“Is Poland a safe country?” Right before I came to Poland for the first-time last May, this was the first thing an acquaintance asked me. While this question was certainly related to the recently started war between Russia and Ukraine, I find that many people view Poland as a country full of dangerous mafia men, with filthy disease-ridden streets. Not helping are the depictions of Poland in popular media, which usually focuses on WWII history or its time under the Soviet bloc, which were not kind times to Poland. However, since Poland has become independent again, the answer to the question of if it is safe to travel in Poland is undoubtedly yes!
While Poland certainly struggled in some areas at once after its re-independence, with many years past then, and entry into the European Union, Poland is a modern country with low crime like many other European countries. In fact, its crime rates are more comparable to the notoriously safe Scandinavian countries than popular European tourist destinations such as England and France. In my 7 months living here, I have not once felt threatened by anyone, something I cannot say about other countries I have visited. Even better, in tourist hot spots, scammers are relatively scarce compared to the Rome’s of the world. While like almost any place you might visit, there is always still risk of crime, you should rest assured that you are safe in Poland when you visit.
Below I will provide some information on safety and crime in Poland, with special advice supported my fellow American travelers and those in minority communities. Additionally, I will cover some tips and tricks for solo travelers, with a special section with advice for female solo travelers thanks to some friends of mine. I will also supply a few tips if you decide to live in Poland. Finally, at the very end, I will supply a list of some of the scams you MIGHT (but not necessarily) encounter when traveling in Poland.
WARNING: Be aware that this blog will mention certain crimes that might be triggering to some. I will put a warning before the section(s) so you can skip them if this applies to you.
Safety in Poland
|General Emergency Hotline
The first important thing to mention is to add the phone numbers above into your phone! Whether you choose to have a SIM card or international coverage, or you choose not to be covered, you will be always able to call these numbers in an emergency. 112 should be your first choice if the situation requires immediate care, while you can call the other two to report something that does not require immediate presence of officials.
Now that the most important information is out of the way, Poland is generally a very safe country, so it is unlikely that you will have to call one of these numbers. For 2022, Poland was rated the 25th safest country in the world, with this index accounting for crime levels, number of weapons in the country, police force and military size, and other factors. This rating puts Poland at a slightly higher level than popular destinations like Spain and Italy, and much safer than France and the US, for example.
However, even with this rating in place, Poland still has much lower crime rates than other countries around it, or the US, with overall crime being 10 times lower in Poland than in the US. Gun violence, a huge concern right now in the US, is practically non-existent in Poland. However, these crime rates are not kept low due to constant police presence. While you will certainly notice police officers patrolling in tourist hot spots and public transport spots, there are 2346 times more members of the police force in the US than in Poland (adjusted to country size). So, you will feel safe without feeling like you are always being watched.
However, there are a few pieces of advice I would like to give, because while Poland is certainly safe, you still could be at risk if you do not take proper precautions. I have listed these below:
- Pickpocketing can happen. Yes, it is not as common in Poland, I have never seen it or been a victim of it, while I have seen it happen in a few of the other countries I have visited. The easiest way to avoid becoming a victim of a pickpocket is to not make yourself a target. Store your wallet and phone in your front pockets. Keep your bag on your lap when you are seated. Don’t set stuff down and expect it to be there when you get back (although I would feel safer in Poland doing this depending on the place). You might only need to keep an eye out in busy places, such as Metro Centrum in Warsaw, or the Kraków Old Town. But generally, you should not have to worry about this too much.
- Leave your passport behind in your place of stay. Yes, of course you need it to enter Poland, and it is good to have some form of identification document on you in case of being stopped by the police. But I would recommend locking your passport up somewhere secure and taking a photocopy of it with you when you are out and about. This will not cause too much trouble, and it will lower the risk of having it stolen.
Other than that, just follow common sense. Do not flex expensive jewelry or electronics. Don’t leave anything unattended. Do not insult people on the street. If you just act like a regular cautious human being, you will enjoy your trip in Poland without any risk of becoming a victim of a crime.
Special Advice for Americans, People of Color, and Members of the LGBT Community
I get asked quite often by people back home whether Poland is safe place to travel, or if it risky for Americans. This is regarding if Americans get treated any worse than other tourists, which can occasionally happen in other countries. I can say quite certainly that this should not happen to you in Poland. If a tourist destination takes advantage of you, it will be because they take advantage of all tourists. The only stereotype I have gotten was that I would be rich, but most people are just interested to learn why you decided to come to Poland.
So, in conclusion, do not feel you need to put a Canadian flag onto your backpack, unless you plan to be extremely loud, rude and insensitive (in other words, no jokes about Nazis). Polish people, while looking cold on the outside, are very friendly and helpful people once you get to know them. However, I recommend you register for the STEP program. This will register you with the US embassy in Poland, and email you updates on events happening in Poland that might lead to safety issues.
For those of you who might be from a more diverse background, Poland, like any country, has its issues. However, levels of racism and xenophobia in Poland are relatively low, at least outwardly. While it is hard to quantify how much ingrained racism is in Poland, especially about antisemitism, it is unlikely that you will be discriminated based on your skin color any more than other countries in Europe. In fact, I have seen racial discrimination in France, Portugal, and Germany, but not in Poland. While there are not high levels of people of color in Poland, if you choose to visit, you should generally expect to be treated equally and fairly, but still might run into unfriendly people depending on where you go.
The more dangerous community to be a part of in Poland is the LGBT community. LGBT, due to its typically right-of-center political views based in Catholicism, is not super friendly to outwardly showing members of this community. In fact, some places have straight up said they do not want LGBT people to visit. So, some caution might be advised. If you need to find a safe space, there are usually LGBT-friendly bars in every major city of Poland, especially in Warsaw. However, the chances of being shown overt discrimination when trying to be served is extremely low. Unfortunately, if someone discriminates against you, the chances of it being considered a hate crime are low, thus caution is necessary.
Traveling Alone in Poland
Poland is a great place to travel as a solo traveler. It is affordable, and very safe. In that regard, and as someone who has done solo travel in Poland, there are very few tips I can give. But I have listed a few below to consider.
- Don’t make yourself a target. If you do not try to stick out, or blatantly leave valuables in a way that they are easy to steal, you should not ever be a target of theft. And don’t try to insult people, as you will find yourself in a situation where it is you versus a group of Polish people, and the Polish people will win.
- Stay in hostels. Hostels are safe if you are a solo traveler. And you can also make friends so that you can go do activities you might not feel comfortable doing if you were by yourself.
- Use public transportation or Uber at night. Every major Polish city has night buses that are very affordable and safe, so do not feel the need to walk alone at night. Additionally, since Ubers are affordable, use those if your last destination is not served by public transportation.
Advice for Female Travelers
Of course, my experience as a solo traveler is not the same as for a female. However, the consensus of what I have found is that it is safe to travel in Poland as a female-solo traveler. The consensus of what my friends supplied is below (I am only supplying initials for safety purposes). Note that this is their opinions and is not reflective of everyone’s experiences in Poland.
TC would like everyone to know that Poland is safe, although the normal occurrences that can happen to women can certainly happen in Poland, no different than anywhere else, including catcalling and drugging drinks. One thing she especially pointed out was that good and safe bathrooms can be hard to find, so make sure you plan that out when traveling alone in Poland.
BH, as a Polish native, would like to say that is certainly possible to travel alone in Poland without fearing too much. However, she advises that in any case, traveling alone in any new country will be scary for any female solo traveler, so take suitable precautions. She also says that traveling in a group of females in Poland is especially safe, and she personally recommends this over traveling alone. She also says to inform your family/friends of what your plans are and where you plan to go and keep in touch with them.
SR provided me with a large amount of information on her experiences traveling alone in Poland. She believes that it is no less dangerous for females to travel alone in Poland than males. However, she acknowledges there are certain parts of the day, like between midnight and six in the morning, where safety can be a bit of an issue. The small number of houseless people in Poland might bother you, but only from afar, and not incessantly. But there are taxis available to avoid such encounters at this time of night, and she recommends using them. She says most catcalling will happen by drunk guys at night in popular destinations, but that is never progresses beyond that. She says generally that Polish people are friendly and will help you and be proud to tell you about their history, culture, and traditions. She also says they are more friendly hosts than other neighboring countries. Overall, she says Poland is a nice place to solo travel, and she feels you will find Poland the same as she has.
Warning: This section has content you might want to skip. Scroll down to “Living in Poland” now if you do not want to read it.
Additionally, based on online opinions and statistics, women are safer in Poland than other countries. Rape rates are at 1.5 per 100000 people, which is near the very bottom of the list of countries that faithfully record such metrics. Additionally, reporting abilities improve every year. But unfortunately, things might still befall you despite lower instances of gender-based crimes. An unnamed friend was drugged in a club once in Warsaw. So, treat Poland as you would any other country, with the thought in mind that there are nefarious individuals in certain locations, but you should generally be safe.
Warning: Content directly above this message may be triggering to some. Scroll up a bit if you do not want to read it.
Living in Poland
Poland is overall a nice place to live. It is safe, has lots of activities for children, and you should not have to worry about their safety like in some other places in the world. In fact, with Poland’s declining population, there are extra financial incentives provided by the current government to have extra children in Poland. The number one piece of advice I would give if you decided to settle in Poland is to know all the rules or hire a lawyer. Poland is very bureaucratic, and it can be very hard to find the right piece of information, and government employees try to be as unhelpful as impossible (speaking from experience). Polish natives also struggle with getting certain things done, so if this sounds too stressful to you, I recommend hiring a Polish lawyer in the area you need something done, as they will know the ins and outs and shortcuts in the red tape that is abundant in many areas of every-day life in Poland.
However, if you are in some of the oft-marginalized communities mentioned earlier, Poland might be a harder place to live. The current ruling political party in Poland, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) is not super friendly to immigration, and its original election campaigns of 2015 were built on anti-Islamic rhetoric. Additionally, the PiS has taken a hard-liner approach on LGBT rights, with some regions declaring themselves “LGBT-free” zones, which while having no legal basis, still affect those in the community. So as a tourist, being a part of these communities might not affect you, but living in Poland might. Additionally, disability coverage in Poland is not great, although there has been increased funding to make more places more disability friendly. Most metro stops at least have an elevator somewhere, but there are still certainly some places I see where being disabled might make entering a place difficult.
So, make sure that when you decide to live in Poland, that you pick a place where you are sure you will be welcomed. Warsaw is certainly the most LGBT-friendly and racially diverse city in Poland, so this might be the best place for you to settle, although you will have to remember that it is the most expensive place to live in Poland. The south of Poland has more people that are unfriendly towards non-traditional communities, so settling in a place like Gdańsk or Poznań should also be okay.
Scams to Watch out For
Scammers are not prevalent in Poland compared to other European destinations, but there are still a few scams to keep an eye out for. It is good to not be too trusting of strangers in Poland, especially since people in Poland are very unlikely to approach you on the street. While you should not think every person approaching you on the street in Poland is a scam artist, if you are in one of the many main squares of popular Polish cities, those odds get much higher. So, keep an eye out for the below scams:
- Do not donate to people on the street. Yes, it sounds heartless, but in Poland especially, it is very likely that most of your donation will go anywhere, if not any of it. Beggars are not super common; I have mostly met them on the Warsaw metro, where there is one who plays the accordion while using a 6 or 7-year-old girl as the person asking for donation. I recommend not giving money. However, the most prevalent “beggars” are the people you will see in main tourist destinations asking for “donations” to a charity. Specifically, you will see young people with Ukraine flags draped over their shoulders with donation boxes. They will ask you to donate to help fund the war over in Ukraine and will say they except all currencies. Nowadays, they might even have a wireless card payment device to take card payments too. I recommend telling them you will donate online instead. You have no way of knowing where the money will go. Now, I must admit I cannot say with 100% certainty that these people are scammers. However, I would not trust them on the side of caution. Instead, donate to any of the top three charities mentioned in this article.
- Do not sign petitions. This one is not super common in Poland but happened to me once in Łódź. Basically, there will be someone on the street trying to get you to sign a petition for some reason or another. However, if you sign, they will then try to tell you that because you signed, you now must give a donation. So, do yourself a favor and do not sign any petitions. Tell them you are not from Poland, and that your signature has no power. Or a simple no thank you should make them leave you alone. When I said no thank you, the person went on to the next person very quickly and peacefully.
- If there are people with hawks, you must pay for a picture. There lately have been people walking around with hawks in major Polish cities. If they ask you for a picture, they might not tell you it costs money. Photo ops will cost money with any animal, so don’t expect it to be free.
- Do not trust random people who invite you to a bar. I have never seen this happen, but have heard and read about it, and it has been known to happen in Kraków where some of the bars and clubs have less than stellar reputations. So, there might be a few people, usually attractive girls, who invite you out for some drinks if they see you are alone. They will say they know a place with good drinks that they can get you in. They say they will buy you a round. However, once you get to the bar or club, everything will fall apart. The “friendly people” will refuse to pay for drinks, and the drinks will end up being expensive, and then your wallet will not be happy with you. Remember, Polish people are not known for their initial friendliness, so initial friendliness in a touristy area might be a trap!
- Be cautious with taxis. Always make sure that the taxi driver starts the meter so that you do not get overcharged and track the route you will be taking so you know if the driver is taking you the roundabout way. I recommend using Uber or Bolt instead as you see your rate beforehand, and some Polish taxi companies even have apps now as well.
- Make sure the ticket inspector on the public transport is not a fraud. I have not seen this but have heard that sometimes fake ticket inspectors will tell you your ticket is not validated, and that you must pay a fine right there in cash. Firstly, the fine amount is posted in every bus, tram, and metro in Poland, so you will know if the amount is a rip-off. But you should first always ask for identification if you do not trust the person, if they are legit, they will show you without any issue. If they will not, you know you have a problem on hand. So, ask that they take you to the closest police station to process it, and this will eventually get the person to give up. On another note, always make sure your ticket is validated to avoid fines from real ticket inspectors!
In general, Poland is a safe place to visit. While you might encounter some issues, if you use common sense and do not make yourself a target, you will be fine. Living in Poland can be tricky depending on which communities you are a member of, but it is not impossible. Finally, scams are low in Poland, so you should not have to worry about questioning everyone you talk to. Overall, you should feel very assured that you will be safe in Poland than many other European destinations.