Most likely, your fist issue will be the language barrier. You may need to find a friend who is willing to help or make sure you have a dictionary. The good news is that only limited vocabulary is required to interpret most adverts.
In general it is worth finding short-term accommodation while you are looking for a permanent place to live rather than finding a place to rent before your arrival. If you sign a rental agreement beforehand you may encounter unpleasant surprises when you actually get to see your apartment.
Searching on- and off-line
A useful source of information when looking for a flat on your own is classified ads in local newspapers. The real estate section (nieruchomości) offering apartments for rent (wynajem mieszkań) is included in the newspaper usually once a week. Most common flat categories are jednopokojowe or kawalerka, for studio apartments, and dwa pokoje or dwupokojowe, for two-room apartments.
There are many websites with classified advertisements for rental apartments. One of the biggest is www.gratka.pl. It's in Polish, so you will need to open the dictionary (hint: click on Dom i Nieruchomości for the housing and real estate section)
In English, you can find ads in the major cities on https://rentflatpoland.com, a rental site dedicated to expats.
Poland’s most popular newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has a housing supplement called Gazeta Dom. This is also available online at http://dom.gazeta.pl.
Also consider asking your future employer, colleagues, friends and anyone else you meet if they know anyone who has a flat. Lots of homes are rented through acquaintances (po znajomosci).
Don’t take for granted that the flat owner will be able to speak English. Many younger people do and there are also quite a few people who speak German. However older people with a second language will most likely only speak Russian.
Before getting your landlord on the phone or before meeting personally, it is a good idea to make sure you are able to communicate well. Unless you are confident in Polish, it is recommended to find a native speaker to go with you, if possible.
When considering an apartment it is important to find out, whether the flat is supplied furnished or not, as well as what is included in the rent, as many ads do not go into details.
DIY vs. Agencies
Finding a home without the help of a real estate agency has lots of positive aspects, including not having to pay commission, no risk of being cheated by a dishonest agency and potentially a wider choice of offers.
However, there are also some disadvantages in looking for an apartment on your own. It can be very time-consuming and the language barrier can make the process difficult. In addition to having to make a lot of phone calls and visits, you will also have to get a contract signed on your own.
Agents can be useful when it comes to making sure you are paying the right price. They also know what is going to be included in the rent and what might be extra. Most importantly they make sure that the contractual part of the agreement is done properly and according to the law.
The commission agents charge vary greatly, but usually start at half a month’s rent. Definitely negotiate the charges with your agent before making use of any service. You will further need to specify which services you want. Otherwise it is likely that agents will charge you for services you expected to be included.
Be careful when choosing an agency. There are many cases of high fees being charged to people in return for only a few addresses of available accommodation. Don’t be misled since this type of arrangement means you will not get money returned if you don’t like what is on offer or don’t end up renting a property proposed by the agency.
Many agents are professional and provide a valuable service to their clients. See if you can get recommendations from other people and make sure you feel comfortable, ask the right questions and try not to pay money up-front.
Before you eventually choose a flat you should contact other tenants in your area. Quite often they can give you useful information about the quality of living and possible annoyances, such as noise etc.