found pay-as-you-go to be very cheap and reliable.
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?
No. Microchipped and vet certificate for EU
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Vets are good and inexpensive. However, like the people hospitals, facilities are not as nice and US.
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?
Not really. Wages are lower than the US and language is often a barrier.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Normal western business attire is expected.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Normal city living awareness, but this is very safe city. I've even allowed my teenage daughter to take public transit with her friends with very little worry.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is said to be good. Facilities can be a little daunting to look at and sometimes language can make communication difficult. Embassy medevacs to London for surgeries. I know several women who've opted to have their babies here and had good experiences. Care is less expensive than the US. Dentist care is pretty good for basic things and orthodontia.
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?
Good. Some smokey air in the fall when people burn off the debris from their "ogrod" (gardens), but it only lasts a couple weeks.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Unpredictable! Our first summer was hot and humid, this one was rainy and chilly. Our first winter was snowy, gray, and cold this one has been very mild and the sun has been out more often. That being said it still gets dark very early in winter and sun is abnormal. Bring your vitamin D supplements. If you are prone to SADD, prepare your defenses.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My kids go to the American School of Warsaw and we love it! The faculty is caring and facilities are excellent. There is a new admissions director, which has made the transition for embassy families into the school much more pleasant. She is also working with CLO to ensure special-needs can be accommodated if at all possible. One of the biggest issues I've seen is actually with the students themselves, not the school. The local students are extremely wealthy and can be snobbish.
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?
There are many preschools available throughout the city in many prices ranges. Many have bi-lingual staff. I know many parents with preschoolers in different schools and have heard good things. Some with younger children hire in-home nannies called a Pani.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Some through the schools for organized team sports. Most local sports program are all in Polish.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium I suppose, but it's easy to move around the city and not see them. It's a big city.
2. Morale among expats:
It seems pretty good. Living is good and safe. I've only met several people who truly didn't like it, and that was really just bad attitude on their part.
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 are several expat groups that organize social events. Much socializing contact made through work or the school. Entertaining at homes or restaurants is common.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is an excellent place for families, couples, and single men who want to date locals. Single women will find their options a little more limited, but still a good spot.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Poles are still a little surprised by open homosexuality, but I don't think there is hostility.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Poland is mostly Polish these days, but with a significant Asian, particularly Vietnamese, population. No outward racial problems but there still seems to be some naive anti-antisemitism. It's not uncommon to see an "ethnic" painting of "Jew with Grosy" (counting money). Most Poles don't see this as offensive. But again nothing hostile.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting Holocaust sites (interesting maybe not a highlight). Visiting Zakopane in the southern mountains and Gdansk on the Baltic coast.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots. In Warsaw there are many museums, green parks, water parks, a great zoo. In summer there are free Chopin piano concerts every Sunday in Lazienki Park. Travel outside the city to the many little towns and villages. There are castles all over the countryside many you can stay in. Travel to the Baltic, the mountains. And then of course the proximity to the rest of Europe.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Polish Pottery, folk crafts, glassware
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
History! If you like history there is tons of it her,e as Poland was a pivotal country during WWII. But the country has a history that trails back 1000 years. The Poles are proud and and fiercely protective of their history and love to showcase it.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't travel all over Europe too much.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, for sure.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectation that things will work the same way in the US or the same speed. Most things take longer here so plan accordingly.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story, Poland
by James Michener, The Spies of Warsaw: A Novel, anything on WWII or the Holocaust, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
by Timothy Snyder,
6. Do you have any other comments?
Poland is a dynamic place. The change from Communism to a free-market society has been embraced and things change quickly here. It the short time I've been here I've seen many changes and progress. However, there are still heavy communist style layers of procedure to everything you do. But all in all once you break through the stern facade of Poles you will find a warm people who are very proud of their country and culture.