Expats will find both public and private healthcare options in Poland. Most Polish citizens use a combination of the two, and expats will want to make sure they have some degree of private insurance, as costs associated with these services can become expensive if paying out of pocket.
Facilities and treatment are generally better in the larger cities, and emergency services are less reliable in the rural areas. Poland also has a smaller number of doctors than many countries with a similar population size, and these individuals are usually located in the major cities.
Public healthcare in Poland
The Ministry of Health regulates national healthcare policy and oversees the state-financed system, the National Health Fund (NFZ), that supports it.
State care is compulsory for all Polish nationals and all official residents. Contributions are usually deducted directly from salaries, with self-employed individuals required to make a personal payment to the NFZ.
The standard of public healthcare in Poland is adequate, though many of the hospitals may be of a lower standard when compared with hospitals in Western Europe. Despite this, there are excellent public facilities which cover more treatment plans than might be available at private medical centres – there are often no private options for cancer cases, for example.
Expats will need to obtain a personal identification number (PESEL) before officially applying for public health insurance. Once the application is approved, individuals and their dependants are given an official medical insurance card and are entitled to free health services in Poland.
EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare here during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.
One disadvantage of public healthcare is the fact that the NFZ issues quotas on the number of free state procedures doctors can perform. For this reason, those needing either consultation or minor treatment may find themselves on a waiting list for months before receiving service.
A further issue is that it is necessary to first get a referral from a General Practitioner (GP) in order to consult a medical specialist, further increasing the waiting time before receiving treatment.
Private healthcare and insurance in Poland
Private healthcare in Poland is often used to supplement the public sector. Expats will find that many nationals choose this option to avoid the long waits and painstaking bureaucracy of the state system. In fact, many of the same doctors that work for the NFZ have private practices on the side, in which they can bypass the limits of the quota system and treat patients as they see fit.
Private treatment is relatively affordable, but continuous treatment will certainly pull at an expat’s purse strings. As such, expats should explore their private healthcare insurance options and consider securing a comprehensive policy.
Pharmacies in Poland
Pharmacies are widely available in Poland, and some in the major cities are open 24/7. Although expats will find a wide selection of over-the-counter medicines in Poland, these are often more expensive than in other EU countries. The state does not sponsor most prescription drugs, and some medicines associated with long-term illnesses, such as asthma, depression, heart disease and diabetes, are only partially funded.
Health risks in Poland
Although there are few health risks in Poland, expats should visit a health specialist to ensure that they have the latest vaccine information.
Expats walking outdoors should be careful of tick-borne diseases such as encephalitis. Tick bites can be avoided by using appropriate insect-repellant and wearing long trousers.
Emergency services in Poland
Emergency services in Poland are often prone to time delays, especially in areas outside the major urban centres. The time between calling for help and receiving treatment is much longer than in other European countries, so it might sometimes be faster for patients to make their own way to treatment centres.
If a person is not close to a hospital with an emergency room, a GP is required by law to treat them in their home.
Individual emergency services can be contacted on the following numbers: 997 (police), 998 (fire), and 999 (ambulance).
►For information on adjusting to the Polish way of life, read Culture Shock in Poland
►Read Working in Poland for an overview of the job market in the country
"There is good access to healthcare, though it sometimes seems tricky to set up appointments for urgent things. My worst experience by far was a gynaecologist who was overly excited about speaking English and kept me there for much too long as she told me about her boyfriend and travels."
Read more about expat life in Krakow, Poland in our interview with South African expat Leonie.
Are you an expat living in Poland?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Poland. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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