Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 09/21/15
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?
Does Canada count as an expat experience?
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 Washington, DC; about 10-12 hours by plane with one connection in a European city (usually Frankfurt if flying StarAlliance).
3. How long have you lived here?
We have lived here just over a year.
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?
Some downtown apartments (some within walking distance of the embassy), but most are in housing compounds farther from the city center. Houses and apartments are spacious by European standards and accessible by public transportation. House have small yards.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Almost everything is available and cheap, and the embassy has a small but well-stocked commissary to meet your snack food cravings. The only thing we can't find is bubble wrap, so bring a roll for mailing pottery home at Christmas time. Polish brand cleaning supplies are sometimes less effective and some people hate the scents, so if you have a particular loyalty, bring your own.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Several American chains (McDonald's, Starbucks, Domino's, Pizza Hut, a KFC for every corner) with more coming soon (Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts, Dairy Queen). Lots of good restaurants, mostly European cuisines but decent Thai and Vietnamese food can be found. Zapiecek for more kinds of pierogi than you know what to do with. Several high-end options (Nolita, Senses, Atelier Amaro and others) offer innovative menus at a fraction of what you would pay in DC or other European cities.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing serious. Mosquitoes can be a summertime annoyance, but they don't carry anything dangerous.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Reasonable for once-a-week cleaning (about $40). Full time housekeeping and childcare are also available.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small gym. Hotels have modern gyms (not sure about price). Parks have little cardio playgrounds with exercise machines.
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?
Never had any problems, but we mostly use cash anyway because it's faster. Fruit stands, some cabs, and lots of small businesses don't take cards. The embassy has a cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Definitely Catholic. I believe also Jewish. Not sure otherwise.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some, especially if you want to hire help. Restaurant staff and young people speak English, but some Polish helps a LOT when doing everyday life tasks like grocery shopping.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. It's getting better as they try to meet EU standards, but there are a lot of "charmingly" uneven cobblestone sidewalks and 45-degree wheelchair ramps dropped on top of existing staircases.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes and yes. The metro, tram, and bus lines all run on the same system. Download an app called JakDoJade to route map.
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 to medium because of parking spot sizes, but roads are decently wide and in good condition. We rely solely on public transportation and weekend rentals.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, for about US$30-40 a month. Good reliability.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card from Play or Orange.
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?
Very good quality vet care for, again, very reasonable prices.
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 unless you speak Polish or want to be an English-language tutor (and even then...).
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The local animal shelter always needs dog walkers!
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. Warsaw is the safest city I've ever lived in, by far.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Seasonal affective disorder is a thing here. Hospitals are fine.
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?
Usually fine, although reportedly getting worse.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Usually mild and beautiful from mid-April until September, then cold, grey, and damp. Even when it doesn't get too far below freezing, it's windy, rainy, and dark by 3:30 PM. Winters here are just a bummer. Bring happy lamps.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No personal experience. There are two options, the British and the American Schools. Reportedly the American School has a great campus and strong relationship with the embassy, but the British School is more likely to accommodate special needs children. Both are supposed to have excellent academics; Warsaw is very popular with families who have school-age children.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium - a few thousand - but everyone loves it here.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all. I'm married with no kids and we're never bored. There are excellent restaurants, plenty of green space.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not particularly. Poland is VERY Catholic with all the social norms that entails. But despite prevalent anti-LGBT attitudes in society and Polish politics, there's an active and vocal LGBT community in Warsaw. The city is surprisingly cosmopolitan in many ways, but public displays of affection between same-sex couples make people here uncomfortable. On the other hand, they elected a transgender woman to Parliament and seem comfortable with that. Drunk heckling or a lecture from a Polish grandma is probably the most you'd risk as an openly gay person here, but it's hard to say for sure.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some. Poland has the world's most homogeneous population, and the recent migrant crisis has exposed some xenophobic ugliness, but people of color generally live without harassment. Still, there have been incidents of defacement at the Jewish cemeteries and at the only mosque in the city.
Polish culture does differentiate strongly between gender roles in family life, but thankfully not in professional life. As a woman, I have had to get used to never touching a door handle but other than that, I have no problems.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Going to the Warsaw Beer Festival and national/local soccer matches, eating baskets of croissants at sidewalk cafes and following it up with the world's greatest ice cream ever served out of a window, patronizing local designers, traveling to a dozen other countries for weekend trips, and still putting a third of a paycheck in savings every pay period.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
La Playa is a great hangout spot in the summer - a fake beach along the river lined with bars, food trucks, and dance parties. There are nearly a dozen excellent beer bars that have opened in the last few years, including Piw Paw, JaBEERwocky, and Cuda na Kiju. Warsaw has great bike paths and a bike rental system, similar to DC and NYC. Charlotte, a cafe on Plac Zbawiciela, is hardly a secret, but the bread basket there lives up to the crowds outside. There's a handbag designer called Goshico tucked in an alley of an alley that is worth the trek to find. You can rent rowboats at one of the palaces. You can take your dog to Pub Lolek in the lovely Pole Mokotowskie park for grilled meat outside.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Boleslawiec pottery, Polish crystal, amber jewelry, carved wooden boxes, antique prints.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Living in a safe, developed city with access to good public transportation, culture, history, fabulous travel opportunities in Poland and around Europe, and great shopping, all at extremely reasonable prices. The feel of being somewhere at the beginning of a cultural awakening.
Oh, and really, really good bread.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How exciting Warsaw is right now. There are a lot of young people opening new businesses and trying new things. There's almost palpable energy to the city.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?