Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 05/22/18
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?
No. Numerous posts on three other continents.
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?
3. How long have you lived here?
I left a year ago, after living there for three years.
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?
Best housing in six overseas assignments! Sunny, spacious, well-built townhouse with good storage. Zero complaints! Some neighborhoods (e.g. Wilanow) had older homes with more infrastructure issues, but most housing in Ursynow and Konstancin were newer construction with fewer issues. The commute on public transportation was a stress-free 25-30 minutes door-to-door. Traffic when driving was usually pretty painless, too. Some rush hour congestion, but not too bad.
The garage in our house was a little narrow for our SUV, so I had to "suck it in" when getting in and out of the car when it was in the garage, but is that really a complaint?
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Nearly everything (or equivalent) is available and affordable! :) A FULL cart of groceries never exceeded $150-200 (usually more like $100), including laundry detergent and similarly "expensive" items. Now, I drop $50 just looking at a small, hand-held basket of produce. You can shop at Makro (Costco-like) for bulk deals, too.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing, really. Just an occasional homesickness comfort brand, maybe.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many places that deliver, most types of food available. Affordable to order out/eat out. Pizza, Indian, Lebanese, local food... we really miss it!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
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?
Quite affordable. Roughly 40-50 USD for a full day. Many people had one-day-a-week type help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Modern gyms, pools, tennis courts (indoor and out). It is a modern city.
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?
Generally worked everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A few around without digging too deep.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
In Warsaw, English is generally good enough for survival. Most restaurants have English menus, for example. Outside of Warsaw (and Krakow) can be a little more challenging, but there's often someone around who speaks a little English. But, if you make any effort to learn/speak Polish, the Poles are very appreciative!
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably a little. Typical European limitations (few ramps, narrow elevators, cobble stones, etc.).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Very affordable and very safe! School-aged kids were generally fine riding buses/trams/metro alone.
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?
Virtually any dealer you can imagine for repair/parts. Different dealers (usually the obvious ones) were more expensive than others, though.
Larger cars could be tight in some parking garages and you will want snow tires.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Install varies from 1 day to a couple of weeks, depending on neighborhood service/infrastructure, personnel availability, etc.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The local plan worked well.
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?
Definitely. Poles are a pet-loving society with the support structure for it. Even 24-7 vets that are reasonably priced.
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?
Local salary scale is less than U.S., but possible to work on local market (roughly 1/2 a typical US salary for comparable jobs). Fair mission employment opportunities for US Embassy family members.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty to include church, school, Rotary and the typical volunteer organizations.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business professional to business casual, depending on the job.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None really. Obviously don't be stupid and wave money around in public, but generally safer than most large cities in the world.
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 fare, but people were still medevaced for some things. Very good and affordable dental care, for example. No real local health 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?
Generally good. Some coal burning in winter is occasionally noticeable.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Learn a few words in Polish about your food allergies, because English won't always work, especially outside of Warsaw.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD can be an issue. Winter can be long.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Long, cold winters, but not as bitterly cold as I had expected. 1-2 weeks per winter it would stay below freezing 24-7, but rarely colder than the teens for the lowest low temps. Typical winter days would be freezing overnight and maybe 30s-40 during the day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American School of Warsaw was pretty good, though some teachers were stronger than others. Some families would also use the British School.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
It seemed more common for special needs kids to end up at the British School vs. ASW.
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?
Many families sent small children to local preschools, of which there were at least bilingual options, if not an occasional English-only option. Girafe in Ursynow was popular.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but it can be difficult (outside of school activities, at least) without speaking Polish.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Quite a few expats from various countries and generally high morale. A handful of people on repeat assignments having served there on a previous tour, for example. I had a friend at the Swedish Embassy who chose to stay in Warsaw during a 6-month parental leave rather than going back home. Many people are very sad to leave!
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?
Eating out, gatherings, school functions, sports (tennis, running groups), opera/symphony are affordable, the Embassy bar after work on Fridays, concerts, etc. There is plenty to do.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above. All seemed happy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I heard that non-whites occasionally felt uncomfortable, or at least stared at a lot. They are clearly foreign. The local soccer hooligans have been accused of anti-semitism. But I never heard of anything bad actually happening, just rumors.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So much to see and do and so many nice, accepting people who appreciate it when you appreciate their country. Go to the mountains. Go to the coast. Go to the lakes region. Gdansk, Krakow, Torun, Poznan... Never a bad experience (other than a few too many girls overbearingly drumming up business for the strip clubs in Krakow).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There's a little-noticed, underground jazz scene if you like music. Sporting events (but not necessarily stereotypical sports -- Poles are really into volleyball and ski jumping, for example). Great restaurants. Re-enactments at Czersk Castle (20-30 miles south of Warsaw) if you're into Ren Fair-type events. Interesting remnants of the Soviet Days, if you're a Cold War history nerd. Many little gems around. Also, some of the "best" things are important but sad parts of Polish history, too, like the "Rising Museum" and Auschwitz which shouldn't be missed.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Polish pottery from Boleslawiec. Cheap, available, popular... and heavy! :)
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy to get around. Safe. Affordable. Friendly. Clean.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
While the Poles are generally friendly people, it can take them a little while to warm up to new people. They will, though, so be patient and it'll be worth it.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! It's the one posting I've had where I think I could live happily forever!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Hot weather clothes.
4. But don't forget your:
Humility... for attempting to speak Polish! :), but the Poles will appreciate that you tried.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Pianist and Schindler's List. (Sad movies, but historically relevant.)