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Poland Expat Guide: Pros & Cons of Living in Poland

Poland Expat Guide: Pros & Cons of Living in Poland

Poland is also one of the easiest places to get European citizenship by descent, so it’s not surprising that many people are considering moving to Poland.

How do I know what I’m talking about? I think I have a unique perspective on the subject as I’m originally Polish, but I left years ago. That meant when I moved back to Poland for a few months here and there, I wasn’t registered for anything and was basically dealing with the same things expats and digital nomads have to deal with in Poland.

I also have a foreign husband who visited a few times, hung out with lots of expats from around the world in Poland, led groups of foreigners around and noticed the language issues, and had our first son in Poland on an expat experience (which wasn’t planned). If something isn’t covered in my post below, shoot me a message in the comment section below!

Is Poland Good for Expats?

Poland has some challenges for both expats and locals and does have a bit of a learning curve.

The relatively low cost of living compared to other European countries is attractive to many and Poland is even one of the top countries for investors. This isn’t surprising as many new companies enter the Polish market all the time, in fact, there’s even Amazon Polska now.

The median salary might be 3700 PLN, but if you live in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk or Krakow it’s not unusual for a 20-30 year olds to make 10-15,000 PLN, which gives you a pretty comfortable life.

It takes some adjusting… including simple things like finding the right public bathroom (men’s toilets are marked with a triangle, while women’s toilets are marked with a circle), taking your shoes off instantly when you enter someone’s house and being handled kapcie – like someone’s guest slippers.

Or the fact that Polish sandwiches called kanapki are made with just one slice of bread and served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anything you want really. Poles even eat Kaizer rolls in two separate pieces unless it’s on the go.

One thing that is important to mention is the weather because people tend to believe Poland is overly cold. Winters tend to get colder than in other spots in Western Europe, but it’s still nothing to northern US winters.

Reflective waterfront view of colorful buildings in Gdansk, showcasing the charm of living in Poland.

Do They Speak English in Poland?

English is fairly widely spoken in Poland in bigger cities as just over a third of Poles overall reported as being able to speak English to some degree. But, this doesn’t you won’t encounter issues in public institutions, shops, or with some people.

I still remember a situation in which my friends were trying to buy cheese at the big supermarket in Warsaw, the code wouldn’t scan and they kept going back and forth with the lady who could only say “no cheese” and trying to take it away, and my friends responding “why”. Until some other customer came over and helped.

Nevertheless, the situation is improving as more and more companies enter Poland and more people need to speak English.

Two friends enjoying coffee at an outdoor cafe in Warsaw, a casual slice of daily life living in Poland.

Moving to Poland: Is It Easy?

If you have a job offer, it’s easy to move and then sort everything out once you arrive. Salaries are low if you’re coming from a country like the US or UK, but the cost of living is lower and therefore the standard of living is much higher.

The main reason my friends moved back to Poland after living abroad and expat friends decided to stay in Poland was because they wouldn’t be able to afford the same standard in other countries. While it’s not an ideal place, it makes a lot of sense to live in Poland.

You need to arrange your Karta Pobytu as an expat. It’s basically like a residency. The process isn’t quick, because bureaucracy is slow in Poland but it’s not impossible.

My personal advice: if you’re moving to Poland because of your partner and planning on getting married, do it elsewhere. I investigated the process a lot and it was seriously easier to get married in Timbuktu and then establish it in Poland than get married to a foreigner in Poland.

Why? You need to petition the Supreme Court to exempt the foreigner from certain things that aren’t possible for them as a foreigner, and they tend to make sure this process becomes lengthy and awful. Then you need a translator even if a foreigner speaks Polish and a bunch of other unnecessary arrangements which aren’t cheap.

A girl with a cat on a leash in front of athe Royal Castle in Warsaw

Cost of Living in Poland as an Expat

Unlike the majority of members in the European Union who adopted the Euro, Poland has the Polish zloty.

The cost of living in Poland is lower than in most places in Europe. Accommodation cost is low, but keep in mind that apartments are small – most Poles are used to very small apartments from the 80s, so it’s not unusual to see a family of 4 living in a 2-bedroom apartment 50m2.

Groceries, going out to eat, and public transportation are relatively cheap. The downside is the high cost of gas, so that’s why public transportation is mostly used. Clothing and consumer electronics are the same prices as anywhere else in the EU which, if you compare to salaries, makes them pretty pricy.

Finding a Job in Poland

You can naturally scroll through LinkedIn, but the biggest job sites are and also Goldenline (Polish version of Linkedin). If you see an international company you might as well reach out directly or see their job offers.

Many expats living in Poland tend to work as:

  • Automotive manufacturing
  • Food manufacturing
  • Banking & finance
  • IT
  • Construction
  • English teacher

Advantages of Moving to Poland

Apart from the low cost of living, there are other advantages of moving and living in Poland.


I never see it mentioned by any expats or even locals, but Poland is so green. The country has plenty of green spaces even in cities – big parks everywhere, lots of trees, and random flower gardens.

I never noticed it until I lived in other places around the world. What in Italy people would call a park in Poland that would be a piece of grass. It’s nothing like American suburbia with lots of houses without any nature around it.

Around the country, you’ll also have forests, lakes, mountains, and seaside… all within a few hour’s drive or train ride. There are so many great places in Poland to see while you’re here!

Classic tram passing through a lush green avenue in Warsaw, part of the convenient public transport system for residents living in Poland.
So green! And this is in the middle of Warsaw City Center!


Healthcare is an advantage. While Poles like to complain about it, because public hospitals aren’t fancy and wait times are long, doctors and nurses are well-educated and knowledgeable.

Service is incomparably better than Italy, France or the Netherlands and you always have the option to do everything completely privately – I decided to give birth privately since I had no public insurance in Poland at the time and it was incredible. Comparable with other places it was also cheap!

One issue with the doctors is that while they’re great they can be very direct and people can get offended.

Free education system

If you’re willing to send your kids to a public school or kindergarten, it’s free for expats as well. In fact, college is free for residents as well (I even got paid to study, because you can get a scholarship for good grades).

If you want an English-speaking school you’ll be looking at private ones, but they’re also affordable if you compare them with other places.

Keep in mind that Poland has a very strict school system (similar to the German system) and the same applies to universities because you don’t really have elective subjects. When kids move from Poland to the US they usually skip about 2-3 grades or pass SATs after middle school.

Compared to Poland, I found the university in the UK a joke because it seemed like I was basically back in high school.

Good travel hub

Bigger cities can be a great hub to travel all around Europe, as you can find a lot of cheap flights.

Another plus is that thanks to the developed public transportation system you don’t need a car at all. With trains, buses, trams, and metro, you can easily travel all around the country and visit some of the cool Castle Hotels in Poland.

Poles love Foreigners

Poles might complain that you don’t speak Polish and ignore you a bit at first, but then they’ll get fascinated with you. Polish people tend to love foreigners… although unfortunately mainly as long as they’re white, straight, and not Muslim (more on that in disadvantages below).

Woman with a baby overlooking Warsaw from a building with an indoor pool, a modern residential amenity for those living in Poland.

Long maternity leave

One thing I’m sure jealous of my friends working regular jobs is maternity leave. It’s not unusual to see women who haven’t been back at work for years. While getting paid. How is it possible?

First, you can take a statutory 20 weeks of maternity leave (or 31 if you have twins). After that, you can get a parenting leave of 31 weeks. Usually, you get paid 100% for maternity and 60-80% for parenting, so overall you get 80% of your pay.

During this time you also accumulate a standard holiday of 30 days a year, plus bank holidays, so about 45 days roll over for the next year. It’s also very common to get so-called L4 which is a leave during pregnancy.

Since maternity and sick leave is paid by the taxes and not the employer, once the company finds a replacement they don’t want to pay for two employees and tell you to ask your doctor to start leave early. Most of my friends were done working at 16-20 weeks.

Basically, if you have two kids around 2-3 years apart, you won’t be working for a few years.

Hearty Polish pierogi dish served on a wooden plate, a delicious example of local cuisine one might enjoy while living in Poland.
Never call pierogi, pierogies or perogies in Poland. It’s like committing a crime against humanity, as the word is already plural.

Disadvantages of Living in Poland as an Expat


Politics, politics, politics. Bureaucracy is still pretty communist-style, so it’s hard for expats to get through a lot of red tape to get residency in order and really anything else.

Even getting a passport for a Polish baby born abroad is a mission and requires a lot of paperwork – it’s seriously the hardest one I’ve ever had to do and my kids have multiple passports, so I have something to compare it to.

Religion is important

Conservatism combined with the Catholic faith not being separated from the state is alive and present in Poland. While many younger Poles say they’re very liberal, the country has a long way to go.

You probably heard about various protests due to violations of women’s rights and anti-abortion legislation. It’s due to the church’s presence.

Church clashes happen regularly. Some Poles might tell you “but we’re not that religious” but a majority still underlines the importance of going to churches on special events like Christmas or Easter, and everyone storms the cemeteries on All Saints Day “because it’s a tradition”.

Religion as a subject is also taught in schools weekly. It teaches kids about the Bible, all the prayers by heart, and so on. You can however, switch your kids to Ethics which is supposed to be more philosophical.

The upside to this is the number of public holidays you get.

Striking architecture of the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw, a modern megachurch and religious landmark for those living in Poland.
Yup, that’s a giant church.

Intolerance combined with historical background

From a sociological standpoint, Poland has a very long history of facing national disasters like WWII, conquest by enemy superpowers, the Holocaust, etc., so people are very scared to let others in.

Let’s be real: I still remember my own grandma was worried about crossing the Vistula River because if “Russians come they destroy bridges and you won’t be able to come back” and my parents were freaking out not to give any information on the phone because “someone must be listening”.

Let’s not forget that Poland still had food ration cards, just like those in Cuba, when I was a toddler and my mom was driving me to school with a Fiat 126p that people think are so “cool”. They weren’t, trust me.

The ruling party is so popular because they want to keep “Poland for Poles” and defend the old ways, so they’re very against liberalism and a lot of people support these ideas. Now, before you freak out – not all these ideas are bad because things are never black and white.

I think what’s incredible in Poland is that the majority of people are very hospitable and love any excuse to welcome a new person into their home for dinner. You instantly become an aunt or uncle (ciocia & wujek) to all the kids once you come over to the house twice, even if you’re not related.

That said, Poland isn’t the friendliest place for LGBTQ people in smaller towns. This is a serious issue in Poland that has recently been under scrutiny by the European community along with women’s rights. While in Warsaw you might be fine most of the time, many places have a long way to go – they even declared “LGBT-free zones”.

Poland is surely a very white place in terms of race. There were endless campaigns about not allowing immigrants as well. While Vietnamese immigrants are well-known as they came to Poland years ago (hence why there are a lot of Europeanized Vietnamese take-out spots (hat have very little to do with actual food in Vietnam), let’s just say that if you’re black you will get a reaction.

Even though there are tourists and expats of different races in big cities these days, when someone who looks different is around, everyone seems to notice and give them a side look. Half curious, half “what are you doing here” kind of look, and my black friends who visited Poland all agreed they were given a lot of attention.

I also realized recently while talking with Europeans next to my American friends is that many European people, Polish people included, don’t understand the American standpoint, in particular, making a huge deal about “white privilege” and racism. If you’re American, it might come off as a shock because it’s much more defined and talked about in the US as it comes from US history. But it seems hard to understand for Europeans, so when you chat with them about it, my advice would be to feel the room before expressing strong opinions on those topics.

Traveler with luggage waiting at a train station, a common experience for locals and expats living in Poland.
Polish train system is pretty good

Hard to buy a home

It’s hard to buy a home, especially as a foreigner. The Polish mortgage system is quite difficult to understand and it’s not easy to get a mortgage even for those born and raised in Poland. Even if you have a job, many banks will refuse you if you’re not earning PLN, or will give you only a small loan.

That’s on top of something that not many people realize – you need permission from the government to buy a house in Poland as a foreigner.

Language barriers

The language barrier is a problem because Polish is a tough language to learn. You won’t achieve anything in any Polish institutions if you try to speak English. Trust me, we tried 😉

This slightly applies to making friends too, it might not be easy to blend it properly if you don’t speak the language (although it’s the same in every country, in the Netherlands it was actually harder).

In Poland, friends are usually split into three categories: znajomy, kolega or przyjaciel. The first is an acquaintance, the second is someone you know better, and the third is a true long-term friend. It takes time to become the latter, but don’t give up.

Table with 12 dishes set for Wigilia - Polish Christmas Eve
So much food and it’s only a Christmas starter.


It’s not a secret that Poles like to drink and many foreigners can’t handle it (maybe apart from Irish). If you attend a Polish wedding, people drink a shot of vodka or liquor before every dance. It takes getting used to.

However, don’t get the wrong idea – Polish people are very hospitable and cherish traditional values when it comes to the family.

Overall, no country is perfect and I think it’s important to mention all the issues, even if they don’t concern you. Poland can be a good place to live with good access to healthcare, long holidays, and cheap costs of living.


Sunday 21st of April 2024

hi there. is there any private business that helps people find apartments or assisted living? My mother in law is Polish born. married an American, and has dual citizenship. Husband died years ago. she wants to go home and live her remaining years in Poland. Im coming up empty when searching for "retirement homes Krakow" and other variations.


Wednesday 24th of April 2024

Retirement homes in a way they exist in the US aren't really a thing in Poland. People don't really go live in them until they're truly sick and at risk. You can find a few here:,prywatne_domy_opieki.html

Frania Beard-Zgorski

Sunday 28th of January 2024

I have been going to Poland 2x per way since 2009 .. I never had the experiences you described as a Black foreigner. Not In Katowice, Poznan, Wroclaw.. Kicin or any other place My apartment was not small, never went any place to buy groceries where the cashiers could only say "no cheese." Met many gay people.. Nver saw the LGBT free zones and observed my friend get married with the same red tape in the US.. Saw a couple buy a house and land in Kicin and Zakopane with the same issues with a mortgage in the USA. My nephew, born in Poland came to the USA as a 6th grader.. and he Did NOT skip 2 grade or remotely prepared to take a SAT test...His grades were excellent in Poland but he knew NO HISTORY or Science. I met so many Poles married to African or had kid by an I am surprised that they were not disowned by their parents. but se la vie!


Tuesday 16th of January 2024

Religion should not be listed as a downside, come on. Truly religious people will display hospitality, help you in need, will make pro life choices of keeping their babies and caring for the elderly. Besides, some expats want to come to Poland to find a vibrant religious community.


Wednesday 23rd of August 2023


Very useful information. Two questions:

If parents were born in Poland, relocated to US after the war and became US citizens, would a US born child be eligible for Polish citizenship by descent?

Separately, regarding posts on safety for different groups, in view of reports of Covid re-surfacing, can you describe how Poland handled the Pandemic? What was the incidence of Covid deaths/injuries in Poland and could people get the treatments they needed? Were vaccine or mask mandates and lockdowns imposed? Travel or other work/shopping restrictions? Since different countries (and cities) handled things differently, how would you say Poland handled the pandemic overall in terms of balancing public health with individual liberties and how was this received by the population in a traditional country?

Anna Karsten

Thursday 24th of August 2023

If at least one parent still had a Polish citizenship when the child was born, then yes. However, procedures are different for children under 18 and those over 18.

In terms of handling the pandemic most people will tell you that Poland handled it badly, but these are the sentiments in most places as there were multiple inconsistencies everywhere regarding rules, lockdowns and so on. Overall, yes there were lockdowns and mask mandate was enforced even outside. Hospitals were overcrowded, but let's be real: they are often overcrowded even without covid.

lgbt programmer

Saturday 1st of July 2023

it's ok to live here. very safe even if you are gay. but lgbt has no rights at all. it's complicated because most ppl accept you but also most ppl dont want new rights for you. strange but it's true. also if you are rich e.g. you work as IT programmer you can live here freely but you have to remeber that winter is for 6 months, 1,5 month is cold spring, 1,5 month is cold autumn and there are only 3 warm months of summer

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