Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 11/06/11

Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland 11/06/11

Background:

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

No.

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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, 11-13 hours away, usually through Germany.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months.

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

Position 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?

Lots of apartment complexes, befitting an eastern European city. Some duplexes or single families in a few upscale areas around town (Mokotow, Wilanow, Konstancin). Commutes are usually pretty reasonable (within 45 min) for most areas of town via bus, metro, or car.

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

Comparable to price and selection in the US. Vegetable selection gets a bit thinner in the winter and you'll have to pay a bit of a premium for fresh fruit and veggies. E.Leclerc, Tesco, Carrefour, Auchan are all available.

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

Really haven't missed anything here, except Polish mayonnaise is horrible. It's really sweet compared to what you get in the States and there are no alternatives.

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

Lots of pretty cheap food around, including a lot of international fast foods if that's what you want. Lunches: 20-35 zloty near the center for a sit down meal. 10-15 for a sandwich. Dinners: wide range of options.

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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?

Good selection of soy products in most stores. Gluten free is available in specialized stores (Smak Natury in Ursynow, Kuchnia Swiata in Mokotow Galeria, also a place in Sadyba mall). This is a heavily meat, dairy, and starch culture, but options are there.

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

Not much. Mosquitoes can act up in summer if there is a lot of rain. Ticks can be a problem in fields and forests.

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Daily Life:

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

Mostly diplomatic mail, but a bit through the local service. Seems reliable. But post offices can sometimes be downright Soviet, so be warned.

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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 hire a very competent house cleaner for 25 zloty per hour, but you can find cheaper, particularly if you are willing to hire Ukrainians.

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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?

ATMs are widespread. Credit cards are accepted at major facilities. Cash for the rest.

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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?

Very limited on local cable. VPN back to the home country has worked well for us with Netflix, etc.

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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 can get by in Warsaw (maybe more difficult beyond), but having some Polish definitely helps and enriches the overall experience.

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

It's probably a mixed bag depending on whether the sidewalks have been updated. The buses mostly do "kneel" for wheelchair bound passengers, but a lot of entrances don't seem to accommodate physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, fantastic system within Warsaw of buses. You can find your way anywhere at any time using www.jakdojade.pl. Taxis are generally cheap, reliable, and prompt. Trains are a bit more dated and sometimes slow relative to those in Western Europe.

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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 is good. Poles import a lot of American cars, which is surprising because gas is fairly expensive (around 5 zloty per liter) but some are driving American cars which get horrible gas mileage.

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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 service can sometimes be spotty and is highly variable depending on where you live.

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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?

GSM phones work just fine. There are several carriers or kiosks where you can get local sim cards.

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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, only need to meet EU rules (rabies and electronic tagging).

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

Decent. 24 hour emergency services are available. Vets are shockingly cheap compared to the US.

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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?

Less formal than I would have thought.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not especially. Would almost be a bit more comforting to see a few more police on the streets.

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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?

Several modern private hospitals with high technology services. One family member was hospitalized in a local public hospital which was spartan, but very competent. Costs are very reasonable.

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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?

Good in summer, moderate in winter. Some coal is still burned, but generally it's better in Warsaw than the countryside.

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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?

Highly unpredictable. Weather reports are almost totally unreliable, especially in spring. Expect a coffin lid of gray clouds from late fall through late winter for weeks on end. Autumn and spring can be nice, with some sunny stretches for weeks. Summers can be both hot and quite steamy to cool and rainy. Hard to say.

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Schools & Children:

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

Speaking for young children, the British School has a solid program where kids are expected to have some exposure to letters, reading, and math even as they enter kindergarten and they start them off quickly and push them at a good pace.

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

The American School of Warsaw is not only NOT willing to accommodate children with special needs, they are openly hostile about it and do not deserve the name of an "American" school that supposedly reflects the values of the American educational system. If your child has anything but the most minimal of needs, don't even bother applying. Hopefully, at a minimum, the new admissions director will at least be pleasant about it when she tells you to bugger off. The British School on the other hand has an open admissions policy and makes a decent effort to accommodate special needs children. I've seen children with both physical and mental disabilities welcomed into the school.

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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?

Lots of private Polish preschools available, ostensibly with exposure to English language. In fact, they are probably just Polish daycare with a class or two of English, not really bilingual.

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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?

Fairly sizable in Warsaw. Lots of dips and business folks, but this doesn't mean you'll be running into them frequently in a city of 2 million, particularly outside the city center.

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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?

Restaurants, movies (with original language as an option), clubs in downtown, cafes, indoor and outdoor playgrounds for children, parks, great zoo, botanical gardens, castles, art, history museums, lots of concerts (including free outdoor in summer).

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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?

Good for families. Poles are pretty accepting of children everywhere around town.

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

No idea really, though some Poles can be fairly conservative. I have rarely seen anyone around town who appears openly homosexual.

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

At their core, Poles have some lingering racial and ethnic anxieties against non-whites and Jews. It's a very white and Catholic country. You also won't be very welcomed if you are Russian.

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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"?

Parks, castles, shopping, history, music, cafes. Pretty typical European city with a decent cafe life in the warm months.

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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?

Central to rest of Europe via plane is convenient and pretty cheap. Respect for family life and children (people actually stand up on buses and metro for children to sit down). Lots of history, but most of it is pretty tragic.

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11. Can you save money?

Rent or housing can be pricey, but if that's not an issue, then saving money should be easy.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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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?

Travel anytime, anywhere by car requires a great deal of caution, attention, and fortitude. Poles are the rudest, most careless, aggressive, and selfish drivers I have seen (and I have driven in places like Africa, Italy, Romania), with each individual driver thinking he is the most important and sole driver on the road. The stunts they will pull while driving that will put you and your family at risk are stunning, jaw dropping even. Unfortunately, you have to become the same in order to have any hope of getting anywhere by car. There is no respect for the rules of the road and there is almost no police presence, except for the rare speed trap.

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