Born in the Land of Vampires, but not afraid of garlic, Anda grew up in Iasi, Romania. Since then she's lived here and there, but settled in Krakow, Poland in 2011. In love with history and photography, she started a travel blog, The Twisted Red LadyBug, that is a must read for anyone moving to Krakow. She also shares her experiences in the city and her travels on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Iasi, Romania
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Krakow - The City of Kings - Poland
Q: When did you move here?
A: The summer of 2011
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, it's not. I have lived in the US before, and in Greece for a short while.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved here alone, but I found my soulmate here in Poland.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I was working for an international corporation, on an international project. Half of the team was in Romania and half in Poland. I came to visit my friends from work and fell in love with the city. That is when my team leader, a fabulous lady, who read my mind, asked me if I wanted a transfer. One month later I was settled in Krakow.
Living in Krakow
Q: What do you enjoy most about Krakow and Poland? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Romania?
A: I enjoy the culture here, the heritage and the history. From the first moment it felt like home and I wanted to discover more about the city and the things it had to offer. The quality of life is slightly better than in Romania, and here in Poland I feel much safer, to be honest.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: At the beginning I had some odd people asking me why I am not darker skinned (when they heard I am Romanian). For people that don't travel beyond their city/country, Romania means Gypsies and people that steal and cheat. For those who do travel, Romania is something different: a lovely country with pristine mountains, nice, welcoming people, and a seaside that is actually warm. ;)
What I miss the most from home are friends and family. It is still a long way to go by bus/car/plane and there is no direct flight to Iasi. I also miss a lot of the food – typical traditional Romanian food. I’m happy that in the past 3 to 4 years there’s been a shop in Warsaw that specialises in it, opened by Romanian expats.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here??
A: To be fair, the only thing that was a pain was the paperwork, but even that was made easy with the help of the HR of the corporation. They did most of the paperwork.
I also found that Polish people can be rather cold at the beginning but, once you get past it and they become friends, you are friends forever and they will always come to your aid.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home?
A: Prices are pretty much the same and the currencies, RON and zloty, are almost 1 to 1. However, I would say the standard of living in Poland is better than in Romania. The quality of the services and customer care is always better.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Krakow?
A: I absolutely love public transport in Poland and over time it’s gotten better and better. I always buy the monthly ticket. If you live in Krakow and you do your finance settlement (PIT) in Krakow, then you can apply for Krakowska Karta Miejska and get the monthly ticket for around 80 zloty. The trams are the best. They always come on time and run frequently, every five, 10 or 15 minutes during the normal hours or hourly at night.
Buses can sometimes be a pain as they do get stuck in traffic during rush hour, but other than that they do come on time. Each stop has the hourly schedule and they are updated frequently. The tram stops have additional electronic boards that also show information about the delays (in traffic). The boards also have buttons for visually impaired people to press that allows them to listen for the info about the trams that are coming. The buses are mostly eco-friendly (electric) and the trams get changed frequently so you will see the new style trams from PESA, NEWAG and so on… the longest trams that run in Poland. So, yes, I do enjoy the public transport in Krakow!
Q: How would you rate healthcare in Krakow? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare is granted by the state as long as your employer pays NFZ. That grants you rights to the public hospitals and clinics. If you work in a corporation, you will also have to choose a private medical care clinic. There are a couple but I believe the best one is Medicover. They have doctors that speak English (and other languages) and an app, so you can do everything online. You can have a doctor call you or you can go to the office. They provide good care.
When I was pregnant I did all my check-ups at Medicover, but I chose to deliver in a public hospital and I received really good care. I’ve had good experiences with Szpital Zeromski and Narutowicza here in Krakow.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Poland? Are there any areas in Krakow expats should avoid?
A: There was a misconception that Nowa Huta is not safe, and I must admit at the beginning I was also quite hesitant to go there. However, it is a safe and very green area, and worth living in. The only down side is the lack of connections you have to the city centre and how long it takes to get there. There is no bad area in my opinion. Safety issues may arise when talking to very drunk people or when there is a football match between the two main rivalling teams: Wisla and Cracovi. However, I’ve never gotten into a scrape here and I have lived in Krakow for 10 years.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Krakow? What different options are available for expats?
A: Well, this has developed since I first came here. There are plenty of options now and you can find the info in English, unlike 10 years back. You can choose to live in a dorm, if you are a student. There are also private student houses, or you can choose to rent an apartment with other people. I recommend looking at the Facebook expat groups. You will often find there are people looking for rentals or advertising apartments or rooms to rent.
Q: Any cities, areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Krakow is great, Warsaw as well (but it’s slightly more crazy and runs at a fast-forward speed), Wroclaw is also a favourite for many. When it comes to places to live in Krakow, it depends if you are single, a couple, or with family. Each area is its own. But if you want more info, feel free to reach out to me.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Poland?
A: As mentioned before, in my 10 years here I've had no trouble. At the beginning people discriminated against me on the basis of where I was coming from, if they did not travel much. However, I was never put in a tough situation because of it. I have tried to assimilate as much as I can to the culture and customs so that people don’t look at me funny. It is good to learn the language as people in Poland really warm up to that, even if you are mispronouncing.
I do, however, know of cases where people of colour have had issues. Some people are rather patriotic and would like to see their country as all white, but that is slowly changing. On the other hand, I have seen many interracial couples, with lovely babies, living their daily life in peace. I guess tolerance is in the eye of the beholder.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy?
A: I was lucky to already have friends when I came to Poland, as I had been working with them for over a year. They are the ones who made me want to stay and they have always been kind and welcoming. They made me feel at home from day one.
I have to admit that my former team leader, Magda, is one of the best examples of a local treasure. I had to move quickly to Poland so the first month or so I did not have my own place to stay. She allowed me to take her guest room for as long as I needed to.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I mainly mix with the locals, though there is a rather large Romanian community as well. So I do mix groups as much as possible.
Working in Krakow
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: Romania is also part of the EU so no visa was needed. The paperwork was handled by local HR (international corporation). I just had to sign the papers and they took care of everything.
Q: Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: I tend to find jobs on LinkedIn or via my connections or friends, so unfortunately I have no other tips on that front. Just make sure your LinkedIn profile is always up to date.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Oh! It is a bit harder now with COVID and the restrictions, but I really enjoyed the after-work culture in Poland. They would always go out after work for a beer and a chat. That is how you get to bond with people and find important info about work as well. There is a lot of informal data flowing via that channel and if you are not part of the group going out you might miss it.
Family and children
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in Krakow?
A: My top favourite places I take everyone are:
- Main Square with the Sukiennice and the 19th Century Art Museum (2nd floor). If you love paintings and sculptures, this museum is a must!
- Collegium Maius, part of the Jagiellonian University. If you also go inside the museum, you will see a real Oscar and Nobel Prize.
- Wawel Castle. Did you know that there is an energy chakra there?
- Schindler's Museum is an absolute must for the history buffs! Each room is unique (including the floor) and it tells the story of the occupation from 1939 to 1945. Make sure you book about 2 hours at least. On my first go I stayed there for 4 hours!
- Krakus or Piłsudski Mound has the best views in Krakow. Trust me!
Q: What are the schools like?
A: I wish I could tell. My little LadyBug is still quite small so I have no experience with schools. However, I know you need to register at least 1 year in advance and there are waiting lists as well.
You can choose between private and public schools and there are schools with different specialities as well.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Krakow or Poland?
A: Do it! Don’t think twice about it! I have always found that it is better to do something than later on think what would have happened if I had done it. Take the jump! Take a leap of faith! I think you will know yourself better after taking this step.
►Interviewed in May 2021