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Getting the COVID Vaccine in Poland: A Guide for Expats

Jul 22, 2021

Everyone in Poland can now get the COVID-19 vaccine – including foreigners. But that doesn’t mean they make it easy! Follow this guide to get your COVID-19 shot as an expat in Poland.

Poland has a reliable supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses – enough for everyone!

There has been much talk within the international expat and digital nomad communities about the various possibilities to get the COVID-19 vaccine while abroad. Among all the hype about various countries that are offering attractive packages for rich foreigners to come get vaccinated (and presumably spend their money shopping), there’s one country in Central Europe that you may have not known is allowing any foreigner to get vaccinated.

And that is Poland.

In fact, if you follow the news, Central Europe is probably the last place you’d think it would be possible to get the allusive COVID jab. 

Europe failed miserably with vaccines,” said The New York Times. “Covid vaccine scheme unacceptably slow in Europe,” said The Guardian.

But Poland’s vaccine rollout never made international news. On the 10th of May, while most of its European neighbors to the West were still reserving their limited supply of vaccines for the elderly and essential workers, Poland had already started offering the jab to all adults on Polish soil. 

This of course includes foreigners – even those without Polish residence.

The COVID Vaccine in Poland: Everything You Need to Know

Is the vaccine free? Is it voluntary?

COVID-19 vaccination in Poland is free of charge, and currently open to everyone living in Poland. Foreigners and Poles alike do not have to pay anything to receive the jab – though as a foreigner without Polish medical insurance, you may have to pay a small fee for a mandatory medical checkup. More on that later.

The vaccine is also completely voluntary, and outside of travel restrictions, there are no incentives or benefits to receiving it (beyond, you know, being vaccinated against a virus that has now taken the lives of over 4 million people worldwide). Poland has not discussed any form of “health passport” scheme for domestic use.

Laws were passed early on in the vaccine rollout to prohibit most employers, businesses, and services from using vaccination status in a discriminatory manner.

Which vaccines are available? Do I get a choice?

Poland is currently administering all COVID-19 vaccines approved by the European Union. These are the vaccines developed by Oxford AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson / Janssen.

Upon registering for vaccination in Poland, you will be given a choice of which approved vaccine type to register for.

 

Do I need to be a resident of Poland to get vaccinated?

Nope! All persons on Polish soil, regardless of residence status, are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Poland.

During the initial rollout of the vaccine in spring 2021, only foreigners with registered residence in Poland were included. However, in June 2021, after a wave of activism from immigrant rights groups about how certain categories of foreigners were still excluded from vaccination, the Ministry of Health announced that vaccinations were available to all foreigners – regardless of residency status.

Official information on obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine as a foreigner can be found on the Ministry of Health’s official website

 

How to get the COVID-19 Vaccine in Poland as a Foreigner

In theory, the only requirement to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Poland as a foreigner is to have a valid form of ID (foreign passport or EU national ID card). However, due to the complications of Poland’s bureaucracy, you will find it much easier to get the vaccine if you also have a PESEL number

A PESEL number is the national registration number in Poland. Every Polish citizen is assigned one at birth, and every foreigner has the right to obtain one, even without legal residency. Getting a PESEL number as a foreigner living in Poland is an extremely painless and simple process that can be completed in a matter of hours. All that’s required is a passport and an apartment rental agreement for a minimum term of 30 days. 

Step 1: Get an electronic referral from a doctor

 

Poland uses a system of electronic referrals (e-skierowanie in Polish) to track vaccinations.

During Poland’s vaccine rollout in spring 2021, e-skierowanie were automatically issued to everyone in Poland’s national registry. So, if you were residing in Poland during this time (ie, you had a PESEL number), you already have a referral and this step does not apply to you. Skip along to Step 2 🙂

However, if you have only recently arrived in Poland, or were here in the spring but didn’t have a PESEL number, you will have to visit a doctor to obtain the e-skierowanie. And this is where things start to get a little bit tricky, as does everything related to healthcare in Poland.

Not all doctors in Poland can issue the e-skierowanie; you must see a primary care physician registered with NFZ (Poland’s state-run healthcare agency). Private healthcare providers unfortunately cannot issue referrals for vaccination.

New to Poland? Your first step to getting the COVID vaccine is most likely to be at the doctor’s office 

Seeing a primary care physician (known as POZ in Polish) is a relatively painless task if one of the following applies to you:

  • You are employed by a Polish company, under an umowa o praca contract
  • You have a business registered in Poland
  • You are a full-time student at a Polish university
  • You have a valid European Health Insurance Card

If any of these apply to you, it means you are registered as an insured person in the NFZ system, and either already have a POZ, or can easily visit one. Simply call a medical center and ask to schedule an appointment with a POZ (make sure to specify that you need a referral for the COVID vaccine, as otherwise they may schedule you with a private doctor). See our guide to healthcare in Poland for our recommendation of English-speaking, foreigner-friendly medical providers.

If none of the above points apply to you (for example, if you’re working as a freelance contractor, or are here as a short-term student or visitor), things get a slight bit more complicated….

In theory, if you are not registered as an insured person by NFZ, you are not eligible to see a public primary care doctor. However, according to a decree passed in March 2020, Poland’s national healthcare agency is obliged to provide all COVID-19 related services free of charge to everyone, regardless of insurance. So in theory, all public primary care doctors are required to offer you an appointment for an e-skierowanie regardless of your lack of insurance.

We’re using the words in theory because in practice, every medical office will interpret the rules differently. And of course, there’s no medical police you can call when a doctor is refusing to see you; you’ll just have to try somewhere else. We’ve found that you may also encounter even more problems if you do not have a PESEL number; even though the rules have now changed and the lack of a PESEL shouldn’t be a problem, it appears as if many doctors and clinics are still unaware of this.

Our recommendation is to try your luck at a larger hospital or vaccination center. Not only will larger centers almost always have an English-speaking staff member handy, but they’ll also most likely be more up-to-date on the rules and technicalities than a small clinic.

Alternatively, you can try using one of the larger private medical clinics which we recommend in our healthcare guide. Although they are private clinics, they all cooperate with public primary care physicians and might be able to schedule you an appointment with one.

Once you have an appointment with a POZ, the rest is extremely straightforward. The doctor will verify your identity (bring your passport), and ask you a few questions to check that you haven’t already received a COVID-19 shot and haven’t recently been infected with COVID-19. The referral itself is issued electronically – you won’t get any receipt, but your passport number or PESEL will be registered in the system as now eligible for vaccination.

Step 2: Schedule an appointment for vaccination


Poland uses a system of electronic referrals (
e-skierowanie in Polish) to track vaccinations. Once you have an e-skierowanie, it is now possible to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.

There are currently 4 ways to schedule an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Poland:

  • Call the national vaccine registration hotline. 989 from within Poland, or +48 22 62 62 989 from abroad. The operator will ask for your PESEL or passport number, location within Poland, and will then give you a choice of available appointments.
  • Send an SMS saying ​​”SzczepimySie” to +48 880 333 333 and follow the instructions provided via SMS (only possible if you have a PESEL).
  • Register online via the online patient portal. Simply login with your name, phone number, and PESEL (yes, a PESEL is required for this), and follow the instructions.
  • Register directly at a vaccination center. Most vaccination centers in Poland are now accepting registration over the phone or in person. Many even offer walk-in appointments on the spot! Googling “punkt szczepień covid” will give you a list of the nearest vaccination centers to you.

Step 3: Get your vaccination – and certificate!

 

Show up to your vaccination appointment at least 20-30 minutes early. Most vaccination centers serve customers not in the order of their appointments, but in their order of arrival – first come, first serve. So the earlier you arrive, the earlier you’ll be out.

Before getting the jab, you’ll be given a short one-page form to fill out. It is also, unfortunately, only in Polish, so it will also help to have a Polish-speaking friend handy at this point. Otherwise, you can always just ask around – the vast majority of Poles under 40 can speak at least basic English.

If the shot is your final dose, most centers will give you a paper copy of the EU COVID Certificate. If they don’t – ask for it!

Getting vaccinated in Poland means you’ll get the EU Digital COVID Certificate – 
allowing travel to most EU countries without testing or quarantine requirements.

It is also possible to download an electronic version of your vaccination certificate by taking the following steps (this requires a PESEL):

  1. Navigate to Poland’s online services center and click “Profil Zaufany.”
  2. If you have a Polish bank account, you can login via your online banking app using the listed options. Otherwise, click “Załoz Profil” to create a profile.
  3. Follow the steps to create a profile. This may require making a very short trip to city hall to verify your identity.
  4. Click “Certyfikaty” at the top left, and then “Certyfikat Szczepienia,” and then “Pobierz PDF” to download your EU COVID Certificate in PDF form.

Unfortunately, at the moment there is no way to obtain an electronic copy of your EU COVID Certificate without a PESEL number. So hold onto that certificate they give you at the vaccination center – or better yet, make a scan to create your own electronic copy.

 

Need Extra Help?

Poland’s Ministry of Health maintains a 24/7 hotline where you can direct all questions related to COVID-19 and vaccinations, which can be reached at +48 800 190 590. Service is available in English.

Navigating the healthcare system of foreign country alone can be an incredibly daunting process – especially during such difficult times. For this reason, English Wizards is committed to assisting all of our Wizards in getting the COVID-19 vaccination, should they choose to.

If you are not with English Wizards and would still like our assistance in getting the COVID-19 vaccine as a foreigner in Poland, please contact us and we’ll be glad to help you 🙂

Want to share your experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Poland? We’d love to hear your story in the comments!

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