Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 01/22/21

Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland 01/22/21

Background:

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

First post overseas.

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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?

Virginia is home. There were no direct flights to Warsaw when we left in 2020, although they had plans for IAD to Warsaw it hasn’t started yet. Connections usually in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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4. What years did you live here?

2017-2020.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is really nice. In my opinion, there are a few duds in the mix but overall most are nice large houses and large apartments. Houses in the middle living area and houses further out all have gated yards. Some yards are smaller but nonetheless they were all fenced.

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

Very cheap! About 1/3 or 1/4 the price of US prices. You save so much and get so spoiled! Groceries were super cheap, we averaged about $60 every 5-6 days for a family of four.

Food was good! Less junk than the US and plenty of cleaners, detergent, etc.

Can find most things you want and if you didn’t it was easy to send on Amazon, Walmart or target through DPO mail.

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

Mexican food items. Mexican food just wasn’t a thing and what they carried wasn’t good. We constantly shipped salsa and other mexican food items. Mexican food items were also available at the commissary.

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

Uber eats was amazing. Cheap and no delivery fees :) So much good food here! They have pretty much everything you could want except Mexican (we only found 2 good places)

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

Lots of people notes spiders in the houses but nothing terrible, just from time to time.

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Daily Life:

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

Relied on DPO and pouch. Did have things shipped locally for Etsy once or twice and it was fine.

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

It’s very cheap. Lots of people used a cleaning service. We were actually in the minority that didn’t and regret it because it was so cheap. Many people also have full time nannies that cook, clean, and pick up children from school/preschool.

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

Lots of great option for gyms. Biking is very popular in Poland and it’s super bike friendly around the city. We paid US $40 a month each for our gym membership. Recreation centers with pools and gyms too. Plenty to chose based on where you live.

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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?

Yes, credit cards widely accepted. Cash is accepted too, we always carried cash around in case. Apple Pay was very big, we were constantly tapping our phones to pay and never swiped our credit card or used the chip machine.

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

There are a few non-denominational international churches and Catholic Churches.

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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?

Classes taught at the embassy. It was helpful to know the basics but they are very bilingual. You can get away with very little Polish. It’s a very large international city and they seemed to want to talk to you in English even when you tried your Polish. It’s a hard language to learn but the basics were great to know and use.

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

Lots of stairs in the city. There were handicap elevators around but they were very small and very slow. Transportation buses had nice ramps that came down and designated spots for a wheelchair.

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Transportation:

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

All very cheap. Uber is popular and again super 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?

We brought a large GMC pick up truck. It was probably the only US truck in the city ;) Most people bring minivans and mid-sized SUVs, and of course, cars. The embassy guards loved our truck, it was definitely highly talked about. We only had trouble with the truck in parking garages and sometimes in the Embassy parking lot when it was full.

We got a second car, a BMW wagon, because we wanted another car and it came in handy for parking issues we experienced in the truck. The truck was easy to drive around the city, on highways, and we actually had no trouble parking the truck with street parking around the city! It’s Europe so smaller is better but they had many mid-sized cars/SUVs. Many people had Jeeps, lots of people did the Dip sales for those. Poles don’t care about personal space around your car, don’t bring something you really care about; it will come back with a few dings and scratches.

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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 typically very good and cheap. Our street had only two US embassy houses on it, because we weren’t on the main housing streets, and our internet was very very bad. This is not the norm as most are overall really good, we were just unlucky living on that street. The embassy couldn’t do much to help because the street hadn’t been set up for high speed internet (which was managed by the city).

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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 got a SIM card with a local number and brought our iPhones. Embassy helps you set up the new SIM card. Phone plans are very cheap.

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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?

Poles love dogs! It’s very dog friendly with no quarantine. We brought over 2 large dogs. Vet care was great and very cheap! Lots of great recommendations for dog hotels, dog walkers, and dog sitters in the embassy community.

With two large dogs we were limited on the airlines we could come in on without having to go the pricy shipping route. I knew a friend that had to have a special crate with a certain breed: hers was a pit bull.

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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?

Most options are at the embassy. Many spouses didn’t work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Some international volunteer organizations helping the homeless.

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

Poles dress very formal and nice. You could pick us out of the crowd as Americans. Embassy dress code varied.

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Health & Safety:

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

Poland is super safe! Per usual lock your house, cars, and watch for pick pocketing in super crowded areas. I didn’t hear about any security concerns and we didn’t experience any either. Felt safer in Warsaw than the US.

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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 was very good. We needed everything under the sun there; ER visits, dentist, MRI, eye doctor, Polish pediatrician, allergist, bloodwork etc etc. They were all good and we had no issues. The med unit helps you set up anything you might need. Many people medevac for pregnancy deliveries, although I knew three people who delivered babies in Poland.

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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?

Air quality is bad in the winter months as they burn coal. It affected our oldest who was 2-5 during our years in Poland. He needed an inhaler in the winter months and suffered more severe respiratory illnesses because of the bad air quality. We rarely played outside in the winter because he was affected by it so bad.

Seasonal allergies affect people as Europe has different trees, grasses, molds, etc.

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

Our kids have food allergies. We managed milk and peanut allergies in Poland. We had a great experience! They are attentive to the food allergies and we didn’t have any reactions at restaurants. Peanuts are not widely used at all and we found that very easy to deal with. Ice cream was the hardest to navigate for peanuts as they shared spoons between all the icecreams. Lots of ice cream options at the grocery stores though! Milk is a harder food allergy to navigate but we faired well. Our restaurants were limited, just as they are in the US, but we managed to find a bunch of great spots. More dairy free options were popping up in the grocery stores the longer we lived there. We traveled all around Poland and had great experiences with food in the other cities as well. Poland has a 10x LESS prevalence with food allergies but I felt they gave greater attention to the allergies than the US does.

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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)?

Winter blues as it is gray, cloudy and dark in the winter like most of Europe is. Most made a point to travel to a sunny destination in the 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?

Four seasons :) Spring/summer are amazing!! 70s-80s it was glorious! The city truly transforms when winter leaves. Winter is cold and temperatures are very constant, no jumping up and down from high to low temps. Not a lot of snow, maybe less than 5” all winter. Lots of snow dustings though.

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Schools & Children:

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

American School of Warsaw and the British school were the 2 most popular. Most everyone likes one of those schools :). My kids were 0-5 when we lived in Poland so we didn’t have experience with the schools.

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2. 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?

So many preschools! Polish preschools are free but there are lots and lots of cheap international or bi-lingual preschools. We didn’t send our kids to preschool but almost everyone does!

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

Swimming, gymnastics, soccer, etc. The schools have sports programs, too.

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Expat Life:

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

The embassy community is large but not huge. You didn’t know everyone but usually at least knew of them. Everyone loves Poland! I only knew one person who didn’t.

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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?

Lots to do in the city! International meet ups, trivia nights, bars, clubs.

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

It’s great for everyone!!

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I thought so, we had young kids while living in a Poland so we didn’t get out in the ways that single people or couples did. Many singles dated Poles or other expats. We made friends with Poles who were our babysitter, and dog walkers.

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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?

Poland isn’t very diverse. It’s predominately white. You see the most diversity when you are at the malls. I never saw any inequality displayed but I did hear about it a few times. It was never anything serious but it was along the lines of being very rude and giving the cold shoulder.

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

Traveling within Poland is amazing! And cheap! The Christmas Market in Wroclaw, Torun, Krakow, Pozna? and Wroclaw Zoo.

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

We thought everything was fun! Poland in general felt like a hidden gem.

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

Plenty of shopping in Old Town Warsaw and there are so many nice malls!

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

It’s family friendly, lots to do, safe, and very cheap!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

The air quality in the winter.

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

Yes!!! We LOVED Warsaw. It was hard to leave and we want to go back!

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

Timidness. Most develop an edge or attitude when dealing with Poles and navigating certain aspects and annoyances of the culture. Everyone seems to breakdown their barriers of timidness and toughen up a bit :) Also, forget about your personal bubble. There is no personal space in lines, etc!

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4. But don't forget your:

Ability to relax! Some tendencies of the Poles definitely have the ability to get on everyones nerves but just breath and vent to someone because most everyone experiences a similar situation at one point or another during their time in Warsaw.

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

I don’t have any to recommend but there are definitely a lot out there if you like that kind of stuff.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Warsaw was amazing! We miss it everyday!

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