Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 08/03/19

Background:

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

No, this is my posting in Africa and I've lived overseas for over twenty years.

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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?

West Coast, USA. There's a contract flight with Air France that goes out a few times a week; generally, if you need to get out in 24 hours, you can, to just about anywhere.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, 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?

Housing is a mixed bag, but most have pools and are near the key amenities. Most apartment complexes have great landlords who make sure the internet and DSTV are part of the deal and usually there is also a gym. The market is super tight and the UN grabs things before anyone else can, so there are a few less-than-great residences in the housing pool.

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

Super expensive if you're keeping to your favorite brands. We have our maid get the fruit and vegetables and it cuts the cost considerably. We go to about six different supermarkets, as each has the thing they do best, e.g. cheap cheddar, great alcohol selection, sour cream, etc.... it's all here, it just isn't all here, everywhere.

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

Black beans, Mexican sauces, meat flavorings... and canned fruit. They have canned fruit, but it seems to often be a weird color and I throw it out. Also, MIO to make the filtered water go down better and favorite drinks like ginger beer and root beer. Vegetarians and gluten-free folks: they have lots of options for you, but until you find the right suppliers, be sure to send what you need ahead.

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

Awesome Lebanese and African, great Chinese and Indian, very good but sparse sushi, and pizza everywhere. Delivery is here! Once your number is in their WhatsApp, they don't even ask who you are or where you live.

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

Mold can be a problem. Dehumidifiers and air purifiers are really helpful. Mosquitoes seem to fly through walls... but not nets, thankfully.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. I wouldn't use the local system.

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

Very available, cost runs the spectrum. Other missions laugh at the Americans because we pay so much. Often, we pay US$400 for mediocre work and they'll pay $150 for an awesome maid who can do crepes and change diapers six days a week.

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

There are very good local options, but the Embassy's gym really needs upgrading. The sports club/hotel across from the admin complex has a great pool and for individuals it's only $50/month. Better places, like the very upscale Fleuve Hotel, are twice that.

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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?

ATMs are common, and we use them. Others don't and get their cash from the embassy. We haven't had an issue here.

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

There's an international service that a lot of people go to. Most are French, however.

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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?

We rely on it daily, even the kids. Really crazy that some folks come out here without their spouses getting any language, as they are the ones who end up isolated. Yes, there are local classes, but I'm not sure of the cost.

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

It really depends on the individual and the disability. Most apartments have elevators. The sidewalks aren't really walkable, but we don't really walk around much. It would take effort, but someone with a disability could identify those places/restaurants/stores that are usable to all and make it work here.

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Transportation:

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

There is one taxi company people are starting to use: Ubixcabs. I've never tried it but others swear by it. New cars, women drivers, with an app that you can use to order rides.

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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?

We have a 4x4 and are glad to have it because if someone runs into us I know we'll be safe. Lots of Toyotas. I'd avoid small cars and sedans, personally.

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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?

Ugh. We tried three and ended up with Vodacom. The other two just didn't work for our particular location, so you must ask your neighbors what towers are near you. We spend about $120/month for B+ service that sporadically disconnects.

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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?

We went with the local provider. I can't really advise as I suspect others are doing it better.

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Pets:

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?

Zoogle, a foreign-owned all-inclusive pet store and veterinary care service is the place to start. They even have kennels. I'm not super impressed with the hygiene of the surgery room, but they have a great selection of pets, stock, and food choices, and seem to be on the right track.

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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?

Many work in the Embassy, particularly if they don't speak French. The UN is here and many NGOs. I think with effort, time, and connections it would be very possible to find satisfying work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Too many to count! Most folks do this through church connections as the embassy isn't directly involved. If you're a giver, Kinshasa is for you!

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

Formal for galas 2x a year; regular business for work. The Congolese love to dress up and often the Americans are the most casual in the restaurant. Don't wear khaki shorts and flip-flops. Just don't.

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Health & Safety:

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

Don't walk alone, jog where others jog, be really strict with the kids you run into on the street. You have to stay alert, particularly if you're shopping downtown or in the markets.

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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?

Malaria, car accidents. I'm glad we are able to medevac to South Africa. For non-medevac stuff, the embassy has great staff; for non-dip folks, there's CPU for emergent care. Also, seems pretty straight forward to get MRIs and CAT scans.

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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?

Seasonally bad, particularly when they are burning trash. There are certainly worse places most of the time. A lot of people really rely on the air purifiers in their houses.

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

The air can get bad for allergies... but it doesn't last long. Short flowering seasons.

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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)?

Folks who don't get out and get to know the community might be vulnerable to depression. Its a lot to adapt to if you don't know the language or have the chance to understand the chaos through community involvement.

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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?

Hot, except in the summer which is really lovely at nighttime.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are English and French options and most go to TASOK. Our kids loved TASOK. If you have a high schooler, really consider the options carefully. There are 20 - 30 kids per grade, depending on the year. Sometimes less for the seniors. If they thrive in smaller schools, this is a great one that really maximizes what they offer. Also, its an awesome campus.

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

The school seems to want to work with everyone.

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

Yes. I think it takes a while to find the advanced classes that are offered in the local community, for example, the soccer clubs, competitive fencing, etc. Iff you just want kids to be active, there's the usual swimming and basketball at the school.

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Expat Life:

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

Morale, as always, is very individual. This is a busy Embassy and people work hard. The happiest people seem to make smart choices for themselves, e.g., if the traffic gets to them, they hire a driver. Or, if they need non-work friends, they go to the frisbee at TASOK, or the volleyball with the Brits. We have found a great group of expats who love being here, so our morale was pretty good, but I know there are those that struggle.

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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?

TASOK on weekends; local clubs like Coco Jambo (dancing, bowling, archery... what's not to love?); trivia night with the Brits; going out of the city with a group on weekends to Pieds dans l'eau and the private safari park. A lot of people hang out at Chez TinTins by the rapids, though it's not recommended for little kids, and actually a bit dangerous if your bigger kids like to run around.

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

If you love music, this is the place - for couples and singles, but you have to love being up very late. It is easier for families, definitely, but... it's not a total killer for singles.

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

I'm not certain. There are a few LGBT in the expat community, but it looks like folks keep their social lives very private.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Congolese are very friendly. It takes time to grow friendships, but I have found them to be open to it.

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

I"m sure there are as it's very patriarchal with a complex multi-ethnic society; I'm just not sure how it impacts me or other expats enough to speak on it.

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

Sand bar was awesome - just avoid it during the rainy season. We also loved the zip lines out at the safari park and having sundowner drinks on the Majestic.

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

Yoda Laser Tag - its not just for kids!

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

Definitely, but shopping can be very stressful because you have to navigate the crowded markets. There are talented artisans and artists everywhere in this city. Lots of great woodwork if you're a Tin Tin fan...

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

Culture. This is an exciting time with lots of changes politically and economically. You'll never be bored.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

More French.

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

Yes, definitely. It's not boring and everyone can make a difference.

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

Expectations and inflexibility. Adapt as quickly as you can - don't push against what can't be changed.

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4. But don't forget your:

Deet, lysol wipes, green thumb, and manners.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

I admittedly read very little - as everything focuses on the colonial past or the violent middle. I really tried to prepare myself for the Congolese of today. I listened to a lot of Congolese music before coming - rap, Christian rock, everything. And then studied their art.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Know thyself. If you don't do hardship well - and you expect toilets to be fixed within 24 hours, if anger is your default reaction to stress - spare yourself and your family and choose somewhere else.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 04/10/19

Background:

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

No, I've also lived in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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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?

Southern U.S. Total travel time is about 30 hours, transiting through Europe.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, 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?

U.S Embassy housing is a mix of apartments, homes on small compounds, and detached houses. I don't think anything is smaller than three bedrooms, and some of the houses and apartments are large and very nice. Construction quality varies, but usually leaves something to be desired. Commute times to the embassy range from 10-30 minutes, depending on traffic. It generally takes longer to get home in afternoon traffic than it does to get to work in the morning.

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

Groceries are quite expensive, but you can get almost anything if you're willing to pay for it. You'll definitely use your COLA. There are a number of grocery stores that cater to expats and carry mostly imported goods from Europe, South Africa, and UAE. The types of produce available is pretty limited, many people employ a gardener to grow favorite vegetables which cannot be bought locally or are obscenely expensive. If you are up to it, the local produce markets generally offer better quality and prices than can be found in stores.

Household supplies are easily available in most stores, I did not use most of the cleaning products I brought in consumables.

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

Craft beer is the only thing I really missed. You can order nearly any dried goods and many household products from Amazon or Walmart through pouch or DPO. I was surprised by how much can be purchased locally, I definitely would have shipped less food and cleaning products in consumables if I'd known.

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

There are a number of good restaurants covering almost all major international cuisines, but I did get bored with almost everything after two years. Expat-favored restaurants tend to be pricy (usually $100+ for two people), but you get used to it.

Delivery and take out options are growing, though ordering delivery is often a bit of an adventure since Kinshasa does not have standardized addresses. It's much easier if you're comfortable giving directions in French.

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

It's the tropics, insects are a part of life. I had a persistent issue with ants in my house and mosquitoes are everywhere. There are also black flies that bite, but they aren't as ubiquitous as the mosquitoes. There are also rodents, but they are less of an issue than in any major American city I've lived in.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch or DPO. DPO takes ten days to two weeks normally, pouch is usually two - four weeks. DPO allows liquids, but has more stringent restrictions of package size than pouch. You'll learn which option is best for which purpose quickly enough.

I did have one letter sent to me through DRC post, which I was rather surprised to receive... six months after it was sent.

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

Almost everyone at the Embassy employs household help of one sort or another. Household staff are very affordable and generally good. I paid $25/day for a housekeeper who came once a week to clean and do laundry, and also gave a little cash on the side to my landlord-provided gardener to wash the car and do odd jobs. Other employ gardeners, nannies, cooks, drivers, etc.

If I were to go back, I'd probably get a part time driver. Shopping in Kinshasa is not obvious if you aren't a local and can be extremely time consuming, making it difficult if you work full time. Having a person who knows where to go to get things and has the time to deal with Congolese inefficiency and/or bureaucracy is worth its weight in gold and will make your life a lot easier.

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

The embassy gym is in awful condition and not conveniently located for most embassy personnel, because it's on a different compound from the chancery or USAID compounds. There are gyms in most of the major hotels, and many people end up purchasing their own exercise equipment. It's difficult to workout outside in most areas, though the "river loop" area is popular for jogging.

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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?

I didn't use my credit card much, but most hotels take them, and a number of expat-oriented restaurants and grocery stores accept them. ATMs are all over the place, and are generally safe. Some don't work well with foreign cards, but you'll find ones convenient to you that work with your debit card. I never had an issue with skimming or fraud.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You really need French. Very few Congolese speak English, and French is the dominant language of the expat community (though there are plenty of Anglophones too). Congolese are patient and will do their best to work with you if your French is limited, but you will experience a language barrier.

Learning some Lingala (the first language of most Kinois, and one of DRC's four "national languages") will make your experience in Kinshasa more culturally enriching and interesting. Lingala is not particularly difficult to learn if you have the time, the grammar is simple and the vocabulary is only 1000 or so words (with French filling in the gaps in common practice).

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

YES. Kinshasa's infrastructure is not good. There are very few sidewalks, no ramps, and elevators are not common. The embassy itself is far from ADA compliant; there are no elevators and they only recently installed wheelchair ramps and handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

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Transportation:

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

No. Embassy personnel are prohibited from using local taxis and buses. Crime involving taxi drivers or other passengers is extremely common. There is no mass public transit. You should definitely bring a car or purchase one locally. The embassy allows you to self-drive motorpool cars after taking a short training, which eases things while you're waiting for your POV to arrive.

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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?

RAV4s are by far the most popular. Most of the roads in Kinshasa frequented by expats are paved, though massive potholes are common. You don't need a massive 4x4, but something with some ground clearance is a good idea. I brought spare parts in my HHE, so I never needed to purchase something locally, but I think parts for Toyotas and other Japanese brands are available.

Carjacking isn't really a thing, but I've heard street kids (called "shegues") will open your doors and steal whatever they can grab, so it's advisable to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up.

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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?

Internet is a pain in Kinshasa. It's slow, unreliable, and generally frustrating to deal with. Some housing compounds come with their own boutique set ups, which generally seem to be the best option. The rest of us have to fend with the local cellular network or installing your own satellite internet system.

I found GoogleFi to be the easiest option, though it definitely isn't the fastest option.

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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?

I had a local SIM for a while but you have to add credit in-person at stores, which is time-consuming and annoying. I switch to GoogleFi, which allows you to use any of the local providers. This is great, because various companies often have temporary outages or random slow-downs. It was also much cheaper than paying for local data, which runs $50-$100/mo depending on how much data you use.

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Pets:

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 few vets used by expats.

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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?

Spousal employment is a challenge. There are theoretically many EFM jobs at the embassy, but the paperwork process makes this harder than it needs to be.

On the local economy you'll be limited if you don't have French. People with experience in the NGO sector will probably be better off than most. Most embassy spouses either don't work or work at the embassy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities if you seek them out. Many people volunteer at orphanages or with local NGOs.

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

Business to business casual, depending on your job. I usually did not wear a jacket unless I needed to go to an outside meeting and often didn't wear a tie, but some sections are more formal than others. Congolese are fashion conscious, but it isn't a faux pas to dress casually as an expat.

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Health & Safety:

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

DRC is rated "critical" for crime, though I personally think this overstates things in Kinshasa. Expats mostly experience petty crime like purse snatching and pickpocketing. The crime is generally not violent, and I never seriously feared for my physical safety in Kinshasa. The Embassy was closed for six days in 2018 due to a terrorism threat, but this isn't yet a major concern for day-to-day life in my opinion.

During my time it was also very common to suffer some moderate harassment from local security forces, who are poorly and inconsistently paid and therefore resort to demanding bribes and petty extortion to make a living. This isn't as bad as it used to be, but it is still a problem. Diplomatic license plates seem to help a lot with avoiding this.

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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?

Malaria is a serious threat, there were several cases within the embassy community during my tour. Local medical care is very limited, so people get medevaced to Pretoria for even minor issues. I was briefly hospitalized at the local expat-oriented emergency clinic (run by French doctors), and received adequate care. The embassy health unit is excellent.

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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?

Kinshasa's air quality is quite poor. Cars are not kept in good condition, everyone burns their garbage, and most Kinois cook by burning wood or charcoal outside. The Embassy began purchasing home air filters in 2018 and has been slowly doling them out. During the dry season the air gets particularly bad, which is a shame because it's the one part of the year when it's cool enough to enjoy being outside.

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

I don't know of any major allergy concerns. Celiacs or those who prefer to eat gluten free may have some difficulty and will probably have to ship in food.

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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)?

It is overcast with almost no direct sunlight for most of the dry season (about three months), which I personally didn't enjoy. I found it hard to spend time outdoors due to the heat and mosquitoes, and living behind walls topped with barbed wire can definitely take a toll on you over time. If you don't speak French I would probably be socially isolating, though the embassy is decently large and fairly tight-knit.

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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?

It it tropical; hot and humid almost all year. There is a dry season, which lasts roughly June - August/September, when it is cooler and does not rain. During the rainy season highs are usually in the 90s with oppressive humidity, getting into the 70s at night. The dry season highs are usually low 80s, getting into the 60s at night.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have children, so I can't speak in detail. Most Embassy kids go to The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK), though there are a few other options. Most people seem happy with the school, especially younger kids.

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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?

There is day care available, and many people choose to just employ a full time nanny for little ones.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is smaller than you would think, given Kinshasa's size, but there is definitely a community. Morale varies, but I think it's generally good.

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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 ton to do in Kinshasa. People tend to eat out a lot and attend cultural events hosted by other embassies (the British and French are good for this). There are some informal sports clubs. Some people have been trying to get a Hash together but haven't yet managed to get it off the ground.

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

I found it very difficult as a single. The Embassy was very family heavy during my tour, and I found socializing in Kinshasa to be difficult. Families do better, and there is an especially good community for families with young children.

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

I'm not sure about the legal status of homosexuality in DRC, but it is definitely not accepted culturally. I don't think there is much of a gay community, but I don't really know. LGBT colleagues seemed generally dissatisfied.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Not really. I found Congolese to generally be very transactional about relationships; I never experienced friendship for the sake of friendship, there was always an angle being worked. The socioeconomic disparity also makes things difficult; there isn't much of a middle class in Congo. Most people are extremely poor, and the very, very top is obscenely rich (and most likely got there via....).

People certainly treat westerners differently, both likely due to the aforementioned transactional attitudes and also as a legacy of colonialism.

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

It's definitely a patriarchal society, women will experience discrimination and, unfortunately, probably be harassed to a certain extent. The country is overwhelmingly Christian, mostly Catholic but with large communities of other denominations. There are some Muslims, but it's a very small community. Congolese tend to wear their faith on their sleeve, but I found them to be generally respectful of others' differing beliefs.

There is some tension between different ethnic groups in Congo, but it's mostly below the surface. There is definite tension between Congolese and people from neighboring countries, especially Rwandese.

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

I didn't especially like living in Kinshasa, but I did enjoy every opportunity I had to travel within DRC. There are some possibilities for personal travel in the provinces surrounding Kinshasa, which I highly recommend. Zongo Falls in Kongo-Centrale province is popular and a nice weekend trip. My personal favorite was going to see bonobos in the wild a few hundred kilometers north of Kinshasa. That trip involved substantial planning and was not cheap, but was easily one of the coolest things I've ever done. DRC is a really beautiful country, hopefully the security situation calms enough that people can take advantage of the amazing opportunities for tourism such as seeing gorillas in the east, climbing Mt. Nyaragongo, etc.

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

Boat trips on the Congo river are fun, and you can camp at a nice park just outside Kinshasa. There are more and more entertainment options in Kinshasa all the time. In the past few years a bowling alley and movie theater have opened, along with an "adventure park" out by the airport. Kinshasa also has an excellent fine arts and music scene, if you're into that.

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

Kinshasa has some great local art, and a lot of the usual tourist trinkets. Tailoring is very popular, especially using the vibrant local "pagne" fabric.

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

Kinshasa has more amenities than many West African capitals, just owing to its size, though I found it to be much less developed than capitals in east and southern Africa. DRC is an insane country and definitely makes for an interesting place to live, though that comes with a lot of frustration.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Hire. A. Driver. Trust me. It'll make your life so much easier if you have a go-fer that can get things done for you.

And don't overthink consumables, you can get almost everything. Focus on beer and wine if you drink (liquor is easily available and generally inexpensive).

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

No. Kinshasa was interesting, but I wouldn't choose to repeat the experience if offered the chance.

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

Sense of urgency and desire for things to be organized.

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4. But don't forget your:

Malaria pills and deet.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

There are many good books on DRC. I recommend:

King Leopold's Ghost (covers Belgian colonialism)
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (The First and Second Congo Wars, 1997-2003)
Congo: The Epic History of a People (an excellent ethnographic history of DRC)
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo (the end of the Mobutu era)
Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo (life in post-war Kinshasa)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Things are changing in Kinshasa right now with the change in government. It's an exciting time, and I'm hopeful that things will improve.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 12/21/17

Background:

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

First time living overseas.

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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?

Washington, DC, approximately 10 hour flight to Brussels, 8 hour flight to Kinshasa.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Approximately two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, 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?

It really varies. Ranges from high rise apartment with pretty nice fixtures, mostly 2-3+ bedrooms, and pool to stand-alone houses with yard space and (mostly) with pool. Most of the apartment buildings are newer and the housing is older but bigger. Commute on average is 20-30 minutes in the morning, 30-45 minutes at the end of the day depending on traffic.

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

Most things are widely available though you may need to go to multiple stores to get it. A lot of people have household staff help with shopping to make it easier. COLA is currently approx 40% and you need it but that's what it is there for! Great selection of fresh fruits and veggies at roadside stands and you can easily have fruits/veggies delivered weekly as well.

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

To keep cost down, try to stick to getting perishables locally and shipping in other items in bulk. Plan to bring most of your liquids (cleaning products, shampoo/conditioner, baby products, etc) and all medications with you. Wish we brought: salsa, salad dressing, condiments, beer (lots of wine locally but not a great selection of beer).

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

There are nice restaurants with pretty much every type of cuisine (Chinese, Indian, Italian, Burger place, Greek, Portuguese,Lebanese, etc.) though it is pretty expensive. We were pleasantly surprised with the restaurant scene. There a few easy to navigate veggie stands and you can also easily have someone deliver veggies to your house. I recently heard of grocery delivery as well though haven't tried it personally. Pizza delivery is available! No American chains.

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

Lots of bugs. Mostly ants and mosquitoes but other flying bugs and cockroaches too. Proper food storage is key. If you have cleaning staff, it likely won't be a huge problem.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO/Pouch. It can be faster than expected (1-2 weeks)... and occasionally it lets you down (4-5 weeks...)

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

Cheap and readily available. Most people have cooks/cleaners, drivers and/or nannies. Seek out recommendations before getting to post, most pass on their household help to others. It's a huge perk to have such wonderful support at home.

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

Gyms are lacking but available in town at the nice hotels if you are willing to pay. Most gyms are approximately $200/month. There are options to belong to gym/pool combo and there are yoga classes, boxing classes available in town as well. An American expat hosts CrossFit-type classes as well

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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?

No credit cards. Cash only. No ATMs except for one on the US embassy compound.

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

Not sure.

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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?

French really is a must, no one outside of the expat community speaks English. There affordable tutors available. Do Duolingo before you come.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

Absolutely not.

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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?

This place is the Wild West when it comes to driving. Bring something you don't mind getting a little dinged up and SHIP YOUR CAR EARLY or plan to buy one right when you arrive at post. Rav4 or something similar works well. One of the most difficult things for people when they arrive is no car bc there is zero public transport.

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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?

internet is slow and expensive. You can stream but sometimes quality is poor and buffering is frequent.

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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?

Come with an unlocked iPhone or equivalent. Most people communicate locally via WhatsApp which works well.

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Pets:

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 a Belgian and a Congolese Vet available who will make house calls, prescribe medication, etc. There are no kennel services but lots of people willing to pet sit. No quarantine, have all your documents (and a $20 bill) handy at the airport and you'll be fine.

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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?

French is a must to work on the locally economy. There is some teleworking but slow internet makes that tough. Most who are employed are EFMs.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are orphanages, girl scouts/boy scouts, lots of events with the CLO, churches, etc if interested. I bet this is probably a bit "untapped" at this point and if someone were really interested they need only talk with locally employed staff.

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

Pretty casual, try to avoid short shorts/skirts/dresses, formal attire once a year, max. Most business men wear suits.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Kinshasa is a high-threat post with many restrictions (windows up and doors locked at all times, walking restrictions, lots of barbed wire and guards at every house/compound, armed Congolese army personnel manning security checkpoints after dark, etc. Car accidents can get a little intense so there is protocol to follow there. There are days of political unrest/protests where shelter in place is required. There is likely to be continued unrest/instability in the coming months/years so better to be OK with following security regs.

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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?

Malaria and other mosquito-borne illness, diarrhea, all manner of insect bites. There are no medical facilities that are up to US standards. Medical evacuations are fairly common I think.

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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?

Moderate to bad, lots of trash burning and old vehicles on the road. Quality as regards health is not as significant as other posts but the smoke-y smell gets annoying and people with severe asthma or something likely wouldn't do well

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

It will likely be more problematic here but manageable.

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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)?

No winter blues! lots of sunshine. Kinshasa takes some getting used to but if you are adaptable with a sense of humor you'll do OK.

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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?

Two seasons: rainy (Sept-June) is hot, humid with almost daily thunderstorms, dry (June-Aug) is much cooler (low 70s in the AM), breezy and overcast. The dry season is a nice break from the heat.

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Schools & Children:

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

The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) K-12, or the French School. Overall, people are happy with schooling.

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

TASOK has some ability to assist but you should definitively ask ahead.

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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?

2 PreK (Busy Bees or Little Jewels). Most people have nannies which are certainly affordable.

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

Dance, yoga, TASOK has some school sports I believe, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty extensive. You can definitely have a circle of friends outside of the embassy community if you actively seek it out. In general I think morale is fair. Again, Kinshasa takes some getting used to but if you have the right attitude, it is not that bad. It's surprising how many people choose to extend.

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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?

Restaurants, play groups, sports as lifted above, Karaoke at Le Palais on Wednesday nights.

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

I think better for couples and families if you don't mind the security issues. If you are single, plan to make sure you have your car when you arrive so you are more free to explore and meet up with people, etc.

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

I think it's a good city. I'm not sure if there is a big support network but I don't get the sense that there is a lot of prejudice.

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

Not that will affect expats on a day to day basis.

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

There are a few great trips outside of the city worth doing (Lac da Ma Valle, Bonobos, Zongo Falls, Bombo Lumene, https://congobucketlist.wordpress.com/. Sandbar trips on the Congo river, hiking Mount Mangengenge, pagne shopping, getting to know local staff.

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

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

Pagne goods, wooden knickknacks, there is some art, there are some good markets around Christmas time.

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

Cheap household help, decent housing, ability to save money, great weather if you are into tropical climate, decent expat community, quick and easy to get to South Africa.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How crazy the driving would be. It is certainly a make your own fun kind of post and security issues will be the deciding factor.

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

Yes.

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

Winter clothes, disregard for emergency preparedness.

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4. But don't forget your:

Rain boots/jacket for rainy season, positive attitude, patience and sense of humor.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

King Leopold's Ghost, Bonobo Handshake, The Poisonwood Bible

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 12/04/17

Background:

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

No, this is not my first expatriate experience. I have visited the Bahamas, Haiti, Barbados, Iraq, Taiwan, Malta, and Iceland before coming here.

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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?

My home is Long Beach, Mississippi in the US. It actually took me approximately two days departing and returning to post with all the connections and it is physically tiring.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I have been at post approximately 10 months so far.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, 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?

Housing is OK, the building is dark without much natural light. Power issues make it hard on electronics but the space is large and comfortable.

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

Groceries and household supplies are very expensive. We did have a COLA attached to the assignment but now it has decreased so its even harder to get what we need. Finances are always an issue when purchasing on the local economy.

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

I had most things that I love shipped to post to me. It's the only way to survive in this place.

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

I do not know as I am unable to afford to go to these places locally. I tried once and was floored when I recieved my first bill so I never went back

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

Malaria medications are necessary.

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Daily Life:

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

There is a DPO at post in the US embassy.

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

Most household help is $20.00 dollars per day with $5.00 dollars extra for their transportation. All in cash without taxes removed as this is a cash-only society.

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

Only the US embassy gym with membership.

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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?

No.

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

Only one on Sundays at 9:00 a.m.

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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 really need French to communicate for everyday life.

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

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Transportation:

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

Not safe to use and very unreliable.

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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?

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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?

No, what there is here is most expensive. It depends on your internet provider.

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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?

Get one through the US embassy if you are an employee.

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Pets:

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.

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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?

I do not know anyone who has a local job.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I am unaware of any volunteer opportunities.

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

Casual dress for Americans.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, local transportation and walking are not encouraged.

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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?

Yes, limited medical care and mostly cash-only payments

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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?

Not very good.

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

Have your allergen-free food shipped. Many items are NOT available locally.

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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)?

No but there is poverty everywhere.

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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?

Extremely hot in summer with high humidity.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large due to the USAID programs here.

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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?

I don't think there is enough for singles here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

None that I can see.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I had had more information about bring single and living in this city.

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

Not on a bet.

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

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4. But don't forget your:

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5. Do you have any other comments?

I really don't like being here and can't wait to get out.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 03/02/17

Background:

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

This is our 4th tour with State. Previous tours in southern Africa and northern Africa.

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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?

From the Midwest, USA. Plan 24+ hours from anywhere in CONUS. Most fly through Paris or Brussels. Frankfurt is always best for travel with pets.The arrival here is difficult. The airport does not recognize many services normally associated with Diplomatic travel and is chaotic at best; your expediter is your first best friend. The normal traffic/drive from the airport into Gombe is best described as Frogger meets Grand Theft Auto--though our motor pool staff is up for the challenge. If you can choose to arrive on a Sunday, traffic will be calm, light, and relatively smooth.

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3. How long have you lived here?

25% of the tour down, 75% to go.

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

US government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is hit or miss. There are few beautiful, charming homes in the housing pool. Many are in small compounds. Some have private yards and a small pool. Most folks are housed in apartments, most with amenities like rooftop lounge or pool, and some with a small gym.



Traffic is ridiculous here and therefore commute times are long even for short distances. I recommend using the shuttle to and from work and using the 30-60 mins each way to read, catch up on emails via BB, knit--virtually anything that does not cause you stress! Living here saps your resiliency, adding unnecessary stress is unwise. Carpool with friends for errands like grocery shopping because company is always nice and it feels more like an outing versus drudgery. Learn the city and practice your driving routes on Sundays!

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

Everything is between 2-4 times more expensive here vs Whole Foods and Trader Joe's in DC. Household cleaning supplies are not the same quality and are VERY pricey. Most food things are available if you are willing to look and wait sometimes months for them to come in. I looked for pine nuts for 6 months before finding them. 6 oz cost me $25 which Igratefully spent because I finally found nice fresh basil and wanted pesto right now vs waiting for Amazon. I should really own stock in Amazon...

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

Lysol cleaning liquid, laundry soap, lemon oil for wood, windex, pine nuts, nut milk bags and nuts to make nut milk, coffee beans, beans (black, and white are locally available, red and pinto are rarely found), peanut butter, mexican food makings, specialty flours, disinfectant wipes for home and travel, hand sanitizer, more bug spray, sunscreen (not available here!).



Hairspray, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen, face wash, nail polish remover. More games/puzzles/crafts.

Craft beer or cider. Weirdly, ice cube trays and bins; locally not readily available and ice is at a premium. More ziploc baggies, bug proof pantry storage bins, ant bait, roach killer, bug zapper lights for outside, tikki torches and citronella oil for the pool, the list could go on. Fortunately most things are available via Amazon or whatever. Focus your consumables (if you get them) on liquids you can't live without. This doesn't really go here but I will include it anyway: BRING A SPARE SET OF TIRES (4 or better 5) FOR YOUR CAR!!!

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

Greek food is easy to get and great. Good restaurants are here but all are pricey. Lots of vegetarian options. Pizza, Indian, and Thai food are available via delivery. A large pizza from O'Poeta (decent) will cost you $25-$30 and it is more akin to a thin crust medium in the US.

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

Ants, roaches, and termites abound. Learn to love the geckos and lizards that live in your houses because they eat them!

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and Pouch. Nothing reliable locally that I am aware of.

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

We pay our gardener $50 per week and our housekeeper/nanny $100 per week.

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

Three (+?) of our USG housing pool apartment buildings have small gyms with mediocre equipment that you can use. Many hotels have nice gyms but want you to also pay for pool and or spa access as well, which is pricey.



The original River Loop has been closed indefinitely and the alternative is fraught with cars, beggars, and potholes. Therefore walking/running out of doors is not really a great option anymore though several ladies still do it in groups. I disagree with another poster on this issue: spandex and tank tops are perfectly fine and you will see plenty of Congolese wearing them while exercising too. Obvious expats turn heads and get unwanted attention no matter what we wear or do. It is unavoidable. But you may wish to wear long sleeves and leggings/pants anyway due to the bugs!

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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?

Some expats I know use credit cards locally but I haven't ever tried. I use the ATMs at the USG compounds only. I only use cash (USD or CF) for all purchases city wide. USD will result in CF change and generally you lose money on the exchange rate. I get smaller bills from the cashier for getting close to the total price for my purchases but NEVER 1's, as these are not accepted anywhere.

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

Catholic mass is available in English on Sundays at 9, International Protestant Church of Kinshasa services on Sundays at 11.

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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?

Must. Have. French! Lingala is even better. Roughly 20% of the population will have some English. This is not generally enough to have a conversation or get directions.

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

It can be very difficult to get around here. If your physical difficulties hinder your mobility then I think it could be tough. Most buildings (including the Chancery and JAO) have no elevators and are multiple stories tall. This is not an ADA-compliant post!!

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Transportation:

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

None of the above are safe to use, and for USG personnel we are not allowed. Must carpool, or drive everywhere you want to go.

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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?

High clearance 4X4 SUV. Period. The local city roads are too much for a small car or even mini van. You CAN get around town in them but your options to avoids pedestrians, protesters, potholes, and traffic jams are even more limited without clearance. To enjoy the Zongo Falls, Bonobos, or really any outside Gombe areas you will need a sturdy 4 wheel drive.

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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?

Hahahahahahaha!!! This is a pipe dream. Okay seriously speaking, I have heard rumors that you can get a router installed (vs a wifi puck via the cell phone dealers) at home for a $3000 set up fee and pay $300/per month for unlimited "high-speed" which can occasionally stream videos and may even sometimes support Skype/Facetime etc; but does not run out if you choose to watch videos on YouTube or Facebook. Most of the time internet is unreliable at best no matter where you get your service from.



My wifi puck supports Vonage roughly 60% of the time, and I use Facetime/Skype without video and get ungarbled conversation about 50% of the time. I pay $100 for 25GB used over 3 months OR 50GB used over 30 days. The time of day is a large factor in the quality of your internet. Where your housing is located in Gombe (or the greater Kinshasa area) will determine which internet (cell) provider you should use. For example: River Loop area has best service with Airtel but Airtel service is terrible out near Shoprite.

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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?

Everyone ends up with 2 phones. Work phone (or Embassy provided for spouses) and personal phone. Must be unlocked to use a local SIM card.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Formal dress needed for the annual TASOK (international school) Gala and Marine Ball. Normal daily work attire is mostly business casual except for certain offices where jacket and/or tie are expected. Even then, most keep them hanging on the back of the office door until necessary.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Doors and windows on your vehicle must remain closed and locked at all times. People will try to open your doors (yes, even while driving) to steal what they can grab. If your car automatically unlocks all doors upon placing it in Park, I strongly recommend you have this feature disabled prior to shipping your vehicle to post or learn how to do it on YouTube.

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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?

Local health care is unreliable at best. Most head to Health Unit or else go on medical evacuation for care beyond Health Unit's capabilities. Local hospitals require French and the quiet yet firm ability to fight for what you think you need. Also, you must pay in advance for service.

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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?

In the rainy season the air quality is better but there is a lot of smoke. During the dry season the dust is so heavy that it makes the sky seem hazy and holds in the heat and smoke.

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

Environmental allergies will be hard to manage unless they respond well to an anti-allergy pill. Dust and smoke are rampant, as are mold and mildew.


Bring what you need to eat with you or plan to ship from Amazon. Some gluten free items available hit or miss. Some non-dairy items available hit or miss. Almond milk was available last year for $15/liter but has recently been unavailable city wide for past few months. Just found it for $23/liter.

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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)?

Resiliency is key, a positive attitude is tough to sustain here. Do anything to avoid extra stress because everything here is difficult. Make yourself be mindful. Exercise regularly. Eat well. Sleep well. Socialize. If you find yourself in a rut, reach out. The community here is pretty strong and we do what we can to share the burdens of this hardship post.

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Schools & Children:

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

TASOK is fantastic. We can't say too many good things about it. Beautiful 40 some acre campus with open air hallways and good food.


One drawback, your kids will need real bug spray daily and will need to reapply after swimming, PE, or even just mid-day. The bugs are terrible over there. My children wear longs sleeves and pants to school (and hate it) as well as use lots of repellent. We even also treat their clothes with Picaridin because otherwise the mosquitoes bite through their leggings and thin fabrics.

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

Lots of after school activities and things for school age kids to do.

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Expat Life:

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

This depends on the day. Morale was low leading up to the political unrest last year. The uncertainty of who would have to go, when we would leave and return, and where we would be sent was tough to bear. This will likely all start again September 2017 based on what the government does with the newly scheduled election process.



Normally, morale is good. People get out, people socialize, people entertain, people stock up on groceries and plan activities at home. My advice? Make your home into a sanctuary from the daily stressors of Kinshasa living. If you have kids, bring lots of activities for their entertainment while at home for Shelter-in-Place times and bad weather.



Overall this post is easy to manage once you have your expectations in line with reality and make the effort to get out, socialize, and get about town.

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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?

Eating out, river trips, socializing with friends, joining small clubs and groups. Many community activities. Our CLO office is fabulous!

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

I can imagine how difficult this post might be for singles. Many that I've known have curtailed, but it could be that they were too introverted. No one makes it as an island here; having someone else to bounce your experiences off of is vital! Families have an even better time because many children bring a certain entertainment value all their own. Many activities are designed inclusive of children.

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

Evacuations to Brazzaville were very pleasant! Making new friends has been a joy.

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

Check the Congo Bongo newsletter, we always have something fun going on!

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

Lots of artisans here selling many different items.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How hard it would be to get a job.

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

Yes.

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

Cold weather gear, dry clean only items, road rage, and picky eating habits.

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4. But don't forget your:

Swimsuit, sunscreen, bug spray, sense of humor, and treadmill.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 01/21/17

Background:

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

No, I have lived across Africa and Europe, including other French-speaking posts.

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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?

Washington, DC. The trip is most of 24 hours, with a stop in Europe. Most people fly through Brussels or Paris.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

US government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing varies dramatically in quality, but is more than adequate. I am in a spacious, but older, apartment building in a quieter part of Gombe. Others have more modern apartments in busier parts of the city or stand alone houses. Most apartment buildings have pools but not gyms. Commute times vary widely depending on what neighborhood you are in--15 minutes to 2 hours.

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

Compared to other posts in Africa, the selection is amazing (but really, really expensive--$15 for a pack of tortillas!) Embassies and most NGOs supplement staff salaries significantly to account for the cost difference, so this is something to keep in mind if negotiating your salary. There are dozens of small grocery stores, and Portuguese/Lebanese/Indian products are widely available. There are few things you can't find if you're willing to pay triple the going rate in the US and/or accept frozen instead of fresh products.

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

Craft beer, soy sauce (only available in tiny bottles), bread flour, coffee beans.

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

Congolese food is really bland compared to much of the local food in the rest of Africa, and the best options are grilled chicken/fish with plantains or fries. For international food, pizza is always a popular option, and there are various European restaurants running the gamut from Spanish to Portuguese to Belgian to French (all expensive). Chinese/Indian are also good options. A couple of Western restaurants have a supplementary sushi menu that varies in quality, but you won't find much in the way of other international food.

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

Insects are especially bad. In addition to mosquitoes, there are black flies that cause horrible, itchy bites (and seem immune to anything but DEET). Many houses are infested with insects and cockroaches. You can get sprays locally but not glue traps, so you may want to bring some.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. No local postal facilities that are reliable.

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

The going rate is about $15-$20/day and you can find a variety of help. Many people have drivers, cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, and nannies. It's also very easy to hire someone to do a combination of these roles.

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

Most housing and some restaurants have small pools. Gyms are very expensive, crowded, and mostly attached to hotels. There used to be a running/walking path by the Congo river, but now it's closed (possibly indefinitely). It's really not safe to walk/run outside except in a tiny area, so I recommend bringing workout equipment such as exercise machines, dvds, yoga mats, and free weights if you like exercising. These things are available in Kinshasa, but at low quality/ridiculous prices. If you don't use what you bring, you'll be able to sell any of the above for the original purchase price. Also note that workout clothing should be modest (unfortunately, women really can't run outside in shorts, tight pants, and/or tank tops without attracting a lot of unwanted attention).

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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?

Credit cards are not a viable option. Certain ATMs (e.g. one at a grocery store near the US Embassy) are guarded and safe to use.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You must have French or you will be unable to communicate in daily life. Push for language classes before arriving at post if possible, as local options for learning are not very good. Those without French tend to be much more isolated and frustrated with local life.

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

Yes. The roads are terrible and most buildings are not accessible. Even office buildings rarely have elevators. Popular weekend outings (e.g. visiting the bonobo sanctuary, hiking) are not friendly to those with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

None of the above are safe. You will need a car that can handle rough roads.

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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?

Bring an SUV with four wheel drive. Everyone who has one of these is happy and you will be able to sell it locally when you leave. You may want tinted windows to help with the bright sun. Parking is not a problem and you will always be able to find space, even with a larger car. Do not bring a small/compact car--it won't be able to handle the potholes. It's theoretically possible to get by with something like a Honda Accord, but people who have these are limited to only certain parts of the city with good roads and can't travel outside of Kinshasa on weekends.

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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?

I'm convinced high speed home internet does not exist. Internet is ridiculously expensive, goes in and out, and only sometimes allows streaming. Frequently, downloads time out halfway through when the service cuts out. Most people buy a wireless router and use cell phone data, as this is faster than hardwired internet. If you bring a router, get one that is "unlocked" and can accept cell phone SIM cards (or just buy locally--around $75). During political protests, the government sometimes cuts off internet access for days at a time.

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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?

The best local provider depends on your specific location/building. Most people use Airtel, Vodacom, or Orange and refill credit monthly. You can try them all out since SIM cards are cheap. Bring an unlocked phone.

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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?

Teleworking is a great option if you can get it. Local NGO and embassy jobs are available, but don't expect to be hired immediately. If you can, bring business cards in English and French (double-sided) with you.

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

Typical for Africa--business casual, with jackets needed at formal events. For women, bring outfits that cover shoulders/knees to avoid unwanted attention. Bring all your work outfits and shoes with you--there are not good shopping options in the city, although tailors can adjust/repair Western clothing as needed.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty theft is common and it is not safe to walk outside except in one or two areas. You will get used to living in your car and parking right in front of the place you want to go. Harassment by beggars and street children is common and can turn dangerous if you are alone and accosted by a large group. However, it is safe to go to nearly all restaurants, supermarkets, sporting events, etc.--you just have to drive there.

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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?

All manner of tropical diseases are present, but the largest concerns are insect related. You'll need an antimalarial and should bring a lot of high quality bug spray (e.g. Deet, Picaridin) as the mosquitos and flies are intense and are not deterred by herbal repellents. Also bring antihistamine and plan to bleach fruits and vegetables to disinfect them, as diarrheal diseases are rampant.

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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?

The only issues with air quality are when neighbors burn trash, creating noxious fumes from the plastic. This is case-by-case and there's no way to predict if it will be a problem for you or not. Overall, the air is pretty fresh, especially outside of the city center.

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

Many local foods are made with peanuts, so if sensitive, I would stick to Western food.

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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)?

Morale at post is low and most people try to get out of country once every few months. Two things that often sap people's resilience are traffic (which is horrible and stressful to drive in daily) and boredom. While it has its benefits, Kinshasa is not a relaxing city to live in and not an easy place to blend in. Being constantly targeted can take its toll. It's best to bring lots of games and equipment for hobbies with you to fill free time and to plan regular travel.

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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?

I think the climate is fine, although you do need air conditioning. There are wet and dry seasons. Year-round, the weather is in the 80s and 90s, with varying humidity depending on the time of year. Bring rain gear and breathable shoes that can get wet.

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Expat Life:

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

Morale is low compared to other places I have lived, and very few people choose to stay longer than they must. Many leave early and/or try to spend a lot of time out of country. Unfortunately, recent political tension, the resulting uncertainty, and security restrictions put in place by embassies and international organizations have contributed to this low morale. The political situation shows no signs of improving, so these factors are likely to continue.

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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?

Organized hobby groups are surprisingly rare (there isn't even a regular running group), but there are many house parties. Expats all hang out in the same places, so after awhile you start to meet people.

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

In my opinion, this is not a good city for single people or couples. The happiest people tend to be families with kids who hang out with other families with kids and socialize through the embassies or schools. Many regular social activities and gatherings are centered around kids.

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

It would be very hard to be out in Kinshasa. Unfortunately, this is an extremely Christian city and judgement from locals is strong.

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

Zongo Falls is beautiful and there are a good number of restaurants to try. The best times have been hanging out with other expatriates.

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

There's a small movie theater in Gombe that shows new releases for very reasonable prices.

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

Yes, handicrafts are amazing (even compared to other places in Africa). You can get great wooden carvings, masks, paintings, and knick knacks. The process of buying/bargaining for these is quite stressful, but you can find real gems for little money if you are thick-skinned and persistent. Tailors are relatively cheap, so you can have unique clothing made with local fabric.

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

Because so few people choose to come here, I think of Kinshasa as "the land of opportunity" for finding interesting jobs with a high level of responsibility. There is a lot of need here, so you (and family members) can be choosy about what job to take. Most employers offer generous supplements to the usual salary, so it's possible to save cash even with the high cost of living.



There are enough restaurants that you won't get easily bored with them and it's possible to find most food imports you could want.

People with kids in the schools also seem really happy--there seems to be a good community there and I've heard the quality of education is high.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Kinshasa is a rough city, rather than a friendly one. It's not possible to blend in as an expat, and security risks mean you have to take precautions (such as driving everywhere) that make you stand out even more. Compared to other places I've been, it's quite hard to make local friends or authentically experience the local culture.



Also, it's really difficult and expensive to travel out of Kinshasa. Most travel in country is impossible due to the poor infrastructure and security risks, and flights to other countries are quite expensive.

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

No, while I love Africa and there are some definite high points to life in Kinshasa, I would choose to live almost anywhere else in Africa before coming back here.

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

High heels. Between the grass, steep staircases, and horrible roads/sidewalks, you want sturdy flats or wedges!

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock (not really available locally).

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 09/26/16

Background:

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

No - lived in Cameroon, Dhaka, Cotonou, and spent time in many other countries, especially in Africa.

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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?

Washington, DC. Twenty-four hours -- first to Paris or Brussels, then to KIN.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I was there from 2010-2014

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

USG

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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 was not huge but it was well designed, airy, and full of natural light and closets. Nice kitchen, and we had a wonderful pool. Our yard was nice, too, but the mosquitoes were out of control, so the only way to enjoy it was by being submersed in the pool.

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

One of the worst things about Kinshasa was the cost of living. Even on the local economy. Local fruits/vegetables were of poor quality, but the only way to feed a family when imported goods were 100x more expensive. You can find almost anything in Kinshasa, though it comes with a price. There are some small mom-and-pop stores that are good -- most owned by the same Portuguese family.

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

We shipped the standard stuff for a consumable post -- a lot of olive oil; bags of Costco dried fruits, nuts, quinoa. We ordered a lot on line -- the DPO was great. My pantry got infested by mealy moths, so I learned that if I couldn't store dry goods in the freezer, I had to use them or not buy them.

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

There are a lot of good options and innovative new restaurants were opening when I left. Belgian bakeries were the best, but the Portuguese bread from the grocery stores, and Portuguese pizza places were excellent, too. But pricy! For beer and pizza, my family of four dropped US$100.

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

Ants and cockroaches are inevitable. You just have to learn to live with them. Mosquitos were awful.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. No adequate local facilities.

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

Tons available, but of varying quality and cost. You get what you pay for. One thing about Kinois is that they are all on the make, all the time. I don't mean that harshly -- eking out a living there is no joke. Everyone money grubs, from Ministers on down to street sweepers. It's the famous 'systeme D' (for debrouillage, or making do) of Mobutu. It's hard not to take personally, but laying things out in a contract became pretty essential.

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

Not much. Embassy had a very small gym with some treadmills and weights. The Congo River 'loop' in the leafy Ambassadorial part of the Gombe neighborhood was the only place to walk/jog in town. Sunday evenings they were a zoo!

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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?

Not officially advised, but we used them throughout our four years and never had a problem.

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

Protestant and Catholic services. One of Africa's largest orthodox Jewish communities is in Kinshasa, and sabbath services were available in Gombe. A few mosques in town, but no English.

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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?

French is necessary. Lingala is the lingua franca of western DRC and reigned in Kinshasa. There are people in the city who don't speak anything but. It's not necessary, but is a very easy and beautiful language, and useful.

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

I can't even imagine how someone would survive there.

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Transportation:

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

NO.

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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?

If you are never going to leave Gombe, a small, zippy car for moving through traffic and parking in tight spaces is great. But you will want to move a bit , so something with clearance is better. Auto locking doors is a plus; if you don't have them you will quickly train yourself to lock up first thing you sit down. Segues -- street kids -- can and will try opening doors on moving vehicles.

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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?

Yes, but was crazy expensive when we were there. We paid US$140 month for crappy service. Couldn't stream a thing.

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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?

Vodacom had the best network.

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Pets:

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?

Yes, there is a good Belgian vet in Macampagne and a good Congolese vet in Limete who made house calls.

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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?

USAID and Embassy had several positions. Local NGOs also. A few spouses worked at the UN but they were already in that system when they arrived in Kin.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Pretty much anything one would want to do. Work with street kids. Support local artists. Volunteer for clean up projects.

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

Pretty formal. Congolese take their fashion seriously, and always look great. Even if in jeans, they are ironed and worn with fancy shirts and shoes.

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Health & Safety:

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

Though petty crime exists, I never worried about car jacking, home break ins, or your run-of-the mill urban opportunistic crimes. Street kids were pretty rampant -- one snatched my chain -- but rarely violent. The worry in Kin was always that the tenuous political situation would boil over and create unrest. While I was there we had two fuzzy 'coup' attempts. Never really fully explained, and just bizarre. Guys armed with spears trying to attack the Presidency; an errant pastor preaching secession. At least those were the formal explanations. One never knew. Elections are always dangerous.

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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?

Malaria, malaria, malaria. Virtually NO medical care in the city, so people got evacuated a lot. Oddly, though, there was a good Belgian dental clinic in town.

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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?

Moderate. I am not sure that the pollution levels were particularly bad, but the constant haze of humidity trapped everything in.

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

Probably not a post for you. Air conditioning is a necessary evil, and my kids and I would occasionally have minor respiratory issues as a result.

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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)?

No more than at any hardship post.

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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?

Hot and humid. In part of the summer months, it would cool down a bit (67 degrees in the morning), but always with drippy humidity.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most parents were pretty happy with TASOK. Several families, including mine, were at the French school and happy with it. Belgian school was popular, though not among most expats.

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

Not sure -- TASOK had limited abilities.

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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 is an English speaking pre-school and a good Belgian one. Nanny care is most popular.

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

Through the schools. Portuguese school had a very good soccer program. Hellenic Center had tennis lessons, along with Greek lessons!

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty big -- UN is still a huge presence, and there is a large diplomatic and NGO crowd, and growing numbers of private sector individuals.

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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?

Kinshasa was fun, fun, fun.. Lots of house parties, crazy expat parties at the UN contingents and random places/events (Oktoberfest, anyone?). The Congolese like to have a good time, and are more than willing to share their fun. The music scene, though not what it was 20years ago, is still amazing. Do NOT miss the opportunity to see a live concert of a major star. They play in venues in Gombe, and you will never see anything like it.

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

Kinshasa can be good for anyone who makes the effort to get out and meet people and try new things.

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

Not openly.

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

Gender equality has a long way to go, but open harassment is not really an issue. Congolese are extremely proud of their national identities -- they are Congolese first, and other identities come in a far second. People from the Kasais are sometimes criticized for taking over parts of the country, monopolizing businesses, etc. but there is little outright hostility. Political rivalries could be more problematic, though generally among the Congolese elite. Most Congolese just want to make a living and enjoy their family and friends peacefully.

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

The Congolese are amongst the most warm and fun people I've ever lived/worked with, and I would love to work with them again. Cold beers and roasted goat meat listening to amazing music. Congo River trips. Concert after concert. Dancing rumba. I was fortunate enough to travel to eastern DRC multiple times, and the scenery there is breath-taking.

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

Music. Shady cold beer spots along the river.

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

It's sad, but a serious African art collector can find some amazing pieces -- masks and carvings, and museum quality Kuba cloth -- for very little money.

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

You'll never experience something like it again.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How bad the produce is. There really is not an alternative, though, so there wasn't anything I could have done with that knowledge.

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

Again and again. Hope to go back again in another capacity.

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

Most valuable possessions, and any uptight pretensions you have.

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4. But don't forget your:

Treadmill if you like to walk/run, and dancing shoes.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Dancing in the Glory of the Monsters, Blood River by Tim Butcher, the Congo Wars by G. Prunier, series of documentaries by Thierry Michel.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 04/26/16

Background:

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

First tour as a foreign service family, but I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and moved to the US for college, so I've sort of been an expat somewhere all my life.

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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?

Jacksonville, FL - it's a LONG way - 8 hour (usually overnight) flight from Kinshasa to Brussels or Paris, then another 7-8 hour (usually day) flight to Washington or New Jersey, then another 2-3 hours flight to Jacksonville.

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3. How long have you lived here?

9 months

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

Family member of US Government employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We live in a large (4/4) single family home in a compound of 8 houses all occupied by USG employees. Each house has a pool and we have a public courtyard where the many (many) children in the compound are usually found playing. At the right time of morning the commute from here to the US Embassy is about 15-20 minutes, but at the wrong time of day traffic can be bad enough that the same trip can take 1-2 hours. There are lots of apartments, usually in newer buildings - most are quite large and many are located closer to the embassy than we are. There are a few other single family homes, but probably the majority of people are in apartments.

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

You can find most non-speciality items here - for a price. The COLA here is 50%, so if you are here on the USG's dime you are compensated for the extra cost (and this is a consumables post for USG folks too). Fresh fruit and veggies that are in season are plentiful and not terribly expensive, but if you want fruit/veggies that are not grown here because of the climate (ie: berries, asparagus, broccoli) then you will pay for them (US$20/pint of strawberries, US$15/bunch of asparagus or broccoli), however, on the flip side, you might be able to pick an avocado out of your back yard...

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

More salsa, a UPS for power outages, that's pretty much it.

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

There is no such thing as "fast" food. There are some restaurants that are faster than others, but there is no such thing as a "drive through," nor are you just going to "pop" in somewhere and get take-out in 10 minutes or less. There is a burger place called Hungabusta that is close to the US Embassy, as well as a fried chicken place called CFC - the food isn't too bad. The most popular "faster" place is a Lebanese restaurant called Al Dar - which is good and pretty cheap. There are actually quite a few pretty nice restaurants here - a couple of good Italian, Greek, Indian, Thai, Chinese etc...there is even good sushi! BUT - cost is high. A sushi meal for 2 is going to set you back at least US$100-$150. Most dinners at good restaurants are going to be close to US$50/person. You can order in pizza (pretty good pizza) for about US$25 for a large pizza and a drink. There are LOTS of good patisseries - and bread is very cheap and good.

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

During dry season black files will be the bane of your existence. They carry no diseases, which is good, but they itch like CRAZY. Mosquitoes carry malaria and yellow fever here, so you have to be inoculated against YF and you have to take an anti-malarial, but we have found that, for the most part, the mosquitos are not plentiful where we live. We have mosquito nets over our beds, but I don't think I've actually seen a mosquito in our bedroom. Native Congolese generally have malaria multiple times in their lives, so the prevention is important, but, that said, they haven't bothered us too much in terms of biting. The ants also basically own Africa, so you'll have to give up trying to eradicate them - they can be kept out of the house, but you do have to be diligent. There are other bugs of course (this is Africa), but overall we haven't found them to be any worse or different than in the Southern US (ie: there are large roaches (or Palmetto bugs if you are Southern) but they don't hurt you and don't carry disease, so you just have to get over seeing them occasionally).

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Daily Life:

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

We use the DPO and pouch. There is no national postal service here.

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

Very available and quite cheap. We pay our housekeeper/nanny US$20/day, and our driver and gardener about US$15/day. The average wage for Congolese is US$2-$3/day, so it is a good wage for them.

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

The US Embassy has a gym for a monthly fee (not sure what). Many of the apartment buildings have gyms. There are yoga, crossfit, Zumba and other classes available in various places and for various costs. You can always walk the "River Loop" for free as many people do.

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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?

No credit card use - this is a strictly cash society. It is dollarized, so you can use US dollars everywhere (except literally a dollar bill, which they do not accept) or Congolese Francs (CF). A couple of the large international stores (Shoprite - a South African grocery chain; Ocra - a US owned "Target" type store) technically take credit cards, but no one uses them. USG employees can cash checks at the embassy, and there is an ATM inside embassy grounds. I've never used any other ATM's but other people do regularly use them without a problem - just don't do it alone or at night.

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

Yes - I know there are both Catholic and protestant services available in English, but I don't know the details.

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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 do not need to know the local language (Lingala) but you do need to know some French (the national business language) - almost no one speaks English here. You can manage without French, but it is much, much more difficult.

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

Yes. The streets/roads are a disaster, there are basically no sidewalks, I've seen two ramps while we've been here - one at the US Embassy and one at the British Embassy. There are people here with physical difficulties, but life is harder for them I guarantee it.

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Transportation:

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

We are not allowed to take local taxis or buses. There is one train that runs once on Saturday a.m. from Kinshasa to Matadi (a port city) and returns from Matadi to Kinshasa on Sunday a.m. We have taken that train and it was wonderful as an experience, but you are unlikely to use it as a form of transportation.

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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?

Bring a 4 wheel drive if you can. The roads are bad - lots and lots of potholes, many unpaved. You cannot import a car over 10 years old, which will be quite amusing when you arrive here and see many of the cars on the street (which are falling apart and are way older than 10 years). Toyota is probably the best bet (we've got a 4Runner and there are a dozens around). The country is left hand drive like the US, but because so many cars are imported from South Africa there are a lot of right hand drive vehicles as well. I've never heard of a carjacking.

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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?

Yes. We pay US$100/month for 50GB which will roll over if unused so long as we re-up prior to the expiration of the month. We have 3G on our phones which we can also use as hotspots. We stream Amazon and Netflix without any major problems. The biggest issue is that the power goes out at least once a day (only for a few minutes and most places have generators that go on quickly) so if you are using a router it will go down and then you have to wait for it to reboot. We have a VPN built into our router and it works well.

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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?

Airtel, Vodocom and Orange are all here. We brought our own phones (one Android and one iPhone) that were unlocked and bought SIM cards here - we refill them monthly and the cost is not prohibitive (I put US$40/month on my phone for calls and 3G). The Embassy also provides phones to both employees and EFMs here (with a small monthly allowance for the EFM - USG employee gets work calls paid for and gets a monthly bill for personal calls). We used Airtel and have been very pleased.

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Pets:

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. Pretty easy importation (rabies shot). There are vets - a Belgian vet where many people take their pets, and there are now several vets at Zoogle, a large pet store run by City Market.

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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?

Employment opportunities for USG employee family members are good - there are several jobs going begging right now because people can be picky. That said, the USG process (security clearance, approval from DC etc...) can take months and is very annoying. If you have French finding work on the local economy is not that difficult either.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many, many, many, many. The DRC is the bottom of almost every "world" list there is - there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways you can help here.

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

Congolese dress well - especially considering the heat. Suits for the most part at work; even wandering the streets you will not see people in shorts or sweatpants. Most women wear long dresses/skirts - often in traditional fabrics. Showing knees as a woman is somewhat risky (and uncomfortable). Within our USG compound people are in shorts and t-shirts, but you don't see a lot of that kind of dress on the streets.

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Health & Safety:

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

This is considered a high threat post and there is a lot of poverty here, so we do not drive with our doors unlocked or our windows down - ever - to avoid the theft of purses, phones etc... That said, it is most petty theft that is worrying here. We have 24h guards in front of our home/compound, and the security officers at post keep the community apprised of what is going on in the city. This year (2016) is supposed to be a presidential election year here and people are on higher alert because of the political tensions, but we have never seen any focus on Americans and we have never worried about any kind of attack on Americans (or most expats) - if the security situation escalated here it would be because of internal issues that might tangentially affect the expat community, not because the expat community was targeted.

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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?

Malaria is here - though not a lot of expats seem to get it (probably because many take anti-malarials) and that is probably the biggest risk. The medical care is spotty - there are hospitals and doctors, but USG employees get medevac'd for even pretty routine procedures (ie: appendix, root canal). The health unit at post for USG is amazing, but for a bit problem you will likely be leaving Kinshasa for Jo'burg or London.

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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?

People burn a lot of trash here, so there is a constant "whiff" of either burning, or waiting to be burned, trash. You get used to it, and I haven't felt like it has been particularly unhealthy. It is very humid as well, so for some people the humidity might make the air quality less than desirable.

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

Food allergies - bring your epipen. My seasonal allergies haven't been too bad here, but it will depend on what you are allergic to. Bring lots of antihistamines!

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

A dry season (June-September) which is cooler (70s-80s F), but more overcast and cloudy, and a wet season (September-May) which is hotter, but sunnier. I've heard that DRC has more thunderstorms than anywhere in the world because of its location and we do have some doozies, but generally it rains like mad for 2-3 hours and then it stops and the sun comes out. I love the weather here as I am not a fan of the cold and love being able to wear summer clothes, and lounge in the pool, practically every day of the year.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most people send their children to The American School of Kinshasa ("TASOK") and it is considered a very good school overall. Other people send their children to the French School (Lyce Francais Rene Decartes). Our daughter has not yet started Kindergarten (though will start this year) so we have no particular experience with either school yet. Most people seem generally pleased with both schools.

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

I have no idea. I assume TASOK has more ability to deal with special-needs children than most of the other schools do.

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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?

Yes. Our daughter is at a local international school with English, French and Montessori options (she is in French) which I believe takes children as early as 18 months. Cost is approx. US$2500 from September to June. I am not aware of any schools that run through the summer, though there are camps. There is also a British daycare (Busy Bees) and a Belgian daycare (Les Oisillons), and the French school takes children starting in pre-kindergarten (3-4 years). Les Oisillons is the most expensive, but none are as expensive as daycare in most US cities (ie: DC). Most people here have household help - and thus a nanny - who keeps the children in the afternoon (school ends usually at noon for daycare/preschool) and over the holidays.

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

Most school have some sports programs, but I'm not familiar with most. I know my daughter's school has karate and soccer (football here).

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is relatively small and very tight knit. I would say generally the morale is pretty good - at least among our friends (mostly families). This is an amazing place for kids - I have no idea how my daughter will readjust to a US life without constant playmates, a nanny, a pool and 12 months of outdoor play weather, but if you are single it may not be as much fun.

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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?

Lots of dinner, brunch, lunch parties on the weekends, excursions to see the Bonobos, kayak on Lac de ma Valle, boat outings to sandbanks on the Congo River, dinner out with friends - there is an overwhelming number of things to do if you want to get out of your house. Our social calendars are filled to the brim almost every weekend with fun things to do either with friends, or organized through an expat group or the Embassy.

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

In my opinion it is great for families - lots of other families, kids are around each other all the time and we all make our own fun together (lots of brunch, lunch, dinner etc... parties). There appears to be a lot of options of things to do for singles and couples - and there are quite a few decent restaurants, but I suspect that this would be a hard place to be single if you wanted to meet anyone "special" - there just isn't a large enough community for that.

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

Better than some African countries/cities in that there are fewer arcane anti-gay laws, but I have no idea if there is any LGBT scene here (and I tend to doubt it as I've never heard or seen anything about it).

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

I have not experienced any, though I believe that Congolese women are definitely expected to be the primary homemakers. I once mentioned to a Congolese man that my husband had taken 12 weeks off to stay home with our daughter when she was born (I was working full time as an attorney before we joined the FS) and he laughed out loud then said "impossible, no man here would, or could, do such a thing." DRC is majority Catholic (though you will see some sign of many different religions) and if you are Caucasian you will be one of a very small minority, but I have not seen any overt (or even subtle) prejudice.

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

Visiting the Bonobos (apes that are only found in DRC), visiting Zongo Falls, trips to sandbars in the Congo River, sewing with the amazing pagne (material) here, growing a fabulous vegetable garden, buying fabulous art and hearing wonderful Congolese music, eating avocados, mangos and bananas from the trees in our garden.

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

Take a boat out onto the Congo River and find a sandbank to spend the day on, visit the Bonobos and Lac de ma Valle, take a city tour, go horseback riding at Circle Hippique, take the train (there is only one) to Kisantu and spend the night at Mbuela Lodge and visit the Botanical Gardens, go vegetable shopping at the Marche.

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

Art - paintings, masks, wooden/clay sculptures; pagne (local fabrics) which are beautiful and cheap (6 yards for US$10-15).

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

It is a unique experience to live in Kinshasa - it is not a city or a country with any real "tourist" population and so most of the world has never been here (and will never be here) which allows for a really fascinating daily life. The weather is hot, but manageable - we have a "dry season" from June to September, and a wet season thereafter - but the wet season is full of huge amazing thunderstorms and then bright sunny (and hot) days, so it is not rainy all the time. We have also been able to save money here - if you are a USG family the COLA is high and the post differential is high - the prices here are surprisingly high as well, but if you can learn to live without the most expensive imported things (ie: a bunch of asparagus for US$15) then you can definitely save money. The biggest advantage in my view, however, is the tight-knit community here. We make our own fun and we have lots of it.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes - if you don't travel outside the country too much and don't eat broccoli and strawberries every day (or eat in restaurants all the time). We are saving quite a bit of money without too much hardship, but we eat local, in season food as often as possible.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Nothing - I came with very (very) low expectations and I have been (and continue to be) pleasantly surprised. If you show up expecting things to be like the US you will be disappointed (hugely).

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

Yes. I'm looking forward to doing a "first world" tour next, but I am so incredibly glad and thankful to have had this experience. The friends we've made here in this expat community will be friends for life.

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

Entitled attitude, winter coat (and all other winter garb), white shoes (cause they will get DIRTY).

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure, love of fresh tropical fruit and veggies, pool and sand toys.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Congo: The Epic History of a People (David Van Reyrbrouk); Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingslover); Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (Jason Stearns).

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Virunga (documentary nominated for Oscar), Benda Bilili, and Viva Riva

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7. Do you have any other comments?

There are lots of things that are hard about living in Kinshasa (hence the reason it is a hardship post) - but almost a year into our tour it is clear to me that there are a lot of things I am going to miss very much about this city, this country and the people here - both expat and Congolese, and I wouldn't trade this experience for all the paved roads and pubic transportation in London!

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 01/06/14

Background:

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

Fourth tour Foreign Service Officer but first in Africa. Lived in West Africa, Asia, and Europe in childhood.

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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?

Takes a full 24 hours to get to/from the East coast. Usual itinerary is an overnight flight to Brussels or Paris and then an 8 or so hour flight to Kinshasa. From Kinshasa to the East coast, it's an overnight flight to Paris or Brussels then a morning flight across the Atlantic.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About 18 months (arrived June 2012).

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

U.S. Embassy posting.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy housing is comfortable and spacious with most homes/apartments either having a personal pool or access to one on the compound. Single family homes within the Gombe district are getting more difficult to find so incoming families may be faced with the choice of a (spacious) apartment closer in or a free-standing probably very large and luxurious house with garden and pool a distance away. Traffic is usually at its worst mid-day but poor road conditions, broken-down vehicles, and aggressive driving mean roads can be clogged at any time. Most commute times are between 15-30 minutes. The newer housing by the international school (TASOK) could take an hour or more.

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

Western-style groceries are easily accessible and well stocked with imported goods but very expensive (US$25/quart of strawberries, US$15/head of broccoli, US$20/small frozen pizza, US$20/small block of cheese, US$5/loaf of bread, etc). Quality of meat varies enormously - and inconsistently - from store to store and most stores' inventories change frequently, necessitating numerous stops to complete the full shopping list. Paper goods and cleaning goods are expensive and of generally poor quality. The open air markets are the best bet for fresh, affordable produce but you either need plenty of time to navigate it yourself or have your domestic staff do the market shopping.

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

Paper goods and bug repellent, primarily. With DPO, it is very easy to order necessities online and have them shipped if you can't find them locally or they are simply too expensive.

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

No U.S.-brand fast food restaurants but plenty of fried chicken or schwarma options. Everything is expensive with a cheap, greasy lunch easily running US$10. Plenty of fine dining options with Indian, Chinese, French, and much more cuisines. Lunch will run US$25 for cheapest options and dinner quickly mount to US$50/person without wine.

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

Biting bugs of every kind have been the bane of my existence in Kinshasa. I seem to be more stricken than most, however. Mosquitos, biting flies, chiggers, no-see-ums, and any other type of small, flying biting toxin-ridden things are everywhere, year round. The ankles are particularly at risk, I find. Bug repellent with high levels of DEET are effective but must be shipped in - a difficulty with embassy shipping restrictions. Cockroaches are a fact of life at home as are many other creepy crawlies and mice. Poison, traps, and sprays are a constant, especially in the kitchen. Malaria is a real concern and bed-nets are strongly recommended, especially for children.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy DPO service is excellent, by and large, and a real morale booster.

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

Very available and quite cheap. You can easily find yourself hiring a full staff of cook, housekeeper, driver, gardner, nanny etc and then the problems are mostly personnel issues rather than financial. Contracts and clear rules are recommended to ensure staff and employers agree on duties, responsibilities, vacations, and any additional costs that may arise such as transportation fees, food allowance, school fees, medical care, etc.

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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 wouldn't recommend using credit cards anywhere other than the major hotels. There are 2 or 3 ATMs that can be used at large hotels or larger department stores.

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4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is required with very few locals speaking English. Congolese speak Lingala, not French to each other, and while it is not a requirement at all, you'll get better prices and reception if you have at least a basic knowledge.

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

I would imagine extreme difficulty. The Embassy and housing are not ADA compliant and the city is very difficult to navigate without any physical constraints. There is a very large physically disabled population that crowds the streets in makeshift wheelchairs, crutches, and other crude aids but that doesn't mean it is easy.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable but not at all safe. Embassy personnel are not permitted to take any form of public transport.

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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?

Four-wheel drive is a necessity as well as high clearance. Many major roads within Gombe have been recently paved but successive rainy seasons will likely recreate potholes all too quickly. The vast majority of roads in and out of Kinshasa are unpaved and most are ungraded as well.

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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?

Internet is available and expensive. Speeds are adequate for Skype and basic browsing/shopping but not for streaming video. Photo uploading and video downloading are possible but may take a few overnight sessions. Cost is US$100/month minimum with US$200/month more likely. Frequent power outtages and lost signals in the rainy season can be expected.

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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?

Embassy personnel, direct hires and family members, are assigned cell phones for business and personal use. There are no landlines in homes.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Work: Jacket and tie for the men with the jacket usually off but available if needed for meetings. Slacks, summer-weight dresses (sleeveless ok), blouses for the women. Street: Quite casual for most although upper class Congolese are usually dressed quite well. Many expats have shirts, dresses, and skirts tailored from local fabrics. Above the knee skirts and sleeveless shirts/dresses are not a problem. Would not recommend camisole-style tops or very short skirts or shorts.

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Health & Safety:

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

Kinshasa is a high-crime urban city with high populations of street kids and urban gangs looking for easy crimes of opportunity. Unlocked car doors will be opened (while driving) and bags or anything else reachable grabbed. Very few areas of the city are safe to walk at night although some of the more frequented expat areas are relatively safe if with a group and it's not too late. Beggars are common but not aggressive.

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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?

Malaria is the biggest concern but are any number of diseases, infections, and parasites to cause trouble. Medical care is almost non-existant with most health concerns not treatable by simple antibiotics medevacced to South Africa.

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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?

Air quality is moderate, somewhat dusty in the dry season. Burning trash and leaves is common so you can find yourself engulfed in thick smoke briefly if the wind shifts. Many vehicles belch black smoke so, again, you can find yourself engulfed briefly until you can pass.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Weather patterns are far more liveable than I had feared. The dry season (March/April - September/October) is very moderate with daytime temperatures in the upper 70s to 80s and fairly low humidity. The rainy season starts in September and gets properly going in November/December. January and February are the hottest months with daytime highs well into the 90s and high humidity.

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Schools & Children:

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

We have used TASOK (The American School in Kinshasa), Busy Bees (UK-run, English-language pre-school for ages 2-5), Little Jewels (Indian-run English language pre-school with a Montessori program) and Lycee Prince de Liege (Belgian-run French language pre-school through high school). Each has been quite good and we have had no serious complaints about any. I only have experience with the elementary grades at TASOK. The teachers are enthusiastic and focused on imagination and instilling a love of learning more than on strict academic rigor. However, my now-second grader has made leaps and bounds in the 3 Rs and loves school.

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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?

See above. There are a number of both English-language and French-language pre-schools available as well as plentiful domestic help. Pre-schools run from US$3,000-$5,000/child per year.

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

TASOK offers a number of sports programs and there are numerous private lessons and clubs as well. Horseback riding/stables are expensive but available and good at the Cercle Hippique de Kinshasa.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large with a lot of variety in the morale. Most in Kinshasa know what they signed up for and find the fun, excitement, and interest. Medical or housing problems can bring a tour down fast, however. Huge UN mission, none of whom are allowed to bring family, so they are always an active group looking for fun.

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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?

Much of the social life revolves around gatherings at homes, pools, and gardens or at sport or expat clubs. Many Embassies have monthly or weekly events such as BBQs, quiz nights, or jazz nights. The weekend nightlife is vibrant.

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

Younger families usually do well in Kinshasa as the limited leisure options are not such a problem for the younger set. There are very few green spaces so we are very happy to have a large yard and do, on occasion, feel we are in a gilded cage. Boat trips on the river, weekend camping and daytrips all help and there are a few hidden spots in Kinshasa that help you get away from the grime: Kinshasa Botanical Garden, Presidential Parc in Ngaliema, riverside picnics. With a bit of perserverance and willingness to get lost, you can find outings.

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

Women are targeted more for theft and harrassment.

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

I have been fortunate to travel extensively for work purposes, a benefit not readily available for personal travel due to the expense and lack of safe airlines. The large expat population and close-knit Embassy community mean one's social calendar can almost be overfull. There is good school choice for kids starting at age 2 or 3. Boating excursions on the Congo River are a wonderful respite from the grit and dust of Kinshasa and make for a lovely day of sun and water. Camping trips are fun and social events. Weekend trips to Zongo Falls, hiking up riverbeds to gorgeous waterfalls, visiting the bonobos, and the botanical gardens are all fun trips (which is nice as they are among the only easy trips near Kinshasa that are viable).

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

Kinshasa has a fairly standard list of outings so not a lot of variety but we have enjoyed all of them: Zongo Falls (about 4-5 hour drive away), camping (about 2 hour drive), Kisantu Botanical Gardens (about 2-3 hour drive), Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary (about 2-3 hour drive), Kinshasa Botantical Garden (downtown), Parc Presidential de Mont Ngaliema (in Kinshasa), Mbudi Nature Cercle Recreatif (about 1 hour away along the river), river outings (rent a boat and head for a sandbar for a day of grilling and swimming), and, of course, hoping a boat to Brazzaville.

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

Pagne fabrics, art, masks, scultptures, furniture, many, many tchotkes. Not cheap, however, and not all of good quality.

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

The DRC is a fascinating country, full of contradictions and difficulties, but never boring. It is a genuine hardship post but we have found daily life in Kinshasa to be quite livable with almost everything available, albeit for a price. The weather is not at all oppressive with temperatures in the upper 70s/low 80s (F) during the dry season (April - September) and, while much more humid, rarely above low-mid-90s during the rainy season (Sept/Oct - Mar/Apr). The small slice of Kinshasa in which most expats spend the vast majority of their time is easy to get around, filled with good restaurants, has a lively nightlife and music scene, offers plenty of sports and other clubs for gatherings, and has a number of western-style shops.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, until you travel. Flights out of the DRC are extraordinarily expensive but most find it important to travel either back to the U.S. or to Europe, South Africa, East Africa to get away at least once a year at that can eat up all your savings very quickly.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Any day can bring extraordinary joy and wonder at what is possible or frustration and despair at what is not.

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

Absolutely and I recommend Kinshasa as a tough but rewarding post. But I don't think I'd be tempted to do a second tour.

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

Winter clothes, high heels, inflexibility, expectation that your car, clothes, or belongings will come through unscathed.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bug spray, adaptability, patience, and willingness to laugh through it all.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 11/24/12

Background:

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

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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?

Washington is about 20 hours total via Paris or Brussels. One can also fly through Addis and Istanbul.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Kinshasa for a year and a half, a fourth expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Families generally get a large house with a yard and often a pool. Singles and couples generally get apartments or duplexes, though some have houses. The shortest commutes are around 10 minutes and the longest is maybe 40, but it really depends on the time of day and traffic. The roadwork mentioned in previous reports is mostly over, so traffic downtown is a bit better.

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

Virtually everything is available, although often it is a European or South African brand. Prices are more expensive than in the US, especially for meat, cheese, and imported produce and juices. But it's all manageable, and sometimes you're willing to pay whatever it takes to get what you want. US liquor and wine are available, but not beer. There are a growing number of higher-quality grocery stores with more reliable stock and better prices.

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

I would have maxed out the consumables shipment on toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, and other paper products. Anything in the toiletry, hygiene, paper products category here is much more expensive and quality is weak.

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

No US fast food, but there are fast food joints (Nando's, Hunga Busta, Hector's Chicken, Al-Dhar, Aladin). Prices are higher than in the US, but not impossible. Good pizza for some reason is much more expensive, though it is available for delivery ($20 per pizza).

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

Mosquitoes are certainly a nuisance. Roaches are also common. Some houses have termite issues of varying severity. Sugar ants are very, very common, especially if you are a slob. Also lots of other cool insects outside that are not a problem. A kid that loves bugs would enjoy the DRC.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy personnel use the DPO and the Pouch. Kinshasa does have DHL.

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

It is extremely easy to find help, but the quality varies dramatically. English-speaking domestic employees are very hard to come by, as English proficiency is rare and highly sought after in the employment market. The basic wage is $10/day, but some people pay less and some more. You can also expect to be regularly asked to subsidize education, health care, and other expenses for a wide array of relatives.

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

The Embassy has a gym and there are gyms available at the Grand Hotel and a couple other places.

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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?

I have never done it, but I know if can be done.

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

Yes, all major denominations. Lots and lots of missionaries here.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Newspapers, not so much. TV, there is DSTV from South Africa. Installation is pretty expensive. Some Embassy houses have AFN dishes, and if you can find a decoder you can watch US TV.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is absolutely necessary. Lingala would be helpful for anyone who actually wants to interact with the majority of the people in Kinshasa. Swahili is also spoken some.

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

This is not a good city for disabled people. That said, the city is full of polio victims, war and accident victims, and persons with various other disabilities, and they're all managing to get by through some amazing ingenuity. But there are no handicapped spots, ADA compliant facilities, or handicapped washrooms.

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Transportation:

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

Not safe, but definitely affordable.

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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?

Four-wheel-drive would be essential to drive outside the city. Thanks to a lot of road improvements in town, you can get by with just about anything for the work commute. When it rains, the potholes and flooding can get pretty absurd. Most common expat cars are Xterras, Rav4s, Ford Everest/Explorer. Rich Congolese here drive Range Rover Sports or Land Cruisers, others drive Tatas, Chinese cars, Mercedes, and many derelict and second-hand pieces of junk. There are some motorcyclers in Kinshasa.

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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?

No. Low-speed is available for not less than $100/month. A fiber-optic connection that will greatly improve things is a couple years away.

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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?

Most people who work have two numbers with either Vodacom, Tigo, or Airtel, as network coverage varies.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are at least two vets, who are fine. No kennels I am aware of. Getting the pets in and out of the country has not been especially problematic.

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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?

Yes. Many in the Embassy, also with NGOs. Teachers can find work.

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

The U.S. Embassy is business dress for some and business casual for others depending on the position. The Congolese government and other embassies are pretty much uniformly business dress, while NGOs and Monusco are more casual. It can get very hot in business dress at receptions and lunches, so try to bring light materials.

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Health & Safety:

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

Embassy houses are very safe, with 24-hour guard. About town, you need to keep your car doors locked at all times and your wits about you. The biggest issue is theft and harassment from street kids while you're stuck in traffic. People generally limit how much they walk on the street and drive everywhere. Runners generally stick to the river loop, which is very safe, or run in pairs, although there is a hash that goes all over. I'd say it's getting slightly safer.

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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?

Malaria: people use nets and pills. Some allergy issues in the fall. Cholera and ebola have both broken out in the past year, but they do not really affect the expat community. There is a Belgian-run medical center that can do triage on serious problems and do surgery if need be, but generally everything serious is a medivac to South Africa. There are said to be good dentists.

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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?

Moderate. Depends where you are in the city. In the diplomatic neighborhoods it's perfectly fine, although there is some dust and allergens. In other parts of the city there is a lot of car-exhaust pollution, burning trash, and other particulate. The city is generally dirty, though over the past year they have made a pretty good effort to clean up parts of it.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and sunny with regular and very big rainstorms from September to about April. Cloudy and cooler with very little rain from May to August. From November to about March, the middle of the day is really quite hot, but it's usually manageable the rest of the time.

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Schools & Children:

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

The American School in Kinshasa (TASOK) is what you think an African school should be like. Beautiful campus, very happy and engaged students. The Jewels School is another English language school that is more rigorous than TASOK and has a Montessori program for younger kids. There are also French and Belgian schools.

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

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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?

Preschools: Jewels, Les Oisillions, Busy Bees, and others.

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

For older kids, yes. Younger kids, it's mainly swimming and whatever private lessons you might do (horseback riding, 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?

Large. Lots of NGO people, UN people, Embassy people, missionaries, some investors and entrepreneurs. Again it's not limitless, but there are a lot compared to other posts in Africa.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very bad to very good. The post is an emotional roller coaster, but the expat community is very open and collegial. Those who get involved in the community have more fun and find outlets for the quite real frustrations of this city and country.

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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?

Dance clubs, dinner parties, dinner out, parties, kids parties, field trips, happy hour at the Marine house, quiz night at the British Embassy, walking or running the loop.

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

There is a pretty active nightlife for singles and couples, and expats typically have plenty of money to spend on eating out and socializing. Families with small kids really enjoy it here, as there is no end of playdates and birthday parties, etc. Families with older kids may find there is not enough to do out of the house.

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

Don't know.

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

Light-skinned people are often viewed as ATMs here. A long history of exploitation by Belgians and others has created a very strong mistrust between the local population and expats. This can be overcome, but it takes a lot of work. There are also some intra-Congo prejudices, particularly relating to Tutsis, who are sometimes called Rwandans. There is a strong antipathy toward Rwanda.

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

Visiting the bonobo sanctuary, boat outings on the river, camping, day trips. There is not much non-work-related travel to do inside the DRC, but there are weekend and day trips that are fun to do in groups and with other families.

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

Boat trips, day trips, camping, golf, tennis, Bonobo sanctuary, tour the brewery, shop for crafts and furniture. The possibilities are not limitless, but there are things to do if you put in a little effort.

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

Very nice wood furniture, paintings, some copper and other metal art, lots of wood carvings and crafts.

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

Good weather, good restaurants, large expat community, inexpensive fresh produce, saving money, very good golf and tennis club.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, loads, but not if you take personal trips out of the country frequently.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. Despite frustrations, the country is fascinating, and the work is very challenging, with much more responsibility than I would get somewhere else. This is a country where you'll see the very best and the very worst of the human spirit.

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

anything that you would be devastated if it were to be stolen, broken, ruined, lost, or pillaged. Also leave behind your belief that this will be Africa lite. It is a hardship post.

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3. But don't forget your:

books, bug spray, sun screen, sunglasses, golf clubs, camping gear, lawn games, 220v appliances, transformers, battery back-ups, toolbox, and spare parts.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, Jason Stearns
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Michela Wrong
King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild
Station Chief Congo, Larry Devlin
Congo Mercenary, Mike Hoare
Africa's World War, Gerard Prunier

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 05/21/12

Background:

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

No. I have lived in two other African cities and in Iraq.

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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?

US. About 20 hours total travel time via Paris.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Very good housing.

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

Very, very, expensive, but most things can be found if you look hard enough.

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

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

Not much. Food bad and expensive. Pizzas are US$20-30.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

None...soy milk is widely available though.

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

Lots of insects everywhere.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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

Available for US$200-400 a month.

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

Yes.

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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 used ours regularly over two years and never once had a problem with fraud.

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

Yes.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Must know French.

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

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Transportation:

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

No.

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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?

Get a 4x4.

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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?

Yes.

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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?

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

No.

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

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, crime is very bad.

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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?

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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?

Not good.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Nice. Never too hot, never too cold. Always humid,though.

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Schools & Children:

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

Our kids went to Jewels International School. We would strongly caution against it. Young boys and girls are sent to same bathroom unsupervised. Teachers teach kids religious hymns against parent approval. School randomly applies fees and changes charges depending on how much one kisses up to the owners. All in all, a poor experience.

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

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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?

Yes, Jewels and a Belgian daycare. The Brits have daycare too.

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good if you get away from US Embassy and meet other expats.

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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?

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

Good for families of small kids.

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

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

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

Not much. Congo is hard living. Get out to see Zongo Falls, the bonobos, and the river.

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

Not much. Zongo, local dance clubs, bonobos.

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

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

Good money with post differential and COLA.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 02/13/12

Background:

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

Yes, 1st tour.

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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?

There is a direct flight from Boston to Paris via Air France and it is about 7-8 hours. The flight from Paris to Kinshasa is about 8 hours. Be prepared for a long travel experience, once you arrive at N'Djili airport it is often chaotic and there can be long delays.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years - August 2009 - July 2011.

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

US Embassy/ State Department.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Usually singles/couples w/o children are in apartments. There are also stand-alone houses and housing compounds with both houses and apartments. Traffic can be bad and congested, our commute was 10 minutes without traffic, 30 + min with traffic.

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

Groceries are very expensive. Embassy people can order meat/produce from South Africa. There are several grocery stores, but their stock varies. Cereal can be $20. Oranges $15.

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

More consumables, things like olive oil and other staples.

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

There are two places I can think of: Nandos and Hector Chicken. Nandos is international and it is a little ways outside of the downtown area. Hector Chicken is local.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

None that I was aware of. You can buy local vegetables and fruit, but it all must be bleached prior to consumption.

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

SO many insects and insect problems! Apartments/houses usually have roaches, although we were on a high floor and didn't see them with frequency. Mosquitoes are a big issue and are also malarial. Another common insect are "mango flies". Watch out, as they lay their eggs on damp surfaces and the eggs can embed under your skin...and then you become a host to a little maggot which you then have to "pop out" once it is mature. Lovely, huh?

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. Mail was often delayed.

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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.

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

Yes, well sort of. There is a small gym on the embassy compound, but it is available to embassy people only. There are also small gyms at the Grand Hotel and the Tennis club (but not much in terms of treadmills/ellipticals).

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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?

There are ATMs but I have heard they are not always secure. We always got our cash/money from the cashier at the embassy.

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

Not that I am aware.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We had AFN but there was satellite television available. It was very expensive (roughly $700 start up + 200 a month)

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is a must. All stores/markets/locals speak French and there is not much English spoken.

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

It would be very very difficult. The Embassy is very old and there are no elevators/ramps. Everyday errands are involved and parking is usually on the side of road over bumpy terrain in a crowded area.

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Transportation:

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

All public transportation is not recommended by the embassy for safety reasons.

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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?

A 4x4 is important as the roads are awful. Outside the city, a 4x4 is an absolute must. The roads are often dirt (mud in the rainy season) and very rough terrain.

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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?

There is internet but I would not call it high speed. Very slow connection and it went in and out. Internet is also very expensive ($600 start up, $150 per month).

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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?

We had Vodacom, provided through the embassy. There aren't many options.

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Pets:

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. Just updated records/vaccinations.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a few vets, but pet care is not a priority. There is a good Belgian vet, but the conditions in the clinic are not clean and the supplies are limited.

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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?

Perhaps through other NGOs but not locally.

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

Work -- business attire. Public - casual, though shorts on women tend to be frowned on.

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Health & Safety:

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

YES. Election time can bring extreme instability. There are "shegue" or street kids that can cause issues (ie. attempting to get into your car, stealing from your car, laying down in front of your car). When at the markets, you have to be cautious about closing your doors and locking them.

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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?

Many health concerns. Medical care is not good and you would not want to be in Kinshasa if there was any type of emergency. There is a local hospital, but pretty much ALL medical care is med-evaced to South Africa or the US.

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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?

Moderate. The cars on the road are not in good condition and there is a lot of exhaust in the air. It can be very dusty in the dry season, there can be a lot of burning trash, brush, construction excess, and tires, and there is a lot of trash in the streets.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

It is very hot and humid in the rainy season. In the dry season, it is overcast and cooler (80s). There are very strong thunder and rain storms that can flash flood.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is the American School, which people seem happy with. Also several other choices (a Belgian and French option too). We did not have school-age children at this post.

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

Not aware of any. This would be a VERY difficult post for someone with special needs. I would almost classify it as impossible.

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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?

Not sure, I think if there was any it would have been at the Belgian School. Most people have Congolese nannies as early childcare and daycare.

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

Probably at TASOK (the American school)...but I would assume it would be pretty limited.

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very low at times but, at the same time, the community is very close and we made life-long friends and had great times.

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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?

There are some restaurants and clubs.

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

It is not really a good city for any one. There are events through the embassy which are great, but nothing in regards to Kinshasa as a city. There are a few good clubs.

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

If you stay within the international community, then yes. If you try to find acceptance among the Congolese, it probably won't happen.

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

Not really.

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

The embassy community was the best part of the tour. Very strong sense of community. Visiting Zongo Falls was a nice weekend.

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

Going out boating on the Congo River is a very cool weekend thing to do. Many expats hang out on the sandbars and the river is a relaxing and great break from the city. Another thing to do is visit the bonobo monkey reserve.

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

Local art and crafts. Fabric and cloth.

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

Kinshasa is a very difficult place to live. There aren't many advantages, but you can appreciate the life you have compared to those around you.

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11. Can you save money?

It is very expensive, but there is a high post differential.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Surprisingly yes. It was a hard post for sure, but the people at post made it all worthwhile.

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

Warm clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bathing suit, sunscreen, mosquito spray. Due to limited places to go, pools are great on the weekends and most of the houses have them.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?



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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Kinshasa can be very hard, but it is also eye-opening and there is beauty if you can look beyond the outward appearance.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 11/13/11

Background:

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

This was my 5th overseas experience

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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?

Europe (Brussels/Paris) is about 8 hours away. Daily connections with Brussels Airlines, South African Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines. Almost daily connections with Air France, Kenya Airways, Morrocan Airways.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Houses and apartments. Not the best of quality and very pricey.

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

Very expensive -- a bottle of ketchup costs USD $8.00.

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

Skin-so-soft.

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

There are many good restaurants, but they are very pricey. Fast food is very limited.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Are you kidding? This is Kinshasa.

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

Rainy season brings bugs, and having several bouts of malaria is not uncommon.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy DPO (for embassy personnel only).

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

$15.00 a day if you can find a good one.

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

The U.S. Embassy has a small gym for embassy personnel only.

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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?

Don't.

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

Yes.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

No.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is mandatory.

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

Just getting around would be difficult.

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Transportation:

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

No.

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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?

Many potholes. It's best to have a 4WD SUV.

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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?

Unreliable and pricey.

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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?

Vodacom -- very pricy.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Unreliable.

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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?

No.

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

Smart casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes shaygays (gangs of kids) cause numerous problems.

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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?

Unreliable.

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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?

Moderate.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

OK. Very Hot in the rainy season - and nice and dry during the dry season

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Schools & Children:

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

TASOK (The American School of Kinshasa) is a good school. There are others, but I am not knowledgeable of those.

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


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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?


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

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Poor.

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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?

Poor.

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

Good for families that like to stay home and create their own entertainment. Singles OK. Couples OK.

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

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

No.

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

Marine Ball and occasional trips to Brazzaville.

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

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

Fabrics.

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

None really, nothing to do...everything is very difficult to do.

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11. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No.

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

winter clothes

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3. But don't forget your:

DVDs.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

It will be a frustrating experience.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 08/04/11

Background:

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

No, nor will it be the last.

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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?

Europe (Brussels/Paris) is about 8 hours away. Daily connections with Brussels Airlines, South African Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines. Almost daily connections with Air France, Kenya Airways, Morrocan Airways

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3. How long have you lived here?

4 years

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

Diplomat

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Very expensive and not always of the best quality. We are lucky to live on a very nice family oriented compound with all the facilities you need, and more.

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

Availability is quite OK (ranging from an extensive French cheese collection to fresh pasta or fish imported from Belgium, strawberries from Europe, etc). Just don't look at prices!!

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

Diapers, not because they are not available, but because they are so expensive. In fact, just about anything is more expensive here, so when on holidays leave with empty suitcases and return with full ones

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

There are a few decent restaurants (Italian, French, Belgian, Indian, international) but do expect to pay (a 3-course dinner would easily set you off 50 USD)

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

Too many mosquitos which do bring malaria. There are some ways to minimise the problem, though, starting from mosquito nets to full scale des-infectisation of your house

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Daily Life:

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

by pouch only

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

Very available, and very affordable. Reliability can be an issue

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

Yes

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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?

Getting increasingly in use here. When we arrived, there were only a couple of ATMs, now they are on every street corner (in Gombe, the district where Embassies and government is based)

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

Yes

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French comes in very handy. No need to learn Lingala

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

Too many

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Transportation:

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

Forget about it. Trains and busses stopped running long time ago. We are advised not to take taxis. Still some expats do take them without too many problems

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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?

For in the city any car will do. Once you want to go a bit further, you definitely need a 4x4

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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?

High Cost Low Speed Internet

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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?

Buy your simcard and start calling: it's cheap and network coverage is surprisingly large. Don't forget to bring your blackberry to have instant mails

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Pets:

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?

View All Answers


2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

View All Answers


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?

If you keep looking

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

The usual

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Health & Safety:

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

Not in the day to day life. It's actually pretty safe. Having said that the DRC remains a fragile state with lots of poverty, inequality and discontent, which can be explosive. With the forthcoming elections there is a chance that things will detonate, but I would still tend to think that stability will prevail

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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?

Malaria

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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?

Should be OK, I guess

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Pretty OK. Between 25-33 degrees celsius year-round. It can be a bit grey in the dry season (May-July), and it does not rain all the time in the rainy season; but when it rains, it rains!!

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Schools & Children:

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

Decent American School with lovely (but bit run down) campus. Lots of other options as well: Belgian (with schooling in Dutch and French), French school, English International school, etc

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

None

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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?

Yes, and quite OK, but French-speaking.

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

Yes

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Expat Life:

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

Rather sizeable. Don't forget that the UN still has the world largest mission stationed here

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies, depending on expectations, whether you are single or with a family, and your sense of humour

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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?

You have to make it. Lately a sort of cinema started, more are in the making. In the meantime, enjoy the expat parties, the nice resto's and - if you are into it - the night clubs of Kin la Belle

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

Yes, great for families. Not too good for singles I would say (slightly boring)

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

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

Don't think so

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

The pool, barbecues with friends, the great sense of humour of the Congolese

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

Swimming, tennis, golf (Kinshasa boosts a great golf court), horse riding, squash, eating out (there are a few decent restos)

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

There are some nice paintings

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

It is quite ok as a family duty station. Our kids loved it here, amongst others due to the pool and a decent American school. The weather is quite friendly, domestic personnel is easy to get by. Don't expect too much in terms of tourist outings or culture (although things are changing, but slowly slowly, with the rhytm of the country). Even though there is not much to spend on other then food, food and food, don't expect to save much. Prices are very high. To the upside: pretty much everything you want is available (but you have to sometimes look for it)

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11. Can you save money?

If you insist, but don't forget to enjoy your life

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I think so

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

Skis

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3. But don't forget your:

Sun cream

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters - Jason Stearn comes with a recommendation.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Mobutu - roi du Zaire. The Congo river

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Enjoy your time in Kin. Even though it can be frustrating at times, time passes too quickly...

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 01/19/11

Background:

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

First time living abroad. Have visited Mexico several times over the last 40 years.

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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?

Arizona. Two day trip thru Paris or Brussels. Upgrade from the cheap seats to business if you can.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years, left in 2010

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

Spouse was employed at US Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There is seems to be a continual shortage. Mission is hiring more people than it has housing for, what housing that is available is very expensive. There is severe competition among NGOs, the various Missions and others for suitable housing. That being said, the housing is better than some posts. (or so I have been told) Large apartments or houses (3 bedrooms are common), pools, large houses with yards, security walls. Depending on your job and family needs, housing will be assigned. If you are in a stand alone house, you are responsible for lawn/yard/pool care. Others have a shared responsibility and some, the care is provided(apt buildings). All in all the housing is quite decent – one of the benefits of a hardship post. Commute time varies depending on where you live and the time of day. If there is any construction, accidents, holidays all have an effect.

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

Local stuff is ok. But almost everything is shipped in, and that gets expensive.

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

Get used to netgrocer.com, drugstore.com, walmart/target/sears/amazon.com. Things here are expensive, not always in stock, not the quality you may used to. If you have access to DPO, most of your stuff is bought on line and shipped. It is cheaper and easier than getting it locally. Good local produce, let the house staff purchase it. As the prices will go up quite a bit if you are not a Congo local. Stock up on the favorite things and ship in HHE. But, be forewarned, your HHE and/or UAB can be held in customs for several weeks or a few months. This is an on-going problem in DRC, people are working towards a solution. But, DRC is a cash country and everyone has their hand out for a little something. If I knew then, what I know now – I would have not brought so much stuff in advance, only to have it sit in Customs for a few months. I would have had the ‘favorites’ shipped to the DPO address and used the on-line shopping for everything else. Car parts, tires, favorite comfort food.

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

No fast food like America. But, there are places on the street to get a quick bite. Lots of good places to eat. Pizza is everywhere. Cost varies from very reasonable to high end ($100/person).

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Lots of local vegetables. Gluten-free you will have to ship in. If you have such major health issues or life-style choices, this might not be the place for you. Congo will not be able to accommodate your needs.

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

Ants, termites, acid flies, mango worms.

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Daily Life:

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

We used the Embassy DPO. All mail takes much longer than you would expect to come and go.

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

There is very high unemployment here. Everyone has relatives looking for work. Get recommendations, set expectations, keep valuables out of sight.

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

The embassy has the Marine gym. There is little or nothing else on the local scene.

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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?

Don't use them outside the embassy or businesses with proven track records. This is a cash society. You can use the Congo franc or American dollars.

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

We didn't find any while we were there. Most of the major beliefs are represented in Kinshasa.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Not that we found. Our English news was thru the internet. Some people had English newspapers shipped to them.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is the main language, and the more you know the better you are. Knowing some of the local language will make a positive impact on the Congolese.

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

There is no ADA here. Mission buildings and housing are not easily accessible to anyone with special needs, and there are no special considerations. Movement around town or the area can be very difficult. There are no sidewalks, curbs are broken or missing, and streets in a constant state of dis-repair.

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Transportation:

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

In a word: DON’T. It is not advised or recommended in any way. Use either hired drivers or the motor pool.

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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?

Something you don’t mind getting beat up. It is not a matter of if you will be in an accident, only when. The best bet is a 4-wheel drive SUV type; high clearance, short wheel base, windows tinted with anti-shatter film(the darker the better, it keeps prying eyes from seeing inside), anything mounted on exterior of vehicle needs to secured. There are usually vehicles for sale by exiting Mission personnel, generally for what they paid for them new. Shipping a vehicle can take several weeks to arrive. I will sell our sedan when we leave. I have seen all types of vehicles here – 2009 Mustang GT, BMW, Mercers Benz, Jaguar, Hummer, PT Cruiser, Chrysler 300, all make and model of off brand you can think of. Repair is spotty and parts are expensive. Some repair can be done thru the Motor pool after hours. It is recommended that you ship spare parts/tires to have on hand, or thru a stateside service and have it delivered to the DPO address. A SUV type will allow you to do more of the exploring on the weekends. Road system here is terrible, pot-holes big enough for their own zip code, open storm drains, missing man-hole covers.

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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?

Internet is available thru a variety of sources and providers. Be prepared to get recommendations from people, be prepared to be much more than you are used to in the states, be prepared for frequent periods of no internet, be prepared to be asked for money in addition to installation and service fees – ‘didn’t bring enough cable to finish the job” and you as the customer are asked for more money buy supplies. There large internet and cell phone providers and some start-ups. There is the traditional internet, an antenna mounted at residence and cable brought in side thru window. There is a new service where the internet is provided much like cell phone coverage and time charges. All Mission employees and EFM are issued a cell phone and are responsible monthly for any use that is not ‘official’. VOIP (SKYPE) is a popular choice with some people. But, the quality and speed of the internet service will determine how well it works. More speed or more bandwidth will increase your cost drastically. For what I was paying $100+/- in the States is about $1000 here.

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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?

There basically no landline phones here. What ones there are are limited to specific locations: inside the Embassy or JAO. Everyone (locals and non- Mission people) here has a cell phones and uses phone cards/SIM cards. Everyone has at least one cell phone.

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Pets:

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?

I don't believe so. If you need to have a pet, pick up any of the strays on the street.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I believe there were very few. Traveling with pets in/out of Kinshasa is terrible at best.

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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?

There are a few within the Mission, but most are usually low paying, part-time, menial work. Plus, there is often a language requirement that is difficult to master. There is little or no work on the local economy. It is difficult/impossible to get a work permit (you have to prove that you have the skills that are not available in local market). There are plenty of volunteer groups that are more than ready for you to donate your time and money to their cause.

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

Business casual. If women underdress in public, they are subject to un-wanted attention.

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Health & Safety:

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

Quite a bit! You are on constant watch for pick-pockets, thieves, break-ins, smash and grab from vehicle. You lock all your doors in residence, (what break-ins we have heard about, have been ‘inside’ jobs, maid has given a key to a contract guard or guard used issued key to enter, help will pocket stuff), you pay attention to RSO briefing and their safety/security suggestions, you carry the radio and cell phone with you all the time, you let people know where you are going and then go in a crowd. Very important, you should know where you are all the time and how to tell someone to get to where you are. There are few street signs or markers. There are areas in Kinshasa where you just don’t belong and are inviting trouble by being there. There is growing gang problem, older kids/young adults who prey on the locals more so than the ex-pats. But, there has been at least one kidnapping and robbery of a Mission employee. The best available street map has several errors. When driving-doors locked, windows up, and you are aware of your surroundings. All residences are behind security walls, barbed wire, 24/7 on site security guards(contract), alarm buttons, entry alarm systems, and safe rooms. We rarely go out at night and when we do, it is to someplace we are very familiar with and usually with a group. Women driving alone will draw the attention of very aggressive street beggars or vendors, more so than a man does. Women out and about will draw attention.

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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?

Yes, there is constant smoke in the air from the numerous trash piles being burned thru out the area. There is little or no intra-structure to deal with trash and it is very common for people to just burn what ever trash they have. There is no EPA or Clean Air Act here, vehicles have no emission standards to meet and diesel is the fuel of choice. The gasoline is leaded, so anything with a converter is burnt out in a few months of use. In the ‘dry’ season, Kinshasa can be a dusty dirty place with the amount of traffic stirring up things. In the ‘dry’ season there are fires burning everywhere, clearing fields, trash fire that get into the vegetation, careless smokers. Most buildings are concrete and block, so structural fires are not common. There allkinds of water/air borne things to affect you - ebola, HIV/AIDS. monkey pox, etc. The Congo Basin, second in size only to the Amazon, is referred to the Peti dish of the world. CDC has their Regional Headquarters across the river in Brazzaville, ROC and has a big presence in DRC. Small pox, cholera, etc. There is little or no real health care, anything serious(more than first-aid or what can be taken by Embassy med unit) is medi-vac to South Africa. Most if not all of the hospitals are poorly staffed, equipped and supplied.

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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?

Yes, there is constant smoke in the air from the numerous trash piles being burned throughout the area. There is little or no infra-structure to deal with trash, and it is very common for people to just burn what ever trash they have. There is no EPA or Clean Air Act here. Vehicles have no emission standards to meet, and diesel is the fuel of choice. The gasoline is leaded, so anything with a converter is burned out in a few months of use. In the ‘dry’ season, Kinshasa can be a dusty dirty place with the amount of traffic stirring things up. In the ‘dry’ season there are fires burning everywhere, clearing fields, trash fires that get into the vegetation, careless smokers. etc.. Most buildings are concrete and block, so structural fires are not common.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Dry season/wet season. Dusty and dirty during the dry season, hot/humid/dirty during the wet season

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

There are some programs through the schools.

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Expat Life:

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

Fair. Lots of Europeans looking to make money. Lots of NGOs and embassy employees.

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2. Morale among expats:

ranges from fair to "counting the days until the next trip out".

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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?

In home or at friends. British Club, golf course. There are lots of opportunities to meet people, dance, bar-hop (can be very expensive), house parties, social outings. There don’t seem to be any problems for singles. But I am married and we have our own social circle of friends, both married and single.

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

You make it what you can. There is enough of a social life for everyone.

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

We knew a few gay/lesbian expats, and they keep their lifestyle to themselves. This is a country where they kill people they think are witch doctors. Albino Congolese have fled the rural areas for the safety of the bigger cities.

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

This is a country just coming out of colonial rule. The Europeans still think this is the Belgian Congo. Even amongst the Congolese there are some tribal and ethnic problems.

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

Have met some great people and have seen another part of the world. Anyone who has not lived in a third-world country for a while (not visited, but lived there) needs to do so to truly understand how good they have it at home.

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

Trips on the river, picnics on sandbars, there is some limited camping places, tours of local art galleries, botanical gardens, animal preserve, reptile house. There are tours of the local brewery and glass factory, others can be sought out and arranged. DRC is not a country that comes to mind for tourism. There is the lowland gorilla preserve out in the East, but is difficult to get to and expensive. There are some guides that can take you fishing for tiger fish. Travel outside Kinshasa is limited, roads are terrible and there really aren’t that many places to go. But, make every effort to get out of the residence and take advantage of anything that gets you and out and about. Join the International Women’s Club, do all the tours offered by the CLO, use the embassy boat for trips on the river(didn’t know for a year that there were boats available for use) Ask everyone about how they spend their free time. There are a few sports facilities in Kinshasa for golf(one 18-hole course), tennis, swimming, horseback riding. A Hash Hound club has just started. The Friday nite BBQ at the British Embassy and the happy hour at the Marine House are popular with expats.

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

Artwork, wood crafts, masks.

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

There is the increased cola and hazard pay-that is not that much, all things considered. The increased cola is wiped out by the increased cost of things in DRC.Delights? This is a country coming out of years of civil war, strife, tribal genocide. The infra-structure is broke and not going to be fixed any time soon. DRC is not Paris or London. There are few ‘sights’ that are in any kind of shape, everything seems to be in a constant state of repair or is just broke. That being said, I have meet some great people here, who are all sharing the same thing and who all pulling together to make this as good an assignment as they can. We have made friendships here that will last a lifetime.

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11. Can you save money?

That depends on how much you are paid. Travel in/out is costly, supplies are costly.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. Been there, done that - don't need to do it again. Until DRC gets its internal problems fixed, it will be a third-world county on the brink of disaster.

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

winter clothes and your ideas of Kinshasa being anything like you would think of Africa. There is no "Out of Africa" here.

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3. But don't forget your:

patience -- and lots of it. Keep an open mind.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Heart of Darkness, Blood River, everything by Michea Wrong, To Katanga and Back, Chief of Station.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Congo, Blood Diamond, Tears of the Sun.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 10/16/10

Background:

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

First overseas.

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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?

Washington, DC. It's roughly 22 hours fro, there to kinshasa. Travel is mainly via Paris through Air France or via Brussels through Brussels Airlines (SN/Sabena). It is also possible to come via Dubai/Nairobi or Dubai/Addis, and that trip is around 28 hours or so. (United/Ethiopian or United/Kenyan).

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3. How long have you lived here?

3.5 years

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

Work.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments, flats, duplexes, and free-standing houses. Commutes can be brief (5 mins) or long (1 hour) depending on construction patterns. Depending on your level of bravery, you could bicycle, but it is not without risks from the road itself and the drivers.

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

Western stuff is very expensive. Plenty of stores are generally well stocked, but that can change. Diapers are amazingly expensive: something like $70 per box when I last checked. Ice cream is something like $30 for a pint or two. Vegetables purchased in the nice stores can be very expensive and poor in quality. When purchased in the local markets, tomatoes are something like 20 cents each. Pineapple varies from $1.5 to $3 each.

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

i haven't missed anything in particular.

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

Dinner is $25-60 per person, or thereabouts and depending on where and what. Lunch is $15-25 or thereabouts per person. This, of course, is for those who want to eat food for westerners. Those who wish to go the local route would get by at much less expense. There are plenty of restaurants.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Special diets will take more effort to accomodate. Vegetables are plentiful, but if you can order using internet, that's the most reliable.

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

Black flies, mosquitoes, acid flies, mango flies, but nothing unmanageable.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO or unclassified pouch. There is no local postal service. DHL also operates here, but it is very expensive.

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

Plentiful. $150-$300 per month depending on how it works out. On top of salary, you normally provide something extra for transportation and lunch. Plus you pay an end-of-year bonus equal to one month. They call it, "la gratification".

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

Yes.

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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?

i've never used any of these here. Why risk it?

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

There are various christian groups and churches. Also a synagogue. And there are mosques. I have no direct experience with any of these.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN is provided. DSTV is very nice and offers different packages, (I think at around $100/mo, but I could be off). There is local television as well: in French.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is fine. You get the most out of your experience by learning even a little lingala. I personally think it is more useful than French. But, as I say, French is fine.

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

Many, as there really are no sidewalks.

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Transportation:

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

No, no, and no.

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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?

If you stay within Gombe, any car would do, although you'd have to go very gingerly over rough spots with a low-sitting mini. Ideally, bring something with four-wheel drive and some decent clearance. There's only regular gas here, so I wouldn't bring anything requiring super. Toyota/Nissan/Land Rover are probably best bet when thinking of service needs. I have a Jeep, and a lot of folks do, but there is no Jeep dealer.

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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?

Internet is like dialup. it's $120 or so per month, and costs several hundred for start up.

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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?

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

The vet makes house calls and seems to do the right things. Our dog was bitten and injured, and the vet got him fit as a fiddle.

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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?

i think not.

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

Business casual. In public, very much whatever you like.

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Health & Safety:

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

Various scams are aimed at parting you from your money, but I worry far more about crime when I'm in the states than I do here. The shegue (street kids) can be an annoyance and can engage in petty theft, but by and large the threat they pose is easily managed.

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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?

Medical care at CMK is fine for immediate care. My son spent a few days at the hospital, and it seemed like decent care by 1950's standards. Anything really serious would require medevac.

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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?

A lot of particulate matter from cars, dust (especially in dry season), and fires (as people burn waste all the time).

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Dry and wet seasons.

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Schools & Children:

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

There's a French School, a Belgian School, American School (Tasok), a predominantly Indian School (little jewels). Tasok is far from where most people live, so if something were to happen, as in 2007, the children could spend one or two nights out there. The other schools are closer to where folks live. My experience with Little Jewels has been very positive, and it does strike me as a more rigorous education than tasok. It has American, French, and Montessori progams.

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

i do not know, but I suspect that Tasok has some special ed accommodations.

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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?

Les Oisillons, a French-based preschool. I have no direct experience. Many folks also use local domestic help to look after small children.

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

Sure. There are martial arts, horse riding, swimming, tennis, soccer, whatever.

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Expat Life:

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

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2. Morale among expats:

varies. There is a lot of whining and complaining about "the congolese" or that "there's nothing to do." People choose their morale.

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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?

Expats hang out together.

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

It's all subjective. I would not stay if my family were unhappy. We have enjoyed Kinshasa. If i were single, I would take advantage of the nightlife here. Still, a lot of people whine and complain, so it's not for everyone.

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

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

It strikes me that the prejudice tends to be americans towards congolese, rather than the other way around.

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

Fun nights out at goat bars; mountain biking; having some very hearty laughs with the locals.

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

Bicycle riding. Seeing Kisantu botanical gardens, Zongo Falls, chimpanzee preserve, lac ma vallee, river trips, reptile farm, night life. But there is nothing really in the sense of art museums, theatres, etc.

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

Cloth, statues, masks, paintings. The stuff in the markets is mass produced. But with effort you can find someone who will locate items of real interest. The "village des artistes" has some pretty neat, creative stuff going on. Furniture of decent quality can be had from a Mennonite outfit.

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

It's a unique, crazy place to be, and it gives one the opportunity to learn a lot about one self, as well as about a foreign culture.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, it's all relative. But there are many ways to save money depending on how you live and what you earn.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No question. Yes.

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

prejudices; dreams of taking safaris.

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3. But don't forget your:

open mind.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Kinshasa: the invisible city. Bradt has a guidebook to Congo in english. Jaguar and Futa have them in french. Lonely Planet has a guidebook for african health matters that's very nice. In general, the political science book, Africa Works, could help orient one's mindset.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Lumumba. But watch it several times because your understanding will change.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

i like Kinshasa, and i've had a very good time. I think life is very easy here, and there's plenty to do. I also appreciate that it is not for everyone. It can be difficult with regular power outages, regular water service interruptions, slow and frustrating services from the embassy, the cultural gap between westerners and congolese, and the absence of malls and other conveniences. If you will miss those things, or miss going to the theatre, library, or Starbucks, then this might not be a very good post for you. The driving also drives some folks nuts. There are numerous opportunities to be frustrated if you look for them -- but also many opportunities to have a good time -- again, if you look for them.

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Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo 01/21/09

Background:

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

No; Lagos, Bangkok, Addis Ababa, Dakar, and Port-au-Prince.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

Diplomat.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Total time, including transit times, can be up to 24 hours, since we must sometimes take 3 flights to get from Kinshasa to Washington, DC.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments and houses; most are within a 15-minute drive to the Chancery.

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

Very, very expensive. A case of Diet Cokes costs between US$45 and US$95, depending on the availablility; you'll pay US$10 for 3 apples and much more if you want strawberries or raspberries. There are a few local products that are cheaper, but most of the local stuff isn't all that great.

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

Lots of mosquito repellant & sunscreen; more canned food than I shipped originally.

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

No American fast food places, but there are places where one can buy a schwarma & fries; fried chicken (not very good) and pizza and it's very expensive - the cheapest I've heard about is at O Poeta, and that's US$17 for a medium-sized just-cheese pizza.

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

Lots! Malaria-carrying mosquitos; mango flies (that burrow under your -- or, more generally, your dog's -- skin); acid flies, large roaches, zillions and zillions and zillions of ants.

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic Post Office (similar to APO) or diplomatic pouch; I wouldn't use the local post offices.

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

US$10 per day for a maid, gardener or driver; you'll pay more for an experienced cook.

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

Yes, there are several; all are expensive.

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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?

Don't.

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

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

BBC in English at certain times during the day on one radio station; satellite TV from S. Africa (there's an English-language option).

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Most people here don't speak English, so you'll need to know some French. Knowing some Lingala helps too.

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

Bad roads, no sidewalks. Trying to maneuver a wheelchair on the roads would be a nightmare.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, yes. But definitely not safe. I don't think I've seen one bus or taxi that doesn't look as if it has at least one major problem (listing to one side; bald tires; engine exposed, etc.).

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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?

You can get by with a "regular" car, but I would strongly advise bringing a high-clearance SUV.

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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?

Yes; costs about US$70 per month.

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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?

There are a few cell phone companies; service is good.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Pet care is pretty good, for a Third World country. One vet makes house calls.

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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?

Don't know.

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

Same as in DC, but lighter material.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate to unhealthy - dust, sewers, fires burning trash.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Each year - none. I was required to get several immunizations before coming to Kinshasa, including yellow fever.

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

We have 24-hour guards, so I haven't heard of any break-ins. The "sheguys" (teenage & young adult males) sometimes swarm cars, to try to intimidate the occupants into giving them money.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Malaria, mostly. Kinshasa has an American nurse practitioner; Regional Medical Officer (dr.) comes through every few months.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, humid, overcast during the dry season; hot, humid & sunny during the rainy season (go figure).

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Schools & Children:

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

TASOK (The American School of Kinshasa). I've heard it's adequate, but not outstanding.

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

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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?

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

I've heard of kids taking lessons in horseback riding, tennis, swimming, dancing and gymnastics.

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Expat Life:

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

Fairly large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Seems to be pretty good.

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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?

Mostly parties, dinners at private homes, although the British Club offers a buffet every Friday night (US$15 for club members, US$20 for non-members).

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

One must make one's own fun in most Third World cities, and Kinshasa is no exception. Restaurants are expensive here, so entertaining at home is very popular. Most diplomats have yards with pools, so BBQing is big.

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

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

There don't seem to be, although when the franc congolais drops, westerners seem to be blamed, and are sometimes hassled.

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

Restaurants; a reptilarium; a few smallish markets; craft stores.

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

Kuba cloth, kuba masks, malachite beads & other objects.

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9. Can you save money?

No; everything is expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No.

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

Credit cards.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, mosquito repellant, open attitude.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If you want to come to Africa, go to a West African country where you'll see beautiful masks, beads, textiles, etc. The traders at the local markets seem to import a lot of junk from China, and mass-produce masks. Very disappointing, especially after having lived in Nigeria, where the people are inventive and creative.

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