Bargaining

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.

Warning

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.

Electricity

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 code243
Police112
Fire services118

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.

Visas

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.

Further Information

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.

Visa Extensions

Extensions are almost never possible and everyone who has attempted to do anything at the DGM offices in Kinshasa has usually regretted it.

Customs Regulations

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.

Etiquette

Congolese people tend to be rather formal in business situations – smart shoes and clothes are expected. Otherwise the culture is very relaxed.

LGBT Travellers

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

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.

Media

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.

Radio

All DRC radio stations are in French and local languages.

Money

US dollars are accepted everywhere and moneychangers are omnipresent in DRC's cities. Somewhat reliable, internationally linked ATMs are common in the large cities.

ATMs

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.

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

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.

Changing Money

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.

Exchange Rates

Australia

Currency

A$1

CDF

CDF775

Canada

Currency

C$1

CDF

CDF776

Eurozone

Currency

€1

CDF

CDF1116

Japan

Currency

¥100

CDF

CDF964

NZ

Currency

NZ$1

CDF

CDF731

UK

Currency

UK£1

CDF

CDF1295

US

Currency

US$1

CDF

CDF1028

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Tipping

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.

Opening Hours

Banks and offices 8.30am–3pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am–noon Saturday

Shops 8am–6pm Monday to Saturday

Restaurants noon–10pm

Bars 6pm–midnight

Post

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

Public holidays are as follows:

New Year's Day 1 January

Martyrs of Independence Day 4 January

Heroes' Day 16–17 January

Easter March/April

Labour Day 1 May

Liberation Day 17 May

Independence Day 30 June

Parents' Day 1 August

Christmas Day 25 December

Smoking

  • 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.

Telephone

Landlines are virtually extinct in DRC, with mobile phones having totally superseded them. There are no area codes.

Country code+243
International access code00

Mobile Phones

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.

Time

Western DRC (including Kinshasa) is on GMT/UTC plus one hour, while eastern DRC (including Goma) is GMT/UTC plus two hours.

Toilets

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.

Tourist Information

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.

Accessible Travel

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.

Volunteering

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.

Women Travellers

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.

Work

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.