Money & costs
Though not the bargain it used to be, Poland is still a relatively inexpensive country for travellers. Just how inexpensive, of course, depends largely on what degree of comfort you need, what hotel standards you are used to, what kind of food you eat, where you go, how fast you travel and the means of transport you use. If, for example, you are accustomed to hire cars and plush hotels, you can spend as much as you would in Western Europe.
A budget traveller prepared for basic conditions and willing to endure some discomfort on the road could get by on a daily average of around US$35 to US$40. This amount would cover accommodation in cheap hotels and hostels, food in budget restaurants, travel at a reasonable pace by train or bus, and still leave you a margin for some cultural events, a few beers and occasional taxis. If you plan on camping or staying in youth hostels and eating in cheap bistros and other self-services, it’s feasible to cut this average down to US$25 per day without experiencing too much suffering. Cities are more expensive than the rural areas, with Warsaw and Kraków being the most expensive.
In general, Poland’s admission to the EU has yet to have a marked effect on prices countrywide. In major centres, such as Warsaw, Kraków and Gdańsk, there has been a slight rise in costs across the board, but not to the extent seen in Western Europe.
Following its accession to the EU, Poland declared its intention to adopt the euro as its currency as soon as possible, but due to the poor state of the economy it probably won’t happen before 2012.
The official Polish currency is the złoty (literally, ‘golden’), abbreviated to zł and pronounced zwo-ti. It is divided into 100 groszy, which are abbreviated to gr. Banknotes come in denominations of 10zł, 20zł, 50zł, 100zł and 200zł, and coins in 1gr, 2gr, 5gr, 10gr, 20gr and 50gr, and 1zł, 2zł and 5zł. The banknotes feature Polish kings, come in different sizes and are easily distinguishable.
Try to keep some small-denomination notes for shops, cafés and restaurants – getting change for the 100zł notes that ATMs often spit out can be a problem.
Most towns in Poland have a couple of bankomaty (ATMs), and the majority accept Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro cards.
The easiest and cheapest way to carry money is in the form of a debit card, with which you can withdraw cash either over the counter in a bank or from an ATM. Charges are minimal at major Polish banks (typically from zero to about 2%) and some home banks charge nothing at all for the use of their cards overseas. Check with your bank about transaction fees and withdrawal limits.
The ubiquitous kantor (private currency-exchange office) is the place to exchange cash. They are either self-contained offices or just desks in travel agencies, train stations, post offices, department stores and the more upmarket hotels. The further out from the cities you go, the less numerous they are, but you can be pretty sure that every medium-sized town will have at least a few of them. Kantors are usually open between 9am and 6pm on weekdays and to around 2pm on Saturday, but some open longer and a few stay open 24 hours.
Kantors change cash only and accept major world currencies. The most common and thus the most easily changed are US dollars, euros and UK pounds. Most other currency is somewhat exotic to Poles and not all kantors will change them. There’s no commission on transactions – the rate you get is what is written on the board (every kantor has a board displaying its exchange rates). The whole operation takes a few seconds and there’s no paperwork involved. You don’t need to present your passport or fill out any forms.
Kantors buy and sell foreign currencies, and the difference between the buying and selling rates is usually not larger than 2%. Exchange rates differ slightly from city to city and from kantor to kantor (about 1%). Smaller towns may offer up to 2% less, so it’s better to change money in large urban centres if you can.
To avoid hassles when exchanging currency, one important thing to remember before you set off from home is that any banknotes you take to Poland must be in good condition, without any marks or seals. Kantors can refuse to accept banknotes that have numbers written on them (a common practice of bank cashiers totalling bundles of notes) even if they are in otherwise perfect condition.
Credit cards are increasingly widely accepted for buying goods and services, though their use is still limited to upmarket establishments, mainly in major cities. Among the most popular cards accepted in Poland are Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Diners Club, Eurocard and Access.
Credit cards can also be used for getting cash advances in banks – the best card to bring is Visa, because it’s honoured by the largest number of banks, including the Bank Pekao, which will also give cash advances on MasterCard.
You can have money sent to you through the Western Union (www.westernunion.com) money transfer service. Money is received within 15 minutes of the sender transferring it (along with the transaction fee) at any of the 30, 000 Western Union agents scattered worldwide. Western Union outlets can be found in all Polish cities and most large towns. Information on locations and conditions can be obtained toll-free on 0800 120 224.
Poland’s VAT is calculated at three levels: zero (books, press, some basic food products); 7% (most food); and 22% (fine food, hotels, restaurants, petrol, luxury items). The tax is normally included in the advertised price of goods and services.