Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 04/05/16
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?
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?
Kigali to DC via Amsterdam on KLM usually which is about 24 for the whole trip door to door.
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?
Commute is quite short - 10-15 mins max, and there's rarely what Americans would consider traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries that are for the Western market can be quite pricey so most people order their dry groceries from the pouch. Selection also varies and therefore it's better to plan your consumables shipment wisely, especially items like wine and olive oil.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Just bring liquids in your consumbles as you can't ship them to post. Bring plenty of laundry detergent and dish soap too -- our housekeeper has commented on how diluted the dish soap is here compared to the concentration of the ones from the U.S. so we go through the local stuff like crazy. People tend to host parties/bbqs a lot so bring things for grilling, outdoor toys, local beers, etc. Would also bring more bug repellents like candles or lights that can hang outside as well as all natural roach spray.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food can be found at Mr. Chips where you can get a burger and fries for about US$6.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There has been an increase in malaria during my time here among the expat community, though not many cases (that I know of) within the Embassy community.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We get mail through the pouch. There's been talk of a DPO for some time but as of now, can't mail anything out except returns.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Availability is not an issue -- cost varies from US$100-160 on average for an expat full time housekeeper which may or may not include extra money for their lunch food, all depending on the hours/days you have them working. However, you tend to get what you pay for so for a housekeeper with better English and experience, who can maybe do some cooking too, expect to pay in the US$140 and up range.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes but the Embassy gym is decent enough and free, not usually too many people there if any.
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?
We only use them at larger hotels when traveling around the country but never in Kigali. Others do without an issue from what I've seen but we choose not to.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are Catholic, Christian (non-denominational), Mormon services available that I know of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, but always nice to learn the basics.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it is not ADA friendly as it is very hilly and many cafes have steps leading to the main door.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No trains, buses and motos are not safe and off limits for Embassy personnel and taxis are hit or miss. The latter are not at all affordable for daily use.
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?
Bring a 4 wheel drive for sure, extra tires, and whatever spare car parts you may need like air filters, an extra set of wipers, oil for oil changes.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, with more options on the scene all the time. Internet has changed a lot in our time here and we currently pay US$200 for unlimited 4g. A lot depends on your neighborhood as far as which provider has the best service in your area.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring one that is unlocked.
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?
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?
Lots of NGOs though surprisingly, I've heard it can be hard for some to find something locally. However, if an EFM, the Embassy has a lot of options.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plentiful through orphanages, schools, churches, NGOs.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is business casual to business -- public is more casual but conservative. You don't see a lot of women in shorts but rathar, longer skirts or pants.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There has been an increase in crime in the last year (2015-2016) in Kigali in the expat community but again, not that I'm aware of among the Embassy community.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care on local market is not good at all so if med unit can't help you, you are medevac'd to Pretoria.
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?
Though the air looks clean, according to the med unit, the air in Kigali can sometimes be 3x worse than the worse air quality in the U.S. due to lack of controls over emissions and all the motos.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Rainy season brings in all sorts of fun allergens so bring your meds & inhalers.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Two rainy seasons, otherwise moderate with warm to hot weather. Usually pleasant in the early mornings and late evenings.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The two main international schools are ISK and KICS, both of which are great and at which people seem to have had good experiences. It mostly depends on whether or not you are looking for the Christian aspect of the education. However, there are Muslims and other faiths at KICS which have not had any issues that I know of.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
KICS has a special needs program that is just starting.
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, preschools are plentiful but quality can vary. Many people opt for ISK but it's pricey. KICS will be starting a preschool next year.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, soccer is quite popular as is ballet. There are some martial arts options too.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Smallish Embassy - maybe 80 Americans at post? Morale varies greatly by section but like anyplace, it's all about what you make out of it. Always a good idea to make friends outside of the Embassy bubble, especially as this is a smaller post.
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?
BBQs are the big thing, as are events at the Marine House.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for families; I think it might be quiet for singles, though the singles at the Embassies do seem to hang out together and have built a community.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I'm not sure as it seems to be a pretty conservative culture.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I've seen.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Gorilla trekking, tea plantations, enjoying nature
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There's the Gasagara pottery place where you can get a hands on lesson and buy pottery circa 90 mins from Kigali. Sorwathe Tea plantation is also that same distance and is very scenic for a day trip to learn about how tea is processed. Azizi life offers cultural excursions where you can see what life in the village is like and that is just over an hour away. There is trekking the Congo Nile trail for those interested.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Easy to get clothes tailor made here, textiles, baskets, and dung art.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Quiet city, moderate weather year round, very green.
10. Can you save money?
Yes though traveling out of Rwanda can be expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
You will have to make your own fun so plan accordingly. The homes can be massive so bring plenty of wall art and/or pictures so they don't feel so sterile. You can find paint locally and the houses that are painted have so much more character than those without. Easy and inexpensive to hire a painter on the local market.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes -- not always easy living here for sure, as the culture can feel closed off and does not open up to try to get to know you or to let you know them.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Fish aquarium, loud music.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen & bug spray.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Gorillas in the Mist
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Land of a Thousand Hills, Rosamond Carr
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
God Sleeps in Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi