Think “cash” when coming to Poland. You can survive on other forms of payment (credit cards, traveller’s checks) but not without some effort in major cities and even more so in smaller towns. When you exchange your currency for that of Poland – the zloty(‘zwa-tee’) – expect to get bills that look like this 20 zloty bill.
Denominations under 10 zl. come as coins: 5, 2, or 1 zl. Mark the difference between the 5 and the 2 zl. pieces; more than one naive traveller has used one while thinking it the other. Denominations below 1 zl. are called grosze(‘grow-sha’; 1 zl. = 100 gr.) and come in 6 flavours: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 gr.
|How to get some cold, hard cash|
To exchange money, you’ve got a number of options: banks, hotels, kantors (exchange kiosk), or the border.
If you choose to do it at the border, you can exchange an unlimited amount of most currencies but beware that not all border crossings supply this service and when they do, the rates tend to be poor.
If you decide to wait until you arrive in a city, a kantor(exchange kiosk) is your best bet: a cash-only enterprise, these privately-run exchanges don’t charge a fee, don’t require any paperwork, are located just about everywhere, and tend to offer the best rates.
The exceptions are those open 24 hours which you can find at the expected places: the airport or the train station. Otherwise, most offer an average of 3 PLN (plus a few grosze) for 1 USD and do so from 9-18 during the week, and 9-13 on Saturdays. Kantors in the larger cities accept any currency, but expect them to refuse anything but USD or DM in the smaller towns and to give a slightly worse rate (point being: get your zloties in a big town).
Other than kantors, you can exchange money at the bank or in the larger hotels. The hotels, while convenient, tend to offer the worst rates of all, and won’t help nonguests. Banks offer a better rate (although still worse than the kantors) and take a slice off the top (a percentage plus a minimum charge, which can add up if you’re exchanging a fair amount of hard-earned money). Unless you need money fast, stick to kantors.
Click here for the latest exchange rates.
|What if I run out of cash?|
Fortunately, you can now extract money from your own bank or credit account using the ATMs or cash stations now dotting the streets of the major cities in Poland. You’ll know you’re near one when you see a blue Bankomat sign; these machines won’t spit out most major credit cards — just look for the matching sticker. The exchange rate is favorable, and the convenience is noteworthy. If your card is not set up to automatically generate cash, you can obtain a cash advance in the larger cities or a wire transfer through Western Union.
|But what about using my plastic?|
While cash is easier, credit cards are safer and more establishments decorate their doors with the logos of VISA, American Express, Diner’s Club, MasterCard, and Eurocard than ever before. Even those without such displays might accept cards, so ask.
You can use your card to get tickets for an event, reserve or pay for your hotel or your rental car and the gas that goes in it, or dinner at that fine restaurant, or gifts from that huge shopping center. While grocery stores now also accept credit cards, we wouldn’t advise it. One astonished visitor waited in line for over 20 minutes while novice cashiers attempted to complete a minor transaction.
|…and Traveller’s checks|
If cash and credit cards do not appeal to you, then traveller’s checks and Eurocheques are another option. Traveller’s checks can be exchanged at the larger hotels (for a commission and for guests only) or the BanksPekao, PKO or NBP. Banks tend to make you pay for the experience: not only do you have to stand in line, fill out paperwork, supply your passport and often the receipt proving you purchased your traveller’s checks, but they will skim 1-3% off the top for the pleasure.
If paying for the pleasure does not appeal to you, the American Express office will do it for free without fuss and at a good rate (Warsaw: ul. Krakowskie Przedmiejscie 11; tel. 627 14 44; Mon-Fri 9-18). AmX also has an office in Krakow, but elsewhere you’re at the mercy of the banks.
If you’ve got Eurocheques, you can also look out for the ‘EC’ sticker on a bank or major post office window where you can get up to 500 PLN at a shot. Other establishments (restaurants) occasionally take traveller’s checks, but expect this only in the larger cities and at a poor rate of exchange.