Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/19
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?
No, this is my posting in Africa and I've lived overseas for over twenty years.
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?
West Coast, USA. There's a contract flight with Air France that goes out a few times a week; generally, if you need to get out in 24 hours, you can, to just about anywhere.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Housing is a mixed bag, but most have pools and are near the key amenities. Most apartment complexes have great landlords who make sure the internet and DSTV are part of the deal and usually there is also a gym. The market is super tight and the UN grabs things before anyone else can, so there are a few less-than-great residences in the housing pool.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Super expensive if you're keeping to your favorite brands. We have our maid get the fruit and vegetables and it cuts the cost considerably. We go to about six different supermarkets, as each has the thing they do best, e.g. cheap cheddar, great alcohol selection, sour cream, etc.... it's all here, it just isn't all here, everywhere.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Black beans, Mexican sauces, meat flavorings... and canned fruit. They have canned fruit, but it seems to often be a weird color and I throw it out. Also, MIO to make the filtered water go down better and favorite drinks like ginger beer and root beer. Vegetarians and gluten-free folks: they have lots of options for you, but until you find the right suppliers, be sure to send what you need ahead.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Awesome Lebanese and African, great Chinese and Indian, very good but sparse sushi, and pizza everywhere. Delivery is here! Once your number is in their WhatsApp, they don't even ask who you are or where you live.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mold can be a problem. Dehumidifiers and air purifiers are really helpful. Mosquitoes seem to fly through walls... but not nets, thankfully.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. I wouldn't use the local system.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available, cost runs the spectrum. Other missions laugh at the Americans because we pay so much. Often, we pay US$400 for mediocre work and they'll pay $150 for an awesome maid who can do crepes and change diapers six days a week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are very good local options, but the Embassy's gym really needs upgrading. The sports club/hotel across from the admin complex has a great pool and for individuals it's only $50/month. Better places, like the very upscale Fleuve Hotel, are twice that.
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?
ATMs are common, and we use them. Others don't and get their cash from the embassy. We haven't had an issue here.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There's an international service that a lot of people go to. Most are French, however.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
We rely on it daily, even the kids. Really crazy that some folks come out here without their spouses getting any language, as they are the ones who end up isolated. Yes, there are local classes, but I'm not sure of the cost.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It really depends on the individual and the disability. Most apartments have elevators. The sidewalks aren't really walkable, but we don't really walk around much. It would take effort, but someone with a disability could identify those places/restaurants/stores that are usable to all and make it work here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is one taxi company people are starting to use: Ubixcabs. I've never tried it but others swear by it. New cars, women drivers, with an app that you can use to order rides.
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?
We have a 4x4 and are glad to have it because if someone runs into us I know we'll be safe. Lots of Toyotas. I'd avoid small cars and sedans, personally.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Ugh. We tried three and ended up with Vodacom. The other two just didn't work for our particular location, so you must ask your neighbors what towers are near you. We spend about $120/month for B+ service that sporadically disconnects.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We went with the local provider. I can't really advise as I suspect others are doing it better.
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?
Zoogle, a foreign-owned all-inclusive pet store and veterinary care service is the place to start. They even have kennels. I'm not super impressed with the hygiene of the surgery room, but they have a great selection of pets, stock, and food choices, and seem to be on the right track.
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?
Many work in the Embassy, particularly if they don't speak French. The UN is here and many NGOs. I think with effort, time, and connections it would be very possible to find satisfying work.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Too many to count! Most folks do this through church connections as the embassy isn't directly involved. If you're a giver, Kinshasa is for you!
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal for galas 2x a year; regular business for work. The Congolese love to dress up and often the Americans are the most casual in the restaurant. Don't wear khaki shorts and flip-flops. Just don't.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Don't walk alone, jog where others jog, be really strict with the kids you run into on the street. You have to stay alert, particularly if you're shopping downtown or in the markets.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria, car accidents. I'm glad we are able to medevac to South Africa. For non-medevac stuff, the embassy has great staff; for non-dip folks, there's CPU for emergent care. Also, seems pretty straight forward to get MRIs and CAT scans.
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?
Seasonally bad, particularly when they are burning trash. There are certainly worse places most of the time. A lot of people really rely on the air purifiers in their houses.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
The air can get bad for allergies... but it doesn't last long. Short flowering seasons.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Folks who don't get out and get to know the community might be vulnerable to depression. Its a lot to adapt to if you don't know the language or have the chance to understand the chaos through community involvement.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot, except in the summer which is really lovely at nighttime.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are English and French options and most go to TASOK. Our kids loved TASOK. If you have a high schooler, really consider the options carefully. There are 20 - 30 kids per grade, depending on the year. Sometimes less for the seniors. If they thrive in smaller schools, this is a great one that really maximizes what they offer. Also, its an awesome campus.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The school seems to want to work with everyone.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. I think it takes a while to find the advanced classes that are offered in the local community, for example, the soccer clubs, competitive fencing, etc. Iff you just want kids to be active, there's the usual swimming and basketball at the school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale, as always, is very individual. This is a busy Embassy and people work hard. The happiest people seem to make smart choices for themselves, e.g., if the traffic gets to them, they hire a driver. Or, if they need non-work friends, they go to the frisbee at TASOK, or the volleyball with the Brits. We have found a great group of expats who love being here, so our morale was pretty good, but I know there are those that struggle.
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?
TASOK on weekends; local clubs like Coco Jambo (dancing, bowling, archery... what's not to love?); trivia night with the Brits; going out of the city with a group on weekends to Pieds dans l'eau and the private safari park. A lot of people hang out at Chez TinTins by the rapids, though it's not recommended for little kids, and actually a bit dangerous if your bigger kids like to run around.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
If you love music, this is the place - for couples and singles, but you have to love being up very late. It is easier for families, definitely, but... it's not a total killer for singles.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I'm not certain. There are a few LGBT in the expat community, but it looks like folks keep their social lives very private.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Congolese are very friendly. It takes time to grow friendships, but I have found them to be open to it.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I"m sure there are as it's very patriarchal with a complex multi-ethnic society; I'm just not sure how it impacts me or other expats enough to speak on it.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Sand bar was awesome - just avoid it during the rainy season. We also loved the zip lines out at the safari park and having sundowner drinks on the Majestic.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Yoda Laser Tag - its not just for kids!
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Definitely, but shopping can be very stressful because you have to navigate the crowded markets. There are talented artisans and artists everywhere in this city. Lots of great woodwork if you're a Tin Tin fan...
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Culture. This is an exciting time with lots of changes politically and economically. You'll never be bored.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, definitely. It's not boring and everyone can make a difference.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations and inflexibility. Adapt as quickly as you can - don't push against what can't be changed.
4. But don't forget your:
Deet, lysol wipes, green thumb, and manners.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I admittedly read very little - as everything focuses on the colonial past or the violent middle. I really tried to prepare myself for the Congolese of today. I listened to a lot of Congolese music before coming - rap, Christian rock, everything. And then studied their art.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Know thyself. If you don't do hardship well - and you expect toilets to be fixed within 24 hours, if anger is your default reaction to stress - spare yourself and your family and choose somewhere else.