Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there - 05/15/24

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 05/15/24


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

No, we have lived in other sub-Saharan African countries.

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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?

U.S. From DC it can take anywhere from 20-30 hours depending on airline and layovers. Not easy to get to DRC as there's only a couple flights a day.

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3. What years did you live here?


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4. How long have you lived here?

Two very long years.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is very mixed, everything from apartments to stand alone houses, some with pools, others without. Make sure you know what you want (pool, number of bedrooms, proximity to embassy, commute time...) so you can tell the housing board before arrival. They try their best to accommodate requests, but it all comes down to what's available.

Commute time is the biggest issue here and on bad days can take a couple hours each way. The houses north of 30 Juin (main road through Kinshasa) generally have double commute times as houses south. Go on youtube and look at videos of driving in Kinshasa, it is really bad, though not the worst we've seen in Africa.

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

There are a couple grocery stores that carry most things you could want, but the quality isn't that great and very expensive. A couple of extreme examples: pint of blueberries is $28, strawberries $20, very small rotisserie chicken $10, ice cream $15 per pint. Beef that isn't rancid can be impossible to find at times. Also, when something does come available (western cheese and butter) people tend to buy as many as possible and horde it. Alot of people use DPO to order from the states for non-perishables. A lot of people try to push the local cheese, but if you ever saw the conditions in which it's made you wouldn't touch it again.

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

We made good use of consumables shipment and sent a lot of liquids and things that can't be sent through DPO. USE YOUR CONSUMABLES SHIPMENT!!! Before arrival to post and whenever we would travel out of country we would bring back at least two suitcases full of meat and cheese. Freeze it a couple days before you travel and it'll make it just fine.

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

There's a couple places in town that people would eat at, I personally got sick every time I ate at the local restaurants. Eating out was rare for us because of how expensive it is and not very good quality. For the two of us to go out and share 1 appetizer, two entrees, two drinks, and share a desert would be over $100! We also got tired of dealing with all the attitude the locals will give you, customer service does not exist here.

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

Oh, where do I begin! This is a tropical country, there's no way to not live with bugs here. Post mandates malaria meds, mosquitoes are a huge problem. Ants, cockroaches, waterbugs, mites, fruit and other flies will be everywhere. Make sure you bring airtight containers to keep shelf foods in, otherwise you will find bugs in them. Recommend bringing lots of bug repellant in your consumables shipment.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and pouch but can take a month.

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

Most people employee a housekeeper, gardener, and/or driver. Typical rate would be $200 per month, but some in the embassy would pay up to $400. Remember that this is an African French (different from French) speaking country and finding anyone who speaks english is hard.

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3. Do you feel that it is safe to walk, run or hike outside? Are there areas where bike riding is possible? What is the availability and safety of outdoor space for exercising? Are these easily accessible?

There's only a couple areas in the city that is safe to walk around: golf course and river loop area, and even there keep your head on a swivel. Listen to the RSO brief at post; there's a reason most areas are off limits and they recommend not going out. Forget about traveling outside of Kinshasa. DRC is a dangerous country, a little bit of research and you will find out why. There were times during our tour that you even had to have armed security to take you to the airport.

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

A couple of the compounds have gyms, and the Marines would let you use theirs for a fee. There are a couple gyms around the city but I wouldn't recommend using them unless you are looking for a medevac! There's a decent golf course that you can walk around.

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5. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

The Embassy has an ATM, but it usually is out of cash and charges you up to $20 to use. I wouldn't recommend using your card on the local market. Remember that most people are very desperate in this country and wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of any situation such as stealing CC info.

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

Christianity and Islam seem to be the main two religions, but finding an English speaking service might be tough.

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

If you want to do anything outside the embassy you will need some French, locals do not speak English. Even the people that learned French before arriving to post found it very hard to understand because it's a Congolese variation of French. There used to be classes offered to EFMs and employees through the embassy, might be worth looking into if interested.

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

Yes, if you have physical disabilities I would not recommend coming to this city. Handicap accessible does not exist here.

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

There's a lot of taxis but mission personnel are forbidden from using them. They are very unsafe mechanically and kidnapping for ransom is popular.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Gas powered SUV with clearance, Rav 4 style at the smallest, but best would be a fully armored tank! Very few roads are good enough for cars, most are very bad with holes that can swallow a vehicle. I witnessed a motorcycle and both people on it completely disappear during a rainstorm because it fell into the drainage system. Also make sure if you do bring a vehicle over that you don't care if it gets damaged. I would say that 80% of mission personnel get into an accident of some sort while here. There are plenty of mechanics available, but they specialize in "Frankenstein" fixes and don't use proper parts. Most bring extra tires, fuel filters, general maintenance stuff. Something to watch for is if you do take your vehicle to a local mechanic that they will replace good parts on your vehicle with bad ones to sell on the market.

When driving, always make sure your vehicle is locked. Snatch and grabs are common and the locals, especially the kids, will test your doors at intersections or jams, and if unlocked they will take anything not bolted down. Get mirror tabs installed on your side mirrors. They are very good at ripping off your mirrors in less than a second. If you are mission personnel and get into an accident report it to Post 1 right away and DO NOT get out of your vehicle. RSO has a good response unit and will send help.

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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?

Most internet is done through cell towers and depends on where you live. On a good day we would get 4 MBPS. There was a company offering fiber optic, but they seemed to have disappeared.

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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?

Google Fi works okay here. Others report that AT&T has decent service. There are local options but not very reliable. Contact CLO to see what the current recommendations are.

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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?

There are a few EFM positions and others would telework. EFMs were very frustrated with the hiring process, most wanted to work but internal problems in the embassy prevented them from doing so. I don't think working on the local market is an option, nor would you want to.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of volunteer opportunities with schools, orphans, foundations. Just make sure you ask RSO first to see if it's allowed.

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

Casual everywhere most of the time. Formal dress during high level visits or Marine Corps ball.

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Health & Safety:

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

You should be aware of personal security at all times here! Currently no travel outside the city is allowed, and only certain parts within the city is okay. There is a war in the eastern part of the country so no trips to the picturesque parks. Kidnapping for ransom is big, vehicle accidents, muggings, snatch and grabs, vehicle vandalism, being slapped on the face by a local while walking, civil unrest, etc. This is not a place for sightseeing.

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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, Dengue, Africa stomach, injury in car accidents is all common here. The embassy has a small medical facility, but all treatments that would require hospitalization usually require a medevac to Europe or South Africa.

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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?

Bad, during the dry season you won't see the sun for months because of the air pollution so it definitely has an impact on health, both physically and mentally. People with respiratory issues or allergies seem to suffer the worst.

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

Dust and pollen are the biggest issues for allergies here, bring meds. If you have food allergies make sure you bring with you what you need because options are not available on the local market.

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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)?

Be aware of your mental health here, this place is depressing and morale is very bad. Dry season drowns out the sun for weeks/months, because of security restrictions there's not a lot to do within the city that's safe, kids have witnessed horrible things that require counselling just on the commute to and from school. This is a "make your own fun" post. CLO and front office do what they can to help but are restricted.

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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 with two seasons, wet and dry. This is a tropical environment.

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Schools & Children:

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

TASOK is where most kids go and is English speaking. I wouldn't recommend middle or high school here; the education is far behind, and your kids will struggle after leaving this post. There's also a French school that's a bit better but they don't have an embassy bus like TASOK so you are responsible for transportation.

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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?

I know some people send their kids to Busy Bee's, other than that I don't know of any.

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

There is a variety of options such as golf, tennis, equestrian, soccer, but the time to get to any of these places and the hassle of traffic usually isn't worth it. A lot of families try but end up quitting.

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Expat Life:

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

Why would you want to be an expat here?! There are some; missionaries, NGOs, UN. They do a really good job at getting together because you can't do much on the local market. Again, make your own fun place.

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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?

Most people in the mission get together after work or weekends at someone's house/apartment. Not many go out to socialize with locals because they are always trying to take advantage of you, and quite frankly it gets old when living in a place like this.

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

If you are single then this is a good place to advance your career, but not to date. Couples find out just how strong their marriage is and rely on each other. Families with young kids can be susceptible to things here that you might not want them seeing such as extreme poverty, violent crimes, dead bodies. Wouldn't recommend for teens as there is nothing to do and the school system is way behind in education.

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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?

We did not find it easy at all. They all want something from you and aren't looking for friends, just money.

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

Yes, if you are white then you will be harassed constantly for money or seen as a target for crime. Women are looked down on and not as equal. The war going on in the eastern part of the country for the last several decades is because of prejudices.

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

Every time we left for R&R was the highlight! None in country.

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

We really enjoyed the British high commission after hours. Nothing else.

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

If you don't mind bargaining and being taken advantage of! Paintings are popular here. There are lots of handicrafts such as masks, baskets, and other wooden items. We bought several masks and baskets which I recommend, however, stay away from other hand made wooden items. They don't let the wood properly age before carving them and everything we bought had bugs emerge after a couple months and cracked to the point of not reparable.

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

COLA and post diff, though we debated if it was really worth it at times.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I did enough research that I wasn't too surprised. Just don't have your hopes up about anything and realize how depressing this place is.

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

Spouse was offered another position here; you should have seen how fast I said no!

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

nice belongings that you don't want damaged or stolen

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4. But don't forget your:

can of pepper spray and happy pills.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

If going here for diplomatic mission put airtags in your shipments. We were told several times that our stuff was in transit when in fact it never left Kinshasa and sat there for months. This place doesn't run like it should and you have to stay on top of everything, don't assume.

If you have a family with kids, you might reconsider this post. Several families went back to the U.S. for stints while we were there.

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