Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 01/17/22
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, lived in another East African country prior to Kigali.
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?
Mid western US. The shortest travel time was 24 hours via Amsterdam.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
Just over two years.
5. 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?
Houses are typically large with beautiful gardens. However, mold is an issue so be sure to inspect your home before you get your HHE. We had to move into temp housing and then got reassigned housing because our home had lots of black mold making us all sick. We were very happy with the newer home assigned to us which was mold-free.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There’s not much available in the meat and dairy department. There are a couple small stores that will sell imported cheeses, ice cream, and pantry goods for a steep price. Expect to pay between $12-$20 for one tub of Philadelphia cream cheese. Fruits and veggies are usually yummy and cheap. Local milk is good as long as you or your househelp pasteurizes it. Every time I would travel back to the US or a place with good food, I would bring meat, cheese, sausage, butter, etc with me in my suitcase. It’s worth it!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More Trader Joe’s goods :). I also wish I brought more cleaning supplies. They aren’t cheap on the local economy and aren’t environmentally friendly if that’s something important to you.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There’s an app called Vuba Vuba similar to Uber Eats which makes it easy to order out. Be prepared though to wait at least an hour for your food or for it to never show up at all. Always pay cash just in case that happens. I learned the hard way several times.
There’s some good restaurants such as Indian, American, Salad, Greek, and Japanese.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We got lots of ants. I would also find pretty large cockroaches every week. The embassy will give you traps for both insects. It really wasn’t too bad.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We only have pouch mail. No DPO. Which means you cannot send any mail out larger than a small envelope. We also used DHL to send some documents back to the States.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is pretty amazing. We paid our gardener about $350/mo and nanny/housekeeper about $400/mo. They made my life easier and it was the hardest thing to say goodbye to them.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There’s a place called Waka that I frequented before the pandemic. It was decent. Not too expensive either.
As I was leaving, another, bigger and brand new gym opened up in the same building as the Bwok restaurant and I’ve heard good things about it.
The embassy has a tiny gym but I never used it.
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?
Credit cards are accepted at most big places. Be prepared to use cash at smaller establishments. I could always find an ATM (local mall and the embassy have one).
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I didn’t learn more than just greetings and manners in Kinyarwanda. French is also widely used. The embassy has a great tutor for both languages.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There would be some problems but I think it would be possible. There are sidewalks along the main roads.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. Not safe. RSO does not recommend buses, or motorcycles for taxis. Taking a taxi is safe though. Uber is not here.
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?
SUV for sure especially if you will venture outside the city to the safari park or the gorillas. The roads that are unpaved can be quite a challenge to navigate with a low-clearance car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Fiber is available. It goes out often and can be quite infuriating especially while watching TV or working from home. But there’s not a lot of competition and not a lot of options. We paid about $150/mo. It wasn’t bad enough though to make me not want to live there again.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I got a local SIM card and paid for local minutes and air time. It’s so cheap compared to US plans.
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?
Yes there’s good veterinarian care. We could get our dogs teeth cleaned for only $40! Pets Plus does veterinary care, boarding, import/export permits, and grooming. They’re great and so cheap compared to US prices.
There’s not a lot of options for dog boarding when you go on leave. We usually had our staff stay at the house or used Pets Plus.
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?
There are some embassy EFM jobs available. Other spouses worked from home. Local salaries are much less than what you’d find in the US.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Before COVID, embassy dress was business attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a pretty safe city. We didn’t have 24/7 guards in each compound, rather 24/7 roaming security guards. Each home had bars on the windows and a security system.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care isn’t good here. Medivac is recommended for surgery, ultrasounds, birth of a child, etc.
I was able to get my son an x-ray and it was quite the experience but the embassy med unit helps to set it up and liaise for you.
The embassy health unit is AMAZING. I can’t say enough good things about them. They care and are so accommodating.
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 isn’t great but not horrible. There’s a lot of dust in the air especially during dry season.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There’s not a lot of options for food allergy alternatives. You have to get creative and make a lot yourself.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Mental health was challenging during COVID mainly because we were so restricted living in a police state.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is perfect! The elevation is quite high so it doesn’t get too hot. It’s not high enough to be out of the malarial zone though so take malarone if you choose to. There are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several schools that embassy children attend. The two most common are ISK and KICS (religious based). Then there’s Green Hills (French immersion I believe) and The Earth School (Montessori). I send my preschooler to Happy Hearts (Montessori) and couldn’t have been more pleased with it.
2. 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 Happy Hearts does daycare and preschool. They’re wonderful!
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It’s quite small. There’s a Facebook group called Expats in Rwanda that comes in handy every week!
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?
This post is more of “make your own fun”. Find some good friends and enjoy house parties. In my opinion, locals are more closed off so it makes it hard to make friends with them.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It’s more of a family post.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not easy to make local friends. The genocide made a lot of locals suspicious of everyone around them.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
LGBT couples were there and they seemed happy in the environment.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There was the genocide over two decades ago but things have been peaceful since then.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The Gorilla trek was amazing! Akagera safari park is gorgeous!
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There’s not a lot of amenities in the country. There is a horse riding place and one or two restaurants with kids playgrounds.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, there’s lots of fun things to buy like baskets, clothes, furniture, carvings, and pottery.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Traffic is better than other African cities. Kigali is also very clean and safe. It’s got views everywhere you go too.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I would have read more books about the history before arriving. It would help me to understand more of the culture. I wish I would have known just how difficult grocery shopping would be. You rely on consumables and the pouch for so much!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! It’s easy living especially for families with young children.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrella, rain boots, sunscreen, trampoline for kids, exercise equipment if COVID keeps gyms closed, bike, and a TV (super expensive locally).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The movie Hotel Rwanda. There are so many books on the genocide and the history of this part of Africa.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Overall, it’s a good post and I miss it everyday.