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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to 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.

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Relocating to Poland

At a Glance:

  • With vast planes, soaring mountains, and bustling cities, Poland has a diverse landscape. The climate in the country is equally as varied, with warm summers and cold winters.
  • There are three different types of visas you can apply for if needed: Airport Transit Visas (A), Short-Stay (Schengen) Visas (C), and National Long-Stay Visas (D). If you wish to work in Poland, you will have to apply for a work permit, too.
  • If you plan on staying in Poland for more than 90 days, you will have to apply for a temporary resident’s permit.
  • When looking for an apartment in Poland, be sure to ask Polish friends and your expat network for help. Polish apartments tend to be small and offer less amenities than you might be used to. Be sure to register your new address.

From Partition to Independence

Located in the center of Europe, the country has been occupied and partitioned among invading powers several times throughout its history. In the late the 18th century, the nation lost its political influence and was divided up between Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Although Poland finally gained independence after World War I, it was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II. It was not until the early 1990s and the fall of the Soviet Union that Poland became a truly independent country again.

Moving to Poland, you will find that the country has overcome its difficult past and years of turmoil. Today, as a full member of the European Union, the county is thriving. A move to Poland promises to be an exciting experience: with its energetic urban life as well as the country’s unspoiled countryside, Poland has so much to offer.

The Many Borders and Mountains of Poland

Poland shares borders with various countries, including Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany. The country’s landscape is very varied, ranging from vast lowlands to the center and north of the country and snowcapped mountains to the south. The Pomerania region, which is located to the north, is dominated by lakes, rivers, sand dunes, and seaside cliffs. When moving to Poland’s north, be sure to visit the country’s biggest harbor, Gdansk, as well as the two biggest Polish islands, Uznam and Wolin. The Masurian Lake District is also worth a visit. Dominated by more than 2,000 lakes and immense woodlands, it is a great location for sailing and canoeing.

By contrast, the Sudeten and Carpathian Mountain ranges make up the country’s southern landscape. The highest ranges are the Tatra Mountains along the border to Slovakia — Rysy is by far its highest peak on the Polish side at about 2,500 meters. East and west of the Tatras lie the Beskid Mountains. With their grassy alms, they are home to wolves, bears, and other wild animals.

Get Ready for Changing Weather

Expats moving to Poland should get ready for both warm summers and very cold winters. But never fear! Your new home will surprise you with its golden autumn — it is often said that the climate in Poland is most enjoyable during October. You should, however, be prepared for the weather to shift from sunshine to rain rapidly and unexpectedly. All in all, you will realize soon that you need to be prepared for nearly all weather conditions you can think of.

If you plan on moving to Poland in winter, get ready for cold winters and heavy snowfalls. On average, temperatures fall to -6°C in December, although temperatures in the cities tend to be slightly milder. For example, the average temperature in Warsaw in December is -1°C. Throughout late winter, it may get even colder, with temperatures around -20°C not unheard of, making it even more challenging for expats to adjust. Spring begins in March when the snow finally melts away. During the summer, temperatures may reach 30°C, with average temperatures in July hovering around 19°C.

Poland’s Visa Requirements

Getting Ready to Work

Visas — From Type A to D

As a non-EU/EEA or non-Swiss citizen, if you wish to live and work in Poland legally, you need to apply for a valid visa with the responsible authorities. In order to do so, you need to turn to the nearest Polish Embassy or Consulate before moving to Poland. In some case, nationals from specific non-EU countries, so-called third-country nationals, do not need a visa, provided they are planning on staying in Poland for less than 90 days and do not intend to work. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a list of visa-free countries on their website.

Polish missions issue three different types of visas: Airport Transit Visas (A), Short-Stay (Schengen) Visas (C), and National Long-Stay Visas (D). Expats whose assignments exceed 90 days need to apply for a long-term visa, which also allows them to visit other Schengen countries.

For short-term visits, you need only apply for a Schengen visa and are then more or less free to travel between participating countries. This is because Poland is part of the Schengen Agreement. Schengen visas are valid for three months. However, in order to legally work in Poland, expats need to apply for a work permit in addition to their visa.

Applying for Your Visa

In order to apply for a long-term visa (D), you need to submit at least the following documents:

  • a visa application form, duly completed
  • a passport, valid until at least three months after the planned departure from Poland
  • biometric, passport size picture(s)
  • payment proof of visa fee
  • proof of travel insurance or international medical insurance
  • proof of sufficient financial means
  • document stating the purpose of your visit
  • document confirming the necessity of a long-term stay

How to Get Your Work Permit

In addition, you will have to secure a work permit and submit it with your visa application. Your future employer needs to apply for a work permit on your behalf. It usually takes around a month, two in more complex circumstances, for your work permit to be issued. In the case of an inter-company transfer, for instance, expats are exempt from the work permit regulation. For more information on work permits and cases of exemption, please refer to the Polish Department of Foreign Affairs.

How to Apply for Your Residence Permit

After your arrival in Poland, you need to apply for a temporary residence permit if you wish to stay longer than 90 days. This is also the case if you are exempt from acquiring a visa and/or work permit. You have to submit your application to the responsible municipality or Voivode (Wojewoda) within the first month of your stay.

These are the documents which are typically required in order to apply for this permit:

  • completed application form
  • four up-to-date passport sized photos
  • three copies of your valid passport
  • proof of administrative fee payment
  • a work permit or a written statement from your employer (if you are exempt from requiring a work permit)
  • a work contract
  • documents confirming the cost of your residence and an official lease or other legal title enabling you to occupy the dwelling in which you live
  • confirmation of registration of temporary residence (find out more about how to register your address in Poland on the next page)
  • proof of health insurance
  • documents proving that you have a steady income with which to support yourself

A residence permit is granted for the duration of your stay but never for more than two years. After living in Poland over a prolonged period of time, it is possible to apply for a settlement permit or a long-term EC residence permit. These permits are subject to stricter requirements. More information can be found on the website of the Polish Department of Foreign Affairs.

Your Residence Card Opens Borders

Once you have successfully submitted your residence permit application, you will receive a residence card. Your valid residence card serves as confirmation of your identity during your stay in Poland. Along with your travel document, it enables you to cross the border and travel to other European countries without having to obtain a visa. If you have applied for your residence permit from abroad, you should receive your residence card upon entry. Make sure to collect your card in person at the responsible voivode.

Accommodation and Cities in Poland

The Apartment Search: Lower Your Standards

The apartment search is one of the biggest hurdles for expats moving to Poland. There are some obstacles to overcome for foreigners when looking for accommodation, their only advantage being that they are usually willing to spend more on housing than the average Pole. Prepare to invest at least as much time searching for a place to live as you did searching for a job abroad.

Personal connections are incredibly useful, so do not hesitate to activate your expat network or ask friends in Poland for their help. They may be your best resource in your search for long-term accommodation. If you do not speak Polish fluently yet, ask one of your Polish friends to tag along on the housing search. This will not only make communication easier, but it will also help you get a good deal. After all, many landlords raise their rent prices when they deal with foreigners.

One of the most important pieces of advice for when you start your housing search is that you should be prepared to lower your standards. In comparison with other Western European countries, Poland has relatively low numbers of luxury apartments. You should therefore not hesitate to rent an apartment if it meets your basic expectations — Polish apartments tend to be rather small and don’t offer too many amenities. Before you sign the lease and move in, you should make sure that the plumbing and heating both work properly.

When you have found an apartment, be sure to register your address of residence. Referred to as zameldowanie in Polish, you can complete this process at your local municipality office.

Warsaw: The Place to Be as an Expat

Poland’s capital is a modern, fast-paced city, offering all the amenities you would expect from urban life. The perfect city for both families and singles, Warsaw has something for everyone. There are numerous different parks, perfect for wasting a lazy Sunday in, as well as a fantastic zoo for the kids to enjoy. The Copernicus Science Center, and the Technical Museum, which can be found in the city’s famous Palace of Culture and Science, a structure which dominates the Warsaw skyline, are also key attractions for the city.

Warsaw’s Old Town, most of which was destroyed during the Second World War but reconstructed later with precise detail, is perhaps the most scenic part of the city. If you are looking to explore the city’s history, stroll around the Old Town Market Square, take a look at the Royal Castle, or visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

If you’re looking for something a bit different, why not pay a visit to Warsaw’s neon museum. Located in The Soho Factory, a series of old industrial buildings, the museum houses a collection of iconic neon signs of the communist era.

In terms of the city’s economy Warsaw is becoming a popular destination for global companies, with many branches or headquarters here. Some of the key industries in the Warsaw include electronics, food-processing and high-tech mechanics. The city also has two major universities.

Kraków: Visiting the Old Town

Kraków is a vibrant city with some of the best museums and cultural programs in the world. The National Museum, for instance, has numerous branches here. Wawel Royal Castle, the Historical Museum of Kraków, as well as the old synagogue are worth a visit. If you’re interested in historic architecture, take a tour of the Old Town of Kraków and have a look at the preserved buildings, which include the Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Church.

Spend some time in the Market Square just watching the people and listening to the bugle call from the tower of St. Mary’s. The Old Town is also perfect if you’re on the lookout for some typical souvenirs.

Krakow is popular with start-ups and high-tech companies. Unemployment in the city is particularly low: in 2017, the figure stood at just 2.8%, with the monthly gross wages and salaries in the enterprise sector growing annually. The industries which employed the most people included trade; repair of motor vehicles, manufacturing, professional, scientific and technical activities, administrative and support service activities, as well as information and communication.

Wroclaw: Finding Dwarves on Your Way

Wroclaw, the capital of Silesia, belonged to Germany until 1945 and was one of the last German cities to be seized by the Red Army in World War II. Since then, Wroclaw has developed into one of Poland’s major urban areas.

Much like Warsaw, Wroclaw is a great city for families. The city’s zoo is the biggest in the entire country and is definitely worth a visit. One of Wroclaw’s most famous attractions comes in the form of its beloved dwarf statues. The dwarfs honor the Orange Alternative, an anti-communist collective of the 1980s, whose emblem was that of a dwarf. Some sources claim that there are now over 300 dwarfs scattered all over Wroclaw’s streets, although officially there are 165. Each dwarf, or krasnal in Polish, has its own name and background story. To find out more, visit the official Krasnale website.

The city’s economy is made up of small and medium-sized companies as well as larger multinational enterprises — Goggle, HP, and Amazon all have offices here. Key industries include IT and high technologies, such as electrical engineering, medical and automotive industries, and services for business. Wroclaw is also home to a number of universities.

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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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