While Poland is increasingly becoming less discernible from other western European countries (in a good way, that is), there are certain local traditions and laws which the foreign visitor should be aware of. This is In Your Pocket's run-down of the helpful things everyone should know when visiting Poland.
CustomsIf you are travelling within the EU those over 18 can now take 10 litres of spirits, 90 litres of wine and 110 litres of beer. Most countries will not allow more than 800 cigarettes from Poland. If purchasing art or books, you need to consider their age and value. In order to leave the country, art must be less than 50 years old and under a certain value (varies depending by type; photos under 6,000zł, other art under 16,000zł, for example); if one of these conditions is met, the gallery curator can then provide you with a 'zaświadczenie' (permission document) describing the artwork's price and when and where it was created. If the work exceeds the permitted age and value, you must get permission from the 'Wojewódzki Konserwator Zabytków' (Regional Curator's Office) to take it out of Poland; bear in mind that this process will likely take 2-3 months. Books must be less than 100 years old and under 6,000zł in value in order to leave the country; if neither applies, permission must be obtained from the National Library. Obviously, problems arise when purchases are made at bazaars or flea markets where vendors cannot provide the necessary documents; if there is any doubt about the value or age of your purchase, we suggest you visit an 'Antykwariat' for advice.
ElectricityElectricity in Poland is 230V, 50Hz AC. Plug sockets are round with two round-pin sockets. Therefore if you are coming from the US, UK or Ireland you are definitely going to need a plug converter. The best place to pick these up is at home though if you do arrive without a converter try your luck with your hotel reception; they should be able to point you to an electrical store if they can't provide a converter themselves.
Facts & Figures
TerritoryPoland covers an area of 312,685 square kilometres and is the ninth biggest country in Europe. It borders the Baltic Sea and seven countries, namely Belarus (416km), Czech Republic (790km), Germany (467km), Lithuania (103km), the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad (210km), Slovakia (539km) and Ukraine (529km).
The river Vistula (Wisła) is Poland's longest river at 1,047km and flows through Kraków, Sandomierz, Warsaw, Toruń and Bydgoszcz before reaching the Bay of Gdańsk (Zatoka Gdańska).
The highest peak in Poland is Rysy (2,499m) in the Tatra Mountains on the southern border with Slovakia.
Poland - 38,483,957
Warsaw - 1,744,400
Kraków - 761,100
Łódź - 700,982
Wrocław - 635,800
Poznań - 542,300
Gdańsk - 462,249
Katowice - 301,834
Local TimePoland is in the Central European (CET) time zone (GMT+1hr). When it’s 12:00 in Tarnów it’s 06:00 in New York City, 11:00 in London, 12:00 in Paris and Berlin and 19:00 in Tokyo. Polish summer time (GMT+2hrs) starts and ends on the last Sundays of March and October.
Population: 110,956 (2016)
Territory: 72.4 square kilometres
Granted City Rights: March 7, 1330
Health & EmergencyIn case of an emergency those dialling from a land line or public phone should use the following numbers: 999 for an ambulance, 998 for the fire brigade and 997 for the police. Mobile phone users should call 112 to be forwarded to the relevant department. English speaking assistance is not necessarily guaranteed, and rests on the linguistic capabilities of the operator.
English, German and Russian speakers have the option of using separate lines specifically designed for foreigners in distress: dial +48 608 599 999 or +48 22 278 77 77. Both numbers can be reached from a mobile phone or a land line and are hotlines in case you run into any troubles during your stay. The lines are active year round with later hours during the high-tourist season.
If you've woken up to find you've got a raging headache, a swollen foot you can't put weight on and vague memories of some kind of calamity, we suggest you sort it out by calling a private clinic, thus avoiding the hassle of the notoriously long queues in Polish hospitals. Further help can be provided by embassies and consulates, the nearest of which are likely in Kraków. If it's a financial emergency your hopes will rest on a Western Union money transfer. Most banks and many exchange bureaus (kantors) can now carry out such transactions, just keep an eye out for the Western Union logo.
MoneyPoland has it's own national currency, called the Polish złoty (sign: zł; code: PLN). As part of Poland's ascension into the European Union, adoption of the Euro is obligatory, however there is no set date on which the country must switch to the Euro. At present it seems unlikely that Poland will adopt the Euro before 2019.
Currency can be exchanged at airports, hotels, banks and anywhere with a sign proclaiming 'Kantor'. Kantors will often provide better value than the banks in your home country or the ATM although for obvious reasons be very wary of Kantors in the airports, bus stations and close to tourist sights. Shopping around will reward you with the best rate.
Since EU ascension and becoming a favoured tourist destination, prices in Poland and especially Kraków have been on the rise, making the country less of a bargain than it was five years ago. Having said that, however, prices for food, drink, cultural venues and transport still remain comparably cheap in contrast to Western Europe. A ticket to the cinema costs 10-30zł, while admission to most museums costs around 5-15zł.
Thinking of paying for your tram ticket with one of the 100zł notes in your pocket, though? Think again. Small shops, newsagents, public toilets, and even the occasional restaurant or bar, will often refuse to break a large note for you. As annoying as coins can be, they are essential if you intend to pay in cash, so hang on to your change - you'll need it.
Although well behind in terms of service and properly stocking the register before opening for business, Poland is ahead of the curve when it comes to cashless transactions. Credit or debit can be used just about anywhere (except for obwarzanki vendors and outdoor markets). Those making purchases with a credit card whose base currency isn’t Polish złoty, should beware however (and unless you’re Polish, this probably means you). If you are asked by a merchant, wait staff or on the card reader itself whether you want to be charged in your home currency or PLN, always choose złoty. Why? Because the companies that process credit card transactions typically tack on fees for converting the money, and then do so at a lousy exchange rate. Depending on the size and number of your purchases while in Poland, the cost can really add up. Visitors should be vigilant and monitor receipts when paying with a credit card - should you be charged in your card's original currency, don't be afraid to insist on having your purchase refunded and charged again in złoty.
National HolidaysWith a full calendar of religious holidays, seasonal traditions and name days, it seems there's always something being celebrated here in Poland. Not to be confused with unofficial holidays like Women's Day (March 8th), national holidays that are still regular work days like the Day of Pope John Paul II (October 16th), or the rash of spontaneously decreed days of national mourning that occur each year, below we list Poland's annual non-working public holidays, during which you shouldn't be surprised to find all shops, plus many bars and restaurants, bolted shut around town.
January 1, 2018 New Year's Day
January 6, 2018 Three Kings
April 1, 2018 Easter Sunday
April 2, 2018 Easter Monday
May 1, 2018 Labour Day
May 3, 2018 Constitution Day (May 3, 1791)
May 20, 2018 Pentecost Sunday
May 31, 2018 Corpus Christi
August 15, 2018 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Polish Army Day
November 1, 2018 All Saints' Day
November 11, 2018 Independence Day (Nov 11, 1918)
December 25, 2018 First Day of Christmas
December 26, 2018 Second Day of Christmas