Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 09/10/19
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?
Mostly in Asia before 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?
United States. Trip takes 18+ hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Some housing is available that mostly meets western standards at the same prices as big Western cities, but chances are you will have problems with something, maybe the electricity, maybe the water, maybe mold, etc. For travelers on a budget, cheaper options are also available, but it's not a particularly cheap city.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local products are limited, seasonal, but very affordable. Imported products often arrive via airplane from Europe, making for very expensive costs. We would often bring home meat, cheese, frozen items when on vacation in South Africa, Europe, or even Nairobi.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything where you have dietary needs or care about the brand. If you aren't picky, you will find it somewhere in town from time to time (but not always) at high costs.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
For a poor landlocked country, the variety of restaurants available is quite impressive. Good Indian, good Chinese, some Korean, a burrito restaurant in addition to way too many pizza and burger joints. Fish is hard to find, I didn't like the only Thai food, but honestly, that would be expecting a lot for a place like Kigali. Jumia is popular for delivery, but many of the best restaurants don't participate (often you can call those directly for delivery).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malaria is a serious risk here. We often had ants, and an occasional cockroach.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local mail is poor and spotty, but it is possible to FedEx or DHL something. As a diplomat, I could use pouch mail, but it takes three airplane hops at low priority, so one year we had zero packages delivered in December.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I was happy with our household help. Gardener/guard and nanny/housekeeper are common. A few great cooks are available, but not many. Drivers are very rare.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Waka Fitness or the Marriott gym. Mostly I stayed in shape by walking up and down hills.
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 only accepted at high end tourism locations like hotels and restaurants in Kigali, and even fewer in the rest of the country. ATMs are more likely to be safe here than other African countries, but still think carefully about which ones you use as you will be walking away with a stack of money so big it doesn't fit in your wallet, as the largest bill is $5-$6 depending on exchange rate.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots of expats here and a fair number of local services in Kigali are in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is widely spoken at varying levels of fluency. With the old, West, rural, poor, or political opposition, French is sometimes useful. Every Rwandan will greatly appreciate even a few polite Kinyarwanda phrases.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This is a very hilly country least developed country at high elevation. That said, surprisingly good sidewalks, and modern luxury buildings are usually quite accommodating.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Mostly yes. For safety reasons, I suggest avoiding moto-taxis. Buses are fine, regular or private taxis are good.
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?
A light 4v4 like a Rav4 will be good for the times you want to go to a National Park or your or your friends house is on a street that isn't paved yet. Major highways and urban roads are high quality.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I was very happy with Liquid fiber optic, but it isn't available in all neighborhoods and the lowest price starts at about $100/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Both companies (MTN and Airtel/Tigo) are pretty good, especiallly considering being a hilly landlocked country. The 4G LTE coverage of bothuses the same Korean-built towers. Very cheap service options available if you are on a budget.
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?
Lots of great volunteer options. Not many where you can paid Western rates, but Western expertise is welcome.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of great volunteer options. Rwanda attracts lots of volun-tourists, missionaries, and student travelers.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The safest country in Africa thanks to a highly effective security state and pliant public. I felt safer here than I do in Washington DC. Be mindful about malaria; hopefully Ebola doesn't come over from DRC. A very rare attack by militants, but you are at least an order of magnitude less likely to be shot here on any given day than you would be in the United States.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is limited. The system does really well for basic things, even at the rural village level, but if your problem requires an expensive piece of machinery, there's probably only one device in the whole country. There are some options that can decently cater to Westerners. A friend broke a collarbone and had emergency surgery here and recovered fine. Several friends got malaria and recovered fine.
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?
Good to moderate. Almost no industry in Rwanda and while some cars are very polluting, traffic is only light to moderate. During the long dry season, some bad air can blow in, so my favorite time of year is the short dry season (northern winter).
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
If you have a special diet, it can be hard to find those items locally. If you are sensitive to mold, be thoughtful about where you live.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No. This is the sort of place you would go to relax and convalesce if you had been born a hundred years ago.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
This might possibly be the world's best climate. The weather is wonderful year-round. The temperate is basically the same every day, a high of 80 and low of 60. Even in the rainy season, the rain will be intense and brief, with the sun coming back again in a couple hours.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Decent variety of small elementary schools teaching to international standards. The small sizes can become a problem in high school, where you grade probably won't be able to pull together a basketball team between you all, pushing some of your peers to avoid this post or go to boarding school, ensuring the problem continues.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I found our school was very patient and had the resources for individual attention for all students.
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. You could hire a nanny, do preschool+nanny, or put older kids into activities after school.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Limited options available, many championed by one or more dedicated parents or locals.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Thousands of expats for development, charity, religion, business, conservation, or retirement. Many of whom have been here a decade longer. Some seem to burn out on political issues or least developed country problems (but this is Africa-lite), but many find this is a hidden treasure.
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 small town feel. No two locations are more than 30 minutes away from each other. Small-to-medium gathering are often at restaurants or houses. There aren't clubs like you find in some other international cities, so you'll have to make friends to get into circles.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Kigali is, in my opinion, best for families with younger kids. Couples who want to spend time in Africa but aren't sure they can handle Africa will also find Kigali is a great home base. The life is relaxing, things are safe, the weather is great. Singles might find it a bit boring. Older kids might find high school doesn't give them the activities they want.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Less bad than other African countries, but small enough that it might be hard to find what you want.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Rwandans are, on average, hard to make friends with. Perhaps it's always been this way; perhaps it's because of 1994. They will be polite and make for good acquaintances, but if it rare you will visit a home and become a meaningful part of their life.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Lately Rwanda and Uganda have been feuding. It's arguably the cause that several Ugandan-owned businesses have closed. White people seem to draw more interest from young kids, but not really ever a problem.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Being a small country, you can head east and spend your weekend with elephants and giraffes in the savannah. Or you can head west and spend your weekend with monkeys and birds in the cloud forest or the shores of a lake. It's a fantastic country for those kids of little trips.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The National Parks, Lake Kivu. My favorite place is Ruzizi Lodge in Akagera Park, watching the hippos while having my morning tea. Drive across the border to Uganda for even more beautiful scenery at Lake Bunyonyi, Bwindi, etc. Reasonably well connected airport.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
A solid location for good quality handicrafts at much lower prices than available in the United States, but by the second of year of Christmas shopping, I was starting to run out of ideas.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The world's best weather, easy living, decent restaurant variety, great weekend trips.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
If you are considering Kigali, I encourage you to come!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sense of urgency.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, mosquito repellent. Surprisingly thought you are on the equator, you might still occasionally need a jacket for high elevation trips to the Western part of the country.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Land of A Thousand Hills by Rosamond Carr. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed. Hotel Rwanda.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Luxury safari travel is really expensive, so don't think you are coming here to save money unless you can be disciplined with the activities you do on the weekend.