Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 08/11/22

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 08/11/22

Background:

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

No. This is our fourth tour. We've lived in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

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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?

First thing you need to know, this is a Hardship post. I will say it again, this is a Hard Ship post. East Coast, US is home. Direct flights to France or Belgium from GA, then to Kinshasa. Travel to Kinshasa is difficult, specially if you fly via Air-France. Their flight stops at Brazzaville (Congo) for almost one hour and forty five minutes, before it takes off again and finally lands in Kinshasa. Making it out of the Airport once you arrive can take sometimes hours. The arrivals section is quite small, they only have one scanning-machine at customs. The customs officers take pleasure having every single passenger scan their bags through this machine. It is very chaotic, people don't do lines, it is bad. Keep in mind that sometimes 2 or 3 flights arrive at the same time. Sometimes you have to wait more than one hour to get your bags. Longest it took us to leave the airport was three hours, after a 12 hour long flight, with children. It is unbearable.

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3. What years did you live here?

2020-2022

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4. How long have you lived here?

Two and a half years.

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5. 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?

The Embassy works very hard trying to find decent housing, however in a 33 million people city, competing with the UN, the EU, and all the NGO's on Earth it is a miracle GSO can find decent housing. Housing in divided in two or three big groups. The first one is housing options near-by the Embassy, USAID and JAO (an Embassy's Annex). These homes or apartments are near by the River Congo. These options are ideal for single folks, specially the apartments. The other group are houses distributed near-by Av 30 Juin, the Golf Club and Hyper Psaro (the best stocked store in town). It ranges from newer apartments to old-big homes. Some have pools, others don't. The last group is located near-by Ave De L'OUA. These are residential compounds, one is GB the other one is Belle-Vue. Homes at GB are single story, big homes with individual pools. Noise can be bad there depending how close your house is to Shopritte's parking lot (for some unknown reason, they play loud music all day long, from Monday to Sunday). The other residential compound is Belle-Vue. They have 3 bedroom apartments or 4 bedroom Villas. These units were built in the early 90's, they are OK, but need constant maintenance. Mostly mission's families live here as it is closer to the kid's school, TASOK. There are a lot of humidity problems here. Families with folks suffering respiratory ailments should stay clear of Kinshasa. The air quality here is bad, specially during the dry season. People burn their garbage at night. Our air purifiers run non-stop 24/7.

Driving here is dangerous. Drivers don't follow the rules of the road, the policemen controlling traffic don't do their job, taxis and motorcycle taxis do whatever they want. Your car will get damaged here. Once it took us one hour to advance one quarter of a mile after we left home. It took us another day two hours to return home from work. The kids had spent sometimes one hour from school to home, that is to cover one mile and a half. If you like listening to audio books in your car, or working from your car, hire a driver and this may be a place for you. You will spend most of your tour stuck in traffic. It is horrible. Once, from our house it took us four hours and forty five minutes to the Airport. Another time, it took us one hour and fifteen minutes.

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

You can find most of the things you want, but their quality is subpar and overpriced. Your best bet is to do your shopping at Hyper Psaro. Fresh healthy vegetables and legumes are hard to find here. Good beef? you won't find it here... Prices go up and down. You will definitively use your COLA here.

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

Liquids, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Laundry products, spices you like, drinks you enjoy. Beef, people pack their bags with Beef, seriously.

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

Restaurants here are hit or miss. There a couple of decent Italian restaurants, (stay away from the river prawns and fish offered...), a couple of horrible Chinese Restaurants, a decent Lebanese restaurant and places where you will wait for hours end to receive your food after you have ordered it. Customer Service is an unknown concept in this country. Leave your expectations back home.

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

Yes. All year long. Mosquitoes, Fruit-Flies, cockroaches the size of a cow, spiders, ants... this is the Tropics, you get all the jungle pets at home. At Belle Vue, they work hard to apply pesticides during the rainy season and sometimes during the dry season. Do your children a favor and send them with plenty of bug-spray or cream to school. At GB they also spray/apply pesticides from time to time. The mosquitoes at TASOK are really bad.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO

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

Household help is affordable, but most of the times you need to train them. Make sure you have a clear and signed contract in English and French. This will help you avoid a lot of unpleasant situations.

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

There are a couple of gyms and clubs here. The Golf club is one of the few big-green areas in the city, they only have the Golf Course and some clay Tennis courts, they will pro-rate your membership's cost depending on when in the year you join. There is "La Maison de France", it is a small facility with a Pool. You can also go to "TASOK's School" campus on the weekends, (they are slowly opening the campus back to the community after COVID). There is an Equestrian Club, a little overpriced for the quality and quantity of services they offer. This is not a post for families with children or teenagers, the amount of available activities for children or teenagers is almost non-existent.

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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?

They are being more accepted lately. Before, folks at the Embassy had to walk with wads of cash, now the biggest stores, Hyper Psaro, Swiss Smart and Shopritte all receive Credit Cards. The fancy bakery in town, Erik Kaiser, also accepts Credit Card, so does the other bakery, Patisserie Nouvelle.

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

There is an international church, the pastor is American, the service is in English. There is a Synagogue (Conservative) the Rabbi holds the service in English. There is a Catholic Church, I've heard one priest delivers the service in English in the evenings?. There are Mosques and a lot of Catholic Churches delivering services in French.

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

You will struggle here if you don't speak French. You can get by at the biggest stores, but other than that you need to be able to express yourself in French here.

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

This is not a city for someone with physical disabilities. There are no facilities or services here.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, they are very affordable, and quite dangerous to use. Buses, Taxis and Motorcycles don't have regular "mechanical inspections", hence they are falling apart. Most of them don't have working lights, blinkers, mirrors, you get the idea. There used to be a gang in town exclusively stealing car's side mirrors. Mission staff is not allowed to use public transport here.

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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?

Abrahams Tank. If you can't get one, a Toyota Rav4 will do. Don't bring anything you like here, it will get damaged and crashed. You might want to try to go out of Kinshasa to drive, it is not recommended. The amount of stress you will be exposed to is not worth it. You can have your driver take you where you want to go, and close your eyes.

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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?

It's OK. Some people need to "top-up" their internet service monthly, others (Belle Vue) the Internet is included. Normally the Embassy will direct you to where you can find reliable ISP's.

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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?

You can bring your own and use a local SIM card. The Embassy, USAID, CDC will help you with that.

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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?

Hit or miss. There are a couple of people here but from some community comments they are not very good.

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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?

Embassy, USAID, CDC, some spouses work at TASOK. Others work at NGO's, again, you will need French to work in the local market.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I've heard there are plenty.

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

Business Casual (Work) Black Tie (Marine Ball). Most folks wear casual clothes.

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Health & Safety:

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

Mission personnel is not allowed to travel to the Eastern part of the country, unless the RSO authorizes the trip. There is no major crime in the areas where the Embassy has its housing, however, certain parts of Kinshasa can be dangerous. Muggings are common. Violent car accidents happen from time to time due to drivers recklessness. Civil unrest happens from time to time too. RSO is normally pretty good letting folks know ahead of time which areas to avoid.

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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 is a major issue here, so is Dengue. The health unit had an excellent Doctor and capable staff. If something major needs to be done, you can be flown to South Africa or Paris.

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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?

It is bad, specially during the dry season. This is not a post for folks with respiratory issues. Air Quality does have an impact on health here. We notice it every time we leave and return to the country.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

You need to be very careful if you have allergies here. The school, TASOK, does a great job informing families if a student has allergies.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Morale here is bad, in our opinion. I find the Mission to be under-staffed and over-worked. There is a lot of stress, compounded to the fact that life here is quite difficult. The Cops are corrupt, people ask you for money all the time, it can get tiring quite fast. There is a lot of violence here, it is not rare to see people resorting to physical violence to solve a disagreement. Embassy kids have witnessed horrible traffic accidents, riots and civil unrest while going/returning to/from school. A couple of families have curtailed, spouses have left with the children due to the hardships, and everyone seems to be affected in one way or another.

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

Hot and dusty during the dry season, then hot and unbearably humid during the rainy season.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is TASOK, "The American School Of Kinshasa", that's where most of the Embassy personnel send their kids. There is a French School where some mission folks send their kids to. TASOK has long days, the kids leave around 6:40-6:50 AM to start school at 8:00AM, then leave school at 3:15 PM to return home, if they are lucky, at 3:40/3:45. if they are not lucky, it can take them more than one hour to come back home. The French School has shorter days, kids are back home around 1:30 PM. There is no Embassy Bus service to the French School, only to TASOK. People complain that kids are not learning enough at TASOK, specially the kids in secondary. I wouldn't bring my teenager kids to this place.

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

TASOK tries.

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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?

There is a pre-school called "Busy Bees", the little ones seem to like it. TASOK has a preschool program available, you need to pay for it though. I've heard it is OK.

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

There is a Soccer Club, Ujana, they don't give much attention to the Girls Team, if any at all. There is the Equestrian Club, next to TASOK, kids seem to enjoy it but the lessons are short. There are tennis lessons you can take at the Golf Club and also Golf lessons, however, considering the amount of time it takes you to move within this city, it is honestly not worth it have the children involved in this activities, unless you live very close to any of this places. If you want your child to participate in this activities you need to hire a driver to take them around the city. If you live at Belle Vue, you are in luck, you can hire a tennis coach. There is a decent Gym at Belle Vue too.

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Expat Life:

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

It is large. A lot of UN, EU and NGO's are here. Morale is OK, people complain a lot about life here. The Britt's trow some excellent parties from time to time.

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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?

The Golf Club is a good place to meet expats, other than that, there is not much going on here.

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

This is a Hardship Post, it is not a place for families with teenagers, maybe with little kids yes, but definitively not teenagers. If you are into music, and dance, this may be a place for you. This can be a lonely post for singles.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

This is a country with serious ethnic conflicts. Congolese can be rude, some can be quite friendly and lovely, it all depends.

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

Yes. There is civil unrest in the East region of the country. It is dangerous to go there. Last year the Italian Ambassador, his Security Escort and Driver were all assassinated. They were part of a UN convoy that was attacked by a Hutu Rebel Group in Virunga.

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

Every time we leave on vacation overseas. The bread here is amazing, specially from Erik Kaiser and Pattisserie Nouvelle.

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

None.

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

No, things are quite expensive here. You can buy some local handicrafts, there are very few good artists here, the art offering here is not that great. Then there is the issue of everyone here trying to take advantage of you, by selling you their stuff at exorbitant prices.

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

You can get promoted in your career and build capital to go to a nicer post down the road. You can invest time in your hobbies, and re-invent yourself learning new skills.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How difficult it would be for my family to live here.

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

No, never.

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

Expectations, all of them...

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4. But don't forget your:

Anti-Depressants...

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

King Leopold's Ghost, a ruthless book about what the Belgian Crown did to this country and its people.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Come here if you are a single Foreign Officer and you want to advance in your career. If you have teenagers in your family, do yourself and your family a favor and don't come here.

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