Bargaining is perfectly acceptable with taxi drivers and at the market in DRC, but it is not the norm in shops. Hotels can also sometimes be negotiated with to offer lower room prices, but this is the exception not the rule.
Dangers & Annoyances
DRC is fraught with potential danger, and almost any government website will warn you against travel here. This is alarmist, however: be sensible, ask for and follow local advice, keep your wits about you and you should be absolutely fine. There are, however, a large number of things to consider and be aware of.
There are still rebel armies and bandits (plus government soldiers, who are often just as dangerous) terrorising people in large swaths of northern and eastern DRC. North Kivu province around the city of Beni was particularly unstable at the time of writing. Political unrest is another danger: late 2016 saw violence that left many people dead in several cities in DRC, including Kinshasa.
Though the situation is improving, police and other officials, particularly those working in customs and immigration, frequently request money, though they rarely demand it. In all cases, being calm, friendly and confident is your best play. Do all you can to avoid handing over your passport (present copies instead) since it might cost you to get it back.
Photography in towns and cities across DRC attracts attention and should only be done if you're sure it's safe. The best plan is to ask a local, and if in doubt, don't take the photo. Travellers have been arrested for taking photos in Kinshasa and other towns. In the countryside things are generally easier, but avoid taking photos within sight of police.
Although rebel armies continue marauding around parts of DRC's east, these days most places are safe most of time. But this is a country where anything can happen, from rebellion to riots to volcanic eruptions. It's imperative to get up-to-the-minute information before travelling here.
220V/50Hz; the European two-pin plug is the most common
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
There is no nationwide number for medical emergencies, so dial the nearest hospital in case of emergency.
|DRC's country code||243|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering DRC can be a lengthy and frustrating procedure, particularly if you arrive by boat from Brazzaville or by plane in Kinshasa. As well as having your visa in your passport and your yellow fever certificate, it's a good idea to have your original invitation with you, as immigration officers have asked for this in the past. Expect delays, intimidation, being asked to take a seat in a side office for no apparent reason and requests for a bribe, but in general you'll be through within an hour or two. Note that at the Beach Ngobila in Kinshasa, where boats to Brazzaville arrive and depart, it's very useful to engage a fixer who can assist you with the bureaucracy. This can be done at the entrance to the port.
All visitors to DRC need visas, and they're not available on arrival. You must apply at the DRC embassy in your home country or country of residence.
The exact requirements for visas vary from embassy to embassy, but in general you will need proof of hotel booking, yellow fever vaccination and a legalised letter from a sponsor in DRC. Visa fees tend be between US$100 and US$200, and normally require several weeks to be processed.
The only current alternative to getting a visa at home is the two-week, single-entry tourist visa issued for people visiting Parc National des Virunga. The cost of this visa is US$105, and on top of that you'll need to purchase a mountain-gorilla trek permit, a Nyiragongo trek permit or accommodation at the Mikeno Lodge in order to get the paperwork issued. The visa limits you to visiting North Kivu province, and is issued on arrival, though all the bookings need to have been made several weeks in advance. See http://visitvirunga.org for more information.
Visas for Onward Travel
Angola Tourist visas are only issued to residents of DRC. You might be able to get a transit visa but even this was very hard to get at the time of research. Most people end up having to post their passports back to their home country and apply from there.
Central African Republic A one-month, multiple-entry visa costs US$150 and requires two photos and a photocopy of your passport and DRC visa. You can wait three days or pay US$20 for same-day service.
Congo Bring a photo and US$80/120 for a 15-day/three-month visa. They're typically ready in two days, but you can pay an extra US$90/170 for same-day service.
Tanzania Single-entry tourist visas cost US$50, though Americans pay twice that. Multiple entry visas cost US$100. Bring two passport photos and expect it to take 48 hours.
Zambia Single-entry tourist and transit visas cost US$50. Transit visas are easy to come by, but tourist visas are complicated and involve multiple letters of invitation from a host in Zambia.
Extensions are almost never possible and everyone who has attempted to do anything at the DGM offices in Kinshasa has usually regretted it.
Customs checks are not generally that thorough in DRC: it's immigration that's the headache. Once through that, your belongings will be given a cursory look over, but it's unlikely you'll have any problems. There's no need to list electronic equipment or currency you're holding, though officers may ask.
Congolese people tend to be rather formal in business situations – smart shoes and clothes are expected. Otherwise the culture is very relaxed.
Homosexuality is legal in DRC, but locals tend to be very discreet as homophobia is rife. There is no accessible gay life in the country for travellers, though all the usual apps are used, so it's not difficult to make contacts. Same-sex couples are unlikely to raise eyebrows by sharing a room, but discretion is generally the best way to go throughout the country.
Internet access in DRC is frustratingly slow. Very few hotel wi-fi networks actually work, and when they do they're incredibly slow. The most reliable internet access can be had via local mobile phone networks – anybody can register for a SIM card; just go to a mobile provider's office with your passport.
Most people's only brush with the law while in DRC will be being asked for a bribe by a uniformed employee of the state. Whether it's a policeman, immigration officer or soldier, always remain calm while refusing politely. It's very rare for such small matters to escalate, but when they do, attempt to contact your embassy as soon as possible. If you are arrested, do the same.
Most print media in DRC is in French and all of it is tightly controlled by the government, even though most newspapers are privately owned. There are some 57 television channels, mainly based in Kinshasa. Cable TV with foreign channels is widely available in DRC hotels.
All DRC radio stations are in French and local languages.
US dollars are accepted everywhere and moneychangers are omnipresent in DRC's cities. Somewhat reliable, internationally linked ATMs are common in the large cities.
Internationally linked ATMs are now common in Kinshasa, Goma, Kisangani, Matadi and Boma, though it's not unknown for them to run out of money or be out of order, so always carry back-up cash.
The local currency, the Congolese franc (CDF), is worthless outside of DRC. CDF1000 – just under one US dollar – is currently the biggest bill commonly available (though CDF5000 notes do exist), resulting in a big bundles of banknotes when you change money. For that reason most people pay for bigger items in US dollars.
Five-dollar US bills and upwards are fine; they just need to be clean and unmarked (not necessarily pristine). One-dollar notes are not usually accepted, so just use CDF1000 notes instead (it's widely accepted that US$1 is equal to CDF1000, despite it actually being slightly more).
Credit cards are accepted in many DRC hotels, restaurants and upper-end shops, but fraud is a problem so cash is still best. In Kinshasa, Rawbank cashes American Express travellers cheques in US dollars and euros, with a 5% commission.
Moneychangers work on nearly every block of every city in DRC. They all change US dollars, plus sometimes euros and currencies from nearby countries. Rates are invariably better than the banks, but check your notes carefully.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping is expected in smarter restaurants – around 5% to 7% is normal. Taxi drivers do not expect tips, though some will ask for one. It's a good idea to keep a stash of small bills (CDF500 is good) to tip with.
Banks and offices 8.30am–3pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am–noon Saturday
Shops 8am–6pm Monday to Saturday
The postal system in DRC remains unreliable and is not worth your time – if you need to send anything use a courier service such as FedEx or DHL.
Public holidays are as follows:
New Year's Day 1 January
Martyrs of Independence Day 4 January
Heroes' Day 16–17 January
Labour Day 1 May
Liberation Day 17 May
Independence Day 30 June
Parents' Day 1 August
Christmas Day 25 December
- Smoking Nonsmoking areas are still something of a rarity in DRC and smoking is allowed in restaurants and bars.
Taxes & Refunds
Taxes are included in prices for the most part while in DRC. There is no mechanism for reclaiming taxes as a visitor, however.
Landlines are virtually extinct in DRC, with mobile phones having totally superseded them. There are no area codes.
|International access code||00|
SIM cards cost very little in DRC and can be purchased from one of the major mobile-phone providers, including Airtel, Tigo and Vodacom. When going to buy one, be sure to bring your passport and go to an official office of the operator, rather than buying a SIM card from a street hawker. Only official vendors can register your SIM, which is necessary before it can be used.
Western DRC (including Kinshasa) is on GMT/UTC plus one hour, while eastern DRC (including Goma) is GMT/UTC plus two hours.
All the toilets you come across in DRC's big cities will be of the Western variety. Squat toilets are rare anywhere where travellers might find themselves, but they certainly exist in smaller and more remote places.
There is an Office National du Tourisme bureau in Kinshasa, though despite having an impressive website, there's very little in the way of practical information to be had from its staff. Your best source of up-to-date tourist information is travel agencies or tour operators.
The Wildlife Conservation Society in Kinshasa is a good place to get up-to-date information about visiting the various national parks in DRC.
Travel with Children
DRC is not suitable for travel with children.
While DRC is poorly set up for travellers with disabilities, people are friendly and supportive towards those with physical disabilities; the physically disabled are commonly seen in Congo due to a combination of poor health care and years of war. Kinshasa and other main cities present no great problem to mobility impaired travellers, though going into the bush is likely to be quite a different matter.
A combination of safety issues, red tape and the high cost of living for foreigners means that DRC is not an obvious place for those wanting to do volunteer work. That said, few countries on earth are in such dire need of assistance, and as such some hardy and intrepid souls do come and volunteer on various projects. One organisation is the Christian charity Hands at Work (www.handsatwork.org/drc), which works with children in Katanga and North Kivu provinces. They offer programs for year-long volunteering, as well as shorter stints of up to four weeks.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures DRC uses the metric system.
Female travellers should exercise extra caution in DRC. Travelling alone is unwise, and even taking taxis or walking on the streets alone during the daytime is not generally advisable unless you know the driver or are familiar with the town.
Thousands of foreigners come to the DRC to work, as there's an enormous humanitarian mission in the country spearheaded by the UN, and countless NGOs with employees in the field here. The red tape involved in moving here is significant, but this will be handled by any employer.