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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of POV should I ship?

Driving in Kinshasa is an adventure. The roads are full of deep potholes and not well maintained. Consider an older model four-wheel drive with a high suspension and heavy-duty shock absorbers. Most people have "jeep" type vehicles or sport utility vehicles. High clearance is especially beneficial during rainy season when streets are often flooded. There are some people, however, who own "regular" cars and don't have too many problems. (The ride can be pretty rough though!) If you are not planning to ship a vehicle, check with the CLO for what is available for sale at post.

Are spare parts and mechanics available?

You should ship over spare parts to save yourself time and money. Spare parts are not readily available locally and can take 14 - 28 days to reach post from the States. Things like oil, tires, batteries, fuses, and filters are very handy. The GSO garage will do simple maintenance, such as oil changes that will be billed to you, but you will have to use local mechanics for any repairs or major work. There are a couple of good Belgian mechanics that are recommended. Peugeot, Renault, and Mercedes are represented locally.

Be aware that unleaded gasoline is not available in Kinshasa. (Leaded gas is available through the embassy.) You will need to have the catalytic converter removed either before or after arriving. (It will be less expensive if you have this done at post.)

How do I ship my POV?

Ship your vehicle as soon as possible. It takes about three months for it to arrive! Post recommends that you ship your POV to Antwerp by surface and onward from Antwerp to Kinshasa by air with the following markings:

American Ambassador
(Your initials)
American Embassy Kinshasa
Democratic Republic of the Congo

A U.S. Despatch Agent will ship your POV in a U.S. government-owned container. If you make your own shipping arrangements, you will be liable for any cost above the contracted embassy price. Questions regarding shipment should be directed to the Transportation Office at the State Department or to the GSO at post.

While you are awaiting the arrival of your vehicle you can use the embassy shuttle service for transportation to and from work free of charge for 30 days. After 30 working days there is a $2.70 charge each way. If you have questions regarding your POV, contact the GSO at post.

What kind of car insurance do I need?

Congo requires locally purchased liability insurance on all privately owned vehicles. Prices vary, of course, but a four-cycle economy car starts at about $180 for 12 months. You would be wise to also obtain insurance through a worldwide insurer since the claims process in Kinshasa is very slow and tedious.

What kinds of things are available locally?

Clothing, electronics, sporting goods, appliances, and general household items (like dishes and linens) are available at local stores, but quantities and choices are very limited and prices are higher than in the States. As well, stock is unpredictable, so just because an item is available today doesn't mean it will be tomorrow! Your best bet is to ship anything you anticipate needing.

Clothing, electronics, sporting goods, appliances, and general household items (like dishes and linens) are available at local stores, but quantities and choices are very limited and prices are higher than in the States. As well, stock is unpredictable, so just because an item is available today doesn't mean it will be tomorrow! Your best bet is to ship anything you anticipate needing.

What are the grocery stores like?

There are several grocery stores in Kinshasa. Most of them stock products from Belgium and South Africa as well as local fruits and vegetables. With enough patience you can find most of the basic things you need--it's just that you may have to go to four or five stores to do so! Also be advised that groceries are much more expensive than in the States.

Everyone takes advantage of the consumables allowance granted to this post, which is highly recommended. Your consumables should be marked as follows:

American Ambassador
(Your initials)
American Embassy Kinshasa
Democratic Republic of the Congo

Some of the more expensive and/or difficult to find items include paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, etc.); personal hygiene articles (toothpaste, shampoo, contact solution, shaving cream, razors, deodorant, and the like); dry foods (cereal, rice, pasta, cake mixes, baking goods); pet food and supplies; cleaning products; packaged meals; over-the-counter drugs; sunscreen; and bug repellent.

How do I get mail?

There is an APO at post with most U.S. postal services available-no overnight, obviously! Incoming mail arrives two or three times a week (depending on flight schedules) and it generally takes between 7 and 10 days for first class mail to reach post from the States. Outgoing mail usually gets to the U.S. within 10 days. Another real plus with the APO is that it provides the means to shop by catalog or via the Internet for items not locally available. Get on the catalog mailing lists of your favorite stores before leaving. You can always have mail shipped through the pouch as well; just be prepared for it to take awhile! The addresses you should use:

American Ambassador
(Your initials)
American Embassy Kinshasa
Democratic Republic of the Congo

Items shipped through the APO must conform to the following restrictions. First class and priority mail items can be no bigger than 108 inches in total dimensions. Fourth class mail items can be no bigger than 130 inches (about the size of a large computer box). No items mailed through the APO can weigh more then 70 pounds.

Can I take my Pet?

Pets are permitted into the Congo without a quarantine period, but they must be accompanied by a Certificate of Good Health that includes verification that the pet is free of ticks and has not been exposed to any contagious diseases. (Do not obtain the certificate more than fifteen days before departure from the States.)

All dogs and cats must also have a rabies certificate. An inactivated or Kelev vaccine against rabies must be done more than one month but less than twelve months before departure. If an avianzed (flury) vaccine is administered, it must be done thirty-six months prior to departure.

Don't forget to check on the "in transit" pet rules for all countries you will be connecting through to reach Kinshasa.

Remember to carry duplicate copies of all documents and be sure to notify post if you are bringing a pet.

Are there qualified local veterinarians?

There is one clinic which most in the embassy community call on exclusively. It is staffed by two European trained doctors, one Belgian and the other Congolese. The vets themselves and their staff have been described as competent and caring. Costs are reported to be comparable to or even lower than in the States.

What are other pet considerations?

The USG does not pay transportation for pets. Any costs incurred are your responsibility.

Pet supplies, including food, are very expensive in Congo. It is recommended that you bring as much as possible in your consumables shipment.

An ever-present threat in Congo is what to do during an evacuation. While post will do everything feasible to evacuate pets with their owners, time may not allow for such. This should be factored in when evaluating whether to bring a pet or not. Some US carriers have restrictions on transporting animals. Make sure you check with carrier ahead of time.

What is post housing like?

Most newly arrived personnel are assigned to permanent quarters immediately. All agencies are represented on the Joint Mission Housing Board, which assigns housing to new arrivals according to established regulations. Permanent housing is either in apartment buildings or in houses in the Gombe section of Kinshasa.

Apartments have three or four bedrooms, are air-conditioned, and generally have ample kitchen space. Houses have the advantage of space for pets and afford the opportunity to plant a tropical and/or vegetable garden, if desired. Some houses have small swimming pools, which are maintained by the occupant. (It is recommended that chlorine, a test kit, and other pool supplies be shipped from the States. Skimmers, vacuums, etc. are supplied by the Embassy.)

What should I include in my airfreight?

Consider packing every day items in your air freight shipment, which should arrive ahead of your HHE. For instance, sheets and towels, additional clothing, prescriptions, toiletries, cosmetics, extra calling cards, stationery, an address book, and alarm clock are handy to have sooner rather than later. It's also a good idea to pack some staple foods to hold you over until your consumables arrive.

GSO will provide a Welcome Kit upon arrival for you to use until your HHE arrives. Included in the Welcome Kit are basic necessities such as bedspreads, sheets, pillows, brooms, mops, iron, dishes, eating utensils, coffee pot, vacuum cleaner, pots, pans, towels, and bath cloths.

The AERWA Video Club has a wide selection of videos as well as a few televisions and VCRs for rent on a first-come, first-served basis.

What should I include in my HHE?

Household effects travel by surface to Europe, then by air to Kinshasa, and take two to four months to arrive from the U.S. Bring linens, kitchenware, glassware, plastic storage containers, silverware, china, towels and bathroom accessories. Many people include stereo equipment, hobby equipment, sports equipment, a multi-system TV and VCR or DVD system.

Do not bring irreplaceable personal possessions to post. Although most people have had no problem receiving their household effects intact, consideration should be given to taking out an extra insurance floater to cover household goods. In addition, due to periodic political instability and the military lootings that have taken place in the past, some people prefer not to bring many personal possessions or those possessions considered irreplaceable.

Do I need to ship furniture?

All quarters have government-issued furniture, drapes, and basic appliances. Every effort is made to ensure that quarters are furnished in a manner consistent with the occupant's official and personal requirements. The following items are provided: washer and dryer, stove, refrigerator, freezer, microware oven, water distiller, air conditioners for each room according to regulations, vacuum cleaner, ironing board, and standard embassy furniture (including area rugs) for living and sleeping areas.

Are basic utilities available?

The electrical system at post is 220 volt, 50 cycle. The embassy provides each residence with two transformers, but you may consider bringing more and quality surge protectors for electronic equipment. Most USG properties are equipped with generators, which automatically start in the event of a power failure.

There is limited local television programming, but cable is available if you purchase an antenna (around $400) and pay a monthly fee. There are several packages to choose from that include channels such as CNN, ESPN, and BBC. A multi-system TV and VCR or DVD system are recommended.

Water service is fairly reliable, but water pressure is usually low. Do not consume the local water! Each residence is equipped with a water distiller.

Are there telephone/Internet services?

Local telephonic communication is very poor; in fact, there is no local or long distance service available in the any of the embassy residences. Emergency radios are issued to all embassy personnel and cellular phones depending upon availability. There is an IVG line available at the embassy, so you may want to stock up on pre-paid phone cards to make long-distance calls. You can also use the call back service from your cell phone.

Internet access is available, but very expensive and unreliable. Current prices are around $1,275 for the initial "hook-up and equipment" (laptops are $125 more) and then $130/month. If you are considering bringing a computer for on-line purposes, it is not recommended. There is an Internet connection at the Embassy that you can use for personal business. You will have e-mail privileges at your desk at work.

Should I be concerned about security?

Personal security is a concern at post. As in any big city, there are incidents that occur, but one can avoid most problems with caution and prudence. Post advises all embassy personnel, including spouses, to carry the issued hand-held emergency radio at all times and post security guidelines dictate that all Mission homes are enclosed by walls and that the gates be staffed by security sentinels 24 hours per day.

Everyone assigned to Kinshasa is advised to complete the Security Overseas Seminar before arrival.

What is the weather like?

The climate in Kinshasa is warm and tropical. During the dry season (May - September) temperatures range from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with low humidity, and in the rainy season (October - April) temperatures fluctuate between 85 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. During the rainy season there is also the possibility of sudden and sometimes violent thunderstorms. The climate is perfect for mosquitoes and sunburns so bring lots of sunscreen and bug repellent.

What kind of clothing should I bring?

Low maintenance, loose fitting cotton clothing is appropriate year-round. A long sleeve shirt or a light sweater is necessary at times. Dress is generally "smart casual," although there is usually one black-tie affair during the year, the Marine Corps Ball, which is held in November.

At the Embassy men generally wear a suit or jacket and tie. Women wear lightweight dresses or pantsuits. Although dry-cleaning service is available, it is very expensive and not always reliable. People have complained of lost and damaged clothing. Try to bring clothes that can be washed by hand or purchase the "dry cleaning" sheets that can be used in the dryer.

Don't forget to bring bathing suits, sportswear, and a raincoat or umbrella. They will get a lot of use! And remember to pack some cold-weather clothing if you plan to R&R where it's cooler.

What kinds of activities are available?

People participate in a variety of recreational activities including, but certainly not limited to, tennis, swimming, golf, horseback riding, softball, basketball, darts, and aerobics. Membership in a private clubs is necessary for some activities, but not all. There are several private clubs in Kinshasa including the Belgian-run Cercle Elaeis, the Cercle Hippique du Kinshasa, the International Welfare and Recreation Association (IRWA), and the Cercle du Kinshasa, which offer these and other activities. Some people consider the membership fees high.

AERWA operates a video rental club, which receives new movies on a regular basis, and offers a mail order consumables service from a company in South Africa. Membership is $100 and is fully refundable when you leave post.

The International Women's Club, which meets monthly, is also open to new members and offers a variety of activities. There is a library club that offers free rental of books and movies with paid membership.

The embassy has a membership at a local nautical club and allows mission personnel to rent the boat on weekends for personal use on a first come/first serve basis. (Renters are responsible for all associated costs.)

The embassy also owns a compound on the outskirts of Kinshasa called Binza La Belle that offers a swimming pool, tennis court, and picnic tables for use free of charge.

What is the nightlife like?

The nightlife in Kinshasa is quite active. There are numerous restaurants of varied cuisine and price (although even the most inexpensive might be considered pricey when compared to the U.S.), dance clubs, bars where local musicians perform, and a movie theater. Home entertainment such as dinners, small parties, and card games are also popular. Other cultural events including local dance shows and art exhibits occur from time to time as well.

What health issues should I consider?

Because malaria is common in Kinshasa, is it imperative that you start taking mefloquin or doxycycline prophylaxis two weeks prior to your arrival; you will then continue taking them on a weekly basis. (These are available at the Health Unit.)

Make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date. You cannot enter Congo without the yellow fever vaccination. Tetanus/diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, polio and MMR immunizations are also required, but can be received once you arrive if necessary. Rabies and meningitis are recommended.

Before departing for post it is also in your best interest to have a dental check-up and to take care of any fillings or other work that needs to be done. Such care is available on very limited basis here.

In the case of medical or dental emergencies, persons are generally evacuated to South Africa.

Do not consume the local water! Each residence is equipped with a water distiller.

Contact the Health Unit for more information.

Are there local pharmacies?

Some prescription drugs can be obtained at local pharmacies, but, again, are probably much more expensive than in the U.S. The Health Unit, which is staffed by a full-time health practitioner, nurse, and lab technician, also maintains a limited supply of medication. If you take specific medication, bring an ample supply with you.

What currency is used locally?

The Congolese Franc, not to be confused with Belgian, French or CFA Francs, is the local currency. You can obtain Congolese Francs at the Embassy cashier by cashing checks drawn on your US accounts. It is now legal to use dollars for transactions in Congo.

What documents do I need to enter Congo?

A visa and proof of a yellow fever vaccination are required for entry; airport visas can be very difficult to obtain. Start working on your visas as soon as possible.

If you have a visa or entry stamps for Rwanda, Burundi, or Uganda in your passport, contact the RSO as soon as possible.