Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 08/27/09

Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland 08/27/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Several other previous postings.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Several months.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

LOT airlines offers direct service to Warsaw from New York, Newark and Chicago. All other major US cities are served by all the major airline alliances. From DC, it takes about 11-13 hours including layover.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing ranges from modern apartments in the center of town to multi-level townhouses (for those with kids) on the outskirts of town near the school. Singles and couples without kids tend to have apartments. Of all the places we have served, we have found our housing here to be the best we ever had.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Whatever you want, you can find it here. While we normally go to the several hypermarts (Carrefor, Alma, Real, etc.) we also tend to go to the small skleps near our house where the quality of meats and cheeses is way better and the prices are much less. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are sold all over town and are very affordable as well. Prices are about the same as in the states. We do have a commissary which stocks imported American food ranging from steaks to Wonder Bread to Big Red. But honestly, why do all of your shopping there when you can find the exact same stuff in Warsaw?

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Clothing and shoes since they are more expensive here. In terms of food/toiletries, etc. nothing, since you can find everything you need here.,

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All your major chains (Burger King, McDonald's, KFC, Sbarros, Subway) are available here. Poland has excellent ethnic food (the Chinese and Vietnamese are the unfortunate exceptions). However, Polish food remains king and rightly so. Depending on what you are in the mood for, you can eat anywhere from a couple of bucks to a couple of hundred. A normal lunch will run you between 5-20 dollars. There are several pizza places that deliver, and there is also a room-service delivery service that will deliver food from your favorite restaurants.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Since most of the homes and apartments do not have window screens, various flying insects tend to invade people's houses if the windows are left open.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We send them through the pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very available. And chances are someone's domestic helper is looking for additonal work, so ask around. Cost depends on what you want them to do, and it ranges from 7-10 hours an hour. If you want a live-in domestic helper, that can run around 200 dollars a month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are several gyms that embassy staff regularly use. Gold's Gym just opened up this year in Warsaw. Warsaw also has many bike trails, and those who just want to walk or jog are able to do so as well.

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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?

Safe and reliable. ATMs can be found all around town.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Given the large number of English speaking expats here, I would think so.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. USA Today, IHT, Financial Times, and several Warsaw-based publications are all available. Various cable companies offer English-langauge channels from all over the world.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

While students and those involved with foreign companies will most likely be able to speak English with you, you will have much more fun, make more friends, and do your part in destroying the ugly American myth by learning Polish. A couple of phrases will go a long way.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Alhough most apartments and main shopping centers have elevators and disabled-friendly facilities, and the city has many wide sidewalks, Warsaw still has some work to do in order to be completely disabled friendly.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, yes, and yes. Local trains are great since they go all over the place. However, they tend to be crowded and are VERY slow with the exception of the 2 1/2 hour train to Krakow. Poland is supposedly upgrading its rail service, but who knows if they will follow through.

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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?

Something sturdy, given the HORRIBLE conditions of roads here (outside of Warsaw). Folks at the embassy have cars ranging from regular sedans to SUVs and trucks. Gas is about 2 or 3 times the price in the US, and while available, car parts and servicing are very expensive.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, and it costs around 20-30 bucks a month. Do yourself a favor and buy a router, since the one the the embassy provides is horrible.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We have found that buying a pay-as-you-go card from any of the many cellphone companies (Heya, Orange, T Mobile, etc.) works best. Plans are also available.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Available and good quality. Warsaw is very pet friendly.

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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?

They do exist if you speak Polish and want to take a massive pay cut. Post tries to find jobs for local spouses, and there are teaching jobs possibly available at the various schools.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

The usual American/European professional at work. Outside, whatever you want.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Pretty healthy, I would say, but allergy sufferes will get hit depending on how close they live to parks.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Check with the Med unit, but whatever is standard for Eastern European postings.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Warsaw is like any other Eastern European city with the usual security concerns. Just use common sense and you will be fine. For us the biggest security concern has been driving on the roads.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

I would say driving is the number one health risk, since Polish driving habits, coupled with horrible Polish roads, make for a very hazardous situation. Medical care is available for routine procedures, but if you need something major, go to London. I have recently heard that some people have had some bad experiences with dental care as well.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Recently Warsaw has had some crazy weather compared to previous years. This summer it has been mostly rainy and mild, while the winter is your typical Eastern European cold, albeit much milder than before.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We don't have kids, but the American School of Warsaw is by far the most popular among expats and well-to-do Poles. It has a VERY impressive campus and facilities. Other schools exist as well (British, French, Russian, etc.).

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Very limited from what I hear.

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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 is the IPW (International Preschool of Warsaw) and also many maids will gladly watch kids...for a fee of course.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

HUGE! Many people have come to Poland as students, expat workers, etc. and have created a very international atmosphere. I have met some people from as far away as Trinidad, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Iraq here -- and all love it here!

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2. Morale among expats:

Overall, I would say that it is pretty good. Post did go through a recent period where morale dropped (in my section it really dropped) which I attribute to a couple of bad apples in the bunch. While some of these people still exist at post, thankfully with the influx of new people, the toxic influence of these people has been severely limited. So if you like to work hard and enjoy being social, and do not like to start drama or complain all the time, Warsaw is the place for you. Those that get out of the AFN-Commisary-Hard Rock Cafe tend to have the most fun in Warsaw. Warsaw -- in fact all of Poland -- has so much to offer. Take advantage of it!

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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?

Concerts, parties, clubs, festivals, movie theaters, etc. Again, you name it, they have it.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Absolutely. It is very hard NOT to find something fun to do here. Single men (and women) have been very successful in finding partners and have left either engaged or married.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

While Poland still has a way to go in battling homophobia, none of the same-sex couples that serve in Warsaw have ever complained about outright harassment. Warsaw does have a gay scene with several clubs.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Overall I would say no. Warsaw is a very cosmopolitan city with thousands of Africans, Asians, South Asians, etc. Skinheads do exist, and their presence can be seen if you go to the outskirts of town or to soccer games (in fact the Legia Warszawa team was banned from several championship matches due to skinhead violence). As was recently posted, those with spouses from the former Soviet Union should be prepared for some cold receptions when meeting Poles.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

What isn't there to do? History lovers (especially those who like medieval times or WWII) will be in heaven here with everything there is to see. Those who love the outdoors can jog, bike, walk, etc. Shoppers will go nuts over the several malls and craft shops. Warsaw regularly hosts big-time acts (Madonna was most recently here), and has a wonderful cultural scene as well. Warsaw is the ideal jumping off place for domestic and regional travel and is blessed by connections by rail, road and plane. Places like Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, the Balkans, and of course Western Europe are very accesable. Warsaw also has similar connections with the East (although not as developed) and people have gone to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kyiv, and even Minsk. However, with all the great things to see inside Poland, why even leave?

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Polish handicrafts, Boleslawiec pottery, WWII militaria, amber, glassware, antiques. Pretty much anything come to think of it

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9. Can you save money?

It depends on the exchange rate. The exchange rate has been very loopy here, going from as high as 3.6 down to 2.0 to the dollar. We are managing to do very well and have saved a bit of money, even with crazy shopping and travel. It all depends on your spending habits

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely. People come back here again and again.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

consumables since you won't need them here. Also any negative waves, since there is a good vibe here in Warsaw and absolutely nothing to complain about.

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3. But don't forget your:

...not sure, I guess your passport?

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Warsaw has everything you have ever wanted to eat, see, buy, and visit.

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