“How you got me blind is still a mystery, I can’t get you out of my head” – Backstreet Boys.
In my series called living in Poland (Mieszka W Polsce), I share my personal tips on how to adapt to Polish life as a foreigner, tourist and non resident (but never as an expat, Ex-Pat or expatriate, as I’ll always be Northern Irish!). I’ll try to cover as many aspects as I can for foreigners to help out and I have a backlog to get through – things such as getting a visa, a tax number, a job, a flat, a resident’s card, football tickets, train tickets etc. – I aim to help you all adapt to life in Poland! This article tells you how to find a flat in the capital city, Warszawa, one of my favourite cities in the world. As well as living in Warsaw, I have also lived in Gdańsk and I also shared my tips on how to find a flat in Gdańsk. This is my guide on how to find a flat in Warsaw.
Gdańsk to Warsaw
After spending 6 months in Gdańsk coping with depression and liars, I moved to Warszawa, capital city of Poland. My first trip here had been in 2005 aged 24, so I was very excited to be finally moving here. I knew the city well and it was very easy to settle in, especially since I had so many honest and real friends in Warszawa, compared to the liars of days gone by. I was happy to be finding a base in the Polish capital.
“Back on the streets again, back on the top again” – Van Morrison.
First things first: Learn some Polish
The most important thing for me in finding a flat here in Warszawa was to learn some Polish. For the first time since moving to Australia in 2009, I was alone finding the flat (in China, I had my ex-girlfriend’s help) and I spoke only a few words of Polish.
So it was Poland’s turn. I decided to go to a Polish language school, after two of my local friends made promises and pledges to help me learn Polish and then lied about it and recinded. I couldn’t rely on those types of people so I studied myself and had to sail the ship alone, one of the best decisions I made in life. I have now studied Polish for almost two years in Gdańsk first of all and then in Warszawa. It doesn’t mean my Polish is good – I’m basically STILL a beginner! A1 level!
So I recommend enrolling in a course at Learn Polish in Gdańsk or Klub Dialogu in Warsaw. My teacher in Gdańsk was Pani Alina and sometimes Pani Alicja. I loved my time learning there and wholeheartedly recommend her. In Warsaw I have had 4 different teachers at Klub Dialogu including Pani Wioleta and Pani Alina. You can read some of my other articles on learning Polish here:
Top 7 Polish Language Schools for Foreigners
My time studying Polish in Gdańsk
My time studying Polish in Warszawa
Looking Online for a Flat
So now you have decided to live in Warsaw – it is a huge city so here is how to go about finding a place to live.
What Part of Warsaw to Live in?
Warsaw is huge and so you might want to choose a particular part of the city to live in. Eliminate certain neighbourhoods based on your preferences. The Polish word for neighbourhood (or district or estate), I found to be Dzielnica. For me, I knew the city quite well already so I wasn’t too fussed as long as I was within 30 minutes of the central area, known as Śródmieście. So in my mind, Rembertow, Wawer, Bielany, Wola, Praga, Ochota etc. were all OK. But I ruled out the outer suburbs such as Białołęka, Ursus and Ursynów.
“In my beautiful neighbourhood” – Space.
Here’s a map of Warsaw’s districts, which generalises a bit:
By Population here is a table of the districts of Warsaw, again quite a general table and by no means accurate:
|Mokotów||220,682||35.4 km2 (13.7 sq mi)|
|Praga Południe||178,665||22.4 km2 (8.6 sq mi)|
|Ursynów||145,938||48.6 km2 (18.8 sq mi)|
|Wola||137,519||19.26 km2 (7.44 sq mi)|
|Bielany||132,683||32.3 km2 (12.5 sq mi)|
|Targówek||123,278||24.37 km2 (9.41 sq mi)|
|Śródmieście||122,646||15.57 km2 (6.01 sq mi)|
|Bemowo||115,873||24.95 km2 (9.63 sq mi)|
|Białołęka||96,588||73.04 km2 (28.20 sq mi)|
|Ochota||84,990||09.7 km2 (3.7 sq mi)|
|Wawer||69,896||79.71 km2 (30.78 sq mi)|
|Praga Północ||69,510||11.4 km2 (4.4 sq mi)|
|Ursus||53,755||09.35 km2 (3.61 sq mi)|
|Żoliborz||48,342||08.5 km2 (3.3 sq mi)|
|Włochy||38,075||28.63 km2 (11.05 sq mi)|
|Wilanów||23,960||36.73 km2 (14.18 sq mi)|
|Rembertów||23,280||19.30 km2 (7.45 sq mi)|
|Wesoła||22,811||22.6 km2 (8.7 sq mi)|
|Total||1,708,491||521.81 km2 (201.47 sq mi)|
Of all the neighbourhoods I toured in the end visiting numerous flats, my first love was Praga. Praga is the cool part of Warsaw. It also happens to be more rough, raw, vibrant and less commercial. The first flat I had in Praga was at least 20 minutes from a dreaded Ratsbux or DickMonalds. As quite an anti-global commercialist destroying cultures, Praga seemed just right for me. So good luck deciding which neighbourhood you want to live in. Once you have that narrowed down, you can start your search.
Online and Offline Searches
In today’s modern world there are realistically only two ways to look for a flat: online or not online. I did both to cover all bases.
Looking Offline for a Flat in Warsaw
I found many ways to look for a Flat offline. These included:
1.Bus Stop Stickers
You will be surprised at how many bus stops have stickers and notices from people renting flats or rooms. Rip the numbers and details off or photocopy and give them a call. You never know your luck.
2.Flat Notice Boards
When you visit your friends, or even just walk down the street, you will see many random notice boards and even sheets of paper hanging from flat door entrances. Pick these up and check them – again – you never know your luck.
3.Hostel Notice Boards
I stayed in the Oki Doki hostel in Warsaw for AGES and checked the notice boards as often as I could. My special thanks to the manager there Magdalena Chrząstowska, who really helped me at a time when I was down down down – in fact it was through Magdalena that I eventually found somewhere.
4.Ask in Bars and Cafes
As a tourist who frequents bars and cafes, I was always telling the staff and customers in those bars that I was looking for a flat. I probably asked around 30 people in the bars of Warsaw.
5. Ask your friends
I had a lot of local friends when I first moved to Warsaw, which made it easier than when in Gdańsk. In Gdańsk, my local friends couldn’t help me. But in Warsaw, my friends helped straight away, especially Rafal, Magda and Kamil. Kamil also let me stay at his for a night while I was awaiting my move. I don’t like to be a burden on my friends though, so I asked them for help but didn’t scroung for beds or ask them to view with me or help with phone calls.
Local newspapers used to be the best method when searching for a flat, but these days with the internet being so widespread Now, adverts for flats in written media have become less frequent. However I still bought and checked these local papers regularly:
– Gazeta Wyborcza
– Super Express
– Dziennik Gazeta Prawna
– Warszawa naszemiasto
Of the newspaper options, I contacted at least 10 people from adverts. I did it all by phone – so this proved tough for me at the start as I was only just learning Polish. Make sure you get a Polish phone and SimCard too. I recommend the brand Manta and the network PLAY. I only got two viewings from the newspaper adverts, but neither place suited me, so I have to say for a foreigner it wasn’t an effective way. And I don’t just mean because it was just after I had appeared on national news in the wake of my depression…
So I was simultaneously trying online and offline methods and it was the online methods that worked the best. These days it seems easier to find a flat online than in the traditional methods above. Probably because the listing already contains all the information you need and interaction is easier thanks to Google translate and the fact you can send a message and just wait for a reply when the renter or landlord is available to reply. These are the main online methods I used:
The Poland and Warsaw section of Gumtree is a good place to start. I had about 3 viewings from my Gumtree messages and the reply rate is much much higher than Facebook for some reason.
I basically clicked like or join on as many Warsaw area Facebook groups as I could. The more you put your name out there, the more chance you have, remember to search for Warszawa, Warsaw groups in Polish. Here are just a small selection of ones to join or click like on. I must have had about 6-7 viewings from these groups, and yes don’t limit it to flat share groups, – join tourist, foreigner, expatriate/Ex-Patriot, work groups, study groups, volunteer groups, language exchange, couchsurfing – join them all! These are just 7 of the 20+ groups in the area I joined or liked:
When Polish people see your name appearing in more pages and helping promote and clicking like, they are more likely to reply to you and want to live with you. Join them all and send many requests. It was through a Facebook group that I made contact with and viewed around 6 flats, finally moving into the final one that I viewed.
Naszemiasto is a huge website in Poland and is the online version of one of the newspapers and was suggested to me by friends. I had never heard of it before, but this turned out to be a good option I got lots of different viewing options through it. It also helped me learn Polish quicker as I had to navigate the website. Here is the link to the flats page of the Naszemiasto site:
Reaching out to Flat Owners, Renters and Landlords in Warsaw
Viewing Flats in Warsaw
So the next step was to reach out and get some viewings. I sent about 50 messages or contacted about 50 people who were advertising flats or rooms for rent. 95% of them were Polish. Of these about 30% replied to me. Overall I viewed about 10 flats and in different parts of the city. I decided at the time to limit my hunting to the neighbourhoods I mentioned. I viewed flats at Rondo ONZ, Marymont, Bielany, Centrum and Praga. I spent around 4 weeks in hostels and hotels before finally finding my first flat in Warsaw!
My first flat in Warsaw: Nowa Praga
Believe it or not but I ended up staying on the other side of the river when I first moved to Warsaw. I viewed a flat in Praga (east of the Wisła River), which was very close to the metro station Dworzec Wilenski and situated in an area known as Nowa Praga (New Prague).
At the time I had no real plans to settle here or to start a project named Northern Irishman In Poland. But there you go, and here I am. It’s a funny old world!
Good luck finding a flat in Warszawa City!
Here are some videos from when I first moved to Warsaw:
How to find a flat in Warsaw