Moving to Poland
Poland has taken great strides into democracy and economic stability since its communist days, and expats moving to Poland will find themselves in a country occupying a strategic position in the heart of Europe. Having effectively weathered much of the economic storm of recent years, Poland remains one of Europe’s best-performing economies.
Poland has never been a popular expat destination, and when the country officially joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, emigration statistics sky-rocketed, and the population decreased as hundreds of thousands of Poles left their homeland for greener pastures.
A history entrenched in foreign occupation, repeated post-war partition and high unemployment rates left a sizeable grey cloud on Poland's horizon, but thanks to a "shock therapy" programme initiated in the early 1990s, the country's socialist-style economy was replaced by a market economy that has only truly become successful in recent years.
Work opportunities for enterprising foreigners appear to be on the rise, but those looking to relocate will still face a number of realities that can quickly move from "a challenge" to "a hardship". Poland is well known for its crippling bureaucracy, and as a result, large infrastructural changes are slow to take effect.
Salaries are among the lowest on the continent, but the cost of living in Poland still remains on the lower end. Although public healthcare provision is adequate, the government spends the lowest percentage of its GDP on healthcare, and expats should ensure that they have comprehensive health cover in order to have access to private healthcare facilities.
Although Poland’s public education system has undergone many positive changes in recent years and tuition is free to all children resident there, including expats, the language barriers in education results in the majority of expats opting to send their children to international schools in Poland. There are a number of these to choose from, particularly in the major cities.
Expats living in Poland need to prepare themselves for a relatively conservative environment; strong family values and a powerful Catholic undercurrent still dominate the social milieu. Furthermore, with the exception of a new, vibrant youth movement, very little of the Polish population speaks English. This can complicate just about everything, from assimilation into the working environment to solidifying meaningful social connections.
On the upside, Poland's largest cosmopolitan centres, Warsaw, Krakow Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan are trying their best to clamber onto the international stage, with a growing café culture, a thriving night-life, and an increasingly cutting-edge cuisine scene. There's a reason the Poles are known for their ability to have a good party, and a long legacy of vodka is only a part of the whole.
Expats moving to Poland with an optimistic attitude can certainly succeed, but the path may prove more difficult than in other more attractive destinations.