COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Poland is a stable, free-market democracy. Tourist facilities are not highly developed in all areas, and some services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in some parts of Poland, especially in rural areas. On May 1, 2004, Poland became a member of the European Union (EU). The U.S. Embassy�s website can be found at
While Poland generally has a low rate of violent crime, the incidence of street crime, which sometimes involves violence, is high. Warsaw, Krakow, and other major cities have higher rates of crime against residents and foreign visitors than other areas. The tri-cities area of Gdynia, Sopot, and Gdansk has a high incidence of muggings -- sometimes in broad daylight � and some of which have involved aggravated assault.
Organized groups of thieves and pickpockets operate at major tourist destinations, in train stations, and on trains, trams, and buses in major cities. Thefts have occurred on overnight trains. Most pickpocketing on trains occurs during boarding; in the most common scenario, a group of well-dressed young men will surround a passenger in the narrow aisle of the train, jostling/pickpocketing him or her as they supposedly attempt to get around the passenger. Beware of taxi drivers who approach you at the airport or who do not display telephone numbers and a company name: these drivers usually charge exorbitant rates. Order your taxi by telephone and, at the airport, use only taxis in the designated taxi ranks.
Car thefts, theft from cars, and carjackings are commonplace. Drivers should be wary of people indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their cars. Often, a second car or person is following, and when the driver of the targeted car gets out to see if there is a problem, the person who has been following will get in and drive off with the vehicle. Drivers should never get out of the car to check for damage without first turning off the car and removing the keys from the ignition. There also has been an increasing incidence of thieves opening or breaking passenger-side doors and windows in slow or stopped traffic to take purses or briefcases left on the seat beside the driver. Those traveling by car should remember to keep windows closed and doors locked.
Racially motivated verbal and occasionally physical harassment of Americans and others of non-Caucasian ethnicity does occur. Most of the incidents that have occurred were perpetrated by groups of young males generally identified as skinheads.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES ^
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Polish laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Poland are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the U.S., for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Adequate medical care is available in Poland, but hospital facilities and nursing support are not comparable to American standards. Physicians are generally well trained but specific emergency services may be lacking in certain regions, especially in Poland �s small towns and rural areas. Younger doctors generally speak English, though nursing staff often does not. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS ^
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Poland is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in every particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair
An International Driving Permit (IDP), available from AAA (in the United States only), must accompany a U.S. driver�s license. Roadside services, while not at Western levels, are rapidly improving. Polski Zwiazek Motorowy Auto-Tour has multilingual operators and provides assistance countrywide; they can be reached by calling 981 or 9637. The police emergency number is 997, fire service is 998, and ambulance service is 999. Mobile phone users can dial 112 for roadside assistance. Seat belts are compulsory in both the front and back seats, and children under the age of 10 are prohibited from riding in the front seat. Headlights must be used at all times from October through March and are recommended year-round. The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited, except for �hands-free� models.
The number of cars on the road in Poland has increased substantially. Driving, especially after dark, is hazardous. Roads are generally narrow, badly lit, frequently under repair (especially in the summer months), and are often also used by pedestrians and animals. The Ministry of Transportation has a program called ``Black Spot�� (Czarny Punkt), which puts signs in places where the number of accidents and casualties are particularly high. These signs have a black spot on a yellow background, and the road area around the ``black spot�� is marked with red diagonal lines. Alcohol consumption is frequently a contributing factor in accidents. Polish laws provide virtually zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol, and penalties for drunk driving (defined as a blood alcohol level of 0.05 or higher) include a fine and probation or imprisonment for up to two years. Penalties for drivers involved in accidents can be severe. If an accident results in injury or death, the penalty can be imprisonment from six months up to eight years.
Within cities, taxis are available at major hotels and designated stands or may be ordered in advance. Some drivers accept credit cards and/or speak English. Travelers should be wary of hailing taxis on the street, especially those that do not have a telephone number displayed, because these may not have meters, and many of them charge more. Do not accept assistance from �taxi drivers� who approach you in the arrivals terminal or outside the doors at Warsaw Airport. Travelers availing themselves of these �services� often find themselves charged significantly more than the usual fare. Use only taxis at designated airport taxi ranks.
For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at
http://state.gov.road_safety.html. For information about Polish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Polish National Tourist Organization Office in New York by telephone at (212) 338-9412, by fax at (212) 338-9283 or via its web site at
or see the U.S Embassy�s Consular Section web page at http://www.usinfo.pl.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Poland�s civil aviation authority as Category One � in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Polish air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s Internet web site at
The Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD by telephone at (618) 229-4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
May 20, 2004