Destination Guides


Democratic Republic of the Congo


General   Money   Entry Requirements   Health & safety   Weather   Embassies   Etiquette   Public Holidays   Attractions   Map  

Introduction

Virunga ©Cai Tjeenk Willink

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been inhabited by people for almost 90,000 years. It is home to fascinating biodiversity and dramatic vistas, as well as a complex history involving Bantu kings, slavers, colonisers, dictators, and conservationists.


Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the DRC, is situated on the banks of the Congo River - opposite Brazzaville, capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo. The Congo River, made famous by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley, runs across the north of the country and remains an important transportation artery into the country's impenetrable interior - the roads and railway built by the Belgium colonial regime have long-since been reclaimed the by the jungle. Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the DRC, is situated on the banks of the Congo River - opposite Brazzaville, capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo. The Congo River, made famous by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley, runs across the north of the country and remains an important transportation artery into the country's impenetrable interior - the roads and railway built by the Belgium colonial regime have long-since been reclaimed the by the jungle.


Everyday life in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be extremely chaotic. This vast country (the third largest on the continent) currently exists in a state of fragile peace after decades of civil war. However, this peace has come at the cost of a functioning democracy with current president, Joseph Kabila, thwarting attempts at a new democratic election; as a result, clashes between police and protesters can break out. Despite these tensions international investors are slowly returning to the country, drawn by its enormous mineral wealth.


Tourists are also trickling back. Most are drawn to the Virunga National Park in the far east of the country, one of the few places where you can still find mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Bordering Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga was established in 1925 as Africa's first national park. Most of the DRC is off limits for mainstream tourism; however, businessmen, diplomats, aid workers and others with essential business are well-catered for in some good hotels and restaurants, chiefly in Kinshasa's affluent Gombe district.


Communications

The international dialling code for the DRC is +243 and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). International direct dialling is available. Domestic telephone connections are unreliable. There are GSM 900 and 1800 networks with variable coverage and roaming agreements covering Kinshasa. There are some internet cafes in Kinshasa, but power failures can be a problem.


Emergencies

There is no standard emergency number in the DRC. It is best to look up the contact details of local authorities and embassies in specific cities.


Languages Spoken

French is the official language, but Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo and Tshiluba are also spoken.


Duty Free

Visitors to the DRC may import 100 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; one bottle of alcohol; perfume for personal use and a camera to be used for touristic purposes, without paying customs duty.


Electricity

Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Various plugs are in use, but two-pin attachment plugs and round pin plugs with grounding are common.


Climate Info

The DRC straddles the equator and therefore experiences a tropical climate. South of the equator there are frequent, heavy rains between October and May, and north of the equator the rain falls between April and November. The eastern highlands have a more temperate climate, while the southern highlands are alpine. In the low, central basin average annual temperatures are around 77°F (25°C), while at the higher altitudes the temperatures hover around 68°F (20°C). The average annual rainfall in Kinshasa is 56 inches (1,422mm).


Passport

All foreigners entering the DRC require a visa obtained in advance, as well as a yellow fever vaccination certificate. If there is no diplomatic representation in the country of origin, visas will only be granted on-arrival to passengers holding a pre-notification letter issued by the Direction Generale de Migration (DGM) officials. Visas issued by any country other than the home country of the traveller may be refused, unless there is no representation in the home country. Documents and tickets for return or onward travel are required. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


Entry Requirements

US nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

British nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

Canadian nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

Australian nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

South African nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

Irish nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for the duration of intended stay, and a visa, to enter the DRC.

Health

Yellow fever vaccination is a requirement for entry for everyone over one year old, and vaccinations against cholera, meningitis, typhoid and polio are highly recommended. Large numbers of cases of acute watery diarrhoea syndrome have been reported in North Kivu province (east DRC) since September 2008. In many instances these have been fatal. In areas of poor sanitation it is not advisable to drink water unless it has been treated by boiling and filtration or with a chemical purifier. There is a significant malaria risk throughout the country, and advice should be sought in advance about preventive measures. HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Rabies is common to the DRC, and monkeypox occurs, which is a virus usually transmitted to humans from infected ground squirrels and rodents. Regular outbreaks of pneumonic plague also occur, particularly in the district of Ituri, and is fatal if left untreated. An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus occurred in September 2007 and again in July 2012.


The Centre Prive d'Urgence (CPU) clinic in Kinshasa is able to cope with basic health problems and to stabilise a patient after serious accidents. However, medical evacuation to South Africa (or elsewhere) would be advised as soon as possible. Outside Kinshasa, western standard medical facilities are practically non-existent. Visitors are advised to take their own basic medical supplies with them, as medicines are in short supply. Medical insurance with provision for emergency air evacuation is essential for visitors. All water should be regarded as contaminated, and milk is unpasteurised, therefore consume only imported bottled water and avoid dairy products.


Safety

The east and north east of the DRC can be insecure and travellers should be cautious if travel to the region is necessary, particularly near the borders with Uganda and Rwanda. There is a high level of street crime and armed robbery, particularly in Kinshasa, where armed gangs or criminals posing as plain-clothes policemen regularly attack foreigners.


Security officials have also been known to arrest foreigners and demand payment for their release. Do not display valuables on your person, walk the streets alone, or carry large amounts of money, and keep car doors and windows locked. Demonstrations and political gatherings should be avoided. Boats and ferries are poorly maintained and have low safety standards.


Emergency Phone Number

There is no standard emergency number in the DRC. It is best to look up the contact details of local authorities and embassies in specific cities.



* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov

Money

The official currency is the Congolese Franc (CDF). Credit cards and ATM facilities are very limited and usually only in Kinshasa. It is best to take US dollars in hard currency. Banks are closed on weekends and credit cards cannot be used to obtain cash advances. Currency denominations and exchange rates can change at short notice.


Exchange Rate

Not available.

Embassies of Democratic Republic of the Congo

Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 234 7690.


Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7580 3931.


Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 230 6391.


Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 344 6475/6.




Foreign Embassies in Democratic Republic of the Congo

United States Embassy, Kinshasa: +243 81 556 0151.


British Embassy, Kinshasa: +243 81 715 0761.


Canadian Embassy, Kinshasa (also responsible for Australia): +243 89 895 0310.


South African Embassy, Kinshasa: +243 81 700 5414.


Irish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for DRC): +27 12 342 5062.


Customers

Photography is technically illegal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo without a permit. Even with a permit though, one must never take photos of police or military personnel, official buildings or motorcades. The Congolese may get very upset if you take pictures of them, or their children, without permission. At 6am and 6pm the national flag is raised and lowered, and all traffic and pedestrians are expected to stop for this ceremony, as well as for any official motorcade.


Business

By rights, the Democratic Republic of Congo should be one of Africa's richest countries owing to to its abundance of natural resources, yet it has suffered from corrupt leadership and extensive civil war; however its biodiversity, abundant natural resources, and agricultural potential offer many opportunities for foreign investment. Some key areas with potential for investment include mining, oil, energy, fishery, timber, railroads and telecoms.


The business community in the DRC is still developing, and the country is currently ranked among the most difficult for ease of doing business. Travellers must ensure business is conducted with the correct (legal) establishments, and it is crucial to work with a local attorney in order to avoid mistakes caused by unfair competition, scams, or simple ignorance. Most foreign investors will find that a good deal of homework combined with respect for the local culture will make them welcome in the DRC.


The principal language used is French, and interpreters are available. It is important to establish a good personal relationship with business connections, as these relationships are often given preferential treatment. Business tends to be formal: men wear light suits while women should avoid trousers. Formal suits and ties are generally worn only when meeting dignitaries or government officials. Business hours are usually 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday, closing at 12pm on Saturdays.


Tipping

A 10 percent service charge is included in restaurant and hotel bills and further tipping is unnecessary. In general, tipping ( Mahtabish, meaning 'something extra') is expected.


Public Holidays in Democratic Republic of the Congo

20172018
Education Day30 Apr30 Apr
New Years Day1 Jan1 Jan
Martyrs of Independence Day4 Jan4 Jan
Anniversary of President Laurent Kabila’s Assassination16 Jan16 Jan
May Day1 May1 May
Liberation Day17 May17 May
Independence Day30 Jun30 Jun
Parents Day1 Aug1 Aug
Christmas Day25 Dec25 Dec
Anniversary of PM Patrice Emery Lumumba’s Assassination17 Jan17 Jan

Overview

There is no denying that the Democratic Republic of Congo can pose dangers for tourists, however the natural splendour of the country continues to seduce adventurous travellers seeking excitement off the grid. The DRC has the potential to be one of the most appealing destinations in Africa: with virgin rainforest, active volcanoes, the mighty Congo River, Lake Kivu and a wealth of wildlife - including the sought after mountain gorillas. Travellers tend to fly into Kinshasa to enjoy the city's nightlife and explore the Congo River and surrounds, or to duck across the Rwandan border into Goma, which is the gateway to the wonders of Lake Kivu, Mount Nyiragongo and Virunga National Park. Much of the country is inaccessible to tourists and in such a state of disrepair and turmoil that it is best avoided. The transport networks are notoriously unreliable and dangerous and most visitors arrange their trips through tour operators. Signs are hopeful that the country will become more accessible and safer for visitors in the future.


Map of Democratic Republic of the Congo



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