Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 02/21/10

Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland 02/21/10

Background:

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

I've lived in London, Tokyo, Geneva and various cities in Germany.

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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?

My home base is DC. Flights connect in either Frankfurt or Munich and take about 14 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

one year.

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

I work at the US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy housing varies. Many couples and singles have great apartments in or near the center but others get stuck out in the suburbs. Most families are either in a compound in Ursynow or near the American School in Konstancin.

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

You can get most anything on the local market. If you're attached to certain US brands, you can probably find them at the Embassy commissary.

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

None - you can get everything here.

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

McDonald's and KFC are hugely popular with Poles. If you're craving American or Mexican food, there's Hard Rock Cafe downtown. Otherwise, there are lots of good restaurants - Polish, Asian, Italian.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO

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

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

Yes, but they're usually very small. The two largest are the Gold's Gym and Pure Fitness.

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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?

Widely accepted.

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

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

You can get Polish digital cable, which includes some English language programming.

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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?

Most young people speak some English, but it really helps a lot to speak Polish. It just makes everything go much more smoothly. In Warsaw and Krakow, you can usually get by with English, but outside of the big cities, it's another story. Also, Poles love when Americans speak Polish because they appreciate the effort and also, I suspect, because we sound like idiots.

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

It might be a bit difficult - the sidewalks aren't always in great shape, but things are getting better.

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Transportation:

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

Trains and buses are very cheap, clean, safe and fast. Taxis are affordable, but you usually have to call ahead. People don't really hail them on the street.

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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?

Small!

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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, although the speed seems to vary somewhat. It costs about $50 a month.

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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?

Cell phones are a pain unless you're assigned one by the Embassy. The pay as you go phones require that you put a certain amount of money on the phone per month, whether or not you actually use the credit, so most people have more credit on their phones than they'll ever be able to use.

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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?

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

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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?

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

Business dress.

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Health & Safety:

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

I've felt very safe in Warsaw, although I know that there are occasional muggings.

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

I haven't been impressed with the experiences others have had with broken bones here.

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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?

I've heard others complain about the air quality in the winter due to the use of coal, but I haven't noticed any problems.

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

This has been an unusually cold winter with lots of snow and high temperatures in the teens. There's very little sun in the winter and the days are very short - in Dec and Jan, the sun sets at 3:30.Spring starts in April and is beautiful, summers are mild and somewhat rainy. In Sept, what the Poles call "golden fall" begins and lasts till mid-Oct, early Nov.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have kids, so I can't really comment.

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

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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?

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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?

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2. Morale among expats:

It really varies. I love it here, but some others take issue with the winters, the customer service, the ugly Stalinist architecture, etc. You definitely have to make an effort here to go out and find things and figure them out, but it's an effort worth making.

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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?

It can be hard to make close Polish friends. Most people here have had the same social circle since childhood and it can be tough to break the ice. Amongst Americans, there's a lot of eating out, dinner parties, etc.

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

Warsaw is most definitely a family post. Right now, there very few singles. Warsaw is a big city so there are lots of things to do, which is great for singles - cultural activities, lots of gyms, classes, bike trails, etc. As far as dating goes, it seems to be a great place for single men but I only know one single woman who dated a Polish man. Most Poles are married by the age of 25, so the older you are, the fewer dating prospects you'll have here.

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

There are a few gay bars/clubs here, but being gay is largely kept quiet here. I've met very few gay Poles who were actually out.

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

People get stared at big time, but I haven't heard of any attacks or anything like that. Poland is 98% ethnic Pole, so there are very, very few Poles who are anything but white.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

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

Beautiful, beautiful parks all over the city, the Uprising Museum, great restaurants, cheap tickets to the theatre (there are a million here), opera, ballet, etc.

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

Boloslawiec pottery, beautiful linens.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Poland has an incredibly interesting history and that history is still completely alive here, particularly in Warsaw. I've never lived anywhere where history is so present. It's been an interesting experience.

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11. Can you save money?

Depends on the exchange rate, but lately, I would say yes. Groceries are definitely cheaper here than in the US.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely!

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

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3. But don't forget your:

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Take the time to learn about Poland's history before you come. Poles really appreciate it and it'll make your experience here much more meaningful.

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