Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 08/05/11

Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland 08/05/11

Background:

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

No; United Kingdom (5-1/2 years)

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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?

9 months.

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

Government work.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

I love the city centre where I have a rather nice large apartment. The commute to work is about 20 minutes or so, which is perfect. I can walk to work as well, which is also nice.

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

Depends on what you are buying. The major grocery stores (Carrefour, etc.) tend to have most items, but you will note that selections can be stale or rotten, especially in the produce sections. There are a lot of folks that utilize the local markets, and you may even find that some of the produce is cheaper and fresher than in the big stores. Beware of buying produce from shapkas (they are like tiny 7-11 stores) - they usually carry a stand with some potatoes, onions, etc. Usually you buy them in bags, and you can get nice surprise when you get home and open the bag to find half your potatoes are rotten). They will keep selling these without ever actually checking them.

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

Special items....certain medications; anything that is primarily available in the US. Some things are just annoying to have to ship overseas.

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

Pretty much the same as in the US: KFC, McD, TGIF, etc. They tend to have kebab shops all over, as well. Cost is about the same, roughly. Warsaw is an expensive city. The Polish Zloty is roughly 2.5-3 to 1 to the dollar but you will not know it with some prices on products. But sometimes you will find awesome deals on stuff which should be priced much higher.

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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?

Poland is NOT the place to go if you really prefer to have foods that are low-fat/skim and similar...most Polish food is heavy and high on caloric intake unless you are eating rabbit food, which, if taken with their normal dressings, etc., will pump the caloric intake up quite a bit, as all of the ingredients will be fairly heavy. It will take a good investigation of all products out there to find the right product for you...and you may end up ordering some from elsewhere.

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

Mainly mosquitoes during the spring/summer, especially after rainstorms. Other than that, just your normal spiders and flies.

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Daily Life:

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

I utilize APO/FPO mail systems, but not everyone will have access to this. I have not dealt with regular postal mail other than bills...one of the things I love about Poland is that you can pay your various bills at the Post Office.

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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?

Dotted all over the place. Call them for rates and restrictions. Same with swimming pools/lap pool areas.

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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 primarily used them at the hotels. They are safe and easy to use, but you also pay extra fees, depending on your cards. Be aware that NOT all stores/restaurants take credit cards. Check before you get into any odd situation. They don't always have the little logos on the restaurant windows.

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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?

It really helps to know the basics. The more you know, the easier it is to relay your thoughts. You may think everyone knows English, but not all do, and not all care to speak it. You are the guest in their country, so attempt to speak it---and for the most part they will think better of you.

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

Some locations are tough to get to; disabled-friendly places are not a norm.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is busy and cheap. But get used to a few things: 1) Drivers are idiots - busses, especially, have poor drivers who think they are Michael Schumacher in Formula-1 race cars. They will speed like crazy to get from stop to stop and then slam on the brakes as they get to the stop. They tend to be impatient drivers, so they will take the busses on the tram tracks to move the bus into a turning lane if the straight lane blocks the turning lane. The drivers will also not utilize the proper turning lane if it is full. They will just go straight through a round-a-bout and make an illegal left hand turn into it. It is dangerous, but the Poles are as meek as sheep and never say anything...even when they are flung across the bus with the driver's antics. 2.) Get used to smelling other people's body odors (I wont say most...but there are some Poles who have not a clue what a soap bar is...they get on the bus and just stink to high heaven). 3.) Get used to smelling alcohol anytime you use the bus, be it morning, noon or night. There are a lot of Poles who believe it is their manifest destiny to be the Best Alcoholics in the World...they start young, they drink often and drink plenty... they get on the bus and you can usually smell them from 15 feet away - usually with the smell of cigarettes as well. 4) Cigarette smoking is encouraged in Poland...this is the country Marlboro/Camel should direct their ads to. They would have great success, as so many Poles smoke like it's going out of style. You have to get used to the overpowering stench when you are packed like sardines in the bus. Get used to NO PERSONAL space and people bumping into you constantly (beware of pickpockets). Also: When its very hot out and you are feeling the sweat bead off your head or neck, you get on the bus which tends to be crowded, and you notice that the locals will still be wearing heavy coats, long sleeves, etc., and they will refuse to open windows on the bus...so you get to enjoy the sauna atmosphere while you also get to enjoy the lovely body odors emanating from some, as well as the over-perfuming of others. Oh, just so you know, the stinkers are not just old people or just men, it can be anyone. Yesterday I was behind a very pretty 20-ish lady who stank like crazy. Just get used to it. Prices: The 1-3 month bus cards are the best way to travel around the city, and they also work for Tram and Metro. They are getting progressively more expensive, but on a whole its much cheaper than anything you would get in the USA. Taxis: Beware of taxis that do not display the taxi service signs on them with the numbers...if the taxi looks like a personal car (it may even be a very nice Mercedes, BMW, etc.), do not get in --- as you are taking a private hire and this will cost you anywhere from 5x to 20x the price you would pay for a regular taxi. Mostly these are at the Chopin International Airport. Regular taxis run anywhere from 1.60 to 3.0 PLN/km. A standard drive in the city is usually 20-30PLN, and later in the night the charges go up by 5-10PLN.

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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?

Anything will work. Your primary concern is that the road system is worse than any US road system. High situational awareness is required when driving anywhere in Poland, as you can get into an accident by the craziness of the drivers around you. They do not typically drive in a safe manner. Especially in round-abouts or other intersection areas, the chance of accidents goes up significantly when folks are not aware of what is around them. Local police rarely enforce traffic violations, so the local drivers do not fear to do things that most normal drivers would consider ludicrous, including creating 3-car lanes in a single lane road, turning at intersections without ever stopping for the right-of-way traffic, running through crosswalks as people are crossing through them, etc. Drive something accordingly safe, and avoid driving little tiny tin boxes which, upon being hit by anything else at 10+ MPH, crumbles into dust. Get used to dents, scratches, etc., as those are just par for the game here.

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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?

Cable Internet with Aster: It's okay service with decent speed. Cost is pretty cheap compared to US-based IP services. I pay roughly 110PLN ($40/mo) for fairly fast cable internet and phone service (more if I call to the US).

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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?

Get something local if you end up staying...Most folks just buy the chip insert with a set amount of cash to use while in country...its cheaper than using Roaming International Charge (which can go upwards from $5/min).

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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?

Most Poles dress more business-like: standard European styles. There are always exceptions, but most tend to look a lot more professional.

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Health & Safety:

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

So far, my stay has been without any noticable events. I haven't seen any issues in the city so far.

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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?

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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?

If you are a smoker, you will love Poland; if you are not, then you have to get used to 2nd and 3rd-hand smoke, as Poles are smokers. Air polution in the big cities is a bit higher than normal, as there are so many vehicles running about.

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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?

Personally, I prefer cooler climates. Warsaw is quite hot in the spring/summer and has had a ton of rain as well; winters are beautiful, as it actually gets nice and cold with real snow on the ground that lasts for a few days/weeks.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There is lots to see and do. Enjoy yourself but don't get too stupid. Remember safety, dont drink and drive, and if you walk, be careful when crossing streets -- drivers don't care one bit about you, as it's all about them and their goal to reach the grave in the fastest, most expedient way.

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3. Morale among expats:

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

It's a great singles city...especially if you are a drinker or a smoker. They have started getting some bans on smoking, but it's tough to walk from point A to B without running through 20-30 smokers puffing away in bliss -- morning, noon and night.

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

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

I have not seen any untoward reactions personally from the local population.

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

Various cities; lots of history to see

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

If you are a history buff, you will love the area. There is skiing/mountain climbing in the south, boating/swimming in the northeast. There is hiking all over the place. You name it...you can pretty much do it in this country.

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

Poland is known for Amber. Also, in the southern area of Zacopane, you can get really good leather items.

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

Central location in Europe; able to travel east/west easily for sightseeing, lots of history

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11. Can you save money?

Even though its quite expensive in Warsaw, you can save money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure; I can deal with the problems easily. If you are doing it for the first time, just dont take things personally. And be very alert in whatever you are doing in public.

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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?

Enjoy yourself...travel...dont stay in your house or apartment...get out and explore. You will find a lot of neat things. Just be mindful of where you are and the people around you.

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