Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 05/06/12
Personal Experiences from Kigali, Rwanda
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Multiple prior expat experiences.
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?
Flights from the U.S. connecting through Europe (10 hours) and South Africa (5 hours) take a day.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are large and pretty, but of poor quality construction. Most have decent yards. You are never more than 20 minutes away from any destination in Kigali.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Household supplies are available, typically of the South African variety. Groceries have improved a lot in the past year, but items like cheese, butter, or chicken can disappear for months at a time. The produce is generally good, as is the beef. You can save money and add variety if you shop the local markets.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We're glad we brought pasta sauce, BBQ sauces, spices, Asian cooking supplies, quality toilet paper and other paper products, personal and feminine products, and liquid laundry detergent. Pet supplies are indispensable.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The only fast food restaurant in Rwanda is Mr. Chips, which serves good burgers. Other than that, service is slow even by African standards and costs are on par with Washington, DC. If you can accept poor service, then you can get great food in many restaurants. Genuinely good Italian, Indian, Korean, Ethiopian, and French are easy to find. Rwandan food consists mostly of meat brochettes, starches, and beans.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Organic food and speciality products per se are difficult to come by. Rwandans get very little meat in their diet, and it is possible to eat decently as a vegetarian in Rwanda. Dining out is easy for vegetarians, with several excellent Indian, Korean, and Ethiopian options in Kigali.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malarial mosquitoes are here and there. You roll the dice if you skip your anti-malarials.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Rwandan mail is not reliable. DHL, UPS, and FedEx are in town, but be prepared to spend hundreds of dollars to send a small package. The Embassy is limited to diplomatic pouch, which means you can receive decent size packages, but only send letters out.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is available, but of generally low capabilities. I would not trust a Rwandan driver with my car, period. Knowledgeable gardeners are few and far between, but decent nannies and housekeepers are a bit easier to find. They average a $150-200 per month for full time.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, the major hotels have gyms offering memberships at U.S. prices.
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?
If you have a Visa bank card (sorry, no MasterCard), then you can use the ATMs that cropped up this year. Credit cards can only be used at major hotels. Rwanda is a cash-based country.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are churches of many different Christian denominations, as well as Sunni Muslim mosques. Some have services in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Truth in journalism is not Rwanda's strong suit, but there are a couple of English language newspapers and many Kinyarwanda tabloids available. TV is extremely limited in Rwanda, so bring your AFN decoder or South African DSTV.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English will get you far, French will help, and Kinyarwanda will get you smiles.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Kigali is a hilly place and the sidewalks are not graded, where they exist. Elevators are few and far between. Seeing-eye dogs could pose a problem, as Rwandans are almost universally terrified of dogs and sometimes act aggressively when they see one.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Moto taxis and buses are cheap ($3 to cross the city), but they drive like mad. Regular taxis are more expensive ($15 to cross the city) and generally safer. Be prepared to negotiate unless you find one of the few metered cabs.
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?
Toyota SUV. Good luck getting any other brand repaired. All of the major roads in Rwanda are paved, but secondary and tertiary roads even in Kigali are unpaved dirt tracks that wash out in the rain.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet runs $100-200 per month and is barely sufficient for Skype voice calls. Give up on video or anything streaming.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phone service is reliable and inexpensive. It is very easy to buy a SIM card and airtime. MTN, Tigo, and Airtel all have footholds in the Rwandan market.
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?
No, but get all their shots in order.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There is one pretty good American vet in Rwanda. Kennels are non-existant, as are pet supplies. Rwandans are terrified of dogs and most housekeepers will not want to work in the same house as one, however small and cute.
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?
Yes, if you are qualified for development sector or teaching jobs and can convince the Rwandan government to give you a treasured work permit.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business casual at work, casual in public. Rwandans are receptive to a wide range of clothing.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Just petty crime. Kigali is much, much safer than big cities in neighboring countries.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is extremely limited. For anything worse than the flu or a sprained ankle, expect to spend time in Johannesburg or Nairobi.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is beautiful year around. There are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons, totaling about 8 months of rain. Temperatures in Kigali seem to range from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55-70 at night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several international schools in Kigali, with variable quality.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Again there are several options. The Belgians seem to run the most popular choice.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but limited.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Several thousand. The Americans, Brits, Belgians, French, and Dutch are here in numbers, mostly due to development work.
2. Morale among expats:
Moderate to good. Kigali is Africa lite and many people enjoy a few years here. The biggest drains on morale tend to be boredom, stressful jobs, and, especially in the development sector, over-demanding and under=performing Rwandan partners.
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?
Home entertainment and dinner out are the two mainstays in Rwanda. Other than that, there are few bars, fewer clubs, and no movie theatres or the like. There is one small bowling alley that recently opened.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Kigali is best for families with small children. There is always a family BBQ on the weekends, and room for kids to play. Families with older kids will have a more difficult time, as extracurriculars are limited and Kigali is a quiet place. Couples will do well with dinner parties and the restaurant scene, but it can definitely get boring if you want a variety of other things to do. Male and female singles seem to fare very well here, dating both locals and expats, despite there only being half a dozen or so bar/clubs in town.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
The Rwandan government is more tolerant of LGBT than governments of neighboring countries, but society is conservative. It is much more difficult to be an LGBT Rwandan than an LGBT expat.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The 1994 genocide left deep scars on Rwandan society, and surface behavior aside, the tensions between Hutu and Tusti will persist for decades, in spite of earnest government efforts to cast aside ethnic differences and unite as Rwandans. Rwandans blame the international community for abandoning them during the genocide, and they are not afraid to let "muzungus" know they are not welcome.
There are no real religious tensions between religious groups in Rwanda, only schisms within religious groups for political reasons. Gender remains an issue in Rwanda, even though many women occupy high government positions. Gender-based violence is far too common, and Rwandan men visibly try to dominate Rwandan and expat women in the workplace. It's like the U.S. in the 1950s.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Seeing the gorillas is the highlight of any stay in Rwanda. Resorts on Lake Kivu are a nice getaway, as is Nyungwe Forest. Akagera makes for a nice day-trip safari. Other than that, it's all about time with friends.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
BBQs on the weekend, soccer matches at the national stadium, the dining scene, weekend getaways to Lake Kivu, safaris in Akagera, gorilla tracking, other hiking opportunities.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Baskets, patterned fabrics, East African handicrafts, and Congolese statues (if they don't scare you).
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Rwanda is a beautiful country with a constant spring climate. Kigali is safe, pleasant, and clean -- not a common combination in Africa.
11. Can you save money?
It's possible, but not easy. Kigali is about as expensive as Washington, DC. Travel is extremely expensive, and gorilla-tracking is outrageously priced.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. We have been pleasantly surprised with Kigali, and are content with having a two-year tour here. More than two years would be too long; less than a year would be too short.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heaviest winter clothes and need for the latest electronics or entertainment.
3. But don't forget your:
Hiking boots, umbrella, and patience.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
and Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
by Jean Hatzfield, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda
by Philip Gourevitch, and Land of a Thousand Hills by Rosamond Halsey Carr.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Come for the weather, stay for the friendship, and leave before the boredom and Rwandan arrogance ruin your stay.