Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 10/16/14
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?
This is my first expat experience in Africa. Most refer to Kigali as "Africa Lite." My only other experience has been in Europe.
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?
Washington, DC is home The trip takes 23-30 hours generally with a layover in either Brussels or Amsterdam.
3. How long have you lived here?
A year and a half.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am the spouse of a State Department employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is often oversized with nice yards for gardening. Typical commute is about 10 minutes driving. Most expats live in Kagugu, but the other neighborhoods each have wonderful offerings and expats as well. Everything is pretty close so you're never too far away from anyone.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local prices are not too bad, but imports are very expensive. Cream cheese can set you back US$10 or more.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More liquid and canned items.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a Chipotle like restaurant called Meze Fresh that is fantastic and Mr. Chips for fast food. Decent prices there being less than US$10 for a full meal. Other restaurants are available too and have great food! Indian, Italian, Asian, and a weekly Mongolian BBQ special at the Serena Hotel...all are there. It's less than DC pricing but not by much.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos and ants are what we've mostly combated. Ants are big in the dry season, but FM has a gel that is helpful. Bring spray for hanging out outdoors and you're generally ok.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is easy to hire and generally low cost. A housekeeper could be anywhere from US$150-$300/month depending if they also nanny for you. A gardener could be about US$100/month part time. Things can grow quite easily in Rwanda so bring seeds!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes - the larger ones are expensive (Waka and Serena hotel), upwards of almost US$200/month. Cali Fitness near Kagugu has decent equipment, classes, and pricing. The embassy gym is a bit small, but there are plans to expand/improve I believe/hope.
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?
ATMS only take Visa cards. Visa is the only card you'll be able to use in country. And it's unreliable and not the most secure. Bring your check book and use local cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is one of the main languages but learn a few Kinyarwanda phrases and it'll go a long way with the locals.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, unfortunately. The majority of places are not handicap friendly.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Embassy staff may not use public transport.
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?
No restrictions on location, no issues with carjackings, but do lock your doors when you leave your vehicle. A high clearance vehicle is best as residential roads are generally not paved.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet access is available for about US$40/month. I can't quite say it's high speed though. Investing in a VPN (like WiTopia) is a good idea if you want to try and use Amazon Prime videos or similar.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Generally fairly easy to get and cheap. To call the U.S. is usually about 10 cents/minute.
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 quarantine coming in. There is an American vet in town as well a good local vet who trained in South Africa. Come with most things because pet supplies in country generally do not exist.
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?
Jobs on the local economy are possible but it is low paying generally.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
MANY! Get involved and it'll make a difference in your tour to be a part of the local community.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is business casual, although some do wear suits. Locals are pretty stylish. Shorts are generally not accepted, although you see Kigali becoming more and more westernized. It seems to be worse to show your knees than it is to show your shoulders or cleavage. Still, err on the side of slightly conservative.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No big security threat here. You can walk around freely - just be prepared to be starred at. It's harmless. Petty crime/theft is possible in crowded areas or if things are left unlocked.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No real health concerns. It is a malaria post and the health unit supplies those meds. Come stocked with neosporin and other over the counter stuff as you won't find American brands locally.
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 is generally good, but in the dry season it can be dusty and those with allergies should come prepared.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring your meds and kleenex.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
I've heard some liken the climate to San Diego. It's usually 70's-80's F year round with two dry/rainy seasons. The rain storms are reminiscent of Florida where they last an hour or so and then it's dry the rest of the day most of the time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are about four or five schools that are most commonly used including a Montessori option. We do not have kids so my knowledge on this is limited. High schools do not have much too offer for AP courses other than online offerings, although Green Hills Academy offers an IB Program. This is continually being improved so talk to the CLO as things will likely change!
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Unfortunately there is no great option for this.
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?
There are several although many use domestic staff for daycare.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes - soccer as well as City Arts has a variety of dance and other classes.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expat community as a whole is a decent size. Get out there and meet folks! Morale is good.
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?
Kigali has a movie theater that is decent; restaurants; house parties and bbqs; embassy events; night clubs and bars - there is plenty to do if you look for it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above although nightlife can be a bit sleepy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It isn't widely accepted; it isn't widely accepted in general to show public affection. There are groups working on better acceptance so again, this may be something to change as time goes on. There are not dedicated nightlife places though as you may see in other locations.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I noticed.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Nyungwe National Forest is a great getaway. My husband is much better traveled than me, and he said this is his favorite place in the world. It's a peaceful and serene getaway. More and more great restaurants are popping up around the city. I've also enjoyed the shopping in Kigali - finding various co-ops and their specialty - jewelry (some which is sold to Anthropologie and another to Ralph Lauren), quilts, pillow cases and linens, furniture, and more...
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you look for it, you can find it. I heard of a moto-polo match happening weekly but never took the time to go and find it. Kigali Life is a great resource as are the Living in Kigali and Eating in Kigali sites.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The bead work with jewelry is particularly beautiful.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Kigali is a fantastic post! The country is the size of Maryland and there are no security restrictions (other than you cannot drive outside of the city after dark - because of trouble seeing people on the roads), so you can travel around the country quite freely. There is something to see in every corner - easy weekend trips, day trips, you name it. You can definitely save money here, although if you eat out most nights, it can be expensive. Kigali has no shortage of great restaurants! And the weather is unbeatable. Even during the two rainy seasons, it is rare that rain lasts all day - often it's shorter storms passing through.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Imports are VERY expensive, so prepare your consumables well. Liquids can't come through the Pouch so prepare accordingly. And it's a cash based economy, so don't forget your checkbook to get money out from the embassy cashier.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations - just enjoy the beautiful country around you.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and bug spray. Also olive oil - it's quite expensive locally!
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
There is a YouTube video on Rwanda by Mammoth Productions that is incredible. Great way to see the different parts of the country. CLO will send this with a welcome/recruiting letter.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World is a great book that includes Rwanda.