Commuting From Poland to Vienna to Pay the Bills

Today, Poles abroad are in a very different situation than in 2004. Their average salary is increasing – and in Austria, it’s the highest of anywhere in the EU. Austrian Poles are also sending more money home than Poles living elsewhere in Europe, as trade increases bring the two countries economically closer.

According to the latest report by the company Euro-Tax, a Pole working abroad earns €2,250 per month in Austria, €800 more than in 2004. And while most Poles abroad are sending less home – the Polish Central Bank reports only €3.5 billion last year, the lowest since 2005 – those in Austria send more every year – some €68 million in 2018, up from €56 million just the year before. Online digital payments, too, are growing. TransferGo reports that Poles living in Austria transferred almost €130,000 in 2019 over their platform alone, a number that has doubled every year since 2016.

Among those Poles is Kasia Nowak, 23. Struggling to support herself as a student, she realized she could earn enough in Austria to finish her studies and even put some aside. So she moved to Vienna earlier this year, studying online and taking every opportunity to visit her family. Most weekends, she travels by Europrzewóz Krzysztof Rajda, a private bus company popular within the Polish community, and that many prefer to trains or planes. “This way, I’m home way faster,” she says.

Europrzewóz is the brain child of Krzysztof Rajda, who drives back and forth from Poland to Austria several times a week, chauffeuring commuters and students to work or home, friends and family members for weekends and holiday visits. Starting out as a trader, importing fruit and vegetables from Austria to sell in Poland, he soon began to take passengers as well. Today, after nearly 30 years, Europrzewóz is one of the longest-serving companies in the industry.

“We have a group of regulars who have been traveling with us several times a month for many years – you could say, one big family,” Rajda says. People get to know each other well, swopping experiences, talking about Poland, work, life. “But we have one rule – no politics or religion!” he laughs. “We don’t want quarrels, because, of course, they happen.” So if the discussion gets heated, “we step in, pause, and try to change the subject.”

Rajda himself lives “mostly” in Poland, but has an aunt with Austrian citizenship and cousins who live in Vienna permanently. About half of his clients come to Vienna for work or university, and travel home as often as possible; others are retirees with family in the other country; others still are grandchildren visiting for the holidays. The pandemic has reduced the number of clients – but even during lockdown, Europrzewóz acted as a trusted delivery service for gifts, money, letters and larger things, like furniture or car parts.

Polish people, even living abroad, remain strongly attached to their homeland and families. They not only support their relatives, but also pay off loans or finance their educations, or to put the money into savings accounts to fulfill the dream of one day returning home.

Their stronger financial position also brings other kinds of cooperation that make Poland and Austria increasingly important trading partners. According to Statistik Austria, there has been a steady increase in both imports (€4.66 billion) and exports (€5.16 billion). More than 30% of this trade is in machinery and transport equipment, which has grown significantly in the last 10 years, with increases of 140% in imports and 80% in exports since 2010.

Poles in Austria have different goals today than they did 10 or 15 years ago. The image of them as cheap labor is blurring, bringing an improvement in the social status – something for which they worked, with their own hands, for a long time. Kasia Nowak is grateful to be here; thanks to Austria, she has been able to substantially improve her situation. Asked if she plans to return to Poland, she just smiles and says, “You never know what life has in store for you!”. But even if she doesn’t stay in Vienna, Kasia Nowak, like Krzysztof Rajda, has helped strengthen the ties, both personal and economic, between the two countries. And this is something to be proud of.

Szymon Pietrzak
is a student of Theatre, Film and Media Studies (Theater-, Film und Medienwissenschaft) at the University of Vienna. He is developing a website about culture called Filmawka. He writes as much as he can about good people and even better films, and visits at least five film festivals every year, so he can always keep up. His main interests are politics, football and fighting for diversity and equality.

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