Krakow, Poland Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland 11/22/16

Background:

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

This was our second expat experience. We also lived in Mexico.

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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?

We live in New England. We could fly through Boston on cost-construct to Frankfurt or Munich and then on to Krakow. A couple of times, we had to fly from Dulles to Frankfurt and then on to Krakow.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We lived in Krakow for two years.

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

U.S. Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The housing was fantastic. Nice houses with good yards. Our house was across from a walking path along one of the rivers that flowed into the center of the city. We were walking distance to a little village with bakeries, fruit stands, etc. I was surprised at the amount of storage in the house. We really loved it.

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

I liked shopping from the local vendors in the village- excellent fruit/ vegetable stand, butcher, bakery etc. There were also large grocery stores including Carrefour, Lidl and the bulk store- Makro. We were able to get whatever we needed and the prices were good.

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

I only needed brown sugar, vanilla and corn meal but I was able to get them from the orders we placed from the commissary in Warsaw. They delivered to us about once a month.

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

Everything is available in Krakow. Everything. It was also a growing food truck scene with some excellent options.

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

Not that we noticed.

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Daily Life:

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

We shipped through DPO but it came through Warsaw and then was delivered to us so it was a little delayed.

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

We paid about $3- $5 per hour for help. I've never had better help. The person that came in to help us worked exceptionally hard and was alway pleasant. In fact, we became so close, our kids were in her wedding!

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

Lots of options. Seems like personal trainers are everywhere and reasonably priced. There are also several large gyms. On top of that, there is so much opportunity for outdoor activities in Las Wolski (the woods near much of the housing), bike paths galore, etc.

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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?

We were fine with credit cards. We did make a point of going inside banks for ATM's.

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

I only know of one Catholic service.

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

In the center, everyone spoke English. In the supermarkets, etc. no one speaks English and it can be tough because the Poles aren't known for their friendly, helpful demeanor! Thank you for Google Translate!

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

I think it would be tough but not impossible.

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Transportation:

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

Absolutely safe and plentiful. We also used Uber all the time.

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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?

We had a diesel SUV and it was great. Some parking is tight so you might now want to go too big. I didn't see many mini-vans.

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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. It was installed when we arrived.

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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 used Orange and had a lot of trouble when we traveled outside of Poland. I might chose Play if we were to return.

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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?

There are some good vets. There are several pet sitters/ home care options for dogs. No quarantine. Easy access to dog/ cat foods available in the U.S.

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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?

Not much employment for spouses other than the consulate where there were a couple of positions.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

It's a huge tourist city so you see everything. We never needed formal dress.

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Health & Safety:

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

On weekends, the old city fills up with sloppy, drunken bachelor parties from Ireland and the UK. Otherwise, I always felt safe.

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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?

The air quality in the winter is shocking. You can see the yellow air and it is disgusting. A lot of people wear masks in winter. We had a lot of respiratory illnesses.

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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?

Krakow is in a river valley and a lot of people still burn coal and trash. When there isn't a good breeze, the pollution gets trapped over the city. You can see the smog and it is really disgusting. Krakow is no joke for bad air in the winter.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

The winter pollution is awful. It's very lush with lots of woods, flowers, etc. so if you have allergies it might be a problem.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

It does wear on you to have it gloomy and smelly all winter!

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

It's about the same as New England. It can get pretty hot in the summer. We only had a couple of days of really cold weather and not as much snow as my skiing family hoped for!

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Schools & Children:

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

Our kids went to the International School. There is also a British School and a new school that was opening as we were leaving. We LOVED ISK. The teachers were caring, engaging and creative. Our kids thrived there and the community was welcoming and fun.

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

I know that they were working to improve this area and had made great strides while we were there.

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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?

Our youngest child went to a local Polish pre-school. There were many other international kids in the school but it was mainly Polish. We loved it. Very caring and nurturing. They had swimming lessons, piano lessons, dance and music classes, etc. The ladies fed them home cooked meals about 15 million times per day! She left speaking perfect Polish. We were jealous.

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

The schools offer many extra curricular activities. There is also Little Gym that offers classes in English. Beyond that it was a bit hard because everything was in Polish.

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Expat Life:

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

It's a big expat community. There are a lot of banks and IT companies doing business in Poland. Morale is quite high and it tends to be a tight knit, fun group.

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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?

We were very involved in the school community and I also joined IWAK (International Women of Krakow). I'm NOT a joiner but I thought IWAK was great. Really laid-back activities that you could pick and choose and great ways to network and get questions answered. The IWAK holiday party was a highlight both years.

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

Very good for everyone. There is so much to do!

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

Poland is not very open-minded. Our LGBT friends had a good community but were probably more careful in Krakow than they might have to be elsewhere. Krakow and Warsaw are definitely more open than other parts of Poland. The vibrant university community in Krakow definitely helps.

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

Poles are not so excited about other ethnic populations coming into Poland. It is VERY Catholic and traditional.

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

I don't know where to start. Within Krakow there are festivals, markets, concerts, outdoor activities, etc. In the area, there are castles to explore and tons of outdoor activities. You can spend tons of time in the Tatras and ski in Zakopane. You are so close to Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, etc. Krakow has Ryan Air and Express Jet so it makes a great jumping off point for all of Europe.

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

We loved visiting some of the local castles. We also went up to Gdansk and Sopot, Warsaw, etc. There are also some fantastic thermal spas on the way to Zakopane. We highly recommend Rabka Zdroj and Ogrodzeniec for kids.

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

Buying Polish pottery from Boleslawiec can become a sport. There is also a ton of amber (although the prices were higher than I expected).

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

Centrally located in Europe, affordable, access to everything that you need. Great housing, strong and happy expat community. It's fun to live in a place where so many tourists want to visit!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Our biggest challenge was breaking through the barrier to get to know Poles. Smiling just doesn't happen and that can wear you down. Once you get to know people, they are lovely but your daily interactions might be challenging. Poles have very definite opinions about how things should be done and they will let you know if you aren't doing it right! I was yelled at several times for not having my kids in winter hats in September and June!

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

Absolutely.

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

Preconceptions that Poland will be cold and dreary.

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4. But don't forget your:

Get out there and explore. Poland will surprise you!

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5. Do you have any other comments?

We loved it. Even if you don't move there, you should visit!

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Krakow, Poland 03/06/14

Background:

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

Yes.

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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?

The mid-West. Generally about 10-12 hours with a connection in Chicago or DC and Frankfurt or Munich.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We lived in Krakow for 2 years.

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

Work- U.S. Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most folks in the Consulate community live within easy commuting distance, 10-15 minutes by car, tram, or walking.

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

Most things you want can be found and are generally much less expensive. Specific products from the U.S. can sometimes be found at the international store in the mall.

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

The usual: McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC are very prevalent. The cost is about the same as the U.S.

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

None that I noticed.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the Consulate.

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

Available and inexpensive.

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

There are some U.S.-style gyms, but I think they're somewhat expensive. However, many folks have found that instruction in things like yoga, pilates, and tennis is much cheaper than in the U.S.

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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?

We found it to be perfectly safe to use our credit card at local restaurants. They swipe the card at your table. We mostly got cash through the Consulate.

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

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

In the city center, most people you encounter will speak a little English. However, outside the center and in other cities, Polish is pretty useful.

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

Yes. Not many accomodations have been made in the city's historic center to accomodate persons with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

All are safe and affordable. We used the trams on a daily basis. They are cheap and reliable. The trains (to other cities) are older, and the system is not the best.

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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?

Any would work, though smaller is probably easier as streets can be narrow.

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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?

It's available, and costs similar to in the U.S.

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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?

Pay-as-you-go worked well for me.

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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?

I don't think there would be many.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Sure, though I can't recommend any specifically.

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

Like most Europeans, Poles dress much more formally than Americans. I didn't really ever wear tennis shoes in public (unless I was actually working out).

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really.

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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?

Medical care for us was pretty good. The doctors we saw were great and the care itself was very affordable. That being said, most facilities appeared not to have been updated much from the Communist era.

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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?

Not good. Surprisingly, in the winter Krakow has air pollution indexes that are among the worst in the world. Poles in this area rely heavily on burning coal (and trash) during the winter.

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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?

Cold in the winter. Generally lovely in the spring, summer, and fall. Hot days can seem really terrible though, as most the city does not have A/C.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are a couple. I don't have any experience with either.

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

Sure.

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Expat Life:

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

It's not a large expat community, but I think most people are pretty happy.

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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?

Hanging out in the center, eating out at any number of nice restaurants, hanging out at other people's homes.

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

I think this is a good post for most people.

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

Poles are generally pretty conservative, but Krakow is home to a large student population, and this makes the city a little more liberal. There are some bars and areas aimed toward the gay/lesbian population, but even those are not really advertised.

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

There's not a lot of racial or religious diversity to be found in Poland but I'm not sure if there are major problems with prejudice.

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

Traveling all around Europe via car or cheap flights. Traveling around Poland. Exploring Krakow on a daily basis.

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

Krakow is full of amazing bars, cafes, and restaurants; many are located in buildings that are hundreds of years old. Two years did not provide nearly enough time to try them all, but we made a good effort. It's great to people watch on the Rynek while enjoying a piwo or cafe.

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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 pottery, awesome Polish posters, custom framing is affordable and excellent, some clothing stores were really great and not too expensive.

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

Krakow is a wonderful city and a great place to live. It's beautiful, affordable, and not too crowded.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat.

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Krakow, Poland 04/10/13

Background:

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

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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?

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost 2 years.

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

Spouse of the U.S. Consulate officer.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Depends. Some live within a 10-minute walking distance. Some live farther out: 15-20 minutes drive or within 30 minutes of public transportation. Both apartments and houses.

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

At first, I couldn't find things I was looking for, but it was just because of the language and the overwhelming experience of living in a foreign country. Once I got used to it, I could find almost everything I needed. Most things are cheaper than in the U.S., but quality can be debatable.

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

Stock up on all kinds of international ingredients. A few stores carry them, but they can can be pricey. If you work at the U.S. Consulate, you will have access to the commissary in Warsaw, where you can get pretty much anything.

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

MacDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Subway and a lot of kebab stands everywhere. Restaurants are abundant, ranging from super cheap to high end.

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

I remember having to use bug spray at times, but nothing serious.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and 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?

Affordable at about $5 per hour.

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

Yes.

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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?

Most restaurants accept credit cards.

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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?

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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?

You should at least have basic Polish.

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

Lots of restaurants and bars are located underground, and there are no elevators provided.

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Transportation:

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

Buses and trams are often used as our regular commute. Taxis are very cheap.

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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?

Compact cars are the most popular. If your car is too big, you might have trouble parking or getting by on narrow roads.

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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?

Reliable service at about $60/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?

I haven't heard of anyone having any trouble with their service providers. I used a prepaid phone, and I refilled $20 within 2-3 months with a $3/month data plan.

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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)?

Yes.

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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?

If you can't speak the language, you won't get 95% of the jobs.

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

Business formal at work and anything goes in public. Although I noticed that people here dress up when going to concerts, opera, etc.

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Health & Safety:

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

None. It's a VERY safe city to live in.

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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?

You can find English-speaking doctors,. You just need to ask the right people.

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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?

It can be brutal during winter. Most residents burn coal, and there were days when I could not bear going outside.

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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?

We've got them all: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. However, winters can be too cold and too long. This year, it started in October and is still going in April.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are good international schools.

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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?

Yes, but language can be an issue.

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

Plenty.

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Expat Life:

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

Over 100.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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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?

Plenty.

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

After hearing lots of opinions, I believe it's a good city for all. It's a true family-friendly city; there are endless activities for kids. At the same time, I have heard that it's a paradise for singles. You can go out every night.

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

Yes.

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

None.

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

The U.S. Consulate is right in the Old Town, where there are over 100 restaurants for you to choose from. It feels so nice to have this privilege. Again, travel -- we have tried to travel anytime we have a 3-day weekend.

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

Many.

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

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

Travel, travel, travel. There are cheap flights to everywhere in Europe. Poland is also considered relatively cheap to live in compared to other European cities.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, unless you travel extensively.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Definitely.

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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. 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 have any other comments?

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Krakow, Poland 09/06/11

Background:

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

No, five others.

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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?

Good connections to the U.S. through Munich, Frankfurt, Warsaw or even Krakow.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

Spouse of U.S. Consulate employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All the housing is quite close to the Consulate, or within a short commute. Families with children live in houses, while couples and singles tend to live in apartments.

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

Tesco and Carrefour are fantastic. You can buy most everything there.

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

Nothing really. Everything's available.

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

From cheap to really expensive. There isn't as much variety as you might want, but still pretty good.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Limited.

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

None that I experienced.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the Consulate 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?

Quite inexpensive. Helps to know Polish.

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

Yes.

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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?

I used my credit card all the time when buying groceries, but you have to make sure and ask before assuming that the place takes them.

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

I hear there were, but I didn't go.

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

Yes, there is a nice cable deal with Cyfra+ which was about $30 a month.

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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?

It's important to get a basic course down, but many do just fine with English only. Poles, more and more, speak English. Many didn't want to hear me butcher their language so they didn't torture me by making me speak it!

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

It's not a place to have a physical disability.

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Transportation:

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

Yes and yes.

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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?

The roads do stink and parking sucks.

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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?

Available for about $40 a month and quite fast.

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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?

Cheap and easy.

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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)?

Yes, from what I've heard.

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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?

There are some English-teaching jobs, but not well-paid. The Consulate has some positions for family members.

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

The Poles tend to be more dressy than Americans.

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Health & Safety:

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

No.

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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?

Medical care is not so good, but improving.

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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?

The air is pretty good, I think. There is some coal smell in the air come winter, though, but it's not that bad.

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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?

Cooooooold in the long winters, but there are some lovely summer months where it actually gets quite hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

The International School of Krakow is a great albeit small school. The teachers are top-notch and the children get extra attention. It's come a long way and just gets bigger and better.

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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?

Yes, especially if the kids are in school.

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Expat Life:

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

Rather small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Surprised at the other more recent report because I thought the Consulate admin staff were friendly, more than competent and quite helpful, often going out of their way to make sure things were just right. I believe I'm not alone in saying that. Respect is a two-way street.

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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?

There's something for everyone, I think.

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

I think this city is a good place for all. I'm surprised at the comments regarding children not being tolerated in Poland. I found just the opposite. Well-behaved children are very much welcomed.

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

The Poles are still homophobic, but it's changing slowly.

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

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

Just drinking in the wonderful charm of the city. It's spectacular.

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

Zakopane for the skiers. Many quaint towns for those who like the sheer beauty of the countryside and history is all around.

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

Pottery and lace :)

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

Even though you're in Europe, the prices are reasonable.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, you can.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

For sure.

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

taste for good quality beef (you're not going to find it here).

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3. But don't forget your:

smile. The city is lovely and the Poles are wonderful (as long as you are wonderful to them).

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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 have any other comments?

Would go back in a heartbeat!

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Krakow, Poland 08/19/11

Background:

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

No, it is our 4th overseas assignment

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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?

Washington D.C. It is a 2-hour flight to Munich and an 8-hour flight to D.C.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

USG

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Families are in detached houses and couples are in apartments or townhouses. Housing varies on size and quality of finish, but most are pretty nice. Most houses are about 4 miles outside the downtown and consulate area (a 15-20 minute drive or 25-30 minutes on public transportation).

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

Fruits and veggies in season are really inexpensive, but out of season you won't find much or you will pay an extreme amount for what you do find. There is a wholesale-type store, Makro, that offers a pretty good selection, and a few higher-end grocery stores like Alma. A lot can be purchased at fruit and veggie stands or bakeries or specialty meat shops.

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

Ethnic foods, spices and condiments. Although you can find most everything here, you pay a lot for it. We order all our clothes, shoes, electronics, etc. We buy anything other than food online just because of cost, not because of availability.

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

McDonald's, KFC, Subway, plenty of kebab stands, lots of Polish and Italian cuisine. There isn't too much outside of Polish and Italian in terms of choices. You can eat a good, not great, meal with drinks for much less than you can in the States.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Vegetarian-friendly foods are just starting to make there way into Poland. There are a couple of restaurants and a couple of stores that carry soy- based products. Organic is even weaker here.

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

Mosquitoes during the summer.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the pouch or DPO.Mail tends to be slow. It takes at least 3 weeks.

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

Domestic help is available, but this is Europe. It is not as expensive as Western Europe, but not as cheap as the developing world. We pay 5 dollars an hour for average help.

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

Yes. There are public pools and plenty of clubs, but they are not cheap. Most pools run about 5 dollars an hour for swimming.

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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?

It is fine and safe, although some places expect you to have a Euro credit card with the pin and chip. Not all places will take credit cards, so check first.

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

One English mass a week at a catholic church, Spanish mass once a month at a catholic church, there are some small protestant groups.

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

Satellit tv has a full range of channels and you can get AFN.

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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?

Outside of the tourist areas, it is a must. In stores, veggie stands, etc., they will not speak English. Even if Poles know English they are really reluctant to use it and will let you struggle in Polish rather than speak English.

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

Most of the buildings in the city center are hundreds of years old and not accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. They are safe and affordable.

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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?

Polish roads are pretty bad. Roads can be narrow, but delivery trucks and buses use them, so size is not a problem. With a larger car, parking can sometimes be tight -- this is a really old city. At a minimum, all-weather or snow-specific tires are needed for the winter, especially if you want to travel out of Poland, since some neighboring countries require them.

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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, but it isn't so high speed.

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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?

Many major European carriers like TMobile and Orange are here. You can get prepaid or go with a plan.

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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, but they have to have the EU pet passport.

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

We have a great vet, and their English and quality of care is better than that of the doctors. We have joked that if we were seriously ill, we would rather see the vet than the doctors here.

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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?

Not really. Jobs at the consulate are the best bet.

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

Poles, like most Europeans, tend to be dressier. Consulate staff wear suits.

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Health & Safety:

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

Krakow is a tourist destination, so pickpockets are common.

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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?

The recently hired Post Medical Advisor has improved the situation, but there is a lack of English-speaking medical professionals, even for relatively routine cases. Many people have had to be medevac'd to London. The dentist here, for example, is very modern and well trained, but he doesn't speak English, and neither does anyone on his staff. Hospitals are well equipped but look like something from the 1950s, and are crowded with long lines.

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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?

Moderate, but there is a lot of open burning of garbage. And Poles often burn coal in the winter that is hard on the lungs.

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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?

Winters are long and dark. The sun is down by 3 p.m. in the depths of winter. Springs have a lot of rain, and summers can vary from winter coats to 90 plus degree temperatures. The long winters and being cooped up inside tend to take their toll.

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Schools & Children:

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

Currently half of the families at post homeschool due to the long commute, long days and for individual family reasons. The International School of Krakow is the USG sponsored school, and it small (especially in the upper grades) and is located on the outskirts of Krakow. The physical plant of ISK has been updated. There is also a British International School that is in the city center.

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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?

They are available but in Polish. Some families in the past have used it and liked it.

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

Tough one. The international school has an intramural program. Any other programs are in Polish and are holdovers from the communist sports training facilities. There are no "fun" sports programs or non-elite sports programs.

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Expat Life:

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

Small. Krakow itself only has about 800,000 people. Work contacts are not likely to translate into friendships. Average Poles have no need for your friendship, and the small expat community makes it difficult, especially for kids.

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2. Morale among expats:

Krakow is a charming city, but once the novelty wears off and the reality of weather, language, the rude and unfriendly nature of Poles, and poorly run admin at the consulate sets in, the honeymoon ends quickly. A lot of time is spent battling the admin for basic needs and work orders. The inefficiency of this section really weighs heavily on the home life. This isn't something likely to change since FSN turnover is unlikely.

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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?

Lots of restaurants, bars, concerts. But not a lot of socializing at home among expats.

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

This is a great city for singles and couples. Lots of restaurants, bars, concerts, etc. It is more difficult for families, as most family activities and almost all cultural activities are in Polish. Because it is not a family tourist destination, most restaurants in the city center are not family friendly, but a few in the neighborhood of consulate families are making steps to becoming more family friendly. You will see very few Polish kids out and about at grocery stores or in town. As Americans, we have been told to get our kids out of the grocery stores because they are in the way of the old grannies there. Polish grandparents take care of the kids while the parents work, so you will not see too many family outings. Kids, if they are in pubic, are to be quiet so as not to disturb the peace.

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

Poland is socially conservative, and in Krakow they are even more so. However, there is a gay and lesbian film festival each year.

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

Yes. Poland is a very homogenous society, and there have been instances of racist comments. If you aren't caucasian you will stand out.

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

We have traveled so much while here. You are less than 6 hours driving to Budapest, Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava, Warsaw, Prague, and there are cheap flights to other European destinations. Krakow itself is a major tourist destination, and there are often festivals and a wealth of tourism activities in Krakow.

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

In Krakow, there is a festival or cultural event every week. There are extensive trails for hiking, a lot of biking, even roller blading around the largest public commons in Europe. Zakopane is a mountain town about 2 hours away with hiking, skiing, 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?

Boleslawiec pottery, folk art at the craft festivals.

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

Poland is the middle of Europe, so it makes travel cheap and accessible.

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11. Can you save money?

You can easily spend all your free money on travel if you choose. Take advantage of the central location and travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Probably, but we would realize that 3 years in a place in where most people visit for week is a long time. This isn't the home-run assignment that we or many other people at post thought it would be. For a first-world country, it really seems behind in a lot of ways.

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

Sunscreen, beach towels, swim suits and smiles. Poles think smiling is for idiots.

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3. But don't forget your:

Thick skin, warm coats, Polish dictionary, and passport for travelling out of here.

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

A long time ago and essentially true by Brigid Pasulka (Sums up the tragic history of three generation of Poles that explains much of what you see here.)

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Aniol w Krakowie, Vinci

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We have lived up our European tour. We have traveled extensively, in part, because we don't want to come back to Europe after this tour. There is some truth to the old saying that dogs are more welcome than kids in Europe.

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