Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/17
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?
No, I have previously lived in Ontario (Canada), Taiwan, Bangladesh, Austria, Lebanon, and Serbia.
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?
Home city is Salt Lake City (USA). The trip is two 10-hour flights - Kigali - Amsterdam - Salt Lake City.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work at the U.S. Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I have a four bedroom, 3.5 bath house with a lovely garden. Most people have houses, although there are now also a few apartments in the housing pool. The apartments are small compared to the houses, but large compared to DC. Housing is located around the city.
I live about 10-15 minutes from work. Most people commute about that long, maybe a little more. The city isn't large, and traffic isn't terrible, but the roads are very winding, so movement from one side of the city to the other takes about 30 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This is a landlocked, agricultural, African country. There is fresh produce, but quality is occasionally a miss. Any familiar food is imported, and you pay for it. A lot of items come from Kenya, and aren't terribly priced, but products/brands you are familiar with come from far away and cost a lot.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cleaning supplies and liquid food items should be shipped. Thanks to Amazon and the pouch, you can get almost anything else you need. But take advantage of that consumables shipment. Just beware of bringing too much. A lot of people find themselves trying to sell off their extra before departing post.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a bunch of good restaurants, and almost all of them participate in Jumia Food, a food delivery app service. Your food won't arrive quickly and usually isn't hot, but it is super convenient, and there's plenty of time for having the oven ready for reheating.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I haven't had any problems.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is not a DPO here, although the process for getting one has been started, for what that's worth. We use the Embassy pouch mail. The downside is that you can't send packages out, only bring them in. Also, the pouch has some more strict regulations than the DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Everybody has it, and it's cheap. I pay 120,000 RWF (about $150/month) for a full time employee who does both housecleaning and yard work. Most people will hire housekeepers and gardeners (often part time/sharing), as well as nannies.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has one that employees use for free. The big hotels have them, and sell memberships. Not cheap.
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?
Although some places do take credit cards, and there isn't a large amount of fraud, I prefer to use cash. I get it from the Embassy or from the ATM on the embassy compound. I think others do use the ATMs locally, but I choose not to.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Mormon, Catholic, Congregational, non-denominational, perhaps some others.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You don't need the local language, but learning a little will expand your experience here. You can take lessons locally.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, I think it would be challenging.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You can take taxis, but not the moto-taxis. The cost isn't really cheap, and I mostly prefer to drive. You have to have a car here, although it takes 4-6 months to get it. People have relied on the embassy, bought a car here and sold it upon leaving.
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?
You'll want some variety of SUV. I have a Toyota RAV4 which I love. Public roads are paved, but even a lot of neighborhoods aren't and have deep potholes. Driving out of the city means a lot of rough road. Toyota is a good brand to have. No real risk of carjacking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
One company has started providing fiber-optic internet, which is cheaper and more reliable. They aren't yet available all over the city, but I think that is their goal. I use them and pay just under $100/month for good internet. My colleague lives where they aren't yet available and pays around $200/month for not-as-good internet.
Installation is reasonably fast and easy. You can also buy reasonably priced wireless hotspots that can provide home internet until you get it installed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most people bring an unlocked phone and buy a local sim card. There are a variety of options depending on how much data you want. My only complaint is that you have to go into the office each month (or week) to renew the plan. It's basically pay as you go.
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 veterinarians. Not as well trained, but still OK. Animals do not need to be quarantined. You just need to make sure you provide the relevant info to the Embassy and they will prepare the import papers. People here are generally afraid of dogs, but not aggressive to them. There are strays, but not many.
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?
Some work at the embassy, some work locally for NGOs. I don't know much more.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots if you look for them.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Rwandans dress well. You'll see business or business casual. Formal dress is only needed on rare occasions.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a very safe place to live. You can walk around after dark. There's no fear of being alone as a woman. We can't drive out of the city after dark, which is more a reflection of driving/lighting than anything else.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Local health care is very limited. Most medical conditions that can't be treated at the embassy health unit require evacuation. Malaria is a concern here, and most people take a prophylaxis.
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?
Air quality fluctuates. There's lots of dust, sometimes debris from burning (either for warmth or disposal), and some seasonal plant-related problems. I haven't found the air quality to impact my daily life.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Just general frustration with the difficulty of getting anything done or finding what you want. But people are generally happy here.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is very temperate here. Located just below the equator, and at nearly mile-high elevation, we have temperatures ranging from 70F-85F daytime and 55F-70F at night. It is wonderful. I have an A/C in my bedroom, but never use it. There are two rainy seasons, each lasting a couple of months, when it will rain for a couple of hours nearly every day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an American school, which most families use. Also a Belgian school, and an English-based Christian school, both of which are used by a couple of families.
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?
Yes, there are preschools. For day care, most people have nannies. I'm not familiar with any in-depth info.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are some.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a large expat community, mostly made up of people working with NGOs. People are generally really happy here.
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/bars/nightclubs. There's a weekly quiz night at one restaurant. Lots of cultural events. You can socialize as much as you want.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is good for anybody. There's a good young crowd, and also a good school community.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I don't think there's much of an LGBT scene, unless it's underground. LGBT diplomatic couples can come to post.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is much room for improvement, but few outright problems.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
This is a beautiful country. I've had the chance to visit a few game parks in the region, and have had amazing up-close animal experiences. There are also lovely places to stay in the country - lakeside, in a rainforest, etc. Also good regional travel.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I don't know about hidden gems, but you should do a gorilla trek, visit Akagera game park, and generally get out of the city.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, lots of great handicrafts. Baskets are a big item, but also fabric crafts, wood crafts, and jewelry. Great shopping opportunities, and very reasonable prices.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Lots of nature here, and with easy access in surrounding countries. Easy access to things in the city, very safe, kind people.
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?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Hiking boots, camping gear (if you do that kind of thing), shopping bags, and hammock (great for patio especially on lazy mornings when the air is cool and lovely).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I loved "A Thousand Hills" by Stephen Kinzer. The movie "Hotel Rwanda" is a good insight into the 1994 genocide. The ripple effect of that is still felt in some aspects, and it is good to understand it. It is also interesting to watch "Gorillas in the Mist" about Dian Fossey who founded the gorilla preserve, and "Rising from Ashes" about the creation and growth of the Rwandan national cycling team.