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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 and years ago. Until I considered moving to Poland again and I did for a few months here and there and had a perfect expat experience myself as 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 requires a learning curve. The relatively low cost of living compared to other European countries is attractive.

The country is one of the top ones for investors, which isn’t surprising as many new companies enter the Polish market. In fact, there’s even Amazon Polska now. The median salary might be 3700 PLN, but if you live in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Krakow it’s not unusual for a 20-30-year-old to make 10-15k 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 separated pieces, unless it’s on the go.

One thing is important to mention because people tend to believe Poland is overly cold. Winters tend to get colder than in other spots in Western Europe, it’s still not nothing to northern US winters.

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 and 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.

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 definitely 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.

You need to petition from 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.

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, 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 pracuj.pl and also Goldenline (Polish version of Linkedin). If you see an international company you might as well reach out directly or see their individual 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.

Greenery

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 drive or train ride.

So green! And this is in the middle of Warsaw City Center!

Healthcare

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, Netherlands and you always have an 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 as I had a chance to study there, 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 travel all around the country easily.

Poles love Foreigners

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

Long maternity leaves

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 statutory 20 weeks of maternity (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 that 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 is paid by the taxes and not the employer once the company finds a replacement they basically don’t want to pay for two employees and tell you to ask your doctor to go away. Basically. Most of my friends were done working at 16-20 weeks.

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

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, politics. Bureaucracy is still pretty communist-style, so it’s hard for expats to get through a lot of red tapes to get the 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 I 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 on a regular basis. 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 basically teaches kids about Bible, all the prayers by heart and so on. You can switch your kids to Ethics which is supposed to be more philosophical.

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

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, Holocaust and people are very scared in a way to let others in. Let’s be real: I still remember my own grandma was worried not to cross 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 ideas are bad because things are never black and white.

Personally, 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. In fact, you instantly become an aunt or uncle (ciocia & wujek) to all the kids once you come over to the house twice and you’re absolutely 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 (that have very little to do with actual food in Vietnam) and they used to sell at markets), let’s just say that if you’re black you will get a reaction.

While in big cities these days there are tourists and expats of different races, but when they show up you notice. 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 the 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 and making a huge deal about the “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. It comes from US history, but still it seems hard to understand to Europeans so when you chat with them about it, so my advice would be to feel the room before expressing your opinions on those topics.

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 applies to making friends slightly and 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.

So much food and it’s only a Christmas starter.

Drinking

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 basically drink a shot of vodka or liquor before every dance. It takes getting used to.

However, don’t get a 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. ofliving.

Michael

Sunday 21st of August 2022

We are interested in retiring to Poland but would like to calculate the tax burden. Can you reference any sites or actual accountants who can help out?

Thanks

Anna Karsten

Sunday 21st of August 2022

There are lots of sources, but they're all in Polish and the laws are confusing even for native Poles, to be honest. Right now the situation in Poland is pretty terrible for retirees taking money from abroad because it's high taxes with zero benefits. I wish I knew someone who is specializing in it, but I'm afraid I don't.

Philip

Tuesday 7th of June 2022

There is nothing Poland needs to apologize for in maintaining its culture, religious observances and being caucasian. This is who they are, and I admire them for seeing the value of cultural integrity. Western Europe is collapsing from within for abandoning their identities and traditional cultural values. If not for Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, Europe would become a distant memory.

Musica

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

Is there any reasonable pathway to acquiring Polish citizenship now if one was born to two Polish parents who had Polish passports at the time of one's birth but did not apply for the child's citizenship at the time, and two years later the parents became naturalized U.S. citizens (this was during and right after WWII)-??

Adrianna

Tuesday 8th of February 2022

@Musica, in Polish consula you have to prove that your parents were Polish and show them all the documents that may prove that - this may conclude even bills if you have some. If it's your parents' documents you may have to prove that you're a family also. And what is important is that you have to give them Polish adress to communicate. It may include showing personally at some time but I don't remember it that well, I know that because of helping somebody related to Jews that lived in Poland before WWII. America is very weird country and a lot of rules that you have don't apply elsewhere.

Musica

Thursday 3rd of February 2022

@Anna Karsten, @Anna Karsten, Thanks for your response! I forgot to say clearly that I was actually born in the U.S. (though it was while my parents were still Polish citizens). I guess calling the consulate would help. It hadn't occurred to me before that Poland would even consider me to be Polish since I was born in America!

Anna Karsten

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

US naturalization doesn't matter as Poland allows multiple nationalities. You can surely get citizenship as you're basically Polish according to the law, but you'd need to prove that your parents are Polish. You need to call the consulate.

Dorota

Wednesday 2nd of February 2022

Very interesting text.

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