Jun 072012

Poland is a safe, civilised, wonderful country. You can have an awful lot of fun here in world-class cities without bags of cash or the worry that something is going to go wrong. But, like anywhere, Poland has it rules and regulations – and they may not be ones you’re used to. Follow this quick guide to stay on the right side of the law, and to avoid some common pitfalls.

1. Stamp your bus/tram ticket
In Poland, you can’t just buy a ticket and get on a bus or tram, you need to validate that sucker too. This means finding a validating machine on the bus or tram you are travelling on. The machine will stamp it with the date, time and your route. If you don’t do this, you’re travelling without a valid ticket and could be fined. Plainclothes ticket inspectors can pop up at any time and they don’t care that this isn’t the way it’s done on the No.7 to Ealing.

You can buy tickets from machines on the street (usually next to major bus/tram stops), from machines on some buses and trams, or from kiosks. But wherever you buy your ticket, you must validate it, even if you just bought it on the bus or tram you are on.

Stamp your ticket or face a fine. Not all ticket-validating machines look exactly like this, but you get the general idea

2. Jaywalking and road safety
Only cross roads at marked pedestrian crossings, or face a 500zł fine. Wandering across the street anywhere you like, even when there is no traffic in sight, is illegal. The police are bored of foreigners trying to get out of these fines by claiming ignorance, so don’t even try it. And by the way, offering a bribe could get you a ticket straight to jail.

Some pedestrian crossings have lights (and a recorded voice) to tell you when you can cross. Don’t think you can ignore these at 2am when there’s nothing but tumbleweeds bowling down the street.

Crossings without lights must be treated with caution. Polish law says cars only have to stop if there is somebody already on a crossing, not if they are waiting to cross. But don’t expect traffic to screech to a halt the moment you step onto a crossing. Far better to wait for a big gap in the traffic than blowing your beer money on an intensive care unit bed.

Poland has one of the worst road safety records in Europe – don’t take the risk.

Obey the little red man – he can save your life

3. Public drinking
It is illegal to drink alcohol in a public place. It doesn’t matter if you’re sucking back cans on the corner of the street or sipping cocktails with your pinky extended at a riverside picnic – either can earn you a hefty fine and a possible trip to the drunk tank (see no. 4).

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to outside seating provided by licensed premises (though don’t be surprised if you can’t buy spirits sitting outside). It does apply to nipping outside for a ciggie and taking your beer with you. If the bar doesn’t have a license for on-the-street tables, you’re just on the street drinking a beer, and open to prosecution.

4. Public drunkenness
Polish cops have long, long experience of public drunkenness and they know exactly how to deal with it – by locking your sorry carcass up in a bare cell until long after you have a very sore head.

So you’ve obeyed all the rules. You’re stayed on licensed premises and abandoned any thought of taking that last bottle out onto the street with you. You’re just wandering home, maybe singing a little loudly, maybe making a few harmless remarks to the ladies, maybe sitting down for five minutes just to ‘rest your eyes.’ You’ve fine, right? Wrong – if a passing cop sees you as a public nuisance, they’re not going to sooth your troubled brow and call you a cab, they’re going to slap on the cuffs and drag you away.

The Hangover Hilton – Get picked up drunk on the street and you could find yourself locked up for the night, and paying several hundred zloty for the privilege

5. Drinking and driving
The legal blood-alcohol level for driving in Poland is ZERO. Poland has an horrendous problem with drink driving, and the authorities are keen to do something about it. Random checks are as real possibility.

Note that Polish drinking and driving laws also apply to bicycles. It might sound like a fun idea to hire some bikes and tool around town after a few afternoon beers, but it could prove a lot more expensive than anticipated.

6. Taxis
Ninety-five percent of taxi drivers in Krakow are honest, hard-working guys just trying to make a living. Then there are the lads who’ll drive you fourteen times around the block and demand a gold-plated arm and a leg in return.

Fortunately, spotting the difference is easy. Genuine, regulated taxis will have the rate-per-kilometre displayed in an obvious place (2.80zł–3.40zł is normal) and an equally obvious meter ticking away as you roll (usually with a minimum fee already displayed when you start). Genuine taxis also look like taxis, with large taxi-company logos and phone numbers emblazoned on them. If you’re not sure that the guy toting for fares is a genuine taxi driver, he probably isn’t.

7. The honey trap
Two gorgeous ladies stop you on the street and invite you for a drink. It’s only natural – you’re a good looking bloke, and the local girls are bound to be attracted to your sheen of Western sophistication… BZZZZZT, wrong answer. It’s a scam. Follow them to ‘a little bar’ they know, buy them a couple of cocktails, and you’ll find yourself facing a bill for several hundred złoty, backed up by large gentlemen with shaved heads offering to escort you to a cash machine.

The biggest problem is that nothing technically illegal is going on. Somewhere in that bar, down the back of a sofa in a cellar guarded by an enraged bulldog, is a price list that says: “Pink cocktail – 450zł.” That’s what your new ‘friends’ will order, and that’s what you’re legally obliged to pay for.

8. Respect
You’ve probably already noticed that Poland has more gorgeous women per square mile than Antarctica has snow balls. Add to that the fact that they all dress like graduates of the Chanel School of Looking Sexy on a Catwalk, and you’re going to be tempted to engage. There are a few things you should know. Bantering and acting cheeky may get you somewhere at home, but it will leave Polish ladies cold. Poland remains a very traditional, Catholic country in which women are highly respected and treated like ladies. They are not being cold or uptight, it’s just a different culture. Respect it, or learn to enjoy your time in that odorous hostel room with your mates.

9. Public disorder
If things start kicking off, don’t be tempted to stick around and watch the fun. The Polish police are going to come down on troublemakers like a bag full of anvils, and you don’t want to be there when it happens.

Krakow has a long history of hooligan violence – the local police have seen it all before and they will ruin your day if you try it on. These lads’ mums and dads rioted under Soviet machine guns – a few chairs thrown by beered-up fans is not going to intimidate them.
Do not expect softly-softly police tactics. Poland’s anti-hooligan squads are armed with:

Shotguns firing baton rounds that probably won’t kill you as long as you’re 30m away,

A truck-mounted water cannon affectionately known as the ‘Typhoon,’

A high-tech sonic canon that can make you wet yourself on its lowest setting,

Dogs trained to bite you directly in the testicles,

9mm handguns loaded with live ammo.

The thin black line – do not cross

10. Strip clubs and brothels
You’ve probably read somewhere that prostitution is legal in Poland and have mentally constructed all kinds of interesting scenarios. While it is true that there is no law against an individual selling sex, brothels are completely illegal. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, they do, but if you step through the door be aware that you’re walking into a criminal world, and all that entails.

There are several strip clubs in Krakow, and these are legal. But keep your wits about you. The Krakow Post has received many reports of customers’ credit and debit cards being scammed for thousands of pounds. One visitor from the UK claims to have had 13,000 pounds skimmed from his account in less than four hours at a Krakow strip joint.

Photos: David McGirr

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  29 Responses to “10 Tips for Staying Safe and Legal in Poland”

  1. You really should take a look at what the Daily Mails Matt Lawton has done with this article. I actually recognise some of the facts.

    PS My understanding is that Polish law dictates that cars must stop when you are at not simply on a crossing. They dont stop I know but the law states rthey should. The biggest thing to be concerned with is when a pedestrain has an apparent green light but a car turning on to that crossing also has a flashing green light. Very dangerous.

    • Here is my rule of thumb: You’re self-aware. You’re responsible for your own safety. Don’t demand that a car will be able to stop. Don’t expect all rules will guarantee your safety. Stay double cautious, watch for all unexpected danger. And you may survive… :)

      • It’s true. The law had changed from common stable green arrows for several light green arrows. When it’s swiched on drivers think that they have priority and don’t respect pedestrians.

    • “Polish law says cars only have to stop if there is somebody already on a crossing, not if they are waiting to cross.”

      Nope. It says they must stop if there is someone prepared to cross. The driver’s education manual and test makes it explicit that private vehicles (including taxis) must stop for pedestrians. The exception is public transport and emergency vehicles, which have the ROW in most cases (meaning let buses/trams pass first).

      Only in Krakow and a few other country towns do the cars not stop for pedestrians. Drivers are 100 times better in Warsaw, even. My advice is to step out confidently but safely (meaning a few feet rather than a few yards) but make your intention to cross clear so the car must stop. Be aware that too many numbskulls, especially in Krakow, won’t stop even then, usually while holding a mobile phone in one hand and “talking” with the other.


      • Funny. Everything you wrote is perfectly true, except you switched Cities names… I’m sure it was unintentional thou.

      • My experience is that car drivers in Krakow are far more patient and conscientious than Lodz.

        One way of knowing in Swinoujcie (without needing to look at a car registration plate) as to which country the car is from is if it stops. If it stops its German. If its Polish do not cross.

        The problem is such that any cars stopping where they should (that is at a crossing) invariably leads to a potentially dangerous stand off between pedestrian and motorist not sure as to what the intention of the other is.

      • Please reassure us. The person you are referring to has at least three hands right?

  2. The ten commandments of thou shalt remember in Krakow. Wowza!

  3. Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that #9 – “Public Disorder”, was posted with a particular group of football fans in mind. (*cough* England *cough*).

  4. […] Prinzip können EURO-Touristen ihren Urlaub unbeschwert geniessen, versichert die englischsprachige Krakow Post – solange sie alle Gepflogenheiten des Landes beachten und keinen Fehler begehen. Zum […]

  5. […] read all Posted on June 8, 2012 by hungaryguy. This entry was posted in News, Travel tips and tagged euro2012, poland, safe in poland. Bookmark the permalink. « Biggest superyacht Zadar has seen arrives […]

  6. Jaywalking and road safety ” … nly cross roads at marked pedestrian crossings, or face a 500zł fine …”
    bull… article 13.2 Polish Traffic Regulation states that u can cross a road if you’re futher then 100 meters from a pedestrian crossing

    Drinking and driving ” … The legal blood-alcohol level for driving in Poland is ZERO …”
    bull … it’s 0.2 which amounts to a small beer

    • The 0.2 limit is simply an allowance for error as our bodies register a slight bit of alcohol under normal circumstances. It is effectively zero for drink driving. That amount won’t allow for normal people to drink a “small beer” then immediately go driving. Perhaps a small Polish beer (5-6%, 8-10 oz) on a large, overweight man and an hour between drinking and checking. Even then, I wouldn’t push it with the police, especially as a foreigner. Besides, why do you want to drink drive. Dumb on any level.

      • Where in my post did you find that I do/recommend drink driving ?

        All I said that the legal limit is 0,2 not 0,0 and that it usually amounts to a small beer (0,2/0,3 l) …

        • True on the amount but I have yet to drink 0.2l and NOT go over the limit. In practice it means don’t drink at all. Because you are wrong if you think you can actually drink a small bear and be OK.

          • All Polish drivers I know will not hit the wodka one day and drive the next. There are enough lunatics on the road for you to have a pretty high chance of being involved in at least some kind of accident.

            It simply is not worth taking the risk apart from its your own personal safety too.

  7. Brilliant! I watched ‘Have I Got News For You’ last night and ‘A high-tech sonic canon that can make you wet yourself on its lowest setting’ has made it to the programme…
    Well done, Jamie! :)

    • Alicija I find an over indulgence of beer can have exactly the same effect without the need for percussive instruments.

  8. Did not know about the bicycles and the drink laws being zero. We often stop for a beer when out on our bicycles. suspect I am not the only one who is totally unaware of this issue.

  9. […] “The Polish police are going to come down on troublemakers like a bag full of anvils and you don’t want to be there when it happens,” the paper advises on their website in a long list of dos and don’ts in the city. […]

  10. Having lived in Poland for the past 8 years, this article really is mostly a lot of nonsense written by someone who appears to be an idealist naive boy scout in his early 20s who doesn’t know Poland very well.

    “Ninety-five percent of taxi drivers in Krakow are honest…” -interesting statistic but total nonsense and not useful at all. Taxis from main stations are dishonest when it comes to foreigners more than half the time I use them, and likewise the taxis waiting near the market square. Taxis you call to collect you are much more honest but if you don’t speak some Polish or know the number to call, then you can’t take advantage of them. And despite that, just a couple of weeks ago I took one of the call taxis to the airport, picking up from my place and he ripped me off by about 40 zl, thinking I was a dumb foreigner who doesn’t know much. Unfortunately for him my Polish wife sent a letter to the taxi company and the authorities, and he’s going to be in court soon, and I expect I’ll get back my 40 zl. But it was for the principle not the money that we reported him. He did the old hand-on-the-gear-stick covering the tariff reading on the meter.

    As for jay-walking, I’ve done it every day for 8 years, and so do many of the Poles I see, and never been fined. It’s a ridiculous law that probably makes the appalling road safety stats even worse than they already are. Obviously, if you see a couple of appallingly mannered and almost universally detested Polish constabulary hanging around, then don’t do it at that time.

    The whole article by Jamie Stokes continues in pretty much the same way, and it’s such a shame he’s not working for the children’s version of the Daily Mail, rather than ranting and writing such drivel for the Krakow Post.

    • Oooh mate, reading your comment u remind me my daily life here… As a foreigner, sometimes Poland can be really annoying, in this article I did not see anything about hospitals, definetly worst part.

  11. Poland sounds just like a fascist dictatorship to me. No real freedom for the people, very harsh penalties, no free speech. Screw that for a joke, why go to such a horrible place?

  12. Ya know I’d like to think the vast majority of people are cool no matter where you go but so far Poland does seem to be a more conservative version of West Texas.

    Even the young people seem perfectly okay with being outwardly racist. They stare and treat you different.

    Just the other day, I was on the tram and had to pay 74 PLN because I didn’t have my ticket stamped (machine was broken). It was perfectly obvious that I’m just a tourist doing what I can to obey the local laws. The guy was the bald angry sort with big boots who immediately went into “this is Poland” routine. Decided it was best just to eat the cost than leave bad feelings (I’m not white). It was very tacky and rude. Poland is known for making a series of bad decisions but seriously isn’t it abundantly clear that a country’s tourism industry is advertising for the entire nation. I’ve met police in 3rd world countries like Nicaragua who understood this.

    I also worked in Singapore for 8 months and find Poland a bit over bearing. People jay walk with no fear in Singapore. You don’t need to know and make sure your ticket is stamped in Singapore (or any other metro city I’ve been in so far, even Manila).

    Wish Poland the best but I’ve got a bad taste so far. Perhaps in the smaller towns.. I hear that’s what Poland is really about.

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  14. I went to Poland 11day’s ago I went there 10 hours and I got shot twice in eye and chest if there r any going I recommend them not to as I had to fight for my life just stay away all run by polish mafia they will try to kill u trust me

  15. Regarding the stripclub i had the same problem in st petersburg…almost 2000€ stolen in a night…and fortunately the card reached its limit…they would have taken even more.
    I was drunken and they covered the numbers with the fingers…

    My suggestion is…dont go in sexy clubs in the ex cccp country…its not amsterdam or munich.

  16. My husband is just back from poland. Was sick at the side of the road. Maybe he shouldn’t have been sick but when you need to be sick you need to. He got lifted by the police and put in a cell. They took all his things off him. His friends had to go to the police station and pay 300 zlotys to get him out only to realise the thieving dirty scummy bastard stole £350 out his wallet and left him with 200 zlotys. Dirty bastards said they never so must have been the fucking ghost. Angry is not the word and this won’t be the last of it.

  17. I travel a lot and have been to Poland many times in the past 9 years. Am living in Krakow for the past year and it is just like most cities/countries – you need to keep your head about you and be aware of where you are and what you are doing. If you want to jay walk, be a public nuisance, get all liquored up or visit strip joints then you are in the wrong city/country. How many of you would behave similarly in your own home towns?!? Perhaps you should live in the Middle East for a bit…

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