Life & work
Northern Irishman in love with Poland
When did you first come to Poland? Do you remember your first impression of the country?
I first visited in March 2005, when I was in Warszawa with some friends. I didn’t actually warm to Poland immediately, it took time! I remember a very cold and grey night and glimpsing at the Palace of Culture and Science for the first time. As the years went by, I grew to appreciate Poland more and more and now I love it. My first night in Warszawa was spent in the Old Town having some beers, I toured the Old Town and Nowy Swiat area first, and went to the Poland v. Northern Ireland football match. My second trip was in 2007 and by 2016, I was on my fifth visit and decided to stay. Initially I was based in Gdańsk, but I later moved to Warszawa. The country has grown on me more and more every day and I love it.
What do your friends and family back at home think about moving to Poland? Have any of them visited so far?
Initially they were surprised but happy. This is actually the closest I have lived to Northern Ireland in 8 years as I was travelling and working all over the world for the last 8 years, most notably in China and Australia. So for my family, it’s closer for them. My friends are all global so my whereabouts rarely affect them, though I have more friends in Poland at the moment than anywhere else.
My family haven’t yet visited me in Poland, but I am sure they will very soon. Lots of my friends have been over however and they all loved it. I have taken them to places like Sopot, Zaspa (Gdańsk), Warszawa, Lublin, Westerplatte and Majdanek. All of them went away raving about what a nice country this is and how happy they are that I now live here, love it and promote it to the world.
You have been to multiple countries, but Poland seems to have stolen your heart. Why is that?
It’s really hard to pinpoint a reason, I get asked this all the time. Poland is simply a beautiful country with national pride, fantastic food, welcoming people, great historic old towns, trendy bars and cafes, fabulous beaches, old castles, lakes. It is safe, it is conservative, the people are so friendly, intelligent and respectful. I don’t experience any problems here, problems that were rife when I lived in England, China, Uruguay and Australia.
You come from Northern Ireland, which makes you a UK citizen. How do you feel Brexit will affect your freedom of movement?
I am a nationalist, right wing guy so I fully support Brexit, borders, countries that have self pride and keep their culture pure and their currency separate. Poland has the zloty, I am legally allowed to stay here and nothing will change with that. Northern Ireland sadly doesn’t have a separate passport, so I came here on my Irish passport, which represents not just the 6 counties of Northern Ireland, but the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland. Ironically, as a Northern Irish nationalist without our own 6 county passport, I will be able to use my Irish passport, as 26 counties of Ireland are not included in the Brexit and will remain in the EU. On a personal level, I don’t expect Brexit to affect me in any way and hopefully it will make countries like Germany, England and France return to their roots, as right now those countries have had their cultures diluted somewhat. Poland remains proud and pure.
Could you tell us what steps you have taken to legalise your stay in Poland? How does the process work for a UK national?
Things are fairly easy to organize if you are an EU citizen. The basics are – get a flat, get a bank account, get a job, pay tax to the Polish government and that is it. I don’t have a Polish ID card or a PESEL number as I am not Polish, but it is an easy country to move to and settle in. As an EU citizen, I am legally allowed to remain here as long as Poland and Ireland (passport wise) remain in the EU.
How would you describe your professional life in Poland? Is it hard for a freelancer to do business here?
When I came back here in 2015, I was reviewing tours, hotels and hostels and working as a professional travel blogger and writer. It’s an easy place to live with this lifestyle. I usually get paid in US Dollars or British pounds, so I also find it cheap to live in Poland. I have been a freelance travel writer, blogger and itinerary planner for about 5 years now, but I also work professionally as a Business English teacher and lecturer and I always have side projects on the go. Freedom of movement allows me to base myself in different cities. Initially it was Gdansk, now it’s Warszawa. There are lots of start-ups in Poland, lots of opportunities and it is the most progressive and advancing country in Europe. There is nowhere else I would rather be. There are also some great professionals groups in Poland for locals, and foreigners. I often go to meetings and mingle with Polish professionals and foreign professionals based here. All of us agree that Polish is a sleeping giant.
You have started to learn Polish – how is it going and does it mean you intend to stay in Poland for longer?
Yes, definitely. When I came back for the second time in 2007, my friends Rafal, Piotr and Artur warned that they would be giving me a “Polish exam” before I left. Words like na zdrowie, dziękuję and Irlandia Północna roll off the tongue naturally now. I’m only on A1+ level of Polish, but at least it’s a start. I really hope my website helps promote Poland as a tourist resort, I continue to improve my Polish and I settle here. I visited over 150 countries around the world and Poland is without doubt in my top 5 and the place I am most happy at present. It might be a surprise to some, but we follow our heart and I’m happy here, despite experiencing some depression in my 30s. We will see what happens, but life in Poland is as good as it has ever been for me.
Jonny Blair is a self-confessed travel nomad, football geek and a man seeking crazy and peculiar adventures. Having backpacked through over 150 countries in his life, spending time on every continent and working in any job he could, Jonny made a living from his flagship tourist website Don’t Stop Living. Jonny now lives and works in Poland and runs a popular blog called Northern Irishman in Poland, now that the Don’t Stop Living project is over. His passion for Poland is based on his Polish friends, the progressive nature of the country, the traditional attitude of Polish people, a sentimental trip to Warszawa in 2005 and some great food, beer and atmosphere.