Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 08/04/11

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 08/04/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, nor will it be the last.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Europe (Brussels/Paris) is about 8 hours away. Daily connections with Brussels Airlines, South African Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines. Almost daily connections with Air France, Kenya Airways, Morrocan Airways

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3. How long have you lived here?

4 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomat

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Very expensive and not always of the best quality. We are lucky to live on a very nice family oriented compound with all the facilities you need, and more.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Availability is quite OK (ranging from an extensive French cheese collection to fresh pasta or fish imported from Belgium, strawberries from Europe, etc). Just don't look at prices!!

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Diapers, not because they are not available, but because they are so expensive. In fact, just about anything is more expensive here, so when on holidays leave with empty suitcases and return with full ones

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are a few decent restaurants (Italian, French, Belgian, Indian, international) but do expect to pay (a 3-course dinner would easily set you off 50 USD)

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Too many mosquitos which do bring malaria. There are some ways to minimise the problem, though, starting from mosquito nets to full scale des-infectisation of your house

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

by pouch only

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very available, and very affordable. Reliability can be an issue

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Getting increasingly in use here. When we arrived, there were only a couple of ATMs, now they are on every street corner (in Gombe, the district where Embassies and government is based)

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French comes in very handy. No need to learn Lingala

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Too many

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Forget about it. Trains and busses stopped running long time ago. We are advised not to take taxis. Still some expats do take them without too many problems

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

For in the city any car will do. Once you want to go a bit further, you definitely need a 4x4

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

High Cost Low Speed Internet

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Buy your simcard and start calling: it's cheap and network coverage is surprisingly large. Don't forget to bring your blackberry to have instant mails

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

If you keep looking

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

The usual

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not in the day to day life. It's actually pretty safe. Having said that the DRC remains a fragile state with lots of poverty, inequality and discontent, which can be explosive. With the forthcoming elections there is a chance that things will detonate, but I would still tend to think that stability will prevail

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Malaria

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Should be OK, I guess

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Pretty OK. Between 25-33 degrees celsius year-round. It can be a bit grey in the dry season (May-July), and it does not rain all the time in the rainy season; but when it rains, it rains!!

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Decent American School with lovely (but bit run down) campus. Lots of other options as well: Belgian (with schooling in Dutch and French), French school, English International school, etc

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Yes, and quite OK, but French-speaking.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Rather sizeable. Don't forget that the UN still has the world largest mission stationed here

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies, depending on expectations, whether you are single or with a family, and your sense of humour

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

You have to make it. Lately a sort of cinema started, more are in the making. In the meantime, enjoy the expat parties, the nice resto's and - if you are into it - the night clubs of Kin la Belle

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, great for families. Not too good for singles I would say (slightly boring)

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Don't think so

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The pool, barbecues with friends, the great sense of humour of the Congolese

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Swimming, tennis, golf (Kinshasa boosts a great golf court), horse riding, squash, eating out (there are a few decent restos)

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are some nice paintings

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is quite ok as a family duty station. Our kids loved it here, amongst others due to the pool and a decent American school. The weather is quite friendly, domestic personnel is easy to get by. Don't expect too much in terms of tourist outings or culture (although things are changing, but slowly slowly, with the rhytm of the country). Even though there is not much to spend on other then food, food and food, don't expect to save much. Prices are very high. To the upside: pretty much everything you want is available (but you have to sometimes look for it)

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11. Can you save money?

If you insist, but don't forget to enjoy your life

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

I think so

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Skis

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3. But don't forget your:

Sun cream

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters - Jason Stearn comes with a recommendation.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Mobutu - roi du Zaire. The Congo river

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Enjoy your time in Kin. Even though it can be frustrating at times, time passes too quickly...

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