Stay safe & healthy
The European unified emergency number 112 is being deployed in Poland. By now, it certainly works for all mobile-phone calls and most land-line calls. There are also three "old" emergency numbers that are still in use. These are:
- Ambulance: 999 (Pogotowie, dziewięć-dziewięć-dziewięć)
- Firefighters: 998 (Straż Pożarna, dziewięć-dziewięć-osiem)
- Police: 997 (Policja, dziewięć-dziewięć-siedem)
- Municipal Guards: 986 (Straż Miejska, dziewięć-osiem-sześć) it is a kind of auxiliary Police force found only in large cities. They are not armed and their role is primarily to cope with parking offenses and minor cases of unsocial behavior.
Poland is generally a safe country. In fact, you are much less likely to experience crime in places like Warsaw or Kraków than in Paris or Rome. Overall, just use common sense and be aware of what you're doing.
In cities, follow standard city travel rules: don't leave valuables in the car in plain sight; don't display money or expensive things needlessly; know where you're going; be suspicious of strangers asking for money or trying to sell you something.
Pickpockets operate, pay attention to your belongings in crowds, at stations, in crowded trains/buses, and clubs.
In any case, do not be afraid to seek help or advice from the Police (Policja) or the Municipal Guards (Straż Miejska).
Be astute on sleeper trains, as bag robberies happen between major stations. Ask for ID from anyone who asks to take your ticket or passport and lock backpacks to the luggage racks. Keep valuables on you, maintain common sense.
Violent behavior is relatively rare and if it occurs it is most likely alcohol-related. While pubs and clubs are generally very safe, the nearby streets may be scenes of brawls, especially late at night. Try to avoid confrontations. Women and girls are generally less likely to be confronted or harassed since the Polish code of conduct strictly prohibits any type of violence (physical or verbal) against women. By the same token, in case of a fight between mixed gender travelers, Polish men are likely to intervene on the side of the woman, regardless of the context.
Poland is a quite homogeneous society today, except for some national minorities like Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans and ethnic minorities like Silesians, Cashubians, Lemkos, and Jews who have been a part of Poland for years and a small wave of migrants from Africa and East Asia, including Vietnam, who have settled in the larger cities in recent years.
A lot of villages in Poland rarely have any foreign visitors, so most African or Asian people would get curious looks there - generally not because of racism, but only from pure curiosity. Of course, there are some people who don't accept foreigners, like the relatively small numbers of Neo-Nazis or football hooligans, nationalists or chauvinists. Except for the radical views of those kinds of people who you can meet almost anywhere, Poles are generally a polite and tolerant nation. As a traveller you will likely be treated in a friendly way here (see "polska gościnność" - Polish hospitality). A common Polish adage says: "gość w dom, Bóg w dom" - guest at home: God at home.
LGBT issues remain very controversial, still very much taboo (although decreasingly so), and routinely exploited by conservative politicians. Polish culture also has a long tradition of chivalry and strong, traditional gender roles. That said, in larger cosmopolitan areas, gays and lesbians shouldn't have a hard time fitting in, although trans visitors will immediately attract attention.
The Poles' aggressive driving behaviour is legendary, but the reputation quite exaggerated. While you may find drivers unreasonably impatient, speed traps have calmed down the situation since the wild days when roads were open and cars few. Another factor that hinders speeding is the often poor quality of secondary roads and simply congestion - Poles own more cars per capita than some Western European nations. Always allow some extra time for possibly unfavourable driving conditions.
CB radio is popular with road warriors, who exchange warnings regarding traffic conditions and speed traps. Another common warning is a single front lights flashing from a car coming from the opposite direction, indicating that there's a speed trap on the way.
In a junction with no traffic lights or specific signs, the vehicle on the right always has the right of way. Cars are allowed to be parked on pavements if road signs don't restrict it. Therefore you should make sure there's at least 1.5 meter passage left for pedestrians and always check if the car is at least 10 meters away from any pedestrian, railway or road crossing. If you don't follow the rules, you may find your car towed away.
Children younger than 12 years old and who are shorter than 150 cm (4’11”) must ride in a child car seat. You must use headlights year round, at all times, day and night. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited except for hands-free models. Alcohol consumption is frequently a contributing factor in accidents. Polish laws provide virtually zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol (defined as above 0.2‰ of alcohol in blood), and penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol are extremely severe. Note that your driver's license can also be confiscated when you are drunk without driving (e.g., if you cycle drunk).