For Foreigners

How to survive as an Expat in Poland

Expat life can be tricky. You have to deal with a lot of tough stuff that you normally wouldn’t. Language barriers, obtaining residence permits, trouble meeting friends, lack of familial support, cultural misunderstandings. Phew! That’s a lot for us expats to handle. So, how can you survive all that? Read on to find out.

Start taking Polish lessons.

Even if you can’t speak very well or you’ll only be in Poland temporarily, you’ll feel good about yourself for trying. A great place to find a teacher is e-korepetycje.com if you’d like to learn via Skype or face-to-face, however some schools also offer Polish for foreigners classes. Many people are also willing to do language shares, so if you prefer to have lessons for free, that’s a great option. In that case, I’d recommend posting something on an expat Facebook page.

Get your Karta Pobytu as soon as possible.

This tends to be a pain when you first arrive in Poland, one of the worst things you go through as an expat in Poland. The whole process can be very confusing and even once you think you’ve figured it out, they tell you you’re missing a whole list of documents you’ve never heard of. Be sure to take a Pole with you to navigate these muddy waters and stay calm. You’ll get it, it might just take a while. For more information, I have a whole post about Getting a Karta Pobytu in Poland. Also, this Just Ask Poland article should help as well. Generally, it’s a very useful site for Poles with all info about official stuff.

Look for Expat meet ups in your area.

There are plenty of these and Facebook is the best place to find them. I’d also recommend InterNations, a site with special pages for the biggest Polish cities where you can ask questions, find out about events and meet people like you. If you live in a big city you won’t have much trouble, if you live in a smaller place then you might just have to start your own.

Put yourself out there.

Don’t make the mistakes I did. Whenever I move, it always takes me forever to find friends and to assimilate. That’s because I’m introverted and don’t put myself out there. I always preferred to suffer in silence, alone, because I was embarrassed of my language skills. Don’t let yourself fall into those traps – the only way to meet people and improve your skills is to get out there. No one else thinks you’re lame if you’re not fluent – that’s your own projection! The sooner you meet people, especially those you can commiserate with, the better you’ll feel as an expat in Poland.

Find a job you enjoy.

Many foreigner teach English, but that’s not the only option nowadays in Poland. There are plenty of opportunities for foreigners in Polish companies, especially if you can find one that needs your language skills (e.g. German, French, Italian based companies), the key is finding the right one for you.

Find a hobby that helps you survive the weather.

You might consider picking up a winter sport or something you can enjoy indoors as the winter tends to be long. It’s not as bad as you might think it is, but it can be quite grey for an extended period. You have to find your own ways to get through it. We all do. Check out my post about How to Survive Winter in Poland.

Explore Poland and get to know the culture.

The more you travel around the country, the more you’ll understand Polish people and the more you’ll have to discuss with them. Sometimes I’ve been to a place that one of my students hasn’t and that’s an interesting point of discussion. It’s good to see all parts of Poland – the seaside, Mazury, the Tatra mountains, etc. because then you’ll know what people are talking about when they make fun of Krupówki Street in Zakopane or the terrible weather they had at the seaside this year. But not only traveling, spend time with Poles in their homes. Spend some holidays in traditional homes and meet people of all generations to really get a feel for Polish culture. The sooner you do that, the sooner you’ll be able to assimilate.

Are you an expat in Poland? Do you have any other recommendations for expats looking to assimilate in Poland? Be sure to leave your ideas in the comments below! Thanks!

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12 Comments

  • Reply Tony Boye 29 August 2018 at 21:30

    Some really good points you made there;)Pozdrawiam^^:D

  • Reply Manuel 31 August 2018 at 22:17

    Another point: try not to cry if you cannot find your favourite country food. You will never get it!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 9 September 2018 at 15:03

      Hahah well… yeah there are burger joints in Poland but they’re definitely not like American burgers. Maybe that’s a good thing though? They’re tasty as well. But I mean like bbq or something or even good tex mex… forget it!

  • Reply Aimee R. Martinez 8 September 2018 at 00:31

    I love reading your posts. After living in POland for 3 years, and being back in the U.S. it’s all so relatable. Thank you for taking the time to write this blog. I love it.
    And my experience there.

    All Americans should experience expat life, in my opinion. Poland is a great place to start.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 9 September 2018 at 15:04

      Thanks Aimee! You’re sweet. I’m really glad you could relate to these. I mean that makes sense as our experiences have been so similar. What do you think the hardest part of being an expat is?

  • Reply Aimee R. Martinez 8 September 2018 at 00:35

    Actually, scratch that last part. Maybe , not all Americans.

  • Reply Ronald Ti 12 September 2018 at 09:11

    Hi Leah
    I’m Australian and have lived in provincial Poland ( NOT Warsaw-Wroclaw-Krakow-Poznan, i.e. lots of expats) for almost 3 years . I’ve applied for no less than 3 karty-2 x czasowe and one staly. I just submitted a post to Phil’s blog site and he was kind enough to publish it. See:

    https://www.expatspoland.com/temporary-residence-permit

    The post may be a little unclear-its mainly about getting a temporary residence permit if you have married a Polish citizen but the bit at the end about tax concerns getting a permanent residence permit. I think I did not make it clear enough to Phil when I submitted it. Hopefully some of your readers will find it useful!

    Cheers

    Ron

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 24 September 2018 at 21:03

      Hey Ronald – cool I’ll definitely check it out. Can you repost the link because there seems to be an error?

  • Reply Ronald Ti 28 September 2018 at 07:53

    Hi Leah
    Not sure what Phil’s done with the post, I can’t find it on his site. do you want me to send it to you, slightly edited? Its not copyright after all

    Let me know

    Cheers

    Ron

  • Reply Ronald Ti 28 September 2018 at 08:17

    Leah, here is the entire post ( it has disappeared off Phil’s blog):

    Getting a Temporary Residence Permit if you are Married to a Polish Citizen

    1 Introduction

    There are good sources on the internet: in general, the procedures are explained clearly. Hopefully by using this post as a guide and the appropriate sites (listed below), you will be able to get familiar with the process. This post is here for you to fill in the gaps. The good news is that there are not that many gaps in between the internet sites and this post. But to be clear: applying for both the Temporary and Permanent Residence permits is detailed and requires a lot of documentation to be assembled along with a number of visits to the Foreigners Affairs office in your Wojewoda.

    2 Background

    This post is a little specific: I married Mariola my Polish wife in 2005 in Australia. We moved to Poland at the end of 2015. I have applied so far for 2 Temporary residence permits (Pobyt Czasowy) and one permanent residence permit (Pobty staly). Hence this advice here only applies to married foreigners. Sorry I cannot write for folk who are, say, applying for student permits or employment related permits.

    3 Assumptions

    • You are a NON-EU passport holder
    • You do NOT have Polish ancestors
    • You have been married for at least 3 years before your application
    • Your spouse is a Polish citizen

    4 The Process

    I think the best way to do this would be to “walk” chronologically through the process which I had to undergo: remember this is an application on the basis of marriage to a Polish citizen.

    1 First of all READ the websites. The ones I find the most useful are:

    http://www.migrant.info.pl/home.html This one is OK. Note that the information related to the Temporary residence card is outdated, despite me writing to them to tell them the form had changed (they simply ignored me). In particular the current FORM as on their website is the wrong one-if you arrive at the office with the wrong form, you will have to print off the correct one, fill it in and make copies -all very hard to do on the spot.

    http://www.malopolska.uw.gov.pl/default.aspx?page=Locations_of_foreigner_service_centres Note that this site is the one applicable to my own Wojewoda (Malopolska). Each Wojewoda has their own office for foreigner’s affairs. (Much like states in Australia) They all have slightly different procedures. You have to apply to your own Wojewoda.

    https://mazowieckie.pl/en/for-foreigners-1/residence This site is the site for foreigners living in the Wojewoda for Warsaw. It has online forms that can be filled in.

    https://udsc.gov.pl/en/cudzoziemcy/obywatele-panstw-trzecich/ This one is the official national government site and appears to be useful, but it does not take long for you to find out that it’s all a front: most of the site after the front page is in Polish! However, there are user friendly forms.

    2 CHECK the documents you require. Particularly in the case of marriage, a translation of the marriage certificate is required. Better still is if your spouse and you go to the “Palace of Marriages” in your town or city and register the marriage in terms of Polish law. For a marriage-basis application this is a really good thing to do, as you will then be able to return to the Palace of Marriages and get an official certificate each time you apply for a permit

    3 Make sure you have been married for at least 3 years, this is a prerequisite

    4 ASSEMBLE the docs. Be warned, there are a lot and diverse. As I mentioned in the case of marriage, a marriage certificate is required, better still, depending on where you were married, a registration as a marriage in the Republic is even better. You will need copies of your passport, also photographs taken in the approved format. You will also need a copy of your wife’s dowod osobisty (=Poland ID card). Note you also have to pre-pay the fee AND keep evidence.

    5 Once you assemble all of the documents you will then need to SUBMIT the documents. In the case of Malopolska (which is my home Wojewoda) you have to make an appointment on a telephone line which always seems to be engaged for an appointment to LODGE your documents. This is caused by the sheer increase in the number of applicants for residence, mainly, as it turns out, Ukrainians.

    6 You then have to be physically present to submit your documents. You cannot simply post or courier them. You will be fingerprinted whilst you are there. No ink pads-the electronic ones! Note it is best that your spouse comes with you, especially for translation.

    7 After this be prepared to be visited by the local police who will turn up, unannounced, at your registered address and ask you questions about your domestic situation. As an Australian, this turning up unannounced was very unusual for me. Oh well, when in Rome…

    9 A decision (“Decjza”) on the temporary residence permit will eventually be posted to your registered address by registered mail, hopefully in the positive. You will then need to pay the fee for a card.

    10 You will need to physically pick this card up-take your passport as ID and proof of paying the card issuance fee. This is on the average 2 months after the “Decjza”is posted to you.

    11 You will then hopefully be issued with a Temporary residence card-valid for up to 1 year. This is the good news. The bad news is that you will need to apply for it again after a year-and go through the whole process again, the lot.

    12 Note that for the 2nd temporary residence card application you will be visited by the police again and then also called for an interview in the office. They usually do not do an interview for the 1st temporary residence card but they will for the second one. Note that this formal interview will be in Polish-and your spouse cannot interpret. Without knowing anyone in Poland, I ended up asking a very bright young bloke working at the lobal hamburger shop if he would not mind making some extra $ and he became my translator: he proved to be excellent and a great young bloke.

    13 The 2nd temporary residence card will be valid for up to 3 years, there does not appear to be a standard, it all depends on the individual circumstances. Be warned they may not give you 3 years, it appears to be discretionary.

    14 Note that for a Permanent residence permit, the same sequence as temporary residence applies. By the time the police visited me for the third time it was a pure formality. I live in a small town and I kept on bumping into the police sergeant at the local ships with his kids!

    Getting a Permanent Residence Permit if you are Married to a Polish Citizen

    The notes below are additional for permanent residence permits. After 2 years on a temporary residence permit AND if you are married for 3 years you can apply.

    1 TAX clearance-PIT 31

    The process for getting a permanent residence permit has a significant and hidden (=depending on which website you read) sting. Note that this requirement does NOT get mentioned anywhere in ANY of the official Wojewoda websites, but it IS mentioned only on the migrant.pl website. And in fact, when I applied for my permanent residence permit, yes, it was asked for. Here is the brief paragraph listing (amongst the other requirements) this requirement from the migrant.pl website.

    ***NOTE AGAIN, this is NOT stated anywhere on any of the official Wojewoda websites!

    a certificate of discharge of fiscal obligations due to the Treasury issued by the tax office with jurisdiction over the foreigner’s place of residence

    Note that this is where a whole new world of complications can occur. To get a certificate of tax clearance implies that you have previously submitted a tax return…if you have not, you will need to file tax returns…for every year including the current one. So, if in fact you have been happily living in Poland and have not filed a tax return for, say, a few years…you then need to file all tax returns up to the current tax year when you are applying for the residence permit. The Wojewoda will require our latest tax clearance. You will need to catch up as you cannot get a current tax clearance if your returns are not up to date. Hence if you have never filed a tax return or have years missing…you will have to catch up.
    Filing a tax return may get complicated as you may already be paying, or have paid, tax in your own home country. We were fortunate in that we are Australian, and Australia has a double tax treaty with Poland, which spares both Australians and Poles from having to pay tax twice. I suggest the following actions:

    • Do a web search on paying tax/ declaring your tax status in Poland: read up
    • Do a web search on whether your own country has a double taxation treaty with Poland (and hope it does-basically if you have been working in some Gulf state with no tax treaty and indeed no income tax, you might have issues)
    • Do a web search on English speaking tax lawyers-then call them and ascertain if they can file on your behalf

    Ultimately the tax lawyer can do it all for you-up to and including documenting what is known as the PIT 36, or income tax return. Once you get the PIT 36, you will need to go to the correct tax office (urzad skarbowy) where you live and lodge it and, most importantly, get it stamped. This is what the Wojewoda will want to see as part of your application. They will also ask you to sign an acknowledgement that you are in compliance with tax reporting requirements. This acknowledgment is backed up (on the form you sign and date) with a frightening set of penal code acts with penalties and punishments for those who are tempted not to tell the truth!

    Some points:

    • Accountants in Poland are all qualified lawyers (unlike Australia where accountants are accountants and lawyers are lawyers)
    • Factor in time for this-getting the tax stuff is not going to happen overnight!
    • The Polish tax year goes from Jan to Dec with filing required to be done by 1 April.

    I’ve tried to condense what can be a complex topic in a few lines-nowhere else does it pay more to get professional advice than in this area!

    2 Permanent residence permit-interviews

    An interview will be done of you and your spouse for the permit application. This interview is to determine if your marriage is real or simply contrived for the purposes of obtaining a permit.

    Note that for a Permanent residence permit, the same sequence as for temporary residence applies. By the time the police visited me for the third time it was a pure formality. I live in a small town and I kept on bumping into the police sergeant at the local shops with his kids

    Final thoughts

    I am comfortable and 100% concur with this process-at least there is a process and the interview is there to determine that your relationship is genuine. If you are a little intimidated, my only comment is this: check out the procedure for Australia. It is a lot longer, a whole lot more expensive, a lot more stringent. This one is kindergarten compared to Aussies. It’s the Aussies who are ruthless.

    Lastly for all those new to Poland one big tip: this is a paper and red stamp-based bureaucracy. Do NOT be fooled by the “EU veneer” that sits on everything with modern-looking websites! It’s a front! Take Everything, every single document you can lay your hands on. You will probably be asked for them! If in doubt: take it!

  • Reply SoleWanderer 26 October 2018 at 11:09

    If you’re brown and a migrant, you’re a “rapefugee”. If you’re white, you’re a respectable ‘expat’. Words have meaning.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 5 November 2018 at 13:07

      Yes it’s absolutely unfair.

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