For Foreigners, Poland

The terror of getting a Polish residence card (Karta Pobytu)

I’ve been avoiding writing this post because I have such a bad taste in my mouth about it. Getting a Polish residence card is, by far, the most unpleasant thing about living in Poland. I’d like to give my advice to those who may feel in over their heads. It’s daunting, but a few tricks can help the process of getting a karta pobytu go more smoothly.

I’m on my 3rd karta pobytu and I dread the thought of having to do it again. Which funnily enough I have to do one more time even though I’m married to a Pole. I have my current one for about 2.5 more years and I can’t get permanent residence until we’ve been married at least 3 years. So that’s cool.

So you’ve decided to live long-term in Poland? You might be wondering how to get a Polish residence card. Here’s a few tips to help you maintain your sanity:

  1. Find a job or another reason good enough to get you a residence permit. First, you’ll need to find a job if you’re not married to a Pole, a student in Poland, or a refugee seeking asylum. That’s the problem, you need to find someone who wants to hire you, but you can’t work until you have the residence card. That’s why you need to find work as soon as possible so you can get the ball rolling. If you plan to open your own business and work that way, it’s also not reason enough to get a residence card. You have to prove that your business actually offers something (re: paid taxes) to the Polish economy before they’ll give you that. So first you need a company to sponsor you and then maybe after a couple years you can get the card because of your company. Depending on your reasons, you may get it for 6 months up to 3 years.
  2. Start as soon as possible. The process can take a few months depending on how quickly you’re able to collect the necessary docs and how diligent you are. The sooner you get started on that, the better. Each time I’ve done it, it took about 3 months from start to finish. If you’re telling yourself, “ok but there are no foreigners here so it ought to be quick”. To you, I suggest going to the Urząd Wojewodźki, Wydział Spraw Cudzoziemców (Cudzoziemców being a very word…obviously) on any given day. It’s full of Ukrainians, Spaniards, Turks, Koreans, Russians, and probably me. I’m there a few times a month for one thing or another. EDIT: Find out how it works at your Urząd Wojewódzki. I went to mine recently and you have to have a reservation and the earliest you can make one is in three months. So that means if you live in Sląsk, you’ll be over your 90-day limit by the time you can even apply for your residence permit. This is because of the huge influx of foreigners in Poland nowadays.
  3. Take a Polish speaking person with you. Irony of ironies, absurdity of absurdities, the people who work in the Office of Foreign Affairs usually don’t speak English. Even if they do, they probably won’t offer up that info. Go figure. In that case, you have to go take someone with you. Also, it’s a pretty important thing so even if you’re like me and can do things by yourself, sometimes it’s hard to understand because you don’t know the names of documents, etc. This way, it’s safer. I’ve seen some humiliating situations involving people who don’t speak Polish at all and I wouldn’t want to be that person. Pani urzędnik says something to the poor, sad soul in Polish. He shrugs, looking uncomfortable, not understanding a word. She says the same thing again, in Polish of course. Poor, sad soul shrugs again, despairing. He now understands how this works and that he’ll get nothing done today. After about 2-3 minutes of this, the woman finally says something in English, at her extreme reluctance, and it’s not half bad. Satisfied that she’s humiliated the guy and knows she could have said some that from the very beginning. Doesn’t care.
  4. If you think it could be necessary, take it with you. The idea is to have more documents than you need. You have to prove many things like you don’t owe taxes or that you have enough money to live. You never know what they might require to it’s better to have it than go back again and again…. and again. Make sure to write everything down the first time or get one of those handy books that they have with everything translated into English. That thing will be like the bible for you. I’ve discovered a number of life changing proverbs in it.
  5. Go early. If you don’t want to wait in long lines, I suggest going as early as possible or reserving a spot online. Reservations are a must. I assure you. I only discovered it this year and I feel like a fool! It’s gold. You can reserve a spot every 30 minutes and you never have to wait in line. Without a reservation, just go at 7:30 when they open. The one time you go there at 10, you’ll regret it. They don’t pick up the phone regularly so even if you have one little question, you’ll have to go there and ask. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone, waited over an hour and had to leave because the wait was too long or gone and received information that could have easily been given via phone. I hope you like wasting time.
  6. Keep calm. Fortunately, as long as you turn in everything they need, you’ll get the card. Even if it seems impossible, the civil servants are rude and you’re at your wits end, they’re not going to refuse you. It’s just part of your induction into the Dark Side.

If you’re like me, it’s also a good idea to take someone with a cool head. Whenever someone is rude or tells me I need just one more document, I immediately get bitchface. This is not wise since these people hold your future in their hands. The whole thing is so damn unpleasant that it’s hard to warp my facial expressions into something nice-ish. Just grit your teeth and bare it and eventually all will be good…until it expires 🙂 Best of luck to you!

Necessary documents for a Polish residence permit:

  • application
  • photos – you can get those taken at the office but it’s cheaper elsewhere
  • proof of payment – about 400 zł + 50 zł for the card
  • copies of your passport
  • translated birth certificate
  • lease proving you have a place to live
  • confirmation of residence from city hall (potwierdzenie zameldowanie)
  • work permit – takes about 1 month to receive from Urząd Wojewódzki
  • example work contract or intention to hire from your potential employer stating how much you will earn and for how long

Possible necessary documents:

  • current status of your bank account – (seriously, you have to show you have money to live)
  • proof of health insurance
  • company documents
  • past invoices from your company
  • proof that you don’t owe taxes (zaświadczenie o niezaleganiu)
Previous Post Next Post

55 Comments

  • Reply Weronika 31 January 2016 at 12:52

    That is so correct! I hated that and we fought a lot over karta pobytu with my boyfriend! And I don’t know what’s those ladies’ problem but they are extremaly unpleasant. I live in Lodz and people at offices are rude, serious and do not speak English as well. I remember when my boyfriend went there by himself, someone there told him “I’m in Poland, I’m going to speak Polish to you”, which made me so embarrassed and angry. And now you’re telling me, he will have to keep doing it, even after we get married… bad news 🙁

    • Reply Leah Southers 31 January 2016 at 18:03

      Weronika — yeah sorry 🙁 gotta wait three years after marriage and then get interviewed to make sure you’re *really* married. After 5 years living in Poland you can get permanent residence anyway so maybe that will be an easier solution for you guys. don’t fret! Where’s he from?

  • Reply Paweł 31 January 2016 at 12:56

    Hi Leah!

    This is so true, our Polish bureaucracy is a horror. May cheer You a little bit to know that it is as terrible to native Poles, no matter where You live. I find it hard to believe that in U.S. civil servants are actually to serve You and they do this with smile on their faces – but everyone who have been to America confirms that.

    On the other hand – American immigration rules are, to my understanding, far worse. I plan to visit USA in May and last wednesday I have been granted a visa. I think it is humiliating to be the only country in the EU which is not in the visa waiver program.

    But the worst is that even after I spend a lot of money on visa, flight, hotel/RV etc – I may be disliked by the officer on the airport, denied entry to U.S. and sent back home with nearest flight.

    • Reply Leah Southers 31 January 2016 at 18:01

      Paweł – yeah I know what you mean about the visa thing. It is pretty tragic. However, I think that the idea that they could send you back just cause they don’t like you is a myth. Maybe if you acted like a fool on the plane or in the airport, yes, but otherwise? No one I’ve known has ever had any problems at the airport, so I think you’ll be fine 🙂 Don’t worry too much!

      • Reply c64 10 February 2016 at 04:00

        Well, I’ve heard about two cases when Polish bands going to US to play a concert for Polish community had to cancel because one of the musicians was denied entry for unknown reason.

        • Reply Leah Southers 10 February 2016 at 06:12

          yeah? that’s pretty shocking and pretty stupid. But maybe it’s different now? I don’t hear very often about people getting denied visas these days. At least no one I know but I’m sure it happens.

        • Reply Maciej 11 February 2016 at 14:24

          probably he get drunk on the plane or he was rude to immigration officer acting as rock super start 🙁
          if you keep calm, have all the papers like visa and invitation, plus you know where you will be staying in US and … you have a plane ticket back to home, no one will sent you back home !

        • Reply Chris from Kielbasa Stories 13 February 2016 at 06:31

          I have just got my second permanent residence card in which I waited 7 hours to be called. The lady proceeded to berate me for not indicating that I had not changed my first name (because people often do that, right?). When I came to pick up my card with my expired card, she didn’t want to give me my card because I didn’t have my passport with me, even though she had just checked my fingerprints against my previous sample. Finally she ordered me to re-do the whole process as they had lost my zameldowanie and had printed my card without an address.

          PS Those musicians were refused entrance because they were entering on a tourist visit not a business/work visa.

          • Leah Southers 17 February 2016 at 02:16

            Hey Chris,

            Yeah the lack of passport thing is always a problem – as if another ID with your face on it isn’t enough. I’ll never get that. But OMG what? You had to re-do the process? I had that situation last time I applied for a work permit for one of my employees – the lady told me the application wasn’t signed and therefore I have to start over again. Isn’t it their job to make sure the stupid thing is signed? Also, can’t I just sign it and they can proceed? No.

  • Reply Agnieszka 31 January 2016 at 14:58

    Unfortunately bureaucracy in Poland is one of the worst things here. People try to avoid Urzędy as much as they can, but still having tons of documents and other unnecessary papers makes you go there pretty often. I don’t know if it’s true, but sometimes I get the impression that in Poland you can talk in English (maybe broken one, but still) with anyone but the officials ;D

    • Reply Leah Southers 31 January 2016 at 18:04

      Agnieszka – hah it is strange, isn’t it? I have to say though, I’ve found that the people who work at City Hall are extremely nice and I’ve never had any problems there. It’s rather Urząd Wojewódzki that’s the problem.

  • Reply Lilianna 1 February 2016 at 08:42

    I agree, civil servants in Poland are rude wherever you go. It’s as if they all took a personality test that disqualified all those who were too nice 😉 on the other hand, going to the US wasn’t a peach either! The first time I went, I had to have my fingerprints scanned when getting a visa, had to answer tons of personal questions trying to prove as best as I could that no, I was not planning to leave Poland for good (yes, I too had to prove I had enough money to support myself while in the US, that I had strong ties to Poland, I owned property etc). And at the airport the immigration officer asked me so many questions! He even paraphrased the same question a few times to see if my answer would be the same every time. As my American friends once said having heard all of this, it’s easier for Mexicans to get to the US than Poles. Luckily, next visits were always smoother, the stamp that I was there and came back home is a real life saver 🙂

    • Reply Leah Southers 2 February 2016 at 07:10

      Hey Lilianna – yeah I have to have my fingerprints taken when I get my karta pobytu as well. they have to know who you are in case you get into trouble 🙂 that I kinda understand. but all the questions? come on. it’s a little bit ridiculous. but feel comfort in knowing that at the airport in the USA, they also ask me where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, etc etc. so I guess it’s just standard. Not just you 🙂

  • Reply Nancy Southers 1 February 2016 at 22:36

    Government situations are difficult here in the USA as well…for some reason they seem to relish in the power. 🙂 Just keep on smiling!! BTW…love your pic on your new Karta Pobytu!

    • Reply Leah Southers 2 February 2016 at 07:09

      yeah it turned out pretty good this time… unlike all the other times 🙂

      • Reply c64 10 February 2016 at 04:16

        Hey, but weren’t the other times three-quarter shots? I always liked the fact the document photos in Poland were three-quarter unlike in other countries because it could turn good or bad. The frontals for me can only turn either bad or mugshot.

        • Reply Leah Southers 10 February 2016 at 06:14

          Oh I know what you’re talking about. Nope they’re always face forward for my karta pobytu but like my driver’s license has a 3/4 shot, like you said. I don’t understand those rules but maybe for international things it needs to be like a mugshot 🙂

  • Reply hollydolly 2 February 2016 at 15:52

    Nice EDC (especially the Łowicz dolly keyring)

  • Reply Kadewu 7 February 2016 at 00:42

    Well, how sadly true. But years of having to live with Polish bureacracy made me immune to its Belgian counterpart.

    • Reply Leah Southers 7 February 2016 at 09:25

      so it’s not that bad in Belgium?

      • Reply Kadewu 7 February 2016 at 16:33

        It is tiresome and time-consuming, plus every minucipality has its own rules. But I take it easy because I spent 36 years in Poland and I know it could be worse :-).

        • Reply Leah Southers 9 February 2016 at 15:47

          haha good point. Stay calm and remember what it’s like in Poland 🙂

  • Reply Lucas 9 February 2016 at 14:27

    I just got link to your blog from reddit and I liked it very much. You’re one of the few Americans that decide to live here and one of even fewer that share your thoughts about Poland. Keep it going 🙂
    And about our Urzędy – it’s not worth the time to talk about it, we all hate them!

    • Reply Leah Southers 9 February 2016 at 15:49

      Hey Lucas! I have to be honest though, Urząd Miasta in Gliwice is kinda awesome. I never have problems there.

  • Reply PG 9 February 2016 at 19:20

    If it’s possible just move to another country, I lived in Poland for 25 years and there is no hope for it at all.

  • Reply Jacek 10 February 2016 at 01:59

    Well at least you do not have to answer questions like ” Have you ever been involved in prostitution?” and the like – which you can find on US visa application.

    • Reply Leah Southers 10 February 2016 at 06:10

      Yeah the US visa application has some hilarious questions. I have a copy of them somewhere to use in my lessons

    • Reply Papuga z Ameryki 18 February 2016 at 21:50

      🙂

  • Reply Rin 22 February 2016 at 20:39

    Thank you SO much for this. I’m also an American, but I am engaged to a Pole and we wanted to wait until my job + residence permit was settled before we applied for marriage, as I heard THAT is a crazy difficult procedure too. I’m so happy to have found your blog!

    • Reply Leah Southers 23 February 2016 at 04:07

      Rin,

      I’m so glad it helped you!! I know how daunting it can be. If you have any questions, feel free to message me: leahsouthers@gmail.com

  • Reply Monika 20 March 2016 at 21:12

    “urzędnik” often speaks English, but they are not allowed to do so, because official language in Poland is .. surprise surprise… Polish 🙂

  • Reply Monika 7 April 2016 at 12:11

    Geeeez I thought obtaining a Moroccan residency permit wasa pain in the ass. And I am a Pole saying that 😛

    I see Poland and Morocco and quite alike hahaahha

  • Reply Socrates 31 May 2016 at 08:56

    Perfect! Been there twice
    Question for you; since you are married to a Pole, same as me… do you have to go through the whole process, same documents, sames pain? the only “benefit” of the marriage fact, is that you will be not have to get a new working permit should you change job/company?
    Cheers and thanks Mate!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 11 June 2016 at 16:57

      Honestly I think there’s no real benefit except that it’s easier to get a loan and you can get permanent residence after 3 years of marriage without any problems :/ Sad, huh?

  • Reply Anna 19 June 2016 at 14:05

    Hello. Me and my fiance are planning on getting two of those karta pobytu soon, and after your story it became quite scary. Could you please give a link where we can reserve a spot online. I’ve been searching through all the Lodz urząd website, but couldn’t find anything about reserving. Thanks in advance.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 19 June 2016 at 15:06

      Hi Anna,

      Unfortunately I don’t think the website for Urząd Wojewódzki in Lódź has the option to make reservations. I looked it over but its different than the Katowice site which I use :/ Maybe it’s not an option there. If you have any other questions, please let me know!

  • Reply Mariana 5 September 2016 at 19:47

    Ugh, this is everyone’s least favorite part. The Urzedy and Biurokracja in Poland is something to avoid like a plague. (for foreigners and Polish folks alike). But on the other hand it is like that everywhere. I am going through the Green Card process now here in NYC and let me tell you, it sounds a lot like what you have been going through.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 September 2016 at 19:48

      oh gosh I can’t even begin to understand what that’s like. Out of curiosity, could you please tell me something about the process? I’m very curious how to get started with it and what is required of you. My students ask me often and I have no idea! Any info would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  • Reply sue 15 September 2016 at 23:26

    I plan to retire in Poland, but after reading all the comments on the difficulty of dealing with the Polish bureaucracy, I am beginning to have doubts. I am a Polish-American and have visited Poland many times. Thought it would be a great place to retire. I have recently purchased land to build a small house. However having heard all the horror stories of trying to obtain residency I have my doubts. What type of documents do they want? I have all my financial papers, passport, health insurance, etc. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 16 September 2016 at 10:57

      Hi Sue,

      Well honestly I’m not sure how it works when someone buys property and wants to live on it. Generally, you have to have some good reason to live here which usually is either 1. work 2. marriage 3. university. I don’t think “I want to” is a good enough reason for them. But perhaps if you own property it’s possible. In your case, I’m really not sure how it would work :/ For you when you retire, I guess they need info that you have health insurance, evidence that you don’t owe taxes, evidence that you own a house… not sure what else. The best thing to do would be to go there and try to work everything out in person. That’s the only way to know exactly what you need.

  • Reply Miu 4 October 2016 at 14:53

    Hi Leah,

    I completely understand what you’ve been through. I just got my decision from Polish immigration which took over 6 months!! Anyways, do you happen to remember how long did it take you to actually receive karta pobytu? Did it take a month after receiving your positive decision?

    Best regards,
    Miu

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 October 2016 at 12:06

      Oh bless you! 6 months is incredible. I’ve always only waited 3 months but I have a theory that here in Silesia the Urząd is quite efficient. I think it takes just a couple weeks to get your card. You have to go pay for it and wait maybe a week? Shouldn’t take long!!

  • Reply Dennis 28 October 2016 at 18:03

    First of all let me start by saying I like the blogs and also other peoples comments. 🙂

    I moved to Warsaw on October 1st and luckily I could work for the same company as I did in the Netherlands. Within the company there are a lot of people relocating all over the world so they have good relocation packages. 🙂

    On October 27th I applied for an EU stay registration at Mazowiecki Urząd Wojewódzki in Warsaw, so I can work and live here and which will take up to a month. Thanks to the company there was someone local who prepared all the paperwork and made an appointment. I had to handover my passport and sign a few forms. Within 10 minutes I was outside again (literally!). If I read the other posts, I think I need to be happy to have it this way. Most probably it is also only this time the company helps me out, but next year I will be on my own…..
    I’m not sure what all needs to be done as it is sometimes a bit overwhelming due to all the bureaucratic paperwork, but I try to take it one step at the time (krok po kroku).

    On October 28th I went to customs to declare my car, which I took from the Netherlands. That was chaos already, at least in my opinion. You don’t pick a number, people are coming through all the time and to pay the fee you have to go to the post office and get back to the customs office again…. Maybe it is easier to purchase a payment machine? But OK. The people work kind of slow, but at least were nice and tried to help out wherever they could.

    After every blog I read I realize the way to go is getting longer and longer…

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 28 October 2016 at 18:56

      Hey Dennis – sounds like you got pretty lucky with having someone help you with everything! I’m a little jealous. But don’t worry – you’ll figure it out when you have to and if you need help then you’ll find someone to help you. People are very kind to foreigners in Poland so it’ll be fine. Also, if you need help, feel free to ask 🙂

      • Reply Dennis de Bruijn 29 October 2016 at 12:20

        Thank you Leah! 🙂

  • Reply Mirka 2 January 2017 at 11:43

    Unfortunately it is not only Poland where people in the offices do not speak English. I have lived in different countries over the past years and had the same experience in Austria, Slovakia and Turkey – no English, long lines of people waiting, etc. Moreover, requirements to apply for the permit to stay and fees were also different – somewhere it was more expensive, somewhere foreigners had to go through unpleasant medical examination. But I see it is getting more complicated in some cities in Poland due to increased number of foreigners arriving to this country.

  • Reply Katie 18 January 2017 at 16:06

    Hi there,

    I am in the process of getting my karta pobytu (I too married a Pole) and was curious if once you have the temporary residency, are you able to travel outside of Poland? We’ve been trying to ask as many questions as possible but are having a hard time getting answers…

    Thank you!!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 19 January 2017 at 16:13

      Hi Katie – yes absolutely you can travel freely. I’ll email you so you can ask me whatever other questions you have 🙂

  • Reply Luthy 26 February 2017 at 11:19

    This is really a terror!!Im waiting for my karta pubytu since july/2016 when i applied to reniew it again. Only last week i had the visit from the police from the border.Ive tried to call several times and I couldnt speak with the person how is leading my case. I called the general number and the lady said that she cant speak english, I was able to speak feel words and said what I want, she transfered the call and one good soul was able to speak in English and after all was trying to convice me that the number that i had from the responsible from my case was wrong.I said no,my husband spoke with him last december,after all she said yes he is in a new office now. And has a new number. I have a work trip to do and i dont know what do do.

  • Reply Luthy 26 February 2017 at 11:20

    This is really a terror!!Im waiting for my karta pubytu since july/2016 when i applied to reniew it again. Only last week i had the visit from the police from the border.Ive tried to call several times and I couldnt speak with the person who is leading my case. I called the general number and the lady said that she cant speak english, I was able to speak feel words and said what I want, she transfered the call and one good soul was able to speak in English and after all was trying to convice me that the number that i had from the responsible from my case was wrong.I said no,my husband spoke with him last december,after all she said yes he is in a new office now. And has a new number. I have a work trip to do and i dont know what do do.

  • Reply Luthy 26 February 2017 at 11:36

    I dont understand why this.We need to fill up lots of papers…bring lots of documents..and pay 300 zlots plus copies.
    I was living in Dublin and I was able to have my visa in couple of days.I just feel that Poland is far far away from the Modern World.

    Im based in Gdynia/Gdansk

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 19 March 2017 at 18:22

      It’s probably a pretty normal procedure unfortunately. Nowadays it’s much more difficult because it’s hard to get an appointment with the influx of immigrants…

  • Reply GoHa Samo H 19 March 2017 at 16:30

    I, native Pole, cringe whenever I hear word “Urząd”. The only one which appears to be nicely menaged and without grim officials is probably Urząd Skarbowy.

  • Leave a Reply