Kigali, Rwanda Report of what it's like to live there - 08/09/08
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, San Salvador, Philippines.
2. How long have you lived here?
2 1/2 years, departed June 2, 2008.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
SN Brussels has semi-direct flights. SN Brussels will stop in Uganda and/or Burundi to pick up passengers prior to arriving in Rwanda.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is difficult to acquire in business and expat areas of the community. Regardless of accommodation, water, electricity, and waste disposal can be problematic. City water may not be available from hours to days. Electricity to various parts of Kigali is also problematic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The majority of imported items originate from Europe and South Africa. The majority of expats who live in the community will buy fruits, vegetables, meat/chicken/fish from the local markets or butcher shops. Sundry and toiletries can be costly.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
If you have Westernized children who are picky about their food, then consider these items. For example, Pizza in Rwanda is OK, but not like what you would purchase in the US. The pizza is prepared like what would you would expect in London, and/or Italy. Flat crust, local cheese, and minimal toppings.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Rwandan, Indian, Chinese, Italian, and a smorgassborg of the above is available. With the exception of Rwandan food, do not expect equivalent quality and/or service. The average price for single entry items range from 5000 RWF and above (US$10 minimum).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DSL is available but costly. Local delivery is unrealiable. Thus if friends are travelling home and are willing to be couriers is about the most reliable method.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help to include household staff, cooks, nannies, gardeners, drivers and security are easy to come by. English and French speaking individuals are easier to come by. Acquring help is usually by word of mouth from friends and/or colleagues. Cost can range from 20,000 RWF (US$40) to 100,000 RWF (US$200) per month. You get what you pay for.
It is noteworthy to mention that a foot soldier in the Rwandan Army gets approximately 20,000 to 40,000 RWF per month, and a University professor at 100,000 RWF per month. 3-month probation is customary, but after that you must provide severance pay. Often you will not know the local law which requires household help to report their income and pay towards a government retirement plan. The Employer must also pay a certain amount. The majority of the people do not do this at the request of the domestic help. The domestic helpers will rationalize that the limited income they receive is barely enough to make ends meet. However, should you have problems with your employee the will be the first to report you to the local labour board. You will have problems. At the end you will pay! Also note domestic help will always have some type of emergency and request that you advance them their wages. Payment to the employers is by minimum deduction to their monthly salaries. Don't be surprise if your help has short term memory or does not return. Always have them sign a receipt that they received their wages at the end of the month. Rest assured they will go to the local board stating you never paid them in months.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I would not recommend the use of Credit Cards regardless of hotel and/or restaurant. ATM machines are sparse. If you are utilizing US$ make sure the date is over 2003, and/or is free of imperfections.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Evangelical Christians, Catholic, Protestant, Seven Day Adventist,Jehovah Witnesses and soon the LDS: Mormons services are available in English.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Local English papers are limited to the scope of content and perspective probably due to governmental censorship, thus not recommended. If you want English TV you will have to have to purchase dish satellite service. Aside from the equipment and installation, monthly bills can range over US$100.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Most governmental agencies and service oriented facilities have French and English speaking individiuals. English is what is being emphasized in schools. But that will be generations before most of the people outside of Kigali can communicate effectively in English. The local Rwandan language (Kenyarwandan) is utilized in the entire country.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Rwanda government buildings, the private sector, and NGO's have not made significant attempts to accomodate people with physical disabilities. It is tough getting public transportation and accessing buildings if a person is utilyzing a wheelchair, crutches, and/or some form of ambulatory type of equipment.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right hand side of the road. Vehicle purchased in the past accomodated left side of the road driving since vehicles were purchased in Japan, the Middle East, and in neighboring countries such as Uganda that drives on the left side of the road. These vehicles are slowly being phased out. You cannot import a vehicle which drives on the left side of the road.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
True expats who have lived in Rwanda utilize the local buses, motorcycles, and taxi's for transportation. The mini buses (vans) will accomodate a minimum of 10 passenger's and are packed like sardines in a can. Motorcycles are available throughout the city and passengers sit in the back as the driver weaves through traffic. Two types of taxis are available: 1) Metered, and 2) Pre-bargaining. The Rwandan government with the help of the private investor have now started large bus transport. It's to early to comment on this system.
3. 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?
The majority of roads in the city and/or in the country side are dirt roads, hilly, and in need of service. Thus good tires, gasoline efficient, and 4 wheel drive capabilities is a must. Older model toyota's with steering wheels on the left (driving on the ride side of the road) are recommended due to taxes, parts, repair, and the law. Gasoline purchase is in liters. Gasoline prices for a liter of gas is over US$2.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is available via two major companies. Cost averages to US$60 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones can be purchased in Rwanda and/or you can import them. Landlines for the most part are limited to governmental agencies.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Purchase a Tri or quad band cell phone. You can purchase the phone chip for about 2000RWF (US$4)and depending on how much you want to pre-pay and where you are calling will determine the cost.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Don't expect vet care, immunizations, and/or complicated treatment plans. Rwandans do not perceive dogs as pets. During the genocide dogs ate the carcasses thus have a stigma.
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?
NO, extremely limited with low pay and 6 day work weeks.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual to formal, depending on if you are visiting upper governmental officials.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Asthmatics, COPD, and/or those with moderate allergens should be aware that petroleum based and trash burning are what result in moderate pollution in the city of Kigali.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As in other developing countries, standard precautions and situational awareness is the key. However, due to the large Expat community, travelling anywhere in the city of Kigali is safe.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
King Faisal is Rwanda's main hospital for visitors. Limited specialist such as pediatrics, OB/Gyn, radiologist, dental, and general surgery. Lack specialties such as Emergency medicine, Internist, Cardiology, and Neurologist. X-rays and CT Scan is available. Malaria, TB, Gastro-intestinal diseases are the biggest concerns.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rain, low to mid 70s F. Two-three months of hot weather but not humid.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Expat options for their children include the Belgium school (French language), Green Hills Academy (English and French language, Bristish System), and Kigali International Community School (KICS) a missionary school. (English, US curriculum). My three children attended KICS. It should be noted that the school started up 1 1/2 years prior to our arrival. Math and Science curriculum was inadequate for our primary school children.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The schools in Rwanda do not accomodate special needs children.
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?
Multiple preschools are available, however daycare with academic performance and/or emphasis is lacking.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Americans, British, Belgiums, Germans, French, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese,Indians, etc...comprise the expat community (Approximately 1000-4000 expats)
2. Morale among expats:
It depends on the purpose and function for being in Rwanda. Alot of NGO's, church related visitor, and the diplomats.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
If you enjoy bars, and one night stands, it's the place to be. However think HIV.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Kigali does not have malls, movie houses, theme parks, and/or franchise restaurants that are comprobable to that of the United States. Thus families and couples must find other venues of entertainment such as the limited sports clubs, nature hikes, and eating at the limited restaurants in town. Singles have three choices: 1) Don't date, 2) Associate with the expat community,and/or 3) Date from the local community.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Rwanda has a strict policy and low tolerance for outward display of same sex relationships. What you do in your own home and does not involve Rwandans is acceptable. This should not be confused with the customary practice of men holding hands with other men or of sitting on each others laps.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It's been 14 years since the genocide of 1994. Several generations still harbour inner feelings of the loss of family, friends and loveones. Privately many will speak of hatred, but will avoid public acknowledgment for fear of being incarcerated.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Everyone will talk about the Mountain Gorilla's. But remember, the cost is significant and requires reservations months ahead of time. Although various agencies can arrange impromtu reservations, large parties and cost can be a hindering factor. The expat community as well as the various embassies will have activities which are spread by word of mouth and/or email. The majority of the expat community will travel on the weekend to smaller cities, go to the various lakes, take nature walks, visit restaurants, and/or utilize hotel or private sports clubs.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local exotic fruits, wood carvings, carvings, and carvings (mask).
9. Can you save money?
No. Food, rent, and transportation alone will offset your budget.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but not stay long term. (> 1 year).
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Average temp is 70's year round. So bring some cold climate stuff. Upon acclimitization, you will experience low 70's as being cold. Bicycling in Rwanda is almost impossible with the hills and traffic. No weapons.
3. But don't forget your:
Toilet paper and personal hygiene products.