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Congo - Kinshasa
Preface Last Updated: 11/19/2004 12:02 AM

An assignment to the Democratic Republic of the Congo offers an opportunity to live and work in the third largest country on the African continent; a country most renowned for its river, the Congo, and for its abundance and diversity of natural resources.

The U.S. has maintained generally friendly relations with Congo throughout the political upheavals of the ’90s, including a successful rebellion against long-time dictator Joseph Mobutu by Laurent D. Kabila. Under Kabila’s rule, the country’s name was changed from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). President Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and was succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila.

With the institution of a government of national unity and transition in 2003, the DRC emerged from war and began a two-year process of preparing for the country's first democratic elections in over 40 years. These elections are scheduled for the summer of 2005, and in the interim the former combatants have been trying to maintain peace, repair the social infrastructure severely damaged in the war, and reenergize the economy.

Although one of the largest Embassies in the Foreign Service at one time, the military mutinies and pillaging throughout the ’90s forced U.S. Embassy Kinshasa to reduce diplomatic representation drastically. With peace largely restored throughout the Congo, and access to the entire country possible, in 2002 the Embassy resumed assigning families with children. At present, there are over 50 direct-hire Americans with 17 children at post.

Because the DRC experiences frequent changes in economics, politics, and/or the military, please review the Consular Information Sheet, as well as this Post Report, for the most current view of the situation.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 5/11/2004 4:55 AM

The Democratic Republic of the Congo straddles the equator in the heart of central Africa and shares a border with nine other countries: the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. Congo has access to the Atlantic Ocean on the west through a strip of territory that narrows to 13 miles wide at the coast. Its area includes the greater part of the Congo River Basin and covers 1,465,553 square miles-about the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.

The Congo River is 2,900 miles long and is the second largest in the world in terms of area drained, flow, and navigable length. With its tributaries, the river provides Congo with about 9,000 miles of navigable waterways, and its force affords Congo 13% of the world’s hydroelectric power potential. With the country’s abundance of natural resources—which include copper, cobalt, zinc, industrial—and gem-quality diamonds, manganese, tin, crude oil, and gold—Congo is potentially one of the richest countries in the world. The geographical features of this giant African nation are handsome and varied. The huge Congo Basin, a low-lying, bowl-shaped plateau sloping toward the west, is covered by lush, tropical rain forests. Surrounding the basin are mountainous terraces on the west, plateaus merging into savannas to the south and southeast, and dense grasslands toward the northwest. The high picturesque Ruwenzori Mountains bound the basin to the east.

Although the country’s capital, Kinshasa, is only four degrees south of the equator, temperatures are generally moderate. In January, the average daily high is 100 ºF and the low is 80 ºF. In July, the range is from 95 ºF to 75 ºF. The rainy season for Kinshasa and for the two-thirds of the country below the equator lasts from October to May. Despite its dreary sound, the rainy season is not unpleasant. Except for perhaps one rainstorm every few days, lasting anywhere from one to two hours, the skies are usually blue and sunny. In contrast, the dry season, though not yielding any rain, is characterized by overcast and cooler days.

Population Last Updated: 5/11/2004 5:09 AM

Like many African countries, Congo is an ethnic mosaic. The great majority of Congolese are descendants of the Bantu, who are thought to have begun migrating around 100 B.C. from the region that is now Cameroon and eastern Nigeria. The balance of the African population consists of Sudanic people living along Congo’s northern border with the Central African Republic and Sudan; Nilotic peoples, concentrated in the rugged and scenic eastern highlands neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi; and about 80,000 Pygmies. The Pygmies, a celebrated people preserving all their mysteries, are sheltered by the Ituri Forest in northeastern Congo.

Most of this large country is sparsely populated—about twenty inhabitants per square mile. Congo’s total population is an estimated 56 million, including some 15,200 Europeans. Kinshasa itself has grown considerably since independence and now has approximately 6.5 million residents. The American community numbers about 250 in Kinshasa and 400 countrywide.

Currently, there are about 250 languages and dialects spoken throughout Congo. French, the primary language used within the Government, the formal business sector, and most educational institutions, was introduced by the Belgians and is spoken countrywide by the educated. The four other officially recognized indigenous languages are Lingala, the commercial language commonly used in Kinshasa, along the rivers, and in popular music; Kingwana or Kiswahili, spoken in the northeast, east and north; Kikongo, spoken west of Kinshasa; and Tshiluba, spoken in south central Congo. Most members of the military speak Katangese or Kiswahili, which can sometimes lead to difficulties when trying to negotiate passage through a roadblock or during traffic stops that occur while the presidential motorcade is passing.

The adult literacy rate is about 65.5% in a local language and approximately 30% in French.

About 75% of Congolese are Christian. Roughly half of these are Roman Catholic, a quarter Protestant, and the rest are members of independent Congolese churches, the largest of which is the Kimbanguist Church.

Approximately 5% of the population, mostly in the northeast, is Moslem. Much of the population practices aspects of traditional religions, especially animism—a belief in ancestral spirits and the power of sorcery and witchcraft.

Fourty-nine years is the average life expectancy and real per capita annual income is under $100.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:34 PM

Laurent Désiré Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) assumed control of the Government on May 17, 1997, following a military campaign that crossed the country in seven months. Kabila’s takeover and the establishment of the new Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was generally well received by the Congolese population, which was eager to see a change from the rule of Mobutu and his political class.

Despite Kabila’s promise to lead the country toward democracy, progress has been made haltingly. In his May 1997 inaugural address, President Kabila announced a calendar for implementing national elections. These elections, which were to take place on May 17, 1999, have been forestalled by the war. The implementation of the National Dialogue and Lusaka Peace Accords, which were to help bring about an end to the war, have both experienced delays. Kabila continued to rule the country by presidential decree until his death in January 2001.

Congo’s regional role has been seriously undermined by the state of war, which has pitted the Government and its allies (Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia) against rebel forces supported and assisted by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. Despite U.S. efforts to promote regional peace, relations with the Congolese Government have been characterized by suspicion.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:36 PM

The educational system in Congo has gone through many changes. The Government-subsidized mission schools of the ’60s were nationalized in 1974, but eventually a number of them reverted back to the direction of the churches.

The University of Lubumbashi is perhaps the most vibrant university. Universities in Bukavu and Kisingani are continuing to operate under rebel control, and the University of Kinshasa (Unikin) struggles to maintain credible standards. The private universities of Catholic faculties in Kinshasa and the Protestant University employ Unikin professors and are doing well. Government journalism and art schools have limited cohesion and success.

The deteriorating economy, coupled with school closures, has taken a heavy toll on the quality, availability, and accessibility of education in Congo. Teachers’ salaries, even at the university level, rarely exceed the equivalent of $5 a month, and often are unpaid for four or five months at a time. Most schools lack basic supplies and libraries have empty shelves. Students must pay tuition at both public and private institutions.

The Academie des Beaux Arts and the College Boboto both display fine examples of Congolese paintings, sculptures, and woodwork. Je Gagne Ma Vie (a self-help project operated by the disabled) also offers local handicrafts. The Ivory Market in the city’s center has a complete array of African sculpture in wood, tin, bronze, copper, and ivory. Ivory and malachite jewelry, as well as African fetishes (figures which have a mystic or religious significance), funerary sculpture, ceremonial masks, and other items can be found there.

Street vendors are plentiful throughout Kinshasa as another source of African wares.

For the serious art collector, there are authentic tribal pieces available at relatively inexpensive prices through reputable local dealers.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:39 PM

The Congolese economy has been in decline for more than 15 years; total output today is less than half as much as it was in 1990. A recently launched reform program has the potential to reverse this trend, but its success is not assured; there have been numerous occasions in the past when hopes for a turnaround in the Congolese economy were disappointed. If all goes well, the World Bank will begin a major lending program in 2002, and restructuring of state enterprises, rehabilitation of infrastructure, and reform of regulatory institutions will attract investors and restore economic growth.

However, the current situation is grim. The outbreak of war in August 1998 caused a major decline in economic activity that continues to the present. The country has been divided into Rwandan/Ugandan/rebel-occupied areas and government-administered territories, and commerce between them has been stopped. The economic and commercial links among the various sections of the country are not strong, but they are important. Several Kinshasa-based industries, such as palm oil processing, cigarette making, and natural rubber and wood exporting, depend, at least in part, on raw materials that are transported down the river from Equateur and Orientale provinces. These areas are also important food suppliers for the Kinshasa market. Similarly, the Kasais and Katanga depend on foods produced in the Kivus and Maniema, areas under rebel control. Efforts to reopen commercial links are under way and could provide a substantial peace dividend for the Congolese economy.

Difficult to manage in peacetime, the government’s finances have become next to impossible under wartime conditions. Customs revenues have declined considerably due to falling imports in western Congo and lack of any access to revenues in the areas currently occupied by Rwanda and Uganda and their Congolese rebel allies. Declining business activity has also damaged revenues from internal taxes. Unpaid government bills have accumulated to the point that some businesses have been forced to close. The economic reform program requires the government to operate on a cash basis.

The institutionalized corruption of the Mobutu regime created a dual economy. Individuals and business in the “formal” sector—both private- and publicly-owned—operated with high costs under arbitrarily enforced laws, maintained two sets of books, and often engaged corrupt officials to obtain commercial advantage or simply to continue operations. In the “informal” or “parallel” economy, operators sought to evade taxes and regulations altogether.

During the 1990s, administrative and physical pillage of the formal business sector by the Mobutu regime increased, and the informal sector became increasingly important. The parallel economy was estimated in the early 1990s to be three times the size of official GDP; it is now undoubtedly even larger. With the exception of a few multinationals, the difference between “formal” and “informal” enterprises in the Congo is one of degree. Nearly all businesses conduct part of their operations in both spheres.

Congo’s economy is primarily agriculturally based, but mining generates the bulk of the DRC’s export earnings. Southern Katanga contains some of the world’s richest copper and cobalt deposits. Zinc, tin, columbium-tantalum, niobium, germanium, cadmium, manganese, uranium, and several other rare materials have been mined in southern and eastern Congo. Central Congo until recently was one of the world’s leading producers of industrial diamonds, and gold deposits have been found in western and northeastern Congo.

Congo’s crude oil production is minor compared to other sub-Saharan African oil producers, but output from its small offshore fields remained steady during the 1990s and served as the most reliable source of government revenues. Production, primarily by U.S.-owned Chevron, is approximately 22,000 barrels per day.

Until the post-1990 collapse, Congo’s manufacturing base was more substantial than that of most sub-Saharan countries. Production, concentrated in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, included textiles, auto assembly, beverages, soap, plastics, food processing, shoes, tires, batteries, and other consumer goods. Many agroindustrial enterprises were vertically integrated, processing local plantation production. But the high cost of local production, the influence of large trading houses, and corruption in the revenue services have often favored imports.


Automobiles Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:43 PM

Having a personally owned vehicle is recommended. A few Embassy apartments are within walking distance to the Chancery, but most U.S. Government-provided housing is not. Post transportation policy allows Government vehicles to be used for home-to-work travel while awaiting arrival of a personally owned vehicle. (After 30 days there is a per trip fee.) There are no automobile rental companies in Kinshasa.

Driving is on the right and international road symbols are used. Defensive driving, which is always a good idea, is an absolute necessity in Kinshasa due to the adverse road conditions, careless pedestrians, erratic drivers, and overcrowded arteries. Wearing a seat belt is strongly recommended whenever traveling in a vehicle.

Kinshasa’s main intersections are sometimes manned by gendarmes during rush hours. When the policeman’s arm is raised, this signals caution and corresponds to a yellow light. If the gendarme is full front or back, it means stop. When a gendarme’s arms are spread parallel with the flow of traffic, this means go, corresponding to a green light.

Outside Kinshasa roads are generally in terrible condition and are usually gravel or dirt surfaced, so four-wheel-drive vehicles are necessary. Because of deep potholes and the torrential downpours which cause pools of deep standing water, many people prefer a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle, even in town.

Vehicles cannot be cleared until your arrival at post and, therefore, vehicles should not be shipped without prior consultation with the Administrative Counselor or GSO. Vehicles are shipped through Antwerp and flown into Kinshasa. When transiting Antwerp, vehicles should be marked and routed as household effects.

Vehicles take anywhere from one to three months to reach Congo. Be sure to bring the invoice, bill of sale, and any related documents. These are necessary for both customs clearance and resale.

Good used cars are sometimes available from departing employees, but cost is usually close to the original purchase price. The demand for used cars is high, and employees have little trouble selling their cars before leaving post. Cars over five years old require re-export documentation after arrival. A special exoneration is required to sell in Congo.

Currently, several companies sell and service automobiles in Kinshasa. They include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jeep, Toyota, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot, and British Leyland. Bear in mind that the prices at these dealerships are normally well above those paid elsewhere.

The Embassy contracts with a competent local garage, which is also available for private auto maintenance. Regardless of the type of vehicle brought to post, be sure to pack a supply of spare parts, particularly high-wear items. A good supply of tune-up kits, filters, spark plugs, headlights, and fuses is recommended, as are extra sets of keys. Leftover spare parts can generally be sold.

Vehicles do not require any special equipment, although some people choose to install heavy-duty shock absorbers prior to arrival.

Only leaded gasoline is available in Congo. If possible, adjust the car’s engine to run on regular gasoline prior to shipment. (After securing the proper papers from shipping, catalytic converters can be legally removed in the U.S. at garages like Midas, etc. Catalytic converters can also be removed by garages in Kinshasa.) Otherwise, a heavy-duty fuel filter can be installed between the gas tank and the fuel pump—this is a must with diesel engines. Remember to bring replacement filters. Autos equipped with computerized fuel mixture controls (PROMs) must have the controls changed to operate on leaded gasoline when coming to Kinshasa.

Remove hubcaps, radios, tape players, radio antennas, cigarette lighters, ashtrays, gearshift knobs, etc. before shipping. Vandalism and theft can occur in the U.S. prior to containerization.

A second car can be shipped at the employee’s expense and may also be sold for no more than the purchase price plus the shipping cost.

U.S. drivers’ licenses are valid for driving in Congo, although it is recommended that a Congolese or international license be obtained as well.

All drivers must carry local liability insurance. The cost is about $150–$400 per year, depending on car size. Collision and comprehensive insurance should be purchased through an American firm since the Congolese claim service is extremely slow and premiums are high by U.S. standards.

From time to time, Congo has gasoline and diesel shortages resulting in long lines at local gas stations, at times lasting several days. The Embassy maintains its own gas pump at the JAO compound, which usually prevents any such problems for official American personnel.

Parking. Secure parking is available free of charge at all USG residences and office buildings.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:43 PM

Public transportation facilities are overcrowded, unreliable, unsafe, and, therefore, never used by American personnel or their dependents.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:43 PM

Long distance travel within Congo is usually by air, after obtaining proper documents from the Congolese Government. Most principal towns are served by a variety of local air companies of varying reliability. Flights between Kinshasa and a number of other points in Congo are limited and sporadic. Internal flights frequently depart late and are sometimes canceled without notice.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:44 PM

Communication from Congo is extremely difficult. Most U.S. Government-provided residences do not have hard-wired telephones due to the poor maintenance and disrepair of local landlines. As a result, cellular telephones are considered vital security equipment and are issued to Embassy personnel and to adult dependents. Cellular service is generally reliable, but can be erratic due to microwave interference and poor maintenance.

Mission employees are also issued radios for security purposes, which provide direct communication with the Embassy switchboard and the Marine Security Guard Post One. Radios, not cellular phones, are the primary means of emergency communication.

Calls can be made using a prepaid calling card on the Embassy’s IVG line or the worldwide callback service from a cellular telephone.

The international telegraph service is unreliable and is frequently disrupted.

Internet Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:44 PM

There are three Internet providers in Kinshasa. Two use unreliable land and cellular connections and one uses a satellite connection. All are expensive and connections are often slow.

The Public Diplomacy Section has a satellite antenna and has made an extension available at the chancery for employees and dependents to use for personal business. This, coupled with the APO privilege, offers the opportunity to shop on-line for items excessively priced or unavailable in Kinshasa.

The two major hotels in town have connections for guests to use.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:45 PM

APO service is available at the Embassy. Mail arrives five times a week from, and departs three times a week to, New York via Europe, depending on flight schedules. The APO handles airmail; first, second, third, and fourth class mail; and parcel post. Stamps can be purchased in a variety of denominations from $.01 to $5. Payment must be made in U.S. cash or personal check.

The APO mailing address is:

Unit 31550
APO AE 09828

Mail coming directly from Europe will be delivered faster if addressed as follows:

American Embassy
APO AE 09828
6000 Frankfurt, Germany

Unclassified pouch mail is usually delivered once a week and classified once every two weeks. The pouch address is:

Department of State
2220 Kinshasa Place
Washington, D.C. 20521–2220

Kinshasa does have an international post office, which is located downtown; however, the local mail service is unreliable and not recommended for sending or receiving mail.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:46 PM

Radio reception in Kinshasa is fair to good. RTNC (National Radio and Television of Congo) is the Government-controlled broadcast network in Congo, and it broadcasts in FM. These broadcasts are in French and local languages. RFI from Brazzaville and Africa Number One from Libreville are available on FM. Listeners who own shortwave radios enjoy international broadcasts, such as VOA, BBC, and Deutsche-Welle.

Local TV programming is in color, but reception is poor and at times inaudible because of lack of equipment upkeep. In addition to the Government-owned RTNC, there are several private stations: RAGA, TKM, Canal Kin, and Antenne All broadcasts are in French and local languages, mostly showing news, features, and film documentaries.

Antenne A and RAGA also sell decoders that provide subscribers with additional channels (French TV-5, a European movie channel, South African sports channels, Arabsat, International ESPN, and CNN).

Several Embassy residences have satellite dishes that receive CNN and other foreign channels.

A multi-system TV and VCR are recommended.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:47 PM

A small selection of Western magazines and the International Herald Tribune (only slightly delayed) can be purchased at either of the two major hotels. Some magazines are available from street vendors as well. Several sections of the Embassy subscribe to the IHT, published in Paris, which may arrive at post several at a time, 2–7 days late, and multiple editions at once.

The APO provides the option of subscribing to papers and magazines, which will arrive with the usual delays.

The Embassy publishes a newsletter to keep the community abreast of community news and CLO activities, job opportunities, etc.

The independent Congolese press which blossomed following the April 1990 announcement of the country’s transition to a multiparty system has seen dozens of papers come and go in Kinshasa. The local press is free, but many characterize the writing as irresponsible, often biased, and rarely accurate. Many papers publish criticism of the president, government officials, and other politicians, while others blithely carry articles written by the Congolese Government. Many “dailies” publish twice a week and others publish only when newsprint and ink are available.

There are very few books available in Kinshasa and those for sale in English are outrageously expensive. Bring books to post or order them from book clubs or catalogs through the APO.

The Library Club of Kinshasa, located on The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) campus stocks a varied selection of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books in English. Embassy employees and their dependents are eligible to become members for a fee.

The American Cultural Center library collection focuses on targeted topics such as governance, business management, etc.

Embassy personnel and dependents are also welcome to use the CLO library, which has a rotating stock of books and magazines.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:50 PM

The Embassy Health Unit is staffed by a Foreign Service Health Practitioner (FSHP), a Registered Nurse (RN), and a Medical Technologist. The Health Unit’s services are available for all U.S. Government employees and dependents covered under the State Department Medical Program, and all U.S. contract personnel whose contracts specify such services. The Health Unit has two examining rooms, a minor surgery/trauma room, and a small pharmacy.

Local hospitals do not meet American standards. Although some have modern equipment and well-trained local physicians, they lack well-trained nursing and support staff, and frequently lack necessary medical supplies and medications. There is one private clinic that specializes in emergency care. It is most likely to have needed supplies.

All serious or complicated medical cases and elective surgical cases are referred to the nearest adequate medical facility, usually in South Africa. Those patients electing to return to the U.S. may do so on a cost-constructive basis.

Maternity patients are encouraged to return to the U.S., at Government expense, but may elect to deliver in Europe or South Africa. Maternity patients are strongly advised not to deliver in Congo.

Some medical conditions, subject to MED approval, will require evacuation to the U.S. at U.S. Government expense. Local physicians, very few of them expatriates or Western-trained, are available for consultations and emergency care.

The Health Unit endorses a “walking blood bank” program. All U.S. Government employees and dependents are screened and, if approved, listed as a potential donor to be contacted if the need arises for a specific blood type within the Embassy community.

Prescription eyeglasses can be made locally, but the selection of frames is limited and delivery is slow. Some lenses must be ordered from Europe, but costs are high. It is much better to bring extra eyeglasses, contact lenses, and any necessary solutions to post.

There are some capable expatriate and local dentists, and dental care is reasonably priced. Serious dental problems may require evacuation to South Africa. Plan to have a dental exam and any needed work prior to coming to post.

For further specific information on any aspect of medical care, contact the FSHP, American Embassy, Kinshasa.

Community Health Last Updated: 12/16/2003 1:53 PM

Sanitation at most American residences in Kinshasa is good, but it is still prudent to take precautions. Tap water is not potable and must be distilled, or filtered and boiled, before consumption. Residences are provided with distillers. Garbage collection is not always adequate and sanitation throughout the city is very poor. Insecticides to combat pests should be brought to post as purchasing locally is costly.

The most prevalent medical problems in the local population are malaria, intestinal parasites, tuberculosis, and upper respiratory diseases. Sand fleas (also called chiggers), which embed themselves in the skin, are common as well and can be treated by medical personnel.

The AIDS situation is more serious here than in the U.S. and adequate protection is advised for all sexual contact.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 12/16/2003 2:16 PM

Post's own Health Information book, updated annually, provides advice on preventive measures, as well as information on local resources. Following the book's guidelines should make for a healthy stay in Congo.

Locally purchased fruits and vegetables should be peeled or cooked before eating. Embassy Kinshasa recommends bleach purification for raw fruits and vegetables.

Immunization against yellow fever, tetanus, poliomyelitis, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, meningococcus, and the usual children’s diseases are recommended before arrival. Immunizations are also given at the Health Unit.

Bring long-term personal medication and a good supply of aspirins, vitamins, and Band-Aids to post. Prescription medication can be ordered from the U.S. through the APO, but it is recommended that employees arrive at post with a plentiful supply on hand.

Stress-related symptoms are common in the American community. Culture shock, political uncertainties, and relatively limited recreational possibilities contribute to this. Prepare an active stress management program ahead of time. Bring books, music, indoor exercise equipment or aerobics videos, a few favorite items, and supplies needed for special hobbies. Be aware that smoking and excessive use of alcohol contribute to health problems.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 12/16/2003 2:20 PM

Kinshasa has a number of full-time and part-time employment opportunities for eligible family members (EFM) which fall under the Family Member Appointment (FMA) hiring practice. (An EFM is a U.S. citizen spouse or an unmarried dependent child 18 to 21 years of age who is on the travel orders of an American Foreign Service or Civil Service employee or Military Service member permanently assigned abroad.)

FMA provides benefits to EFMs including participation in the Department’s retirement, Thrift Savings Plan, life insurance, and health insurance programs. Once an EFM has accumulated twelve months of FMA employment, he or she is given non-competitive Civil Service status, an important factor when returning to the U.S. for a tour in Washington.

Positions include the Community Liaison Office Coordinator, Self-Help Coordinator, Consular Associate, and Video Club Manager. There are also administrative opportunities available with USAID, and, at times, with the American Embassy Brazzaville.

The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) is a potential employer as well, depending on the number of enrolled students. Most positions require some clerical or teaching skills. In 1998, Kinshasa was designated an “adult dependents only” post, so the number of students at TASOK has declined, which in turn decreased the number of employment opportunities for dependents.

All Mission employment opportunities are published in the post's newsletter. Contact the CLO to find out what opportunities are currently available.

American Embassy - Kinshasa

Post City Last Updated: 12/16/2003 2:23 PM

Kinshasa is a city of contrasts and resembles two cities coexisting under one name. The “ville" is comprised of modern (though sadly neglected) office buildings, apartment high-rises, and an area of residential homes. The “cites,” on the other hand, where most Congolese live, are a hub of activity akin to large contiguous villages, often unlighted, with dirt roads and concrete huts.

Security Last Updated: 5/11/2004 6:16 AM

In April 2003, the government of Joseph Kabila reached a power sharing agreement with the former rebel groups. All groups were integrated within the central government. The United Nations deployed 10,000 troopsto help implement the peace accords within the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nonetheless there are still sporadic outbreaks of fighting particularily on the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Within the country, several thousand rebel and government troops remain. The American Embassy has been evacuated 5 times due to the breakdown of civil disorder. Despite the end of the civil war, there is still the constant threat of civil insurrection.

In general, the local government has been unable to institutionalizeits services with any consistency or professionalism. Rogue military and police personnel who are paid a paltry salary, about $20.00 a month, are often paid late, and sometimes not at all, are responsible for commiting the majority of criminal acts in Kinshasa.

Traveling outside of Gombe can be dangerous depending on the area of the cité. Current travel restrictions require that the RSO be notified of any official personnel's travel plans outside of Gombe. Traveling at night there is an increased level of carjackings, robberies, and assault.

Kinshasa is currently rated by the Department of State as a CRITICAL threat crime post. However, most criminal activity that occurs in Kinshasa is not directed at Americans. Personnel are advised to remain within Gombe during hours of darkness and are only visit the cité in a group. USG residences and hotels authorized by the RSO maintain a somewhat higher level of security than others which tells would-be-criminals to pick a softer target.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 12/16/2003 2:28 PM

The American Embassy is located in downtown Kinshasa. At present, the Mission includes over 50 positions, consisting of representatives from the Department of State, USAID, and the Department of Defense (a Defense Attaché Office and a Marine Security Guard Detachment of six members).

Relations between the U.S. and the Democratic Republic of the Congo predate the turn of the century. The first official U.S. representative, a diplomatic agent at Boma in 1884, was the first official foreign representative to reside in the Belgian Congo in modern times. When Congo gained its independence in 1960, the post attained Embassy status.

The Embassy is made up of several components, all of which are in downtown Kinshasa.

The Chancery, located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, consists of the executive, economic/commercial, political, security, consular, information resource management, health unit, community liaison, and DAO offices.

The Joint Administrative Offices (JAO) Annex, located at 498 Avenue Col. Lukusa, houses the administrative, computer center, personnel, GSO (transportation, maintenance, shipping, travel, procurement), budget and fiscal, public affairs and the American Cultural Center, and American Embassy Brazzaville offices.

The USAID offices are within walking distance of the Chancery on Avenue des Aviateurs, in the Mobil Building.

Embassy working hours are 0730 to 1630, Monday through Friday, with an hour for lunch.

Housing Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:03 PM

All employees are provided with U.S. Government-leased or -owned quarters. Permanent housing is either in apartment buildings or in houses in the Gombe section of Kinshasa.

Currently, 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.

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.)

Although the perimeters of all Mission homes are enclosed by walls, it is still necessary that they be staffed by additional security sentinels 24 hours per day.

Furnishings Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:05 PM

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, air conditioners for each room according to regulations, vacuum cleaner, ironing board, and standard Embassy furniture (including area rugs) for living and sleeping areas. Automatic dishwashers are not available.

Bring linens, kitchenware, glassware, silverware, china, and, of course, towels and bathroom accessories. Such items are expensive and often hard to find in local stores. Also bring selected pictures, bric-a-brac, card tables and chairs, games, books, washable throw rugs or other small carpets for kitchens and foyers, and personal items. Remember that Kinshasa has a tropical climate, so plastic storage containers for cereal, rice, flour, sugar, etc. are necessary as well.

Upon arrival, a Welcome Kit is provided by GSO to use until the employee’s HHE shipment 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.

Consider packing everyday items in the air freight shipment, which should arrive ahead of the HHE. Items such as 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.

Household effects travel by surface to Europe, then by air to Kinshasa, and take two to four months to arrive from the U.S. Many people include stereo equipment, hobby equipment, sports equipment, a multi-system TV and VCR. (The AERWA Video Club rents televisions and VCRs on a first-come, first-served basis to use in the interim.)

Do not bring irreplaceable personal possessions to post. Although most people have had no problem receiving their household effects intact, consider purchasing 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 possessions considered irreplaceable.

All official housing has toilets, electricity, and hot and cold running water (though some have low water pressure). A few residences have telephones, but they are direct extensions of the Embassy phone system and only allow calls to other phones within the Embassy system. These phones cannot be used to call cellular phone numbers or international numbers directly. Even with the back-up generators, occasional electrical blackouts occur, so bring candles, candle holders, flashlights, and batteries.

Electric current is 220v, 50-cycle AC. There are several stores in the D.C. area which specialize in 220v electronics. Visit the Overseas Briefing Center for an updated source list. The AAFES catalog also offers a selection of 220v or convertible voltage appliances.

There are a couple of duty-free shops in Kinshasa where a limited selection of goods can be purchased. Otherwise, local purchase of such items is quite expensive.

For convenience, purchase high-wattage items such as hair dryers, irons, toasters, etc., in 220 or variable voltage.

Stepdown transformers are needed for 110v American appliances. Quarters are furnished with transformers for each major appliance and two additional ones. Transformers are occasionally found on the local market, but are expensive. Buy them in the States if possible. Also bring converter plugs that adapt an American plug into a Congolese (European-style) socket.

Voltage regulators may be necessary for voltage-sensitive equipment. Electrical current can fluctuate between a high of 240v and a low of 180v. Consider bringing surge protectors for sensitive equipment (computers, laptops, stereos, etc.) as well.

American electric clocks (other than battery-operated) will not keep correct time because of the cycle variation. If tape recorders and turntables are not equipped with 110/220v, 50/60 cycles, have them converted to 50 cycles before leaving the U.S. Most manufacturers can supply adapter sets; have them installed before arrival. Make sure that lamps are certified to operate safely on 220v. All light bulbs are 220v and may be purchased locally.

Food Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:06 PM

There is no commissary at post, but all personnel assigned to Kinshasa are authorized a consumables allowance. Stocking up on specialty items and staples not only ensures availability, but is much less expensive than buying on the local market. Prices in Kinshasa are shockingly high. It is wise to include paper products, household cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene products in the consumables shipment as well. Housing generally has sufficient storage space for cases of consumables.

With enough patience, shoppers can usually find what they are looking for (although most times not the brands to which most are accustomed). A simple shopping list of five items may turn into a three- or four-store excursion. To avoid frustration and to save money, many people order regularly on-line and receive groceries through the APO.

Some grocery stores carry a varied seasonal supply of vegetables and fresh fruits, such as avocados, eggplant, winter squash, bananas, pineapples, papayas, and mangoes.

Local bread, usually only white, from bakeries is of excellent quality.

Pet foods and products can be purchased locally, but are expensive; include as many of these items as possible in the consumables shipment.

Be aware that prices can fluctuate daily due to the unstable exchange rate and inflation.

Clothing Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:08 PM

Kinshasa’s climate is warm and tropical with a dry and rainy season. During the dry season, when the weather is cooler, lightweight long-sleeved clothing is sometimes needed. Also a sweater or wrap is convenient in air-conditioned homes, offices, and public buildings.

Dress in Kinshasa is generally casual. There are normally two black-tie events during the year (the Marine Corps Ball and the American Business Association dinner), but most of the time social functions are either jacket and tie or more casual.

Bring a good initial supply of clothing for both day and evening wear. Swimming is a year-round activity, so bring swimsuits as well as other appropriate gear for sports such as tennis or golf.

Additional clothing can be purchased from mail order catalogs or on the Internet. The Western-style clothing that is available in the local market is extremely expensive, but there are reasonably priced local tailors and seamstresses who are skilled at copying a garment directly or from a photograph. The brightly patterned African fabric found in Kinshasa can be used to create attractive clothing for men, women, and children.

Male Embassy personnel generally wear lightweight suits to the office and dark business suits for evening occasions. Women wear summer dresses and slacks during the day. Long and short dresses (often made from African cotton prints), skirts and blouses, cocktail dresses or dressy slacks outfits are worn to evening functions. Sandals, comfortable walking shoes, dress, and sport shoes are all useful. Also bring umbrellas, a raincoat, and a windbreaker.

For DAO, civilian clothes are worn to work. Normally, DAO personnel wear short-sleeved, open-collar shirts. The military uniform class A and B is worn on special occasions, i.e., meetings with Congolese military officials, third-country military officials, and some receptions. Attachés wear the mess dress/dress white or dress blues at the annual Marine Corps Ball. Military personnel should bring one dark civilian suit and two sets of fatigues.

Fabric other than the African print cotton and some sewing supplies are available, but the selection is scanty and prices are not in line with fabric costs in the States. Sewing enthusiasts should bring a supply of fabrics, notions, and patterns to post.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:08 PM

Some common over-the-counter medicines are available locally. Non-American brand cosmetics and toiletries are generally available in Kinshasa, but are expensive. Bring cleaning equipment — an extra broom and mop are suggested as they seem to wear out quickly here; bring adhesives for repairs.

Entertainment accessories and specialty items (such as decorations, centerpieces, etc.) must be brought to post. From time to time these items are available, but the stock is not dependable.

Basic Services Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:09 PM

Tailoring, dressmaking, and beauty services are available. Dry cleaning, catering, eyeglass repair, printing, watch repair, and veterinarian services are also available. Most of the services provided are of good quality, but rates are much higher than in the U.S. Laundry is generally done domestically.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:10 PM

Congolese domestic help is readily available and varies from fair to excellent. Most domestic services are performed by males, except for childcare. Nannies are most often women. Salaries and other allowances, paid in Congolese francs, are very inexpensive compared to Western wages. Most people provide one meal a day for their help (which the domestic prepares). Some people also offer meals to their sentinels and provide them coffee, tea, and sugar.

The general practice is to pass on to new employees those workers who have previously worked for U.S. Government employees and have proven their reliability. The Community Liaison Office can assist with finding domestic help. Most domestics are not live-in so they are given allowances for transportation, housing, and family health care. Domestics can be asked to work in the evenings and/or on weekends when necessary and are paid extra for these occasions. As well, when transportation problems arise (fuel shortages, etc.), extra money may be necessary to cover the increased expense. The average family employs a houseperson/cook and gardener.

Domestic uniforms are supplied by the employer from local or U.S. sources. The employer is responsible for all medical care of the full-time employee and his or her family. This includes pregnancy, delivery, the post-partum period, and confinement. (Durations and monetary amounts are negotiated between the employer and employee.)

Although the employer is not obliged to give the employee gratuities at Christmas or on any other occasion, local custom is to give something at the beginning of the new year. The amount is at the employer’s discretion and usually varies from 15 days’ to 1 month’s pay. This is called the “13th month bonus.”

Religious Activities Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:11 PM

Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Kimbanguist, Greek Orthodox, and Moslem services are held in Kinshasa. There is a small Quaker group that also meets regularly.

There is an International Catholic Church where the parish priest speaks English and mass is given in English by a native English speaker. Instruction and preparation for the sacraments can be arranged.

The International Interdenominational Church is in Gombe. Ministers from the local missionary community, some of them Americans, take turns holding Sunday English services.

There is a synagogue in town and an active Jewish community.

Episcopal Holy Communion services are held the last Sunday of each month at the International Church.

Lay bible groups from the Anglican Church meet in homes around the city on weekdays in the evenings.

St. Luke’s Catholic Church has weekly Sunday mass in English at 9:45 am. When the congregation was larger, Catechism classes were held after mass. These were administered by the parents and, depending on the ages of the children attending, the activities included first communion and confession classes, bible study classes, confirmation classes, and teenage religion classes. At present, a “Coffee Sunday” is held after mass the last Sunday of every month. St. Luke’s and various other Catholic churches throughout the city offer mass delivered in Lingala (a local language) and French.


Dependent Education Last Updated: 11/20/2004 6:33 AM

The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) was established in 1961 to provide an American curriculum for grades 1–12. In the past, the campus has been a hub activity for as many as 700 students. Because of pillages and evacuations during the ’90s and the general air of uncertainty in the country, Kinshasa was designated an “adult dependents only” post from 1998 to 2002, during which time enrollments decreased significantly. Now that the political situation in the country has stabilized, the Department has determined that Kinshasa is safe for dependents and allowed the assignment of families. The school currently has almost 200 students and enrollment is expected to continue to increase.

The children of American missionaries, American business representatives, the greater international community, and Congolese children comprise the student body.

TASOK is located on Matadi Road less than 30 minutes from the Embassy. The campus encompasses 42 acres of lush tropical landscape. Classes are small, thereby enabling students to receive individual attention. TASOK students who take college entrance board exams are generally accepted to the college of their choice.

Facilities include a complex of classrooms, an administration building, and a well-stocked, up-to-date library. Recreation facilities include a full-length football and soccer field, a softball field, two volleyball courts, and a student store/snack bar area. In addition, the physical education department has two locker rooms. A Learning Resource Center contains library books, resource books, periodicals, and audio-visual software. Other facilities include staff housing, a maintenance shop, the Library Club of Kinshasa, and the Scout Hut.

It should be noted that at the present time the school does not have facilities or personnel to deal with severely handicapped or disabled students.

The high school Learning, Resource Center is an air-conditioned, fully carpeted facility that has books, reference materials, weekly and monthly periodicals and newspapers, a paperback collection for pleasure reading, and an audio-visual section.

The high school sports program includes varsity basketball, swimming, track and field, volleyball, soccer, and softball. Intramural sports include basketball, volleyball, swimming, and tennis. Other activities include drama club, band, newspaper, yearbook, student council, and national honor society. In the arts, ceramics, calligraphy, and photography are offered.

TASOK also has a computer center to introduce students to computer science and help prepare them for our technological world.

Activities after school and on weekends are numerous and varied, satisfying most students.

TASOK occasionally holds evening adult workshops in subjects such as calligraphy, ceramics, and computer science.

The school’s calendar is essentially the same as for U.S. schools, except for a slightly earlier starting date. The school operates on the usual Monday through Friday school week, and school holidays include:

Thanksgiving (4 days)
Christmas (16 days)
Spring vacation (10 days)
Labor Day (1 day)
Various local holidays
Most of the TASOK faculty members are American, recruited directly from the U.S. Some are local-hire spouses and dependents. Dependents who are interested in either a teaching position or a teacher’s aid position should contact the school as soon as possible. In the past, opportunities have arisen to substitute or to tutor students on a private basis.

Students should bring to post items such as school bags (with ample carrying space), pencil cases, lunch boxes (with spare thermos), paper, pens, notebooks, craft paper, and two combination locks for school lockers.

The local public and religious schools are in French and based on the Belgian school curriculum. The curriculum of the French schools (Cous Decartes) is comparable to the programs of the French “lycees” and runs six mornings a week. The Belgian system (Ecole Prince de Liege) teaches in French and Flemish, starting at age 6, and has elementary and secondary schools.

There are also Portuguese, Greek, and Italian schools, plus several small correspondence-tutorial schools that cater to the diplomatic dependents of other countries.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:14 PM

In the community, Yoga, martial arts, and general exercise classes are offered as well as art and music lessons for children and adults.

There is also a unique learning opportunity for those who visit Congo: getting acquainted with bonobos, an endangered species. Bonobos are our closest living relative-even closer than Chimpanzees.

A research area has been built on the TASOK campus to house bonobos that have been displaced or orphaned by the war. Visitors to the site can watch the antics of these animals from the perimeter of the man-made forest or go inside for hands-on interaction. Congo is the only natural habitat for the bonobos.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:15 PM

There is a variety of sporting activities to participate in at post: tennis, golf, swimming, horseback riding, volleyball, basketball, jogging, softball, squash, and darts to name a few. Some sporting equipment is available locally, but cost is prohibitive so bring such equipment to post.

There are four sports clubs in Kinshasa. The first is Cercle Sportif du Kinshasa, which has a private, 18-hole golf course. Initial membership and annual dues are considered expensive by some. They also offer tennis, squash and swimming.

The Cercle Elaeis of Kinshasa houses a large swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, and a well-equipped gym. Membership is available on an annual or six-month basis. New arrivals are eligible for free visits to become acquainted with the facilities.

The Four Ways Club, formerly the American Club operated by the American Employee Recreation & Welfare Association (AERWA), and the French Club also accept new members. At either club people take advantage of swimming, tennis, and billiards facilities.

Special classes, such as Tae Kwon Do and aerobics, are available occasionally.

The U.S. Government owns a compound in a suburb of Kinshasa known as Binza La Belle where tennis, swimming and picnic facilities are available. The Marine Security Guard detachment also allows their gym, The House of Pain, to be used by Embassy staff and their dependents. The gym offers free weights, a treadmill, nautilus equipment, and mats for floor exercises. There is no charge for using either of these facilities.

For equestrian enthusiasts, there is a riding club located in the suburbs. Neat, casual dress is acceptable. Instruction is available by a riding master, but fees are expensive.

Entertainment Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:16 PM

AERWA operates a TV-videotape rental club. A $100 deposit is required to become an AERWA member and is fully refunded upon departure from post, provided all outstanding bills have been paid. Movies are current and new videos are received on a regular basis from a company in the U.S.

The MSG detachment hosts a happy hour and shows current movies at the Marine House a couple of times a month. There is a local theater that shows American movies dubbed in French.

The Library Club of Kinshasa (LCK), located at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK), was constructed in 1972 with funds donated by companies and expatriates. In 1981, donations were collected to construct an extension, which was designated as the children’s section. There are approximately 12,000 books spanning all genres and topics: novels, biographies, history, Africa, travel, cooking, practical guides, etc. In January 1997, a video section was added to which Chevron Oil of Kinshasa donated 100 National Geographic videos and individual members continue to make donations. The library charges a membership fee and is staffed by volunteers.

Bring to post a supply of favorite records, tapes, and/or CDs, as well as the equipment to play them. Western music is very difficult to find locally.

Kinshasa is considered to be a center for African-style music and a number of nightclubs range from imitations of American bars to lively and colorful African outdoor bars. Several discotheques and a number of good restaurants exist; however, costs are rather high and the danger of street crime or nighttime stops by army personnel and/or police are effective deterrents to most nightlife outside of domestic entertaining.

The Congolese Government is known to suddenly impose or change curfew hours with little warning. With or without a local curfew, post management advises all personnel and their dependents to be in by midnight Sunday through Thursday and 1 am Friday and Saturday.

Kinshasa has several casinos with blackjack, roulette, and slot machines as the most popular games.

Social Activities Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:16 PM

Social life is limited but active and informal. Common forms of home entertainment include dinner parties, card games, and video screenings.

Kinshasa has several good restaurants. Though they are expensive, they offer a variety of cuisines including Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, and continental. Several bakeries offer excellent fresh bread, baguettes, French pastries, etc. There are no “fast food” restaurants in town.

The International Women’s Club of Kinshasa invites all women of Kinshasa to join. It is an English-speaking club which meets monthly. The club sponsors tours and special interest groups for cooking, bridge, French conversation, etc. Monthly get-acquainted coffees are held, and the club sponsors an annual Christmas bazaar at which goods made by the women are sold and the proceeds donated to local charities. It also gives American women the opportunity to meet women outside the official Embassy community.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:17 PM

The official social scene features diplomatic receptions and representational dinners. An ability to converse in French is absolutely necessary for full participation in the international social life.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:17 PM

All newly arrived American personnel call on the Chief of Mission and the DCM shortly after arrival in Kinshasa. No other formal calls on the Chief of Mission or on other Mission officials are expected. Calls on counterparts in other Embassies will be discussed at post.

The purpose of calls for spouses is to become acquainted with others at post; whether the spouse decides to call or not is voluntary. Often, the Chief of Mission or DCM will host “hail and farewell” cocktail parties for new arrivals and those finishing up their tours.

Calling cards and invitations can be printed locally, but many prefer to have such items made beforehand. Diplomats find it more useful to have calling cards in French. Folding informals, not available locally, are also widely used.

The family members of a mission officer are under no obligation to assist in official entertaining. However, voluntary participation in social and community activities as well as on official occasions, particularly in a small Mission such as Kinshasa, is helpful to the Mission and can be personally rewarding.

Special Information Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:18 PM

U.S. Government personnel stopping in Kinshasa on TDY or on personal travel must have a visa and should inform the Embassy well in advance of arrival to request country clearance. This will also ensure that visitors are met at the airport and have hotel reservations.

Security is an issue that is of prime importance in Kinshasa. The Department and post continue to devote considerable resources to residential and personal safety. All residences are equipped with a burglar alarm as well as window and door grills. The Regional Security Officer provides specific security instructions to all incoming personnel so that they are well informed and up to date on the security situation.

Do not stand on balconies or walk through the streets of Kinshasa with binoculars, cameras, video cameras, or the like. Local police or military personnel will, at the very least, detain for questioning anyone using such equipment.

Please direct any questions regarding specific topics to the appropriate Embassy staff member. Most questions can be answered by representatives from ADMIN, CLO, GSO, MED, RSO, or PER. Any of these offices can be reached using the following address:

Section Name
American Embassy
Unit 31550
APO AE 09828

Post Orientation Program

Each newly arrived employee is assisted by the Community Liaison Office (CLO) Coordinator, who, along with an assigned sponsor, works to make the transition to life in Kinshasa as smooth as possible.

The check-in and orientation process, which includes welcome meetings for the employee and all dependents in each section and a tour of the Embassy facilities, is organized by the CLO Coordinator to occur within the first day or two of a newcomer’s arrival.

Sponsors help newcomers meet others within and outside the Embassy family and help with first-time shopping excursions and city orientation.

The Embassy also offers, free of charge to employees and their spouses, language training in French, Swahili, and/or Lingala, taught by FSN instructors using FSI materials and methods.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:20 PM

Since no American carriers operate directly between the U.S. and Congo, travel is accomplished through a combination of American and foreign carriers consistent with the Fly America Act. Brussels is the only European interchange point that provides connection to Kinshasa, via Sabena.

Once a flight reservation has been confirmed, notify the State Department in Washington or the employing agency by telephone, e-mail, fax, or cable of the flight number, date, and time of arrival so that the information can be forwarded to the Embassy. It is essential that the Embassy arrange for an expeditor to be at the airport when an employee arrives for a number of reasons:

it is almost impossible to jump the few official and many unofficial hurdles at the airport without the help of an expeditor;
negotiating these obstacles involves attempts at extortion, bribery, and possible theft which the expeditor can help avoid;
it is approximately a 30-minute ride from the airport to the Embassy which, particularly after dark, may involve military and non-military roadblocks;
the journey can be unsafe in general, but particularly for someone not familiar with local situations.
In accompanying luggage, bring personal items needed in the first days at post. Unaccompanied air baggage may take several weeks to clear customs and be delivered. Many people choose to mail personal items through the APO prior to leaving the States.

To enable the Embassy to obtain Congolese identity cards, bring passport-sized photos of each traveler. Visas for travel, both official and personal, to other African countries also require photos. Have at least six available for that purpose.

Shipment of household effects from the U.S. are transported to Antwerp by surface and onward from Antwerp to Kinshasa by air. Household effects should be consigned to:

American Consulate General
Antwerp (ELSO)

Mail a copy of the original ocean bill of lading to:

American Embassy
ATTN: Shipping Office
Unit 31550
APO AE 09828

Shipments should be prepaid to Antwerp. Cases in transit should be marked:

American Ambassador
Employee’s initials
American Embassy
Kinshasa, Congo via Antwerp (ELSO)

Liftvans should not exceed 87 inches by 56 inches by 76 inches, length-width-height. Employees coming from European, African or Middle Eastern posts should ask their GSO for a routing and direct air shipment to Kinshasa. Also cable Kinshasa to see whether these arrangements are still valid.

Private insurance is recommended for all shipments, especially personally owned vehicles (POVs). Vehicles are routed by sea to Antwerp and then by air to Kinshasa. Vehicles should be consigned and marked the same as household effects. Transit time ranges from four to eight weeks. Clearing customs in Kinshasa can take another four weeks and there can be a delay of several weeks before the car is released to the Embassy’s shipping section.

Airfreight sent to Kinshasa should be marked and consigned as follows:

American Ambassador
(Employee’s Initials)
American Embassy Kinshasa
Kinshasa, Congo

Although claims for private personal property losses may be reimbursed by the U.S. Government, private insurance to cover risks specifically excluded or limited by the Claims Act is recommended.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:20 PM

At present, no limitations are placed on duty-free entry of goods or vehicles into Congo. Single employees may import only one car; tandem couples may import two.

Foreign currencies up to $50,000 may be brought into Congo, but the passenger must declare the amounts at the time of arrival. A currency declaration form is issued at the airport and must be carefully retained by the passenger since it must be surrendered at the airport when leaving Congo. There is a limit of $10,000 on foreign currency allowed to be taken out of the country.

Marijuana and other narcotics are illegal in Congo, just as they are in the U.S.; do not bring such items into the country.

Passage Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:21 PM

A visa is an absolute requirement for entry into Congo. It may be obtained in any country in which Congo has diplomatic or consular representation. Airport visas are not issued by Congolese authorities, so it is necessary to obtain a visa before arriving. If a traveler’s passport contains a visa from Rwanda, Burundi, or Uganda, contact the RSO before arrival.

All travelers to Congo must have an international certificate showing receipt of a yellow fever vaccination. The vaccination is valid for ten years and must be obtained at least ten days before arrival. It’s best to carry the immunization record and passport together.

Pets Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:21 PM

No difficulties exist in importing a dog or cat into Congo as long as the pet is accompanied by proof of rabies inoculation and a certificate of good health. Veterinary facilities are available and are usually adequate, but a good general medical handbook for the pet’s species could be useful.

Arrange for a U.S. veterinarian to ship veterinary medications. Also bring a supply of flea collars, shampoos, food bowls, chew toys, etc.

Since it can be expensive to ship animals (especially large dogs) on airlines, call different carriers and compare prices.

Remember that during an evacuation, pets are sometimes not permitted on planes due to space limitations. This consideration should be factored in when deciding whether or not to bring a pet.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:21 PM

Importing weapons is strictly forbidden by the government of Congo. No exceptions are granted.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:22 PM

Currency rules are in a state of flux in this mostly-cash society. Credit cards are accepted at only the two major hotels. Credit cards may not be used at banks to obtain cash advances and there are no automatic teller machines. Only commercial banks cash traveler’s checks or accept wire transfers. Some travelers have complained of high fees, delays, and unavailability of cash when trying to accomplish either of these transactions.

The official currency is the Congolese franc (symbol FC), and it is very difficult to do local transactions with any other currency in Congo. In accordance with post policy and U.S. law and regulations, American U.S. Government personnel must obtain all local currency from the Embassy cashier, banks, or registered currency exchange bureaus. U.S. dollars are available from the Embassy cashier for travel purposes or in very limited amounts for approved purchases. Local currency can be obtained from the Embassy cashier only by a personal check written on a U.S. bank, with dollar travelers’ checks, or with U.S. currency. All AERWA and GSO bills must be paid with U.S. checks.

Delays in salary and allowance payments can occur upon arrival at post. Direct deposit is usually the most convenient way to receive payments.

Congo follows the metric system for all weights and measures.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:22 PM

Sale of personal property, including personally owned vehicles, is normally approved when the employee departs from post on transfer. Sales are approved by the principal officer or designee and conversion of Congolese francs to dollars is controlled by established policies.

Embassy regulations prohibit buying Congolese francs at anything other than the official rate.

No direct local taxes are levied on employees.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:25 PM

The following titles are provided as a general reading list of materials published that focus on Congo. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Anstey, Ruth. King Leopold’s Legacy. Oxford University Press, London, 1966. This work analyzes Belgian rule in the Congo and the administrative, economic, and social and political structure developed from 1908–1960.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness.

Forbath, Peter. The River Congo. Harper & Row: New York, 1977. The discovery, exploration, and exploitation of the world's most dramatic river.

Garrett, Laurie. The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 1994. A look at the recent history of, societal reactions to, and solutions for dealing with worldwide diseases, many of which originate in Africa.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost. A book of historical inquiry, drawing heavily on eyewitness accounts of the colonialists’ savagery, which brings this episode in European and African history into a new light.

Kalb, Madeline. The Congo Cables. 1982. A scholarly study which covers the period around Congo’s independence.

Kelly, Robert C., et. al. Country Review, Congo (DRC) 1998/1999. Commercial Data International, 1998. Commercial Data International’s (CDI) Country Reviews are concise up-to-date sources for political and economic information.

Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. 1999. Told in five voices, this novel recounts the impact on a missionary’s family of life in a Congo village at the time of independence.

Masson, Paul. La Bataile Pour Bukavu. A French journalist’s account of events in the East. Precise perceptive reporting thought by some “old Congo hands” to be the best journalistic writing done here.

McKown, Robin. The Congo River of Mystery. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1960. A good high-school type historical introduction to Congo and its early explorers.

Meditz, Sandra and Memfll, Tim. Congo, A Country Study. (1994 edition). Foreign Area Studies Series. The American University: 1994.

Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in the River. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1979. East Indian life in Kisangani.

U.S. Department of State. Welcome to Kinshasa. Good handbook of sources and information regarding day-to-day life in Kinshasa. (Available from post.)

Wechsler, Suruba. By The Grace Of God: A True Story of Love, Family, War and Survival From the Congo. New Horizon Press, 1999. The saga of one family’s love and survival through the wars, tyranny, corruption, and epidemics that have plagued the Congo over the past 40 years.

Young, Crawford. Politics in the Congo: Decolonization and Independence. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1965. As the subtitle indicates, Young traces the disintegration of Belgian colonial rule as well as the subsequent political disintegration of 1960–63. A thorough analysis, it has become the “Bible” for students seeking a useful introduction to Congo’s contemporary history.

Young, Crawford and Tumer, Thomas. The Rise and Decline of the Congolese State. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. Undoubtedly destined to be a classic as well, although based on somewhat dated and second-hand research.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 12/16/2003 3:26 PM

The Embassy is closed in observance of the following Congolese and U.S. Government holidays (actual dates apply to the 2003 calendar year):

New Year’s Day January 1
Martyrs Day for Independence January 4
Martin Luther King’s Birthday January 20
President’s Day February 17
Congo Labor Day May 1
New Regime Day May 17
Memorial Day May 26
Congo Independence Day June 30
U.S. Independence Day July 4
Congo Parent’s Day August 1
Labor Day September 1
Columbus Day October 13
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day November 27
Christmas Day December 25

No particular problems have been encountered if travelers arrive in Kinshasa on Congolese holidays.

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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