Warsaw, Poland Report of what it's like to live there - 06/23/08

Personal Experiences from Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw, Poland 06/23/08

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. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

I am affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

There are several direct flights from the States, usually LOT direct from Chicago. It takes nine hours. You can also connect in Frankfurt or just about any other European city.

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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 very generous, in my opinion. It is a mix of townhouses and large apartments. All are solidly made and in great condition. They have very small yards for the most part. Housing is located in Ursynow and Wilanow for families with kids and in Centrum for singles and couples. Commute times vary and lots of embassy folks ride their bikes when the weather is fine.

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

Household supplies like cleaner and detergent are a lot more expensive so you have to remember to wait in line and get your VAT back. Groceries are comparable to the U.S., especially if you shop at markets for fresh produce or at Tesco.

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

Chocolate chips, all purpose flour, Claritin, assorted American baking items. Poles don't cook the same kind of desserts that we do so a lot of the ingredients we need are not available.

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

McDonalds is the main fast food restaurant, followed by KFC. There is one BK in Warsaw and another on the outskirts of the city.

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Daily Life:

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

I would use DHL or UPS, both of whom service Warsaw. I only ordered something once through Polish mail because it was to big for the pouch and I never received it.

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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 is very available and very good. But it is not cheap, you definitely get what you pay for. We don't employ help, but I think it costs about 15 to 20 zloty an hour.

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3. 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 use it all, and have never had any trouble with fraud so far. There are ATM machines everywhere, although they can charge high fees.

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

There is an English mass and a Christian church that is very well-attended. I believe there is also a small Mormon congregation.

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

AFN is available, as well as CYFRA. You can also get Sky satellite out of Britain but it is very expensive. English language newspapers and magazines are available at Empik and the American bookstore, but you will pay double the price in the US.

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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?

As a spouse, I have found that I get along quite nicely with courteous phrases, numbers and the names of food items in Polish. I can order in a restaurant and do my shopping. Younger Poles all speak English and they love to try it out for you. Older people, like ladies at the market, may not speak any but you can usually work it out with a smile.

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

They would have some difficulties. There are not a lot of elevators and sometimes the sidewalks can be quite uneven.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right.

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

You should use the taxis listed on the card the embassy gives you. Buses, trains, trams and the metro are all safe.

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3. 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?

Even in Warsaw the roads could use a little work. There are potholes and very narrow roads. Your side mirrors are going to get beat up. We have a station wagon and I often wish it were smaller so I could park and get down roads with more ease.

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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 is available and it costs about 120 zloty a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Embassy employees are given phones and spouses can get them through ACA for a pretty good rate. Other than that, you can get cell phones on any corner in Poland, they are very popular here.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

We use Vonage.

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Pets:

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

Excellent pet care is available in Poland, especially for dogs. Poles love dogs! We take our dog to a kennel in Konstancin and they take care of him as if he were there own.

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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 don't seem to be a lot of opportunities unless you speak Polish.

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

At the embassy it is suits and ties. Polish women tend to dress very nicely and follow trends. In business situations, Poles dress to impress, especially young men who favor expensive suits with a European cut.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

The air seems very clean, except the few times of the year when Poles burn leaves and clear fields. Then it can get a little smoky.

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

There are no concerns unique to the area, just the same as any big city. I jog at night in the area I live and take taxis and I feel very safe.

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

I would not recommend Polish hospitals, which can seem grim. Private doctors are excellent and there are dentists everywhere that are highly recommended. I take my son to a doctor in Wilanow and he is excellent and usually makes appointments for the same day. There are also several doctors who make house calls.

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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?

It is beautiful starting in May. It runs the gamut from chilly to bone-chilling from October to April. Starting in November it gets quite cold and dark, starting at about 3 p.m. We didn't see much snow this past winter.

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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 American School of Warsaw is very highly regarded. The British school also has some embassy families and everyone seems very happy with the school situation.

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

I have no direct knowledge of this, but both the American School of Warsaw has an excellent web site which may have more information.

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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?

Many preschools are available but all are expensive. Our son goes to the International Preschool of Warsaw and we are thrilled with it. He loves it and he is learning so much. There are also Montessori options available.

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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 large with lots of different countries represented in government and in private industry. There is a lot of building in Warsaw and it brings development companies from all over.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale is very high except for the first few weeks of darkness in winter when everyone is a little down. Or maybe that's just me.

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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 is quite a bit entertaining, between dinner parties, Marine House parties and happy hours. There is also a group called American Friends in Warsaw and they have many activities.

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

It is good for everyone. Families and couples will find many things to do just in Warsaw. When you factor in the proximity to the rest of Europe, there are almost too many things to do during your time here. Single women may find it challenging to date in Poland but from what I observe the single men are pretty happy.

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

That I can't say. There are gay clubs here but I would be discreet as Poles tend to be conservative.

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

There is not a lot of diversity in Poland. It is predominantly Polish, Catholic people. Minority friends of mine have been stared at to some degree but I think it's just curiosity.

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

So many things, especially in the summer and spring. There are parks, beer gardens, soccer matches, Old Town, the zoo, shopping at outdoor markets, and traveling down to Krakow or up to Gdansk. It gets a little more challenging in winter.

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

There are so many beautiful things to buy in Poland. Polish pottery, wood carvings, icons, amber, art, and on and on.

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9. Can you save money?

Ummm, not really. The weak dollar is killing us against the zloty. Clothing and other luxury items are very expensive here, as is domestic help and preschool. Gas is also a killer on the budget. If you try to travel as well you will not save anything.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

We would go there, but we would take a long break from the winter. Just when you think it might be spring, the temperature drops again.

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

Suntan lotion, expectation that Warsaw is like Paris or Berlin--it is not.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bike or motorcycle, winter coat. Poland is probably the last place in the world where you can flaunt your fur coat with pride!!

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

The Zookeeper's Wife, The Spies of Warsaw, The History of Love.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Sophie's Choice, The Pianist.

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

The Zookeeper's Wife, The Spies of Warsaw, The History of Love.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Warsaw is becoming more and more of a family post and activities at the Embassy reflect that. Poles are very dignified people and not prone to warm fuzzies. You won't have people smiling at you and they don't have customer service as we know it at all. This is a good post but it is not all perfect.

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