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A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Poland

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  • Ivan Dlouhy

    Since moving to Warsaw, I have been able to make some great friends and attend InterNations events with other expats who understand what it's like to be so far from home.

Life in Poland

At a Glance:

  • Most people living in Poland receive basic healthcare under the National Health Fund or NFZ. Under the state health insurance, you can expect to contribute 9% of your salary to the NFZ.
  • With express, intercity, and regional trains and the option of buying tickets online, taking the train in Poland is very convenient.
  • Buses give you the option of traveling to smaller, more rural areas.
  • Driving in Poland can be more hazardous than in many other European countries thanks to the high number of cars on the road. Take necessary precautions, especially when driving at night, and park your vehicle in secured parking lots.
  • School is compulsory for all children from the ages of 6 to 18. There are a number of different international schools in Poland.

About the People

As of 2017, Poland has a population of just under 38.5 million, the majority of whom (around 60%) have settled in the country’s urban areas. Warsaw, the country’s capital, has about 1.7 million inhabitants alone. The vast majority of the country’s population are of Polish decent, although there is a small minority of Germans, Ukrainians, Slovaks, Lithuanians, and Belarusians living the country.

Shaped by its rich history, Poland’s many traditions and customs have emerged from Latin and Byzantine influences but have also been influenced by its former European occupiers. The culture is generally welcoming, and life in Poland is shaped by the warmth of the Polish people. Even if you do not yet speak the language fluently, you will soon feel included and find new friends in Poland.

The Polish Healthcare System

In 1989, Poland saw a number of reforms aimed at improving the country’s healthcare system. As a result, life expectancy increased by four years, hospitals were restructured, and primary healthcare improved particularly in terms of quality and availability. In the late 1990s, additional reforms were introduced, and in 1999 the general health insurance act came into force. This was followed by the National Health Fund (NFZ) in 2003. Today, most people living in Poland receive basic healthcare under the NFZ. Expats can also choose to purchase private healthcare insurance for shorter waiting times and additional coverage.

The National Health Fund

The National Health Fund is run by the Ministry of Health. The state healthcare system is supported by government contributions as well as compulsory individual contributions. The amount of these individual contributions depends on the status and income of each person.

The employer is obligated to register all foreign employees living in Poland with the health insurance fund at the beginning of their employment. You should be prepared to pay about 9% of your salary to the National Health Fund. The sum is deducted directly from your monthly salary. If you do not have a job yet, you need to prove that you have health insurance when applying for a residence permit; for temporary stays, citizens of other EU member states as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are covered through their national health insurance and need to show their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or form E-111.

The public health fund covers basic medical services, including treatment by specialists and emergency care. This compulsory health insurance also covers family members, such as spouses, children under the age of 18 (or 26 depending on whether the child remains in full-time education), and parents and grandparents if they reside in the same house as the insured person.

Medical Facilities and Services

Doctors and nurses living in Poland are generally well-trained, offering top-notch medical services. However, you should keep in mind that in remote areas, healthcare facilities may not always be as widely available or well equipped. Emergency services are also sometimes lacking in rural areas. While younger doctors and nurses may speak English, especially in bigger cities like Warsaw, older staff may not do so. It is therefore worthwhile to learn some Polish before you move. If you suffer from any chronic conditions, try to look up the words to describe your condition and the medication you might need well in advance.

If you require a doctor, you should try to make an appointment in advance. This is because there is a lower number of doctors and nurses in Poland than in many other countries, making for long waiting times. If you need to see a specialist, make sure to get a referral from your general practitioner first. Some types of specialists, such as dentists, ob-gyns, and psychiatrists, are the exception to this rule and do not require a referral.

Transportation and Education in Poland

Traveling by Train — The Most Popular Option

There are many different options when traveling around Poland, with trains one of the most popular modes of transportation. Ideal for long distance journeys, Polish trains are usually punctual, and tickets are reasonably priced.

In Poland just over 19,000 km of train track span the country, making for an extensive rail network. In the mountainous south, where the railways are not as well serviced, the trains are a little bit slower. The Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe — PKP) are divided between two main operators, PKP Intercity and Przewozy Regionalne, as well as between other smaller operators.

You can choose to travel on different types of trains, including intercity, express, and regional trains. As expected, the express and intercity trains are much more comfortable than the slower trains. The regional trains do, however, allow you to visit smaller Polish towns and villages, as these trains often stop at all the local stations.

There are of course also connections to major cities within and outside of Poland, such as Berlin, Prague, Vienna, or Budapest. Long-distance trains are often equipped with additional sleeping cars. You can plan your trip and learn more about ticket prices on the website of the Polish State Railways.

Taking the Bus — Good for Towns and Villages

Taking the bus is the ideal choice if you need or wish to travel to destinations which are not located on a main train line. Most towns and villages have a bus station, so you can reach even remote areas. Poland’s inter-city bus network is operated by Państwowa Komunikacja Samochodowa (PKS), and a few other private operators. If you need to ask for directions to bus stations, try using the term “PKS” as well, it is now widely used as a word for buses in general. Some towns offer minibus services, where you can buy your ticket from the driver.

If you have the option of traveling via the usual bus lines or are making a long-distance journey, take a look at Dworzec Online, PKS Polonus, or the Europe-wide Flixbus services. Tickets come at a reasonable price and the buses are also comfortable. All three companies offer online ticket buying options, however, other companies may not, in which case you can purchase your ticket at the bus station or, as mentioned above, directly with the driver. Each bus station should have a timetable showing the times of departure (odjazdy) and destinations (kierunek).

Flying or Driving — A Convenient Choice

Despite the great bus and train connections, flying across the country is growing in popularity. LOT Polish Airlines, the country’s official airline, has a big network of domestic flights with daily connections to Warsaw, Cracow, Wroclaw, and other cities. You can purchase tickets online on the LOT website, or at any LOT office or travel agency. Keep your eyes open for discounts and cheap stand-by fares.

Another popular mode of transportation is the car. Here are some things to keep in mind when driving in Poland:

  • Different motorways (usually marked with an “A” on a blue board) connect bigger cities and offer convenient connections. National roads, on the other hand, are marked by white numbers in a red box — these roads are often subject to repairs.
  • You will have to pay a toll charge to use some sections of the motorways (A1, A2, A4) in Poland. Toll charges vary depending on the distance of your journey and weight of your vehicle.
  • Although recent statistics do show a decrease in car theft rates, vehicle theft remains a problem in Poland. Even if it is not your entire car which has gone missing, the contents of your car, if on open display, may quickly disappear. Make sure to get a good car insurance and do not park your vehicle outside of secured parking lots.
  • There has been a significant increase in the number of cars on Polish roads in recent years, making driving in Poland more hazardous than in some other European countries. Be sure to remain vigilant when you’re on the road.

The Education System

Following education reforms in 1999, schools in Poland are divided into six years of primary school, three years of gymnasium (secondary school), plus two to four years of post-gymnasium schooling. The latter consists of specialized lyceums, general lyceums, technical secondary schools, vocational schools, complementary lyceums, and complementary technical secondary schools.

All in all, Polish children attend 12 to 13 years of school, at the end of which they may take the standardized national secondary school achievement examination and receive a diploma. Education is compulsory for both Polish and foreign children until the age of 18, with both primary and secondary school attendance being obligatory. Expat children have the option of attending public schools in Poland.

International Schools

There are several different international schools for expat children in Poland. Here is a brief overview:

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  • Ivan Dlouhy

    Since moving to Warsaw, I have been able to make some great friends and attend InterNations events with other expats who understand what it's like to be so far from home.

  • Raquel Santos

    During my first month in Warsaw, I attended an InterNations event and immediately felt as if I had acquired a great network of expats contacts and new friends.

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