POLAND - The basic survival guide!


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The Republic of Poland

Poland is located in the heart of Europe and covers an area of 312,700 square kilometres. Its boundaries are formed by the Baltic Sea to the north, Germany to the west, the Czech and Slovak Republics to the south and Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia to the east. Click to download a zipped version of a full scale 923 KB map of Poland.

Although Poland's topography is characterised mainly by lowland plains, its variable landscape includes important mountain chains, such as the Sudety and Tatra Mountains. Hundreds of freshwater lakes are hidden away in the northern part of the country: the Pomeranian and Mazurian Lake Districts are set amidst picturesque hills and primeval forests. Touching the Baltic Sea in the north, Poland offers 528 km of coastline with sandy beaches.

Poland has 38 million inhabitants, 1,650,000 of whom live in the capital city of Warsaw (Warszawa) and other major cities, such as Cracow (Krakow), Gdansk, Poznan, Lodz, Szczecin, Wroclaw. The population is largely of Polish descent. The official language is Polish.

Poland is a parliamentary republic and is divided into 16 administrative provinces. Since 1989, the country has been undergoing an important transformation into a market economy.

Travel to and in Poland

You can travel to and within Poland by air, land, or sea.

Most travellers arrive by air, and then take advantage of the numerous possibilities to see the country by land. If you fly into Poland, you will land either at Okecie Airport in Warsaw, Balice Airport in Krakow or Rebiechowo Airport in Gdansk. Warsaw's Okecie International Airport stands testament to Poland's renewed economy: it claims to be the most modern and safe airport in Central Europe and offers all sorts of useful services (car rental, travel agencies, a post office, a bank, restaurants, and shops). The other minor airports in Poland are: Poznan, Wroclaw, Szczecin, and Katowice. LOT Polish Airlines. who boast one of the most modern fleets of planes in the world, run connecting flights between Warsaw and other major cities, but relatively few between those cities. Call ahead to confirm your flight schedule.

Rail Services are extensive and very reasonably priced.

Car Hire is a widely available alternative in major cities.

In Warsaw there is an excellent and inexpensive tram network. Tickets are purchased from the roadside "RUCH" kiosks before you travel. Once on the tram you "punch" your own ticket in the little machines provided - and yes there are inspectors around!

Passports & Visas

All visitors should have a full passport valid at least for the duration of the intended stay in Poland.

UK nationals do not require a visitor's visa for a stay in Poland not exceeding 6 months.

Nationals of the following countries do not need visitor's visas:

For visits not exceeding 30 days:
Bulgaria, Estonia and Romania

For visits not exceeding 90 days:
Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Mongolia, Norway, Portugal, San Marina, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and Uruguay.

For further information please visit the site of the Polish Embassy in London.

Weather

Poland has a temperate changeable climate. Spring starts in March with temperatures varying from the mid 30's to the low 60's F (-1 to -15 C), until about May or June. July is the hottest month, but the rest of the summer is also quite warm with temperatures ranging from the mid 70's into the low 90's F (21 to 32 C). Initially warm and balmy, September marks the beginning of Poland's autumn. Thereafter, the days become more damp and foggy until December, when winter arrives and the temperature drops to a few degrees below zero. Characterised by abundant snowfall, Poland's winter season caters for winter sports of all types.

To check current weather conditions for Poland, click Weather

Clothing

It is best to assume that the weather will be changeable and pack a variety of layers appropriate to the season.

Money

The Polish currency is the Zloty.

Money may be obtained with the use of certain credit cards in many banks and hotels.

Foreign exchange:

Major foreign currencies may be exchanged for Polish Zlotys at the airport, banks, larger hotels and border crossings in unlimited amounts - although these do not always offer the best exchange rates.

Throughout the entire country there are also numerous private currency exchange offices identified by the name KANTOR. These often offer the best exchange rates.

Banks in larger cities are usually open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays and until 1pm on Saturdays. Banks in smaller towns or villages have more limited business hours, usually from 5am to 1pm. KANTORS are usually open from 9am to 7pm weekdays and until 2pm on Saturdays. 24-hour services are usually available in larger major tourist centres such as train stations, border crossings and airports.

Some British banks still advise British citizens to take carry U.S. Dollars uif they are travelling to Poland. This is completely unnecessary. British bank notes (pounds sterling) are perfactly acceptable in Poland!

However, it is advisable NOT to take notes that have been written on by bank clerks (a common UK practice) as many Polish Banks and Kantors will refuse to accept them (even though Polish Bank Clerks to exactly the same to Polish bank notes!) Travellers Cheques

Major travellers cheques can be exchanged (for a 1% commission) at most of the locations above, with the exception of KANTORS, who do not accept them. Travellers cheques are also accepted as payment for goods and services in larger cities, though not as widely as cash. Eurocheques are accepted in accordance with standard international tourism agreements.

Credit cards

Most hotels, restaurants, larger shops, travel agencies, airlines and petrol stations accept payments with credit cards, including American Express, Diners Club, Eurocard, JCB, Master Card and VISA. Stickers on the doors and windows of businsses usually indicate which credit cards will be accepted for payment.

It is customary to leave a tip of l0 to 15 % in restaurants and cafes. Tipping in self-service restaurants is not expected. Tips for porter's services in hotels and train stations are customary, but amounts for services rendered are at the traveller's discretion.

Customs

On arrival:
Legally and duty-free, you can bring in all sorts of goods. If you are over 18, you can bring in alcohol (0.5 L of the hard stuff, 2 L of wine, or 5 L of beer) and smokes (250 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 250 g of tobacco). Otherwise, you can bring in prescription medicines, gifts, and personal items. The last includes the normal electronic equipment one might have if travelling for pleasure or business (mobile phones, still and video cameras, laptops, accompanying peripherals, etc.). It also includes jewelry, walkmans or binoculars, provided that you take all such items with you when you depart.

You can also bring any amount of foreign currency, which you need to declare upon entry.

As for living creatures, you can bring your healthy (vet-certified, in Polish) pet with you as long as it is not a parrot. If you bring a dog, it must be vaccinated against rabies 30 days prior to your trip.

You cannot bring in any materials which threaten the natural environment, pornography or illegal drugs. Import of firearms requires a permit which can be obtained from a Polish Consulate General.

You might get charged import fees on souvenirs that cost the equivalent of over 100 USD at a going rate of 10%. If you bring in items that cost the equivalent of over 300 USD, then you've got to pay according to a sliding scale. For further information please ring the Customs Hotline at (48 22) 694 31 94, or the Polish Consulate nearest to your place of residence.

On departure:

Objects of art created before 9 May 1945 need a permit. If your newest purchase was created after VE Day, then you can prove it with a receipt from the store or a certifying document from a National Museum (almost every major city has got one; you need the Department of Art Certification). If your souvenir is of a different sort -- a hunting trophy perhaps -- get the appropriate documents from the tour organizer. Otherwise, you can take out items costing the equivalent of less than 100 USD without trouble, and those costing more with a permit from the customs office (issued at a fee).

As for less durable souvenirs, you can leave Poland with the same amounts of alcohol and tobacco as listed above, provided you're of age.

Finally, you are not supposed to take any Polish currency beyond the borders, nor more foreign currency than you brought in.

Accomodation & Restaurants

The quality of Hotels and Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes have improved dramatically over recent years and are now well up to Western standards.

There are major international hotels in all the big cities. The Polish company "ORBIS" runs lots of hotels under different names and at differing prices across Poland and can be regarded as a good "value for money" bet.

Driving

If you decide to drive into Poland, you will need: a valid passport, a valid driving licence, and the so-called Green Card denoting insurance (if the car is not registered in Poland). If you are driving someone else's car, is useful to bring along a notarised letter permitting you to use the borrowed car. As for the driver's licence, a valid UK licence is accepted.

You are well advised to familiarise yourself with current Polish driving laws.

British drivers will be surprised by the amazing numbers of Police Radar Speed traps. There are "on the spot" fines!

Do NOT drink and drive! Unlike Britain the limit is zero!

Time

Poland runs on GMT plus 1 hour. So, you lose time if you fly from the west: 1 hour if departing from London. You gain time if you fly from the east: 7 hours if from Hong Kong, 3 if from Moscow, and 2 if from Israel.

Poland counts time on a 24 hour clock, and the week starts on Monday. So 1 PM is 1300, 2 PM is 1400, and so on. If confused, just subtract 2 from the second digit to quickly calculate what hour is it (e.g. 1500 - 2 is 3 PM).

Health & Vaccination

Emergency:

UK nationals are eligible to free of charge medical treatment. Medical standards are not far from those found in most western European countries. In major ciities hospitals can offer all forms of treatment and modern diagnostic equipment. Private clinics are also available, but treatment is not free of charge.

Vaccination:

Vaccination is not required - however if you are travelling to the north east vaccination against tick born encephalytis is adviced by the British Foreign Office.

You might want some health insurance.

Drugs:

Drugs generally available in the UK can be also obtained in Poland. If you need repeated prescription drugs, consult your GP to obtain the neccessary prescriptions before departure.

Safety

Urban Poles are sometimes somewhat paranoid about what they view as a rising tide of crime and car theft.

In reality Westerners, including Britons, will find Poland a safe country to visit.

The basic rule is don't take risks that you wouldn't take at home. It's amazing how many tourists leave their common sense at home when they go on holiday!

You should take care when travelling around by train and particularly when boarding trains or waiting at railway stations.

Beware of pickpockets on Warsaw trams.

In major cities (particularly Warsaw) it is not a good idea to pick up taxis at the road side if you don't know your way around. However taxis telephoned from Hotels and Restaurants are generally excellent.

The Polish system of privately run "Guarded Car Parks" generally offers excellent security for your vehicle at a very reasonable price.

Language

English, German and Russian are among the better known foreign languages spoken in Poland, especially in the larger urban centres and hotels. English (and also German) is particularly popular among the younger generation (older people prefer German). Most tourist facilities employ at least one English speaker. But to make your visit to Poland even more rewarding we would encourage you to learn some basic Polish words and phrases. You will find Poles extremely friendly and helpful.

Dialing

Long Distance Dialing:

If calling long distance within Poland, dial a '0' and wait. Eventually, you'll hear a faint tone; that's your signal to then dial the city code and phone number. If dialing outside of Poland, do the same thing, but dial '0' again when you get the second tone followed by the country code, and then the rest of the number. Poland can be reached from the UK by dialing 00, then 48 + city code (without 0) and phone number.

Dialing local numbers in Poland:

Remember, when dialing from inside Poland, first dial 0 followed by the area code and number.

Border Crossing

Most border checkpoints are open 24 hrs and can be crossed by car.

There are also minor, local checkpoints which can be crossed only on foot or by train (find out in advance before you choose the wrong route).

At most border crossings you will find Polish Motoring Association (PZM) branch offices selling vehicle insurance, guide books, maps and accessories, and also offering information brochures and advice for tourists.

English language papers

Warsaw Voice is the most popular weekly published in English in Poland.

In the Capital "Warsaw Insider" - a monthly aimed at English speakers resident in the city - is also an excellent buy.

Glossy monthly "What's On" style publications can be picked up in most Hotels in major cities.

All international press titles are also available from major hotel news stands and major newsagent shops.

Public Holidays

1 January: New Year's Day
Easter Holiday (dates vary)
1 May: Labour Day
3 May: Constitution Day
6 June: Corpus Christi (dates vary)
15 August: Ascension Day
1 November: All Saints Day
11 November: National Independence Day
25/26 December: Christmas

Further Information

The ROUGH GUIDE and LONELY PLANET volumes on Poland are first rate and packed with down to earth advise and loads of essential information.

Polish Consulate Generals in the UK

Consulate General in London
73 New Cavendish Street
London W1N 4HQ
tel: 0171-580 0476
fax: 0171-323 2320

Consulate General in Edinburgh
2 Kinner Road
Edinburgh EH3 5PE
tel: 0131-552 0301
fax: 0131-552 1086

UK Embassy in Poland

British Embassy
al. Roz 1
00-555 Warsaw
tel. (+48 22) 628 10 01-05
fax: (+48 22) 621 71 61