Whether you’re looking to relocate to Poland for short-term work, set up a business there, or want to take steps to move there permanently, there are a whole host of things you need to know. Here, we provide a guide to help you learn more about the country and culture before you make your move.
Facts & Stats
Population: 38,628,927 (2016 est.)
Climate: July is the warmest month (27°C), and December the coldest (-10°C).
Nationality: Polish 93.52%, Silesian 1.09%, German 0.28%, Belarusian 0.12%, Ukrainian 0.12%, Kashubian 0.04%, Romani 0.03%, Other 4.80% (2011 census)
Religions: (Based on 2011 survey of 91.2% of the population) Roman Catholic 87.5% (around 75% who are practicing), Opting out of responding 7.1%, Non-believer 2.4%, Not stated 1.6%, Eastern Orthodox 1.3%, Other religions 1%.
Currency: Polish Zloty
Local time: GMT+01:00
National Holidays: Constitution Day, 1 May (1791), Independence Day, 11 November (1918).
The Languages of Poland
The official language of the country is Polish, and around 38.5 million people in Poland speak it (as well as it being spoken as a second language in several nearby countries).
A Slavic language, the Polish alphabet has 9 additional letters to those used in the basic Latin alphabet, making a total of 33. It is the second most spoken Slavic language after Russian, and some of its vocabulary is shared with the languages of other neighbouring Slavic countries – Czech, Slovak, Belarusian, and Ukrainian.
There are a number of officially recognised minority languages that are spoken in Poland; Belarusian, Czech, Lithuanian, German, Slovak, Russian, Ukrainian Armenian, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and there is also one regional language; Kashubian
English is the most common foreign language spoken in Poland.
With a rich history that can be traced back over hundreds of years, Poland has a unique and diverse culture. As a country the minority populations are concentrated around the borders with the German minority mainly residing near the city of Opole in the southwest. In Warsaw and other major cities there has been a recent increase in the inward migration of other nationalities.
When it comes to local culture, religion plays a vital role in society and an even bigger part in Polish culture.
- It is common for most businesses to close on religious holidays – they are considered to be national holidays in Poland.
- Christmas is considered the religious holiday that holds the most importance, with celebrations lasting a full 2 1/2 days.
- November 1st, All Saints Day is another very important religious holiday on the Polish calendar. It is a time to honour loved ones who are no longer with them, with many Poles visiting cemeteries.
- Baptisms, weddings, first communions, confirmations, and funerals are all very much influenced by religion; Poland is one of the most devoutly religious countries in Europe.
When it comes to social structure, family is right at the heart of everything and family obligations will always come first. Whilst extended family is still very much a part of any individual’s social group, Poles mark a distinct difference between this group, an inner circle so to speak, and any outsiders. This inner nucleus is made up of family and close friends, with interaction within this group and with outsiders being very different. Poles rely very much on the people in their inner circle when it comes to advice, help with finding a job, assistance with official decisions and even finding an apartment. An intricate protocol comes in to play when it comes to offering favours and getting things done using family contacts.
Etiquette and Customs
Meeting and Greeting
- A firm handshake with a smile, direct eye contact and the correct greeting depending on what part of the day it is should always be used.
- When addressing someone who is Polish it is best to use the prefix Pan for addressing males or Pani for females. This should be accompanied by the surname of the person.
- Greetings are generally civil yet polite.
- Good morning or afternoon is “dzien dobry” and good evening is “dobry wieczor”.
- It is quite likely you will not be invited to address someone by his or her first name for some considerable time. This is generally something that only occurs once you have been admitted to the “inner circle” and in business this can take a number of years.
- Parties and social gatherings can be quite formal events; it is likely the host will give you an introduction. It is commonplace to introduce the women first and then the men.
There is a certain etiquette that comes with gift giving. On the whole, gifts are given on name days (these occur on the birth date of the saint a person is named for), birthdays, and, of course, Christmas. In general, a gift will be opened by the recipient as soon as they receive it.
Here are a few helpful tips on gift giving:
- Gifts should not be too expensive as this may prove embarrassing to the person they are for.
- Appropriate gifts when invited to a Polish home for dinner include flowers, wine, sweets, or pastries for the hostess.
- Never give an even number of any type of flowers.
- Do not offer the following flowers as gifts: Yellow Chrysanthemums (as they are seen as funeral flowers), white, or red flowers – especially if they are lilies or carnations.
- Flowers should be removed from their paper before giving them as a gift.
- On their name day employees will bring cake and champagne to work to celebrate. Name days are celebrated more than birthdays.
- It is common practice to give small gifts to service workers at Christmas: postal workers, refuse collectors etc.
Dining at someone’s home
- Always be on time.
Be prepared to remove your shoes, you may be offered slippers as an indication that this is required.
- Dress appropriately – conservative clothing is the safer option.
- Although it may be turned down, ask if you can help with the preparation of food, or to help clear up after the meal.
- Meals are served Family style; you should wait for the hostess to indicate that you should start eating. Try a small amount of everything offered so you are able to accept an offer of second helpings.
- When toasts are made, this is usually with spirits, predominantly Vodka. You should attempt to offer a toast of your own at some point during the meal.
- Be warned – alcohol is usually offered in little glasses, and should be downed in one go.
Business Meetings and Management Advice
Meeting and Greeting
The initial style of business is a very formal one in Poland, and although this may appear detached, this is not the aim. Whilst government officials are more likely to maintain a high level of formality, it is possible that entrepreneurs will dispense with such rigidity. In general, it is wise to follow your colleagues’ lead when it comes to the tone of a meeting.
A few general tips:
- Shake hands, firmly, on arrival and again on leaving. Remember eye contact.
Titles are important. Both Academic and professional titles, sometimes followed by the surname.
- Do not use first names unless you are asked to.
- Business cards; these are given and taken without any ceremony but it is worth trying to have your card (or at least one side of it) translated into Polish. Qualifications such as university degrees and job titles are important so make sure you include them.
- As a rule, Poles judge others on personal virtues and what they have learnt about them.
Knowing the people you do business with is important, especially where longevity of business is concerned. Honesty is a highly valued commodity.
- When it comes to communicating, Poles put high emphasis on saying what they think, but in a diplomatic manner. Although this direct approach is important, they also put high emphasis on being polite.
- The length of the business relationship will dictate how direct they are. A newer, more formal relationship will be far more diplomatic than a more established one where speaking freely will be more commonplace.
- The person who is most senior is most likely to both open a meeting and lead its direction in terms of the agenda.
A key to building business relationships is small talk, and a first meeting may often just include what seems like only small talk – proceedings should not be rushed. Your Polish counterparts are using the opportunity to size you up.
- Meetings that take place over lunch or dinner are a great way of taking a personal relationship forward.
- Once you have established a more personal rapport, the tone of your meetings should become more relaxed.
- Make sure you are prepared for any meetings with figures and facts; these are important.
- Business decisions are usually deferred to those in the top tiers of the company.
- Once a final decision is reached, steps will be planned out in detail and carried out exactly as per the plan.
Employment and Taxes
Working in Poland
The main industries in Poland include manufacturing in the automotive industry, food processing, banking, and construction. For the majority of expats, however, the best opportunities are in IT, Finance, HR, Business Services, and Management all of which are growth sectors. There is also a shortage of English native speakers, making this a high commodity, paying well, especially in larger companies. Otherwise, unless you are specifically relocating to work within an international company, unemployment is high in Poland and salaries are relatively low.
The good news is that citizens of the EU do not need a work permit to work in Poland at this time, and there are plenty of print and online publications available with dedicated job sections.
Taxes (and banking)
Having a local bank account is essential for the day to day and also so that your employer can pay you. The larger banks will almost certainly have staff that speak English (PKO BP, Citibank, HSBC and Multibank), however the smaller, more traditional ones probably won’t. There are a good variety of accounts available, so it is worth doing some research before deciding which is best for you, and opening an account is relatively easy.
Any Expat who is resident in Poland or spends more than 183 days per tax year there will qualify for tax status and will be taxed on their worldwide income. Poland’s tax system is a progressive one, so depending on your level of income expect to be taxed between 19 and 32 percent. All expats should register for a tax identification number (NIP) when they arrive in Poland. This is a 10-digit number that will also be needed for social security payments. It can be applied for at any local public tax offices.
Relocating to Poland
Choosing to relocate to Poland can be an adventure. However, if you do not have any roots or connections in Poland, and especially if you know nothing about the country, then it could prove to be a challenge. When it comes to relocating, Poland is not high on most people’s list, however it does have a fair few things going for it. Accommodation, whilst on the small side, is both inexpensive and plentiful. The cost of day to day living, transport, food and entertainment is not high.
Healthcare is adequate but it is important for expats to ensure they have comprehensive health cover so they can access private healthcare. Whilst the Polish education system is very good, most expats prefer to use one of the many international schools due to language barriers.
On the whole, one of the biggest shocks for people relocating to Poland can be the relatively conservative environment that still exists. It is still a country where family values and Catholicism dominate many aspects of life. Many of the younger generation speak English, whilst the older generations do not, which makes learning at least some Polish vital in order to be able to go about day-to-day life.