Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 12/21/17
Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First time living overseas.
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?
Washington, DC, approximately 10 hour flight to Brussels, 8 hour flight to Kinshasa.
3. How long have you lived here?
Approximately two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
It really varies. Ranges from high rise apartment with pretty nice fixtures, mostly 2-3+ bedrooms, and pool to stand-alone houses with yard space and (mostly) with pool. Most of the apartment buildings are newer and the housing is older but bigger. Commute on average is 20-30 minutes in the morning, 30-45 minutes at the end of the day depending on traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most things are widely available though you may need to go to multiple stores to get it. A lot of people have household staff help with shopping to make it easier. COLA is currently approx 40% and you need it but that's what it is there for! Great selection of fresh fruits and veggies at roadside stands and you can easily have fruits/veggies delivered weekly as well.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
To keep cost down, try to stick to getting perishables locally and shipping in other items in bulk. Plan to bring most of your liquids (cleaning products, shampoo/conditioner, baby products, etc) and all medications with you. Wish we brought: salsa, salad dressing, condiments, beer (lots of wine locally but not a great selection of beer).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are nice restaurants with pretty much every type of cuisine (Chinese, Indian, Italian, Burger place, Greek, Portuguese,Lebanese, etc.) though it is pretty expensive. We were pleasantly surprised with the restaurant scene. There a few easy to navigate veggie stands and you can also easily have someone deliver veggies to your house. I recently heard of grocery delivery as well though haven't tried it personally. Pizza delivery is available! No American chains.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of bugs. Mostly ants and mosquitoes but other flying bugs and cockroaches too. Proper food storage is key. If you have cleaning staff, it likely won't be a huge problem.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch. It can be faster than expected (1-2 weeks)... and occasionally it lets you down (4-5 weeks...)
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap and readily available. Most people have cooks/cleaners, drivers and/or nannies. Seek out recommendations before getting to post, most pass on their household help to others. It's a huge perk to have such wonderful support at home.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are lacking but available in town at the nice hotels if you are willing to pay. Most gyms are approximately $200/month. There are options to belong to gym/pool combo and there are yoga classes, boxing classes available in town as well. An American expat hosts CrossFit-type classes as well
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?
No credit cards. Cash only. No ATMs except for one on the US embassy compound.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
French really is a must, no one outside of the expat community speaks English. There affordable tutors available. Do Duolingo before you come.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
This place is the Wild West when it comes to driving. Bring something you don't mind getting a little dinged up and SHIP YOUR CAR EARLY or plan to buy one right when you arrive at post. Rav4 or something similar works well. One of the most difficult things for people when they arrive is no car bc there is zero public transport.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
internet is slow and expensive. You can stream but sometimes quality is poor and buffering is frequent.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Come with an unlocked iPhone or equivalent. Most people communicate locally via WhatsApp which works well.
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?
There are a Belgian and a Congolese Vet available who will make house calls, prescribe medication, etc. There are no kennel services but lots of people willing to pet sit. No quarantine, have all your documents (and a $20 bill) handy at the airport and you'll be fine.
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?
French is a must to work on the locally economy. There is some teleworking but slow internet makes that tough. Most who are employed are EFMs.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are orphanages, girl scouts/boy scouts, lots of events with the CLO, churches, etc if interested. I bet this is probably a bit "untapped" at this point and if someone were really interested they need only talk with locally employed staff.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Pretty casual, try to avoid short shorts/skirts/dresses, formal attire once a year, max. Most business men wear suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Kinshasa is a high-threat post with many restrictions (windows up and doors locked at all times, walking restrictions, lots of barbed wire and guards at every house/compound, armed Congolese army personnel manning security checkpoints after dark, etc. Car accidents can get a little intense so there is protocol to follow there. There are days of political unrest/protests where shelter in place is required. There is likely to be continued unrest/instability in the coming months/years so better to be OK with following security regs.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria and other mosquito-borne illness, diarrhea, all manner of insect bites. There are no medical facilities that are up to US standards. Medical evacuations are fairly common I think.
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?
Moderate to bad, lots of trash burning and old vehicles on the road. Quality as regards health is not as significant as other posts but the smoke-y smell gets annoying and people with severe asthma or something likely wouldn't do well
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It will likely be more problematic here but manageable.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No winter blues! lots of sunshine. Kinshasa takes some getting used to but if you are adaptable with a sense of humor you'll do OK.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Two seasons: rainy (Sept-June) is hot, humid with almost daily thunderstorms, dry (June-Aug) is much cooler (low 70s in the AM), breezy and overcast. The dry season is a nice break from the heat.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) K-12, or the French School. Overall, people are happy with schooling.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
TASOK has some ability to assist but you should definitively ask ahead.
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?
2 PreK (Busy Bees or Little Jewels). Most people have nannies which are certainly affordable.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Dance, yoga, TASOK has some school sports I believe, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty extensive. You can definitely have a circle of friends outside of the embassy community if you actively seek it out. In general I think morale is fair. Again, Kinshasa takes some getting used to but if you have the right attitude, it is not that bad. It's surprising how many people choose to extend.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Restaurants, play groups, sports as lifted above, Karaoke at Le Palais on Wednesday nights.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think better for couples and families if you don't mind the security issues. If you are single, plan to make sure you have your car when you arrive so you are more free to explore and meet up with people, etc.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it's a good city. I'm not sure if there is a big support network but I don't get the sense that there is a lot of prejudice.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that will affect expats on a day to day basis.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There are a few great trips outside of the city worth doing (Lac da Ma Valle, Bonobos, Zongo Falls, Bombo Lumene, https://congobucketlist.wordpress.com/. Sandbar trips on the Congo river, hiking Mount Mangengenge, pagne shopping, getting to know local staff.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pagne goods, wooden knickknacks, there is some art, there are some good markets around Christmas time.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Cheap household help, decent housing, ability to save money, great weather if you are into tropical climate, decent expat community, quick and easy to get to South Africa.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How crazy the driving would be. It is certainly a make your own fun kind of post and security issues will be the deciding factor.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, disregard for emergency preparedness.
4. But don't forget your:
Rain boots/jacket for rainy season, positive attitude, patience and sense of humor.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
King Leopold's Ghost, Bonobo Handshake, The Poisonwood Bible