For Foreigners

Is it worth moving to Poland right now?

As a long-term expat in Poland, I’ve always been a proponent of foreigners moving here. Here on my blog and in real life, I encouraged those seeking answers to questions like “Can I really earn a living as an English teacher in Poland?” or “Is Poland a nice place to live out my retirement?” to take the plunge. Why? Because I truly believe expats create satisfying and fulfilling lives here in a way that they might not be able to in their home countries. Sadly, recently, I’ve found myself compelled to discourage people from moving here. A strange turn of sentiment, right? Well, you’ll find out why in this post. 

When I first moved to Poland, getting a residence permit, or as it’s often referred to in Poland, a karta pobytu, the whole process took about 3 months (this is about non-EU citizens. For EU citizens, all you had to do is register your stay. You don’t need to obtain a residence permit). Of course then we thought it was an arduous process, having to run from urząd to urząd collecting whatever documents they demanded we produce. It was annoying, but it was within the realm of sanity. You could survive it and expect to get your permission in a fairly orderly and swift manner. You could to go to Urząd Wojewódzki, take a ticket from the kiosk (or make an appointment for the next day online), wait sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes an hour maybe, have a chat with one of the civil servants (well, through your Polish-speaking comrade of course) and be on your way, feeling like you had accomplished something. Oh, how spoiled we were back then. 

Fast forward a few years and the immigration process in Poland looks vastly different. There’s a massive influx of immigrants into Poland, mostly from the east, but not only. There’s a general increase in interest in moving here and I think the Office of Foreign Affairs just wasn’t prepared for it. There’s no longer a chance to show up and take a ticket for the day – not even that week, month, or perhaps even that year. Out of curiosity, I took a look today at the Urząd Wojewodzki in Katowice’s page for booking appointments and randomly saw that there were two openings in October 2019 and nothing it seemed for all of 2020. There were literally 2 openings until December 2020. Perhaps someone cancelled their appointments and it was just good luck? (I checked 30 minutes later and they were gone!) But what if there are none but you need to go there? What can you do? I honestly don’t have an answer to that question.

In the past year I’ve had 2 employees, people I was ready to hire and give work to immediately, just decide to up and leave Poland after coming here to start a new life. Why? Because they couldn’t wait half a year just to get an appointment at the office (looks like it could be longer now), plus the extra who knows how long to wait for the actual decision. One of my employees had to wait 1.5 years in Wrocław to get hers and another guy I know here in my area has been waiting for 10 months – no job, nothing, just waiting in limbo. There are countless posts on the various Expat Facebook groups complaining about extremely long wait times.

Now take a look at the infographic below. There’s also an article on Wrocław Uncut about this exact situation, discussing the average wait times in each voivodeship – and the average of all – 230 days. That’s about 8 months. Yikes. It’s hard to believe anyone can afford to wait that long. How can they expect people to live here and not work? Why not be able to start work after the work permit is issued (usually in just a few months) while you’re waiting for the card? Would that really hurt anything? 

There are many questions, frustrations, relationships ended, opportunities lost…the list goes on. Hopefully they can work out how to make the process more efficient so that I can start encouraging people to come here again. I’ve felt so guilty recently telling people who seem genuinely excited at the idea of moving to Poland and who ask me for help and guidance in this area that they might want to reconsider their decisions. I don’t want to dissuade people from moving here, especially as I’ve always considered myself and my blog to be advocates for the opposite, but I just can’t lie to people and tell them to pack their bags when they just might have to repack them again after a few short months, feeling like they’ve failed. It’s not a minor decision to finally take that big step and move abroad, and it should be made with all essential information in mind. 

If you have any thoughts on this issue, please feel free to let me know in the comments below. 

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15 Comments

  • Reply Don Ricardo JR 9 July 2019 at 16:30

    Hi Leah,
    Thanks for the timely but sad info.
    This is quite disheartening. I invested in an I-to-I TEFL Certificate last year and was REALLY looking forward to teaching there before the end of this year. How do you feel someone like myself should handle this now? Couldn’t I get around the wait by doing Skype lessons online while in country, or even start now while I’m Stateside? I do Web Design and Development as well, and I’m sure I could get some side work (even under-table, or word of mouth), while awaiting a card.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 10 July 2019 at 15:07

      Well if you want to get paid legally, you have to have a work permit and residence permit, so you have to go through the whole process unfortunately. Basically you just have to come and go through the whole thing like everyone else – I’m sorry! – it sucks but not many options. Maybe you could call the Polish embassy in the States and they could help you but I’m not sure if there’s much they could do.

  • Reply Ronald Ti 13 July 2019 at 18:33

    Dear Leah
    I have not been in the country as long as you, only my 4th year, but I do have to concur. The queues in the Biuro spraw cudzoziemcow ( BSC) have just got longer and longer for sure. It was a breeze in 2016 and 2017. On my last visit there, my wife and I planned it like a military campaign-we arrived over an hour before the doors opened, in June. I must confess I was a big criticiser of the BSC system and was very frustrated. On my last visit I saw some of the measures they had put into place, including an extensive renovation. The biggest move, small but significant, is that they get someone to hand out the tickets , because what was happening previously was that touts were getting 10 or 15 tickets at a timeand selling them. Good move, with the person manning the ticket machine it is less prone to scalpers.
    I should add at this point that this is in the BSC in Krakow-note that Malopolska does NOT have an online system-you must turn up , try and get a ticket, and queue.
    I also must add that the folk working in the office seemed semi-sympathetic and were very aware of the issues (at least the lady I spoke to) . The issue is not that they are a bunch of Nazis-the issue is that the service is underfunded and the demand has increasd exponentially and the reality of Polish post-Communist bureaucracy looms over the entire scene.
    I have navigated the entire spectrum-with a grand total of EIGHT visits to the Krakow BSC in the past 4 years. This has represented no less than 2 x temporary residence permits, and now my permanent residence permit. ( Not counting being visited by the police and the Straz graniczna-as a routine I hasten to add!)
    Leah, I agree with you that the BSC is difficult-I do not agree that this should be the sole determinant of whether one comes here or not. I am Australian and I am in the same boat as you being a US citizen. EU pass holders have got it easy!
    Bureaucracy is what it is-for a little unpleasantness, I , for one, say that the benefits are still stunning and worth it.

    May I ask, have you obtained your permanent residence or if not, are you planning to?

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 23 July 2019 at 20:32

      I agree with you that it definitely shouldn’t be the sole determinant, I merely present it as something to consider here as I’ve seen how it can dissuade people from staying and waiting through the whole process. It’s a shame that people who really want to stay and try very hard have had to leave for reasons like it takes too long to get an appointment at the Urząd. But you’re right, it’s definitely worth it, just a huge struggle for people who can’t work during that time.

      Yes, luckily I have my permanent residence and I got it before the real madness began!

  • Reply Renata 14 July 2019 at 16:37

    For people of Polish descent, they can get their citizenship if at least one parent is a Polish citizen. They just have to fill out the proper paperwork which they can do in their current country through a Polish embassy. Even if someone isn’t ready to move to Poland at least they’ll have the correct documents. After they get their Polish passports and PESEL (Poland’s equivalent to the social security number) living and working in Poland is possible. It’ll be better to have a dowód osobisty (Polish ID card) but the passport and PESEL will be enough to confirm that you’re allowed to live and work in Poland. As you’re living and working you can apply for your ID card. That usually takes a month.

    Getting confirmation on your Polish citizenship, your passport and your PESEL does take a while but it can be done while living and working in your current country. All you need to do is go onto your local Polish embassy’s website and see what needs to get done. It can take a year or two though, depending on what paperwork you need. This is because you need official translations of your paperwork and official recognition of your (original) paperwork and it takes time to send paperwork back and forth through the mail. But it’s worth it. 🙂

    I would encourage readers to do some digging and find out if any of their parents are Polish citizens. If they do then I would encourage them to apply for citizenship at their local Polish embassy. I would encourage the Polonia in the US and other parts of the world to become citizens. 🙂

    Those who don’t have Polish parents (or parent) can talk to their local Polish embassy on what they can do in their home country if anything.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 23 July 2019 at 20:28

      If you’re of Polish origin then you definitely don’t have any issues! Thank you for taking the time to explain that to those who may be interested Renata! I’m sure a lot of people are in that situation.

  • Reply Ronald Ti 15 July 2019 at 11:45

    Dear Leah

    Just one more thing ( that came to me last night just as I was falling asleep, beleive it or not)

    When you submit your application, the BSC staff will put a stamp in your passport. It is a big red stamp and it says that you have an applicatino somewhere in the pipeline with the BSC. This acts as your permit to reside until such time as the application is processed and either approved or not.

    THEREFORE my understanding is that it does not matter critically if your application is delayed 30 or 300 days or not-until such time as the matter is resolved, the stamp-remember it is in your passport-serves as the permission. Obviously like with everything else bureaucratic in Poland I ( the Aussie) am NOT 100% sure but I’m pretty ( 98%) sure, only from reading it and asking the lady at the counter< I tihnk, 2 visits ago

    You just gotta get that stamp in your passport! +++++++

    Please email me if you want me to scan it for all to see

    Last note: I'm planning to sit my Certyfykat Polski exam, and I note a similar situation there as well. The places for the exam fill out very quickly-it seemed much easier a few short years ago and I suspect its becuase of therecent flood of Ukrainians ( again). In order to study or work here I beleive they have to get a language test under their belt…

    Feel free to shoot me down in flames if I am incorrect: but if I am correct then folk should still come here and chill

    I guess the issue is submitting your application in the first place, Katowice seems messy….

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 23 July 2019 at 20:27

      Well I think you’re right about the stamp in terms of staying here but you can’t work the whole time you’re waiting, so that’s not an ideal situation for most people. Also, you have to have an appointment to get the damn stamp and getting the appointment is the problem. My employee couldn’t get an appointment at Urząd Wojewódzki for 7 months!

      • Reply Ron Ti 24 July 2019 at 14:32

        Hi Leah

        Ahhhhhhh…you are absolutely right! This bloody stamp only lets you reside and not to work-it is the temporary residence permit that may ( or may not) allow you to work. If the former, the endorsement “dostep do rynku pracy” ( =access to job market) appears on the back

        Heck I thought I had worked out a solution where everyone could chill-WRONG

        And , unfortunately, you are spot on about the BSC-it is a wait just for them to give you the stamp, and that is only stpe one-lodging your documents.

        Man, all I can say to anyone is: if at all possible, put your application in, anywhere but Katowice office ( which sounds like a disaster zone)

        Aughhhh back to square one

        • Reply Leah Morawiec 7 September 2019 at 14:00

          I’m really sorry :/ It sucks I know. I don’t know how people manage the situation nowadays honestly.

  • Reply damian 22 July 2019 at 19:29

    Leah,
    I’m a Polish citizen (passport, birth certificate, etc), but lived most of my life in the U.S. I decided to move to Warsaw this September. I will not have the residency issues you mentioned. So ignoring those, what are your thoughts about moving to Poland?
    p.s. I’m freelancing and view Poland as my home base and will work and travel a good portion of the year.
    d

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 23 July 2019 at 20:25

      In your case, I think moving to Poland is a perfect idea. You’ll have no issues with culture/language/etc and you can live here for less than you would in the States. Plus, Poland is a great point for traveling since it’s so central (if traveling in Europe is your goal). I enjoy very much living in Poland – plenty of interesting things to do/see here and nearby and I prefer the cultural values to America’s!

    • Reply Ronald Ti 24 July 2019 at 14:28

      Damian

      As we say in Australia: maaaaaaaate, you got no problems whatsoever, you ARE Polish, and that’s that

      No wucking forries Mate, that’s two Australianisms you have learnt on one day! 🙂

      Ron

  • Reply Dara 2 August 2019 at 05:23

    Wow – thank you so much for this blog post! I have been doing a little research on the possibility of moving to Warsaw with my husband who is a Polish citizen (has lived in the US since he was 6). We thought it could be a good way to get settled in Europe and get me access to the EU. It sounds however, that I would not be able to work until the temporary residency permit came through, which could be a long time? Assume there are absolutely no special circumstances for foreign spouses of Polish citizens? Do you know if big companies are able to expedite things? I work in Human Resources at a big bank in the US and was hoping to get hired ahead of time by being able to say – hey my husband is Polish, you will not need to sponsor me. Is this just totally wishful thinking? Really appreciate your input and blog!!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 7 September 2019 at 14:02

      Hi Dara! So sorry for the late response. Being married to a Pole does help in some way, but as far as I know you have to have one temporary residence permit before you can apply for the permanent one (technically you can get permanent if you’ve been married 3+ years). So that puts you in the same boat as absolutely everyone else unfortunately. Even if you can apply for permanent residence immediately, it’s the same line and procedure as for permanent so it’s also “do dupy”, as they say. Perhaps there’s a way to do start the process from the embassy in America?

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