Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 10/24/23
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. I lived previously in Ankara and Tirana.
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?
Chicago, Illinois. The trip from Kigali to Chicago is long. Connections are not bad but the overall trip can take up to 24 hours. There are connections via Brussels Airways from Kigali to Brussels and Brussels to Chicago, 8+ hours each with a 4 hours layover in Brussels. Almost the same via KLM with a 6 hour layover in Amsterdam. Alternatively you can fly from via Qatar from Kigali to Doha 6 hours, a 7 hour layover in Doha and then 15 hours flight to Chicago. Ethiopian and Turkish can be other opportunities if flying to DC.
3. What years did you live here?
Jan 2021 to July 2023.
4. How long have you lived here?
2 1/2 years.
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission (US)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We lived in an embassy provided house in Kagugu neighborhood. Most embassy families and expats live there. A few families are in Kiyovu, Kaciyru and Nyarutarama. Houses are large and nice with big beautiful yards. There are few apartments which also tend to be big. Depending where you live commute time can vary. Kigali is very widespread and hilly so a car is necessary and traffic can be tough. In a normal traffic day it might take 15 min by car to go to embassy in Kaciyru.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find almost everything in Kigali. Last year lots of nice big supermarkets opened up and the variety of items has increased. Sawa city, Simba are the biggest ones. I was able to find everything in Kigali. However, Kigali is expensive as most of the products are imported. Local dairy products are good and cheaper as it is the produce. You can find cheap fresh produce in local markets. Many families grow veggies in their gardens too.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Hair products for caucasian hair type. They are rare and extremely expensive. Trash bags; The country has a ban on plastic bags, but not on trash bags, however they are not produced and you cannot find them. Or it is extremely difficult to find them. otherwise, you can find everything else.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Kigali is a heaven for indian food. Lots of very good indian restaurants in town. There are other very good restaurants all over the city. Food delivery is great, and you can pay in mobile money or card. vuba vuba, rushfoods are two main food delivery ups, similiar to uber eats. Coffee is becoming more and more popular with very nice cafes that serve great coffee.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Bugs and mosquitos are a problem in almost all of the houses regardless of house quality. You learn to live with them
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We made use of dip pouch. There is local postal services but from what I know, it is not reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is abundant, good and fairly cheap. Expats usually hire multiple household that include nannies, housekeepers, gardener (definitely needed as houses have big yards to maintain). most of them speak good English, French and/or Swahili.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some gyms in the town but not sure bout their quality or price. Embassy had its own gym and pool that we used. The major hotels have swimming pools that can be used by people for a price.
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?
It is possible to go around in Kigali without any cash, just credit card or best mobile money. If you have mobile money you can use it everywhere including local street vendors. Government is trying to discourage use of cash so mobile money is everywhere and you can use cards safely in almost anyplace expats go.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Not sure, but I have seen some churches that advertise services in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by very well with just English and French. Almost anybody I had to deal, from markets to taxis and restaurants speaks decent English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I would say yes. It is very hilly and I haven't seen facilities adequate for access of people with disability.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Local buses look very run down although they started to replace them. They drive very dangerously and are very crowded. Motocycle taxis are another mean of transportation. They can be very dangerous. Taxis are good and reliable. there is an app called yego that works just like uber and you can choose to pay in mobile money or cash. Taxis prefer mobile money as they usually don't have change.
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?
Roads in Kigali are good quality, the same can be said for the national roads in Rwanda. SUVs can be a good type of car to bring. Make sure that there is an official dealership in country for the car you bring as it can be very difficult to ensure good maintenance and repair. Volkswagen and toyotas are most widespread.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available and quick to install. There can be issues with quality sometime but overall is good.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I used a local provider because I used mobile money a lot. MTN is a good provider
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Kigali in particular and Rwanda in general is a very safe country.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health wise, there can be problems with malaria. We choose to take malaria prophylactics. Many people do just well with mosquito repellents and sleeping under treated nets. Medical care is basic. King Faisal Hospital is a private hospital that is said to provide good quality services. whenever medevac is needed, South Africa is the medevac point.
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?
Kigali is a very green city but regardless air quality can be bad especially during dry seasons. It is located in quite a high altitude that requires time to adjust for a newcomer.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Kigali has the best climate possible. not very hot, not very cold. We never needed air conditioning in the house. There are two seasons wet and dry.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are some options. International school of Kigali is the one supported by the embassy. Reviews are different. Most people say it is ok for lower grade levels but not recommended for high school. Other popular options are Belgian Ecole and Greenhills Academy. Lot of Montessori choices for little ones
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?
They are some Montessori preschools available. They can be expensive and most of them run half a day. I haven't had experience with them but people in general had good opinions.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good city for people that just had a baby or are planning to have one. Nannies are available, houses are big with big yards, neighborhoods are quite, the city is clean and life is very quite. In Kagugu for example nannies had formed an informal playgroup with all babies and kids coming together everyday in each other houses, providing a space for socialization and play. It is not a good city for single people or couples. Really not much to do.
2. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I have found locals to be very shy and discrete. It is not easy to make friends. Having said that, Rwandans are great people, very honest and trustworthy.
3. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not in my experience and knowledge. It might be the only country in Africa that there is only one local language. The memory of genocide is still fresh but it seems to foster a "never again" attitude rather than be a source of hate problems.
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
It is really people depending. Some people find Rwanda a place with lots of things to do, some do not. Most of people would do hiking. Rwanda is the country of thousand hills, beautiful green national parks. Gorilla tracking is a unique experience. It is very expensive though. Akagera National Park provides a nice experience of safari where if lucky you can see the big five. Coffee plantations are becoming more and more of a trend to visit. In Kigali, there is not much to do.
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not a shopping post, but definitely can get some nice artwork.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Clean, quite, good infrastructure, good restaurants, good caffes.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe. In my experience, with some exceptions, it is the best and safest city to live in Africa.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
sunscreen, mosquito repellant, hiking shoes.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Rwanda has a sad recent story of genocide that has affected almost everything in the country. I suggest reading We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families Philip Gourevitch ; Shake Hands with the Devil Roméo Dallaire
Scholastique Mukasonga "Cockroaches"