How to Build A House (Part 2 of 3)

18th November 2012

STEP 7 – Find A Builder – This is one of the hardest parts because you need to find somebody you can trust.  I have had experiences with various builders over the last few years with mixed results.  There are a number of ways to go about the build:

  • Use a company – most expensive solution but in theory the simplest.  Seems to becoming more and more popular.  The company will organise everything for you so you don’t care about having to find a registered plumber, electrician or gas installer or specialists to do tiling or roofing.  The downside (apart from the higher cost) is that there is a fair amount of risk unless you know the company is rock solid.
  • Go it alone – plan everything yourself and hire people as needed.  This is the route I have generally taken.  It means I have had more control over the stages of the build and if I wasn’t happy with a particular tradesman I could get rid of him without too much hassle.  The problem is that it is slower as you have to coordinate everything yourself plus more stressful as you have to deal with all of the tradesmen yourself.  However by doing it this way I reckon I saved money (over using a company) and it meant I didn’t have to commit to a large amount of work in one go.
  • Use family – very common in Poland, especially in the countryside.  Poles will use family members (even remote family with whom there is little or no contact).  Everybody seems to have an uncle or cousin somewhere that knows how to build.  Often ‘Uncle’ will come to live with you for the duration of the build and you pay him and give him food and accomodation.  Advantage is that this option is quite low-risk and cheap but can be a bit of hassle and the build might take a while if there’s only a couple of people doing the work.

Couple of other things worth thinking/knowing about:

  • Supply of Materials – quotes may or may not include material.  If the builders supply material then they will often add 10% to the cost.  Therefore one way to save money is to organise materials and the transport of materials yourself.  Note that sometimes the builders will charge you shop price for things such as sand but the sand has in fact come leftovers that the builder has collected from previous jobs.  Therefore they won’t want you to organise some materials yourself because then they aren’t making a profit from their material.  So best to check where all of the material is coming from and ask for documentation.  Of course nobody will want to supply an invoice (faktura), especially if you are doing things off the books – but they should still be able to provide delivery notes without any excuses.
  • Quality of Materials – make sure you and your builder are clear on what your expectations are regarding the quality of materials to be used.  Poles have a tendency to do things as cheaply as possible, so if you don’t say anything then you might end up with lower quality materials.
  • Site Manager – those who aren’t too worried about costs might want to think about hiring a site manager.  Basically this is a project manager who is independent from your builder who you pay to manager the project and check things.  Cost is normally a percentage of the total build cost but using a site manager will save you a lot of stress and time.  If you don’t have somebody to physically check what the builders are doing at least once a day then I can guarantee you will have problems.
  • Electricity – do you have a source of electricity for the builders to use?  Until you have a meter installed the electricity company will charge you a “building site rate” in order to provide you with power.  This rate is outrageously expensive.  Common solution is to pay a neighbour instead at a previously agreed rate.

STEP 8 – The Build

I don’t have any specific advice for this step apart from make sure you are on-site as often as possible – at least once every single day. I have had various problems such as builders accidentally digging threw our sewage pipe and water supply and problems such as drunk builders on the roof.

Other note is about the time of the year – ideally you want to time the start of the build for spring so that you don’t get delays due to bad weather/snow.  If you start during summer/autumn then you are racing to try and at least get the roof on by winter.

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How to Build A House (Part 1 of 3)

25th April 2012

HEALTH WARNING:

Warning – attempting to build anything more than a garden shed in Poland may result in severe medical difficulties including but not limited to: stress, shock, mental breakdown, sudden hair loss, suicidal tendencies and in extreme cases the urge to kill your builder and/or council’s building inspector.  Other side effects may include marital problems such as arguments and in severe cases divorce.   All building work is associated with financial discomfort which if untreated may turn in to a haemorrhage and ultimately bankruptcy.  Symptoms may last over an unexpectedly long period of time.  Proceed at your own risk and if in doubt contact your spouse’s experienced Uncle.

Introduction

Right now I am in the middle of building a large garage so thought I would share my experiences.  This article is the first in a series of posts.  I will cover before the build, the build itself and after the build.

The rules for building anything are the same regardless of whether it’s a garage, a house, a shop or a warehouse.  You still have to jump through the same hoops.

My general advice:

  • read through these articles a couple of times to make sure you have covered all of the points.  If you do something in the wrong order or miss a step then it can sometimes have nasty consequences.
  • check these steps with your architect and supervisor – I can’t guarantee that these steps won’t change or aren’t slightly different elsewhere in Poland
  • always get at least 3 quotes for everything.  It’s amazing how the prices vary for the same service.  Sometimes as a foreigner I am given ridiculous prices so I always get multple quotes.
  • try and use people who have been recommended to you.  The last thing you want is added stress.
  • expect everything to take longer than it does.  I spent 3 months chasing my architect and another 3 months getting permission to build from the council. Best do the paperwork during wintertime so you can start building by Spring.

STEP 1 – Find Land

I am presuming you already have a parcel of land to build on.  Things to check:

  • can you build on it? Or is it classified as agricultural land or part of a protected area?
  • do you have access to the land? Can you drive on to it from the road or do you need access through your neighbour’s land?
  • is the land big enough to build on?  Different councils have different rules about what the minimum plot size is for a house, and how many metres you need to keep back from the borders/neighbours/road.

STEP 2 – Get your “Wypis” from Council

Fill out the form at your council to get an extract from the ground registry (“wypis i wyris z rejestru gruntów”) for your piece of land.  You will also get a copy of the council’s “local open spaces development plan” for you area which outlines the rules the architects need to follow.  In Polish it’s called the “Miejscowy Plan Zagospodarowania Przestrzennego”.   Expect it to take a week or two and you need to pay a small fee.

STEP 3 – Find a Surveyor

You need to find an approved surveyor (“geodeta”).  (S)he will survey your land and do an update of the map held by the council.  It’s called an “update of the map for project purposes” – “aktualizacja mapy do celów projektowych”. This map is what the architect will use for the project. For this map expect to pay 500 – 1000 PLN and wait a few weeks.

STEP 4 – Find an Architect

You can buy projects online, but if you need to make even a single change then you will need an architect (“projektant”).  Use somebody local because you will need to meet him/her 10 times more often then you will expect.  Also a local architect will be best able to advise you about local procedures and waiting times.   Your architect must be an officially qualified one.  Expect to pay upwards of 3000 PLN.  Find out if these includes him/her taking care of the formalities with the council on your behalf.

The architect will need your surveyor’s map from step 3 and the council stuff from step 2.

STEP 5 – Get Permission to Build

Now that you have got your project you need to get it approved by the council.  Normally your architect will take care of this for you.  It can take a month or two.  It can take longer if the council requests changes to the project.  It can take months longer if there are problems with your neighbours.  The council will write to every registered owner of the plots of land which neighbour on to yours to give them a chance to inspect your plans and file objections.  If even one of these owners has died or moved abroad, or generally is not contactable by registered post then expect problems because they will refer the matter to court and that adds six months of delays straight away…

Once you are through this hoop you will be the proud owner of an approved project plus a building site diary (“dziennik budowy”).

STEP 6 – Find a Supervisor

You need to find somebody who is qualified to be your official site supervisor (“kierownik budowy”).  He/she needs to register with the council’s building department (“nadzor budowlany”)  that he has taken this role.  They also register your intention to start building.  After 7 days you can officially commence the build.

The purpose of the supervisor is to have someone who is independent of the builder check that the builder is doing things properly and legally.  The supervisor is supposed to check each stage of the build and sign the diary along the way.  In reality the builder often has a colleague and he just goes to him to get signatures without the supervisor ever seeing your site and they charge you for the privilege.  Therefore it’s best to sort out with the builder whether they have their own supervisor or if you are going to use your own.  Expect to pay upwards of 1000 PLN for the supervisor.

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Smoking Ban Arrives!

16th November 2010

As of Monday 15th November 2010 Poland now has a total smoking ban in places such as hospitals, schools, train stations, restaurants and pubs.

Pubs and restaurants must now have a special place for smokers which is sealed off from the rest of the premises and specially designated for smoking.

However in a typical bizarre Polish fashion – even though the new law has already become effective, the Straż miejska (city guard) has not been given the powers to issue fines to anybody breaching the new rules.  Apparently they won’t be able to do anything until the New Year 2011.  Meanwhile if anybody calls them to complain about smokers they will simply issue a verbal warning.

As of 1st January 2011 they will be able to issue 500 PLN to smokers breaching the rules, and 2000 PLN fines to the owners of premises who let them.

According to statistics from 2009 there are about 9 million smokers in Poland, which is 34% of all Polish men and 21% of women.

Looking at this survey taken from the popular Polish news portal rmf24.pl it seems that over 66% of people are in favour of the new ban:

Quick English translation – “are you satisfied with the new restrictive anti-nicotine laws?”

  1. Yes, I’m a non-smoker
  2. Yes, despite being a smoker
  3. No, I’m a smoker
  4. No, despite being a non-smoker

See the latest statistics on this survey here.

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Combatting Power Outages

4th June 2010

As many of you will know from my post about buying a generator I have a lot of problems with my electricity supplier Enion where I live.  In fact I have got so sick of constant power failures I have started to keep a log.  These are the entries so far for 2010:

  • 5th Jan 2010 – no power from 0800 until 1500 (planned works)
  • 17th Mar 2010 – no power from 0817 – 0915 (no notice given)
  • 25th Mar 2010 – whole house had a power cut lasting a few seconds.  After that 1 phase was out for about 10-15 minutes (no notice given).
  • 27th Mar 2010 – no power for 20 seconds at 1008 (no notice given).
  • 20th Apr 2010 – no power for 2 minutes at 2225 (no notice given).
  • 21st Apr 2010 – no power for 2 minutes at 0835 (no notice given).
  • 4th May 2010 – no power for 1 minute at 1102 (no notice given).
  • 22nd May 2010 – multiple momentary power outages due to storm.  Fusebox tripped at least 3 times.

Before you ask – no I don’t live way out in the countryside.  I am 2 miles from the nearest town but I am still surrounded by houses and right next to a major road.

As you can see from the log, most of the time the power cuts are short, but they are annoying because no notice is given [most of the time] and they are random (although I always keep a torch nearby when there’s a storm).

Apart from keeping a generator to deal with longer power outages, I have also taken a number of steps to deal with the shorter ones.  Feel free to call me a geek (my wife does).  I don’t care.  I am not the one bumping around in the dark looking for the matches.  Read on!

Emergency Lighting

Very cheap and very effective – I bought this emergency light from screwfix.com for £15.  I have it plugged in to the mains and when there is power it charges itself (and it is off of course).  As soon as it detects that the power has failed it comes on and lasts a couple of hours – more than long enough for me to check the fuses or get some candles/torches out.  In fact it has proved its value so many times I bought a second one (but admit that I haven’t got round to installing it yet…!).

Uninteruptable Power Supply (UPS)

The other bit of kit which is a must-have in my opinion is a UPS – this is important to stop your computer from crashing and potentially causing the hard drive some major damage or from losing data.  In the picture is the UPS I have got from dabs.com which I use to keep my main computer, modem, router and wifi access point running when the power goes down.  This one cost me £57 from dabs.com.  It’s a cheap model which only keeps the computer on for about 15 minutes but that’s enough time for me to shutdown everything cleanly.  As you can see it’s got UK sockets on it which saved me from having to change all the plugs on my computer stuff – I just changed the UK plug it came with to a Polish one so I could plug it into the wall.

You can get fancier models that plug into your computer with a USB cable and can automatically shut it down plus models with a much bigger battery to keep you running for longer or to run more equipment off.  This is the other UPS I just bought which I use to protect my TV, hifi and satellite receiver.

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UK TV in Poland – update

23rd May 2010

Just a quick follow up post regarding watching UK tv from Poland – rather than set up our own British in Poland dedicated server it works out even cheaper to just use the VPN services from a company called HideIP VPN.

Their VPN service is marketed towards those people who want to mask their IP address for privacy reasons (hence the name “Hide IP”) but it serves our purpose of making a computer appear to be based in the UK.

I have tested it using both Windows XP and on two installations of Ubuntu and it worked fine on both the BBC iPlayer and ITV Player websites.

On TVCatchup.com I got a blocked access message but TVCatchup block all VPN servers so I don’t think there is much that can be done about that.

If you want to use their service you can get it for 5.99 USD / month and they offer unlimited and unmetered bandwidth – I think that is a hard offer to beat.

Also from my testing I can report that you really need to have a minimum 1MB internet connection to be able to stream TV content.  I am restricted to a crappy 512Kb connection and streaming just doesn’t work – it spends more time buffering than playing which makes it impossible to watch anything.  Therefore I had to download programmes in entirety first and watch them off-line later.

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Warning about Ticks

25th March 2010

My mother-in-law keeps warning me about “kleszcze” falling out of trees when we’re in the garden and yesterday I saw an ad on the telly about vaccinations from “kleszcze” illnesses so I finally decided to look up what this terribly scary “kleszcz” thing is in the dictionary.  To my disappointment it isn’t some kind of bat like predator with big teeth, it’s just a tick.

So then I started to wonder what the paranoia is about ticks as I have never heard about them being a problem in the UK.  Well apparently the problem is due to Tick-borne Encephalitis which is a nasty viral illness that affects the central nervous system and has a fatality rate of 1 – 5%.  It’s not found in the UK or in western europe so much – it’s more commonly found in the forested areas of Russia and central europe.  See the map below taken from kleszczeinfo.pl for coverage.

Tick-borne Encephalitis Coverage in EuropeThe general advice (taken from klesczeinfo.pl) is to be careful when walking in forested areas, fields or parks and to check your body regularly to make sure there aren’t any tick bites.  Children should be checked 2 or 3 times a day.  Check your clothes when you get home and have a shower to remove any larvae that are hard to see but might have stuck to you.  Particularly pay attention to soft areas such as behind the knees, behind the ears etc.

If you discover a tick then it should be removed from as close to the skin as possible as soon as possible using a fine pair of tweezers.  Don’t try and kill it using oils or creams or burn it with matches or cigarrettes as the virus is in the tick’s saliva and doing any of these things might increase the amount of infective material transmitted into the victim’s body.

For the paranoid there are vaccinations available (and no surprise it’s a vaccine manufacturer sponsoring the kleszczeinfo.pl website and running the ad campaign on TV about it).

Oh, and apparently they don’t fall from trees (will look forward to setting my mother-in-law right about that one) as they live in grass/bushes no higher than 20 to 70 centimetres where they find it easiest to latch on to passing prey.

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Buying a Generator

13th March 2010

Anybody who has lived for any period of time in Poland will have had some experience with power cuts.  For home owners like me who are out of the major towns they can be a real annoyance.

Years of under investment and bureaucratic restrictions means that the majority of the electrical infrastructure is old and in bad condition.  Not surprisingly this leads to regular outages either due to bad weather or for scheduled repairs.

A loss of electricity for any period of time is particularly annoying for me because without power not only do I not have light, but I also  don’t have any heating or running water.  This is because without power my gas boiler doesn’t work, and even if I switch over to my coal furnace I still need power for the pump that circulates the water through the radiators.  Likewise because my water comes from a well in my garden (no town water supply near me yet) without power I run out of water as soon as my 80 litre tank empties as the pump won’t kick in to refill it.

Furthermore, because I work from home I need a 100% guarantee that my computer and internet access both work  – I can’t risk the chance that one of my clients calls to say a website is down or an urgent problem has occurred and I can’t do anything about it.

My solution was to buy a generator and here it is:

If you want to buy one then first you need to consider a number of issues:

  • How much Power? You need to buy a generator that has sufficient power to run whatever you need to connect to it.  I want to be able to connect my water pump (which needs 1400 watts whilst running), my boiler (less 50 – 100 watts) and my computer network (around 200 watts).  Therefore I calculated the most power I would ever need is around 1700 watts so bought a generator rated at 2000 watts to add a safety margin.
  • Voltage Regulation - There are two types of generator – those that have a computer chip built in to regulate the voltage and those that don’t.  If you just want to plug in a cement mixer or a drill then you don’t need voltage regulation.  But if you want to connect any sensitive electrical devices such as a computer then you must use a generator with a voltage regulator to avoid causing damage.
  • Noise – Generators are quite noisy given that they are basically small petrol engines.  More expensive models are quieter.  To be honest I want my generator just as an emergency backup so noise isn’t my biggest concern.  I don’t need it at night and I don’t need to worry about neighbours so the fact that my generator is rated at 90 decibals isn’t a problem.  In practice I hook it up at the back of the house and with the windows closed it is barely audible from inside.

To work out how what type of generator you need have a read of the info at justgenerators.co.uk.  They have a lot of info on their FAQ section and info about noise levels etc.   To work out how many watts your devices need have a look on the manufacturer labels or in the handbooks (you did keep them right?).

GeneratorI found my generator at castorama in Krakow on promotion for 1000 PLN.  I checked out the generators at Leroy Merlin but they were cheap chinese junk.  The one I found was german and so far seems OK.  It is one of the cheaper models so is pretty basic but does the job.  Over the last year I have used it 3 times to keep my freezer from defrosting and I am very happy with it.  Here it is in action kicking out 240 volts (the domestic voltage used across Europe).

More expensive models come with a wheelbarrow style wheel and handles to make moving it around easier (this thing is very heavy at 50 kilos) and require less maintenance – mine needs an oil change every 8 hours of run-time according to the manual (which seems excessive to me) and the oil dump valve isn’t very accessible.

So if you have got a house or are planning on buying one, now you have a new toy to add to the shopping list :-)

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UK TV via the Internet – Proxy Server

12th February 2010

03/FEB/2011 UPDATE – WE HAVE A VPN SERVER SET UP WITH HIDE IP – CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

I mentioned in my post about watching UK TV from Poland that if enough people were interested I would set up a proxy server for us all.  As a few people said they were keen I have been in contact with UK Proxy Servers and we have got the following offer:

  • £10 per month (including VAT)
  • Unlimited bandwidth (no abuse though – i.e. hammering it 24/7)
  • VPN Server (more flexible than a proxy server)

By routing your internet access via our VPN server you will no longer get the geo-blocking that throws up error messages along the lines of  “not available in your country” and will be able to access the following services just as you could as if you were in the UK:

  • BBC iPlayer
  • ITV Player
  • 4OD
  • Demand FIVE
  • Sky Player
  • Zattoo
  • TV Catchup
  • View TV
  • Eurosport Player

You can read all about VPNs to your heart’s content on the UK Proxy Servers knowledgebase.

If you want to join up or have any questions post a comment below or email me at ben@britishinpoland.com.  When enough people contact me I will set up the server and start handing out accounts.

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Poland again refuses RHD cars

29th January 2010

Over the last few days the news has been full of stories that Poland’s supreme administrative court (naczelny sąd administracyjny) ruled on the 27th of January 2010 that the minister of transport has lawful permission to refuse the registration of right-hand drive (RHD) vehicles.

If you have read the story and comments on my earlier blog post about English Cars in Poland you will know that until now it has been possible (although difficult) to register a RHD vehicle if the minister of transport gives permission.

This is against the European Union directives on free movement of goods which is why the EU reminded Poland in October 2009 that refusing to register RHD vehicles is against EU law and demanded a change in Poland’s regulations.

This new ruling by the supreme court is a result of Grzegorz Dorobek attempting to register his RHD Vauxhall Vectra and getting denied by his local authorities in June 2008.  He took the matter to court from where it escalated.  The voivodeship court in Kielce (Wojewódzki Sąd Administracyjny w Kielcach) ruled in April 2009 that “the positioning of the driver on the right-hand side has a negative effect on road safety” and that improving safety should be a fundamental target in a given country, therefore EU laws have no foundation to demand registration of this type of vehicle.  This decision was upheld by the supreme court.

Dorobek’s lawyer argued that Poland’s current position is confusing given that some RHD vehicles are given permission and some aren’t.  After the ruling Dorobek said he would consider taking the matter further to the EU.

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Watching British Television in Poland

26th January 2010

A very common FAQ for new arrivals is ‘how can I watch [insert your favourite channel] from Poland?’

The answer is complicated so I thought I would write a few lines on the topic.

Through Your Aerial

Terrestrial channels such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc.. are transmitted via local transmission towers dotted around the UK and received by your aerial on the roof.  Clearly once out of range from one of these towers (typically 30 – 60 miles) you won’t be able to get a signal which means no chance of picking anything up abroad, let alone Poland.

Via Satellite

However all channels are also broadcast via satellites either in encrypted format or unencrypted format (known as “free to air” or just “FTA” for short).  Being able to receive the signal depends upon which satellite the channel is being sent from and whether it’s FTA or not.

All of the BBC domestic channels are broadcast on a satellite called Astra 2D alongside most of Sky Digital’s line-up plus ITV and Channel 4.  Unfortunately Astra 2D has a rather tight beam that is pointed directly at the UK and therefore a big dish is needed to get the signal if you are too far away.  According to this Astra 2D footprint you need at least a 3 metre dish to get the signal in Poland.

The dish size is a show-stopper for most people straight away – these dishes are quite expensive, if you rent your property your landlord probably won’t allow you to install it, and if you live in a built up area you might have problems with the authorities or your neighbours about it.

Sky TV

If you want to receive Sky then you also have the problem that you aren’t really supposed to be watching Sky outside of the UK according to their terms and conditions. When I first moved to Poland I just dismantled my existing Sky box and dish and paid a local installer to set it up again telling him that I wanted the dish pointed to Astra 2D located at 28.2° east.  I used a 1.2 metre dish which was adequate to receive most channels in Opole such as Sky One but not the terrestrial channels and some others.  Sky kept writing to me at my UK address saying that the box wasn’t plugged in to a phone line but I was able to fob them off for a few months before I cancelled it anyway.  Alternatively there are companies that specialise in providing active sky subscription cards and equipment for ex-pats living abroad – check on google for “sky tv cards europe”.

Polish TV

If you aren’t fussed about getting UK TV but just want to watch stuff in English occasionally then you could get one of the Polish TV packages such a N television or Cyfra+.  95% of it is in Polish but you can get things like BBC World News and with the digital HD packages you can sometimes change the soundtrack back to the original language.

On the Internet

Thankfully technology is coming to the rescue.  There are now websites such as tvcatchup.com or the BBC’s iPlayer which allow you to stream TV on your browser.  The problem so far is that these services are not available outside of the UK due to licencing issues.  The workaround to date has been to use some trickery such as a UK proxy or VPN to make your computer’s IP address appear to originate from the UK and not your true location.

European Union Directive – TV Without Frontiers

It’s worth mentioning a new piece of legislation that came into force just recently in December 2009.  It’s an EU Directive that says that no EU country can legally block residents of another EU country from watching content of another.  The offical press release about it is here at Europa and the directive can be downloaded here: 89/552/EC.

There is some argument about whether that means that people like the BBC are forced to make their signal available across the EU, or whether that just means that countries can’t block incoming signals, or whether 3rd parties such as TVCatchUp are allowed to redistribute the signals.

Of course people like the BBC aren’t too happy about this given that it could force them to give away their content across the EU.  This also has an impact on licence fees.  However as of 26/01/2010 despite this ruling already having come into effect services such as TVCatchUp and the iPlayer still do not allow access outside of the UK.  TVCatchUp have said on their forum that they are making technical preparations to allow access but until their lawyers give them the green light they will continue to block non-UK IP addresses.  This could go on for months or longer…

The BBC’s stance is that they have bought the rights to broadcast only in the UK and therefore can’t transmit abroad.  Most likely this will end up in court at some stage to determine whether copyright restrictions or EU directives take precedence and to get clarification.

Regarding the BBC iPlayer there is a thread on their forum about it.

Conclusion

Easiest and cheapest solution for now is to take out a subscription with a UK proxy service and watch TV on your computer.  Hopefully at some point in the future things will become easier.  If you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere and have money to burn then go and buy yourself a massive dish and get a ‘grey’ sky TV card.

UK Proxy/VPN Service

If enough people are interested then we could get together and split the cost of our own proxy server.  Please leave a comment if this is of interest.  If there are enough people prepared to pay £5 – £10 a month then I can register British In Poland as an ex-pat group and get a VPN account for our use.

UPDATE – Please see this post about the British In Poland VPN Server

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