While there are substantial bodies of research dealing with both the contemporary and pre-1950 migration of Poles, there is surprisingly little work on migration of Poles during the socialist era. Depicted as completely shut off from the ‘West’ and immobile, Polish migration during socialism is often reduced simply to political emigration, while in contrast post-1989 moves are understood primarily in economic terms. Here we aim to bridge this gap and integrate historical migration research with contemporary findings through exploring experiences of migration in Poland from the 1940s to 2005. Using a pilot sample of oral histories as a means of integrating socialist with post-socialist experience, we also consider the place of migration in people’s life experiences. Far from migration being absent under socialism, in many ways it was engrained within the system: forced resettlement, free education, strongly promoted industrialization, state work and holidays moved people between rural and urban areas and across regional and national boundaries. We show how while travel and trade restrictions under socialism undoubtedly limited movement, Poland was far from being separate from the rest of the world, and show how experiences during this period could often pave the way for migration after 1989.