Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. Poland has been rising up the rankings as one of the best countries for expats to live and work in, and we’re going to chat to one such expat today. Blogger Anda Alexandra relocated from Romania to Poland, for work.
And, almost a decade later, she’s still there, married with a child, and she’s going to talk through some moving essentials: from finding a place to live to opening a bank account, learning the language … Anda has some especially great insights to share with you on job hunting, navigating healthcare, and pregnancy in the country.
So everything we’re going to cover in this episode is really designed for someone who is starting to look into all the boxes they need to tick when moving to Poland for the first time and getting themselves set up in the country. First, I’d like to know though, Anda, what led you to Poland?
Anda: Well, it was complicated to tell you the truth. I used to work in a corporation, and the project was international. So half of us were from Poland, from Krakow, and half of us were from Romania. And the corporation was just starting back home, so they didn’t have higher positions.
I had an amazing team leader here in Poland. She was very encouraging and supportive. And when she saw that there was no way for me to move up back home, she offered for me to come here and try to work from here.
So, I first thought that it is going to take only like six months, and then maybe I’ll move to the UK, because I like to travel a lot. But I fell in love with the city and the place and with the people inside, so I kind of got stuck here. Not stuck, because stuck is a negative word, but—
Carlie: Happily stuck?
Anda: Happily stuck here, yes. Throughout time, I met my husband, who is working on the same project as I do, and we got married, and I have a child. So I’m here for good.
Carlie: You’re well embedded into Poland. How many years have you been in the country?
Anda: I started in 2011 in the summertime, so it’s almost nine years.
Carlie: And coming from Romania, as a member of the EU, I imagine you wouldn’t have needed a visa to live in Poland?
Anda: No. As you said, member of the EU, so I didn’t need a visa. What I needed was … Back then – so, like, nine years ago – it was necessary to have both a PESEL and the NIP. Right now, it’s not necessary to have the NIP anymore; the PESEL is enough.
The corporation that I worked with helped me register for the PESEL and the NIP. The PESEL is kind of like a social security number, like in the States, that tracks your record of what you’re paying, when you’re paying, and so on. And the NIP is mostly, right now, for companies. So, you don’t need it anymore if you’re hiring this person, let’s say.
Carlie: Did you need this PESEL before you got to Poland? Or could you sort it out after you arrived?
Anda: So, they sorted it out after I arrived. Because, as you said, a member of the European Union – you have a lot of benefits to that. So you don’t need visas, and they trust you that you will do the paperwork in time. And usually corporations do help you with doing that. So, there’s a lot of help from the HR departments when you apply. And they help you along the way.
But if you’re coming as a single citizen or … For example, I have friends from Ukraine, and they have to self-apply, and that takes even more time.
Carlie: We had a Poland-based American blogger and teacher, Leah Morawiec, on the podcast last year.
Anda: Yes, I did hear her thoughts, and I do follow her blog, the polonization one.
Carlie: Well, she mentioned in our chat that there can be a really huge wait time for foreigners applying to live and work in the country. I would assume that’s more third country nationals, but I know she did refer to Ukraine immigration as one of the causes behind a delay of almost up to two years to get permission to live and work in Poland. Do you know if that situation has improved?
Anda: I’m not sure if it takes two years anymore, because I recently had a colleague that applied and it didn’t take him two years, but I can’t tell you exactly how long it took him. I think that the process has shortened, or they got more efficient with it, throughout time.
And recently – because every year there’s some kind of paperwork that they have to do in one way or another – I saw a lot of places that you go to do this paperwork; they’re becoming a bit more automatised.
So, you have a ticket that tells you you’re in the queue, and you should get around at that hour, or that you’re scheduled in, and they tell you that, in a month, you’re going receive these papers, and you’re going to put them into another place. So, you know approximately how long it’s going to take.
Carlie: Sounds like the bureaucracy is getting a little bit easier to navigate then.
Anda: Yes, slowly, but it’s happening.
Carlie: And Anda, I’m curious, how did you find your first place to live when you moved to Poland?
Anda: Again, I was extremely lucky, because my team leader, she took me in the first month, because she realised that we had to move fast with my transfer, and I didn’t have time to apply and check any apartments or think about where I’m going to move.
So, I basically stayed at her place for an entire month, while I searched for the apartment. And there are multiple ways in which you can find apartments nowadays, but back then it was basically one site or knowing through friends or connections.
The main site that was used back then, and it’s still being used right now, quite heavily, is called Gumtree. People would advertise, and you would go there, and you would check the apartments. But how people are doing it right now, it’s much easier, because throughout time the expat groups have developed greatly, especially on Facebook.
And you have instant responses, like, if they know any place and if they tell you about a place, other people can comment upon it and say, ‘No, I’ve been cheated by these people. They didn’t give me my deposit money.’ Or things like that.
Carlie: It’s almost a bit self-policing in that way.
Anda: Yes. Yes, it is. So, right now, theoretically, if you are brand new and you are looking for an apartment, you can also have agencies looking up for you, which is a bit safer, but it’s also a bit more expensive, because they do take a commission.
And when it comes to checking the apartment, it’s usually that you’re checking it with the landowner. And then, if you agree on it, you sign a contract. The contract can be for half a year, a year, or how much time you would like, and there’s always a safety deposit, which you usually don’t get back.
Carlie: Because they find ways not to give it back to you, or because it’s like…?
Anda: No, it’s more like, ‘Oh, this wall doesn’t look nice’ or ‘the washing machine doesn’t sound as it used to.’ And things like that.
Carlie: Classic landlords in any country, I think.
Carlie: Is the language barrier much of a problem? If you’re using agents or dealing directly with landlords in Poland, is it useful to have a Polish speaker with you? Or can you negotiate somewhere to live pretty confidently with limited Polish?
Anda: It depends on how lucky you are. I know people who rent apartments that don’t know any Polish, but then again, if you’re doing it through the agency, then you need to have someone to help you out. And usually it’s not that hard, if you know some basic Polish, to figure around it.
My first advice would be to learn Polish. It’s quite hard, because it’s one of the top three hardest languages in the world. But the Chinese people learn it really fast, because the sounds are kind of the same. But for a Latin person, it’s a pain, because it’s not like anything that you’ve ever experienced.
Carlie: I’d like to get to languages in a second, but just to close out property in Poland … Here in France, it’s common for water to not be paid by the renter, and it my last rental here in France—
Anda: Yes, same here actually.
Carlie: We didn’t even pay heating either.
Anda: Okay. So, here in Poland, you are paying for the rent, but for electricity and water, or all the other instalments, you still have to pay.
Carlie: Ah, interesting. So, there’re no bills that are actually covered by the landlord?
Anda: No, not really.
Carlie: And what about home ownership? Is that very common in Poland?
Anda: That’s not hard. I mean, if you have a secure earning and you can prove that, and you can get a loan, for example, or if you come with the cash money, I don’t think there is a problem with buying any property.
Carlie: Now, one of the key things that’s really essential when you move to a new country is a local bank account.
Anda: Hmm. Yes. That’s the very first thing you do after you apply for the PESEL, or even before. I know I did it even before that, because the HR of the company will not give you cash money. They will not give you cheques. There are no such things as cheques here.
Carlie: They won’t pay into your Romanian bank account?
Anda: No. So you have to have a local bank account at a local bank. There are plenty to choose from, and they have very good options. And it’s one of the very first things that HR will ask you to do. It’s usually easy to do it on your own, without knowing Polish, in bigger cities.
And if you get a bigger bank, you don’t need much. You just need to have some kind of proof that you live here, that you’re stable here somewhere, and your ID, and you can apply for it.
Carlie: Do you need to show a job contract or a rental contract?
Anda: Rental, no. But job, yes.
Carlie: And are there some banks that are a bit more foreigner friendly than others?
Anda: There are a couple: ING, and there’s Millennium Bank, which is quite well known. When I first started here, I used Alior. So there are a couple which are quite good ones for foreigners. And they have a very good mobile banking system, all of them. If you want to make deposits, they have good rates as well. So I really recommend that.
Carlie: Circling back to learning the language, unless you happen to be – I don’t know, what’s the equivalent of a Francophile? A Polishophile? – someone who happens to be incredibly interested in Poland, you’re probably not going to know much Polish when you first arrive.
Anda: For sure. For sure.
Carlie: So where do people usually start when it comes to finding a language school or getting into learning Polish?
Anda: So, as I said, if you’re coming from a Latin country, you’re kind of doomed to painfully learn it. If you’re coming from a Slavic background country, or if you know a bit of Russian, it’s going to come easier, because some words are the same.
Chinese people, as I said, learn it very easily, because it’s all about sounds, not words or letters or anything, but rather about the sounds that you make, which are very similar, but they can mean different things. I actually hadn’t studied Polish anywhere until I got pregnant with my daughter, around four years back.
And so, it’s kind of self-taught by listening, but I know friends who used the local schools, and they’re quite good. And there are different methods of learning. So it really depends on what helps you learn the language faster. I always found it better to listen to people and then speak, because I’m able to focus on the words and on how they say it.
And right now, I don’t speak Polish much or that well; I’m very self-conscious of that. But when I do speak, people tell me that I have absolutely no accent and that I speak the words so well that they can’t figure out that I’m not Polish.
So, I’m quite proud of that, because at the beginning, when I first came here and I was listening to it, I couldn’t figure out even where a sentence starts and where it finishes, or where a word starts and finishes. And it all sounded very much like parseltongue to me, like the Harry Potter language of the snakes, because there were a lot of sounds like ‘tsh’ and ‘tsh’, and it got me really confused.
Carlie: I was going to ask how similar Romanian is to Polish, and I think you’ve answered that question. Not very, by the sounds of it.
Anda: No, not really. Not really. There are some words that are the same as back home, but not many of them. And most of them are kind of like the ones that came from Russia, from ‘mother Russia’, when it was in my country as well.
Carlie: I think you’re going to be a really great person to ask this next question of, which is [about] finding a job in Poland, because it seems like you came to Poland specifically for work. Does that mean that Poland is quite open to foreigners, especially those without local language skills, in terms of career pathways?
Anda: They are open, especially in corporations, because if you are good with languages, or if you’re good in what you’re doing, and you’re getting hired into a corporation, you have the opportunity to move between countries, if you wish for it.
So, I was hired in the corporation for English language, not for Romanian even. So, I was talking only in English, and I came here only with English, so they didn’t hire me because I knew Polish. And it’s really not hard to find a job, as long as you have the particular set of skills that they are looking for.
Carlie: Are there any typical sectors where you’ll find a lot of foreigners working in Poland?
Anda: Yes, IT, definitely. Definitely, IT. You have a lot of business analysts, consulting specialists … You have the people who learn multiple languages, and they’re also in call centres, because they get paid a lot for multiple languages.
Carlie: And where do you start if you’re looking for a job in Poland? Are there specific job sites that locals tend to use?
Anda: Yes. You could try pracuj.pl. That’s the most often used one. I don’t use it as much. I know that my friends always use it. When I switched my job, I always switched it through LinkedIn, because a lot of people are looking for you on LinkedIn as well. And if you’re a good match with the skillsets you have, then this is no problem.
Carlie: And is it useful to have your CV in both Polish and English? Or, if you’re not looking for a job that is working in Polish, is having a CV in Polish kind of unnecessary?
Anda: It’s unnecessary. I don’t have a CV in Polish. I’ve never had a CV in Polish. And, even if I’m applying for companies here in Poland, I use the English one, because always, for corporations, and then journal and business life, the main language is English.
So, I never felt the need for it. And nobody from HR ever pointed out that I should have one, because I’m a foreigner, right? So they don’t feel the need.
Carlie: Moving on to healthcare … I know you mentioned that you’re a mom, so I’m assuming you’ve probably had more to do with the local health system, particularly in the past few years, since you’ve had your daughter. When you first get to Poland, is there a national health system that you should join?
Anda: Yes, it’s called NFZ, and it’s basically once you start paying the taxes. So, from your regular salary, it goes to NFZ, and you’ve got the insurance. So, from day one, you have the insurance from the country. Of course, there are corporations. Inside the corporations, you get extra medical healthcare, which is a private one.
There are a couple of providers. Here in Krakow, one of the best ones is Medicover. Medicover is actually worldwide. So when I go back to Romania, I always have private care there from Medicover, which is very handy. But when it comes to the, let’s say, national one, I’ve never had problems.
So, back home, a lot of my friends gave birth in private clinics. I used the regular one here, the national one.
Carlie: The public health system?
Anda: Yes, public healthcare, and it was perfect. I have nothing to say to complain a bit. All the check-ups that I did when I was pregnant were done in Medicover. And it’s better there, because the appointments don’t take a month to happen.
So I can go there and say, ‘Hey, I want to see this doctor next week.’ And if they’re available, they’re going to book me. But in the regular public sector, it would take a month or more, so that’s why. I really wanted quicker and more regular check-ups.
But when it came to the birth, I chose the public sector. It was funny, because when I gave birth, they were speaking to me in Polish and I was replying in English. And we understood each other perfectly well. And the care at the hospital was really good.
They do take extra care of you, especially if you’re a foreigner, and they don’t want to mess it up. Right. I liked it a lot. They were very well behaved. I never had something bad to say in any way. For example, you stay after the birth in a two-person room, and you have your own reclining bed with buttons that you can use to call the nurse and things like that. So, it was quite high tech as well, and they really did take care of you well.
Carlie: What sort of costs are covered through Poland’s public health system, and what are you left needing to pay out of pocket?
Anda: So for the private one, when I was using Medicover, it was all paid by the company, by the corporation I worked in. But in the public one, when I gave birth, I didn’t actually have to pay for anything.
The giving of the birth, all the medical events, staying there three days, all the shots that the small one had – I didn’t have to pay for absolutely anything at all. And there are no bribes. You don’t have to pay someone underhand or give flowers or candies.
We wanted to do something nice at the end, so we gave them flowers. And they were so shy to accept even that. It was really a good service. When it comes to the small one, you have to have certain shots throughout the baby’s life, right? Every month or every three months, or when they turn one year old …
Carlie: Like the vaccinations?
Anda: Yes. Yes, exactly. So those are also free from the country. There are also additional ones that you can take that you need to pay for, but we took only the standard ones.
Carlie: I’ve heard that in Finland, when you have a baby, you get a care package of clothing and essentials to take home with you. In Australia, the local councils will organise mothers’ groups for women in your area giving birth around the same time, to connect you with other moms. Are there any incentives – not incentives, but, I suppose, support services – like that for new parents in Poland?
Anda: There are a lot of them that are private. So, for example, during my pregnancy, there was an amazing birth school and yoga place for moms and moms-to-be. So, you can go there from when you’re pregnant and until the baby is one year old.
This place is called Koala Centrum – so, it’s like, Koala, the centre for families. I know women who actually went there, and after two hours, they went to give birth.
Carlie: Wow, they were committed.
Anda: Yeah. No, but it really helps you, especially if you’re doing natural birth, then you really need to stretch the muscles. And pilates and yoga are brilliant for that. And it helps you also to recover quickly.
There are a lot of centres like this, but they’re private, not paid for by the government. What they started doing in Krakow, for example, after I gave birth (because I didn’t actually catch that) … They took the idea of having a box for the babies, and they actually do something similar here as well.
Carlie: A Scandinavian baby box?
Anda: Yes, exactly. They have a lot of help for families that have many children or children with disabilities. If you have more than two kids, there are a lot of gratuities and things that would help the family.
Carlie: My final question might be one that you’re not too up to speed with yet, depending on how old your daughter is. But I’m curious about the education system in Poland and what the options are for foreign families that are moving to the country and looking to put their children in local schools.
Anda: So, as usual, from kindergarten/preschool. Preschool is called zlobek, and it is up to the age of three, but then you have przedszkola, which is from the age of three to the age of six, and then it’s szkola, which is the school.
So, in all of these cases, there are both private and, let’s say, state-owned ones. We chose not to give our baby to the zlobek, because we thought that we’ll just handle it ourselves and stay more with it. Because basically, here in Poland, you can take up to one year of leave from the company after you give birth.
If you choose one year, it’s paid 80% of your salary every month. If you choose half a year, it’s 100%. I chose one year, plus the additional time that I had off. It turned into one year and a half. So, I could stay with her a very long time.
It’s slightly better, I would say, in Romania, because in Romania, by default, you have two years that you can stay with your child, and the company pays, or the government pays. But it was good as it was.
Carlie: Yes, it still seems pretty generous that Poland gives you up to a year of paid leave.
Anda: Yes, it is. It’s helpful, especially if you’re a mom that actually wants to be there for the kid and not go immediately back to work.
Once you get them, let’s say, to przedszkola, which is preschool, you can go to a public one, and you don’t need to pay for anything, except probably the meals or any extra classes that they want to take. Because there’s, of course, the regular curriculum, and then you have additions to it.
And same goes for the private preschools, which can start from 500 or 600 zlotys, and they can go to 1000 or 2000 zlotys, if they’re really top posh. And again, it’s the regular hours, and then you can add additional things to it. So if they want to do music classes or ballet classes, or you want to give them judo or taekwondo, or things like that …
Carlie: And for yourself, being bilingual, is that something you’d like to see prioritised for your daughter as well? Are you and your partner looking at a bilingual schools?
Anda: She’s actually trilingual. I speak to her—
Carlie: Of course!
Anda: And she catches English as well, because we were talking between ourselves in English. But I haven’t thought about it in that way, when I thought about her joining preschool. What they wanted for her is a place where she would feel free to explore.
So I really had a very negative experience with a Montessori school that I tried to put her in last fall. But right now, we’re trying to put her into a school that focuses on music, and I think that’s going to help her a lot.
But also, coming from a multilingual family … And if there are people listening and they do come from multilingual families, they for sure know that having a child that gets two or more languages … They will need a thing called logopeda. So, the logopeda helps the child to master the sounds and the words properly in the native language, let’s say. So this is what my daughter also had.
Carlie: And what will her native language be, out of interest, if you’re speaking Romanian, and I’m assuming your partner is Polish, and then between you you’re speaking English?
Anda: It’s going to be slightly confusing for her, because my grandmother and my mother helped me raise her up, so she is more fluent in Romanian than she is in Polish. But then we’re going to take her to the preschool, which will be in Polish.
So, she’s going to switch to the native language right now. We will continue in Poland with the school. She has to have Polish as the native one.
Carlie: It’s all about the balance, right?
Anda: Yes, this is good for her, because I can see the way she thinks and she acts and she develops, and having two or more languages really does something special to a child’s mind. And the child’s mind is always like a sponge, and they absolutely attract all the information and it gets stuck there. And it’s fascinating to see that.
And it’s funny the way she makes the connections between the languages and the things that she finds funny, because there might be a word in Polish that sounds similar to the one in Romanian or the one in English, and I would see her laugh and see that she catches the joke much quicker than I would ever be able to, because I wasn’t’ taught three languages at once.
Carlie: And just finally, I’m curious, if you had to do your move to Poland again, what do you think you would do differently?
Anda: Maybe learn a bit of Polish beforehand? That would have come in handy a lot.
Carlie: Isn’t a crystal ball amazing?
Anda: It would come in handy, because I see people who have had this advanced start, of already knowing, or at least understanding, what people around them are saying. And for me, it was like, ‘Are they gossiping about me? Are they saying something bad? I’m not sure what they’re saying.’ So until I caught it, it was hard.
Carlie: And what’s your best advice for someone moving to Poland today, or preparing to move, other than to learn the language now?
Anda: Try to first visit the place and see if it speaks to you, if it feels like home. The way I did it, I went with the job for a weekend, and then I liked it, and I thought, okay, I would like to visit more of it.
So I actually visited for 10 days, and I liked it so much that the moment that my team leader said, ‘Would you like to?’ I was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Now!’ So it’s either you get in contact with the place and you feel that you belong or not.
Because you might be like, ‘Oh, Poland is a nice country. I’m going to try to visit it.’ And then you might be unhappy, because it’s not the place that you thought it would be. So, I would say, test it first, go visit, and do not visit just one city. Try to visit one or two, because the cities in Poland are so very different.
For example, Krakow is more cultural and more heritage-connected. It has a lot of festivities and a lot of concerts and a very cultural and peaceful feel. And then there’s Warsaw, which is very eclectic. You don’t have the old vibe that you have from Krakow, because everything was razed to the ground during the Second World War, and everything was rebuilt, a proportion of like 80% to 90%, right? So everything is quite new, and you have skyscrapers, and it’s a different feeling.
And then you have, for example, the three cities that are by the seaside, and they’re completely different as well. So don’t just get stuck to one place. Move around until you find the place that’s more fitted for you. And, oh yes, join the Facebook groups of expats, because they have a lot of information.
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you have questions for Anda, or want to share your own experience of moving to Poland, head over to expatfocus.com, where we have a Poland forum, and you’ll find links to our Facebook groups.
Be sure to check out our previous episodes, including my chat with Leah Morawiec, who gives her 5 things to know before moving to Poland. If you enjoy this podcast, please subscribe, share us and consider leaving us a review. I’ll catch you next time.