Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 12/18/16
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?
United States-two flights back to the DC area, usually a stop in Frankfurt if flying with Lufthansa.
3. How long have you lived here?
2.5 years (will be 3 years total).
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?
Many apartments here. Singles live in apartments. Many people like to live near public transportation.
We live in an average single family-size house near the American School of Warsaw so my children walk to school. The drive is about 1/2 hour to the US embassy. You can get a bigger home in Ursynow, but it is duplex-style and the kids have to commute to school.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fantastic farmers markets, lots of organic produce at a fraction of the US cost. However, clothing will cost a lot more here. If you with the US Embassy, you will get the VAT (tax) back but it takes about 6 months. This helps since the VAT is 23%.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Should have maxed out consumables especially liquid items, and some favorites for foods. However, we order from Vitacost, Walmart and Amazon all the time.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Mr. India, Blue Cactus and a few others, we don't really have a favorite. Pizza is not the best if you like the taste of tomato sauce on your pizza, but Pizza 360 in Nowy Wilanow is really good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We had ants a few times, but so minor that you could have that anywhere.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
US Embassy mail room (DPO).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
About 20-25 pln/hour for cleaning and childcare, most have a cleaning lady once a week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The cost is about 100-200 pln a month depending on the style of gym and the location.
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?
Yes and safe. Farmers markets and other small markets accept cash only. If using a credit card, make sure to pick Polish zlotys for the currency and not USD, you get a better exchange rate with no added fees of 2-5%.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
International Christian Community, Latter Day Saints, and Catholic Mass at St. Paul's English Speaking Community at noon every Sunday, with PRECANA, RCIA and religious education for children 1-8th grade to include FHC and Confirmation.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Predominately English besides a few Polish courtesy words, language is hard, there are lots of affordable tutors available and ASW and the embassy have free language classes.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, all the above and safe. Warsaw is really spread out. It will take you 5.5 hours to drive from Warsaw to Krakow and only 2.5 hours by train. The highway system is still being built and not the best. However, Warsaw to Berlin is an easy drive.
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?
We have a Ford Explorer, too BIG. Insurance in the DC area was $100 for 2 cars and here we pay over $200 a month just for the Explorer. Gas costs more too (even after the VAT back) and there is no COLA. Not the best roads, can't even compare the roads to Germany or Austria. Many potholes.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but ours doesn't seem so fast and drops often. It can take 1-2 weeks to install, it is best to have your sponsor install it before you come.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most have PLAY or Orange. It is easy to set up on your own or you can use the ACA service at the embassy to set it up for you.
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 quarantine. Fantastic vet care at a fraction of the cost compared to the 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?
Many spouses work here at the embassy. Most all work at the embassy full time or part time, with the best pay and salary scale. I am the only one working on the economy and had to go through the work permit process and I pay 40% tax. Our GEA Vici is the best and a great resource, she can help you with your resume and advice on employment.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many- at the American School of Warsaw as a room parent, on the board or on the PTO.
With IWG at the cancer ward in hospitals.
With Warsaw Volunteer Mission or Family for Family...be creative and seek out options and possibilities, they won't come to you.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Women dress nice here all the time. You do see jeans but not with tennis shoes. The Polish women are very serious about their looks. Formal dress for attaches for sure, it is a busy posting. There is the marine ball but attaches attend 2-3 balls.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, most homes have bars still. Just be safe and aware of your surroundings.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Many still burn coal here (it is worse in Krakow though). Many have seasonal allergies here if they have them in the US. For medical evacuation you go to Germany...there tends to be no surgery or procedures authorized in Poland for the US military. The American Clinic at Medicover in Nowy Wilanow is the best as well as Dr. Dorota (get contact information from US Embassy med clinic).
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?
Moderate in the winter...we run the AC sometimes to filter the air from the coal burning farm houses near us.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Ask when ordering your food, have a list of foods translated that you cannot eat and keep it with you.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD for sure, it stays gray and gloomy here from November-April or so, it starts getting dark at about 3:45. Many have a happy lamp and many love using the sauna.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
4 seasons, but fall tends to be very short. It will be sunny and then the next day it snows and winter is here. First snow last year was October, this year it was November.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ASW is the best for an American curriculum and all US embassy kids are attending this year; some go to the British School, but only if they have been in their system and plan to stay in it.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Usually if you are military you can't come here with special needs. Elementary school at ASW can meet the needs of minor speech and other minor issues and work on IEPs.
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?
International Preschool of Warsaw is the best and was a part of the US Embassy since 1952 and is now a non profit education foundation, ABS montessori in Konstancin is also very good. Every neighborhood has a preschool, Poles must send 3+ year olds to preschool. The average full time preschool is 2,000 PLN a month.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
At ASW, sports and activities are included with enrollment for each child. Fantastic options!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Warsaw is cheap to fly in and out of, many travel all the time especially during school breaks. Ursynow has more stay-at-home-moms with children under the age of 5 and there is a play group. I would say morale is OK, not the best, it is a busy embassy with a lot going on.
2. 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 is IWG international womens group, the CLO has activities, ladies get together in groups for activities, many like to Polish pottery shop and visit the vast amount of restaurants, there is the American Friends of Warsaw (but they changed their name this year), you can be involved as much as you want to be.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles love the Warsaw life style and everything it has to offer, same with couples and families.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Poland is a Catholic country but with more and more acceptance.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not so many Roma or refugees here.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Cheap trips to all over...traveling throughout Poland. Many go to Dubai here in the winter or to the Canary Islands.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Impresja for Polish Pottery and lunch.
Suparom (two locations) for traditional Thai massage (if you buy their card 6 massages for 1.5 hours is 500 PLN before VAT and 407 after VAT).
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Polish pottery and hand carved items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy travel and getting the school like ASW paid for (embassy and many companies pay).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Wish I didn't have an SUV (if embassy you can only sell it to another diplomat the first three year it is in country); the lack of good highways throughout Poland especially going to Krakow and the mountains.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Corelle plates for Polish pottery.
4. But don't forget your:
Warm clothes for the winter.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Read books like Life in a Jar; The Zookeper's Wife and other War War II books, visit Polin Museum and the Jewish Cemetery.