Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 12/13/17

Personal Experiences from Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda 12/13/17


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

No - Bamako, Colombo.

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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?

Idaho - takes at least 30 hours (stopping in Amsterdam or Brussels, then usually Chicago or Minneapolis)

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have been here almost 2.5 years so far.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Our house is a single level detached family home. Most houses are fairly large and multi-leveled. Floors are always tile (usually of varying styles, sometimes varying styles in the same room!) - houses are not of the "open floor plan" design; they are very cut up often with unusable spaces, but this is typical in most places we've been. Most families are in Kagugu, which is a newer neighborhood with dirt roads, large houses, and smaller yards. Some families are in Kimihurura, Kacyiru, or Kiyovu...these neighborhoods mostly have smaller, older homes with larger yards (with some exceptions).

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

Anything imported (ie cheese,yogurt, chocolate, non-tropical fruits, cured meats, etc) are quite expensive and not always available. Recently, the price of decent butter shot up significantly. Sometimes there will be weeks when butter and milk can't be found...but not too often. There are some good grocery delivery services (Get It, an American run business; Frank at Garden of Eden; GroceWheels to name a few) and produce is generally pretty good and not too expensive. I do feel like we spend a lot on groceries though.

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

As a consumables post, we always ship oils, vinegars, peanut butter, jams, jarred sauces, laundry detergent, soaps, toiletries in general, paper products, ethnic foods/sauces/seasonings. Amazon covers a lot of the dry goods.

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

No chain restaurants. There are a good number of decent restaurants though; Korean, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, salads. Jumia foods is a delivery service and they will delivery for most of the restaurants in the city for a nominal fee.

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

Termites after heavy rains, cockroaches, centipedes...nothing outrageous.

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Daily Life:

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

We don't send mail unless they are letters or small envelopes...the mail room will only send very small packages. Receive mail through diplomatic pouch. I've never used the local post.

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

Readily available and inexpensive. It can be challenging to find one person who can "do it all" - most household staff generally prefer to do one thing; cleaning, cooking, nannying, gardening, etc. A part time housekeeper (2-3 days per week) can be found for 60,000 - 80,000 rwf (less than $100 per month). Nannies are a bit more.

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

The embassy has a small gym. There are several gyms in the city, a bit pricey. Some expats do cross-fit in their homes.

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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 never use them - people have issues with being double charged. Only expat friendly places have card readers.

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

Several Christian denominations including Anglican, Mormon, Catholic....

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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 to know Kinyarwanda to get around. English is good, and if you know French it is even better as much of the older population speak more French than English. Rwandans love it if you try to speak Kinyarwanda though.

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


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

No trams or trains. Buses aren't well regarded and drive like maniacs. Taxis are shoddy and not cheap. Motos are cheap but dangerous and not allowed by the embassy security office. You really do need your own vehicle.

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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?

4WD, with decent clearance. The roads in Rwanda are pretty good but if you do go off the paved roads they get bad in a hurry. Some neighborhoods aren't paved and get bad in the wet season. There are a few semi-reliable mechanics but stick with the usual brands for the region like Toyota, Nissan...
Don't bring a sedan.

Burglary is pretty common. Don't leave anything of value in your car. People often have random exterior parts stolen (logos, mirrors, lights) if parked in an unsupervised area...don't bring a car you're super attached to!

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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?

Decent internet is available - Liquid Telecom has been installing fiber optic internet throughout the city and it starts at about 70,000rwf per month (this is the best option - we stream Netflix without too many problems this way). Axiom is a broadband company - their service is about double the price and service is slower, but for areas without fiber optic this is the best alternative.

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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?

MTN is the best local provider. Not too expensive; bring an unlocked phone, buy a sim card, and load your phone as you need it from street vendors.

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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 some OK veterinarian options....not great but passable. No quarantine. People here don't like dogs at all and there aren't many street dogs because the population is frequently culled. WAG is a semi-shelter/adoption service.

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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?

Most who want to work do so at the Embassy or USAID. There are several though who work on the local economy successfully, though local salaries aren't much.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are several opportunities; schools, orphanages, English language programs, WAG.

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

Business attire, not overly formal. Casual Fridays.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really. Break ins, muggings, and burglaries seem to be on the rise and the embassy no longer provides night guards (just a roving patrol) - make use of alarms, exterior lighting, etc. Most crime is petty and non-violent.

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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?

There is some medical care, but most serious situations require a medevac to Pretoria. Malaria is a risk, though not terrible in Kigali. Bilharzia is present in fresh water.

There is an Indian run optometry set up that is ok, and several foreign and local dentists though many people medically evacuate for dental issues.

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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?

Pretty good. In the dry season (June through September) the dust can get bad. I haven't felt affected by bad air quality though!

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

Some mild seasonal allergies, nothing serious.

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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)?

Not really.

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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?

Really wonderful. Kigali is at a decent elevation so it doesn't get TOO hot, cools off nicely in the evenings, and is sunny a lot of the time. Even in the rainy seasons (October-December, February-May) it doesn't rain all day, just in short bursts.

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Schools & Children:

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

ISKR is the accredited school (PreK-12) and is pretty good, especially for the younger kids. Starting around middle school the number of students dwindles a bit, but the numbers have picked up more and more since we arrived. They are trying to expand and they do after school activities including soccer, swimming, art, gymnastics, etc. It is all very amateur but the kids enjoy it!

Other families send their kids to the Belgian School, Kigali International Community School (Christian), or the Earth School (Montessori based)

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I can't say I know much about this...there aren't many special needs kids here.

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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 expensive and inexpensive preschools and day cares. We sent our son to a local, French preschool for two years and he picked up French very quickly and it was very inexpensive.

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

Soccer, swimming, tennis....

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Expat Life:

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

Mid-sized. There are a lot of NGOs here too. Morale within the embassy is ok... a lot of people try to socialize outside of the embassy community as well.

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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?

There isn't a lot to do in Kigali, so there are a lot of birthday parties, house get togethers, pot lucks, bbqs. People meet at kid friendly restaurants like Pili-Pili, Heaven, J-Lynn's, Century Park on the weekends to socialize. There is an improv group, an art group, an orchestra...

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

Singles don't seem to love it here. There just isn't enough to entertain them. Couples do ok, but not great. Kigali is really a family post. There are tons of kids and a lot of the social activities center around getting kids together.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I am not entirely sure. I think the LGBT community is pretty hush-hush, but there are a number of LGBT mission employees.

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

There are some remaining, underlying ethnic prejudices in Rwanda, but they aren't always obvious. While Rwanda ranks very high on the gender equality scale in some articles you might find, the reality is quite different. Women here still have it rough.

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

Rwanda is small so we get out a lot; trips to Uganda (Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Rwenzoris, Lake Bunyoni, Lake Mutanda, etc), Tanzania (drive to Serengeti, Kigoma, or Katavi, for the adventurous). Within Rwanda, Akagera is a nice little getaway, especially if you enjoy camping. Lake Kivu is relaxing (though not a lot to do with kids, since you can't swim). Chimp or gorilla tracking in Nyungwe or Volcanoes National Parks.

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

Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda is a "hidden gem"...the vibe in Uganda is different than Rwanda and can be a welcome change.

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

A lot of the good wood handicrafts are from the Congo.

Rwanda is famous for woven baskets; they are beautiful and inexpensive. Abraham Konga does some nice jewelry and handicrafts at fixed prices. More than Sparrows does some nice needlework runners, pillow covers, dishtowels.

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

It is relatively safe. It is quiet and traffic isn't bad, short commutes. The weather is really nice.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It can be hard to get to know locals.

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


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

Winter gear. Strict timetable. Intolerance for bad customer service.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience. Sunscreen.

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