Bargaining is perfectly acceptable with Congolese taxi drivers and at the market, but it is not usually expected in shops. Hotels may also negotiate on lower room prices, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Dangers & Annoyances
Travel in Congo is quite safe these days. Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire are typical African cities: trouble-free by day, but best traversed by taxi at night. Power cuts and fuel shortages are common throughout the country, but rarely affect travellers (most hotels have generators and fuel supplies).
While things have become a lot more relaxed in Congo in recent years regarding photography, do not take photographs of any military personnel or police, and it's always worth asking before photographing people in general.
Most of Congo is quite safe these days, but as with any country with a history of conflict, it's important to get current, on-the-ground advice before travelling here.
230V/50Hz. The plugs in Congo are two-pin Continental Europe style.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Emergency numbers are unreliable in Congo. There is no emergency number for ambulances – take a taxi to the nearest hospital in case of a medical emergency.
|Congo's country code||242|
Entry & Exit Formalities
You will be required to fill out an arrivals form and present your yellow fever vaccination certificate and visa at the Congolese border. In general the process is straight forward, but this can vary enormously – shakedowns are not uncommon, but can usually be overcome by politeness and patience as long as your paperwork is in order.
All luggage is scanned on arrival in Congo, though otherwise customs are not particularly thorough and no listing of valuables is necessary. There are no unusual restrictions on the import or export of goods.
All visitors to Congo need a visa, and you need to obtain one before travelling, either from home or a neighbouring country. This is a relatively straightforward process – you'll simply need to make a hotel reservation in Congo and ask the hotel to confirm the booking in writing. Some embassies also require a return air ticket – returning from another country in Africa should also be no problem. A one-month tourist visa averages around US$100.
Visas for Onward Travel
Angola Visas are only issued to residents of Congo. Travellers will need to post their passport back home and obtain a visa there. Transit visas are equally problematic.
Cameroon Three-month, single-entry tourist visas cost CFA76,000, and require two photos, a photocopy of your passport and a hotel reservation. Processing takes 48 hours. Transit visas are the same price.
Central African Republic One-month, single-entry visas require two photos, a photocopy of your passport, hotel reservation or a letter of invitation, and cost CFA30,000. Processing takes 72 hours.
Democratic Republic of Congo The DRC has a strict policy of only issuing visas to travellers in their country of residence.
Gabon Visas valid for a month cost CFA35,000. Bring a hotel reservation, a photocopy of your passport and two photos. Processing takes one day.
Congolese people tend to be rather formal in business situations – smart shoes and clothes are expected if you're conducting business. Otherwise the culture is very relaxed. Tipping is expected in many situations from a mzungu (white person) – keeping a stash of small bills handy is a good idea.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Congo, but local gays and lesbians tend to be very discreet (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 travellers are unlikely to raise eyebrows by sharing a room, but discretion is generally the best way to go throughout the country.
Internet access in Congo is frustratingly slow. Very few hotel wireless networks actually work, and when they do they're incredibly slow. The most reliable internet access can be had through 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 Congolese law 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 and smile 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. There is a presumption of innocence in Congo, and foreigners are usually treated with respect rather than preyed upon.
All print and broadcast media in Congo is in French.
Congo uses the Central African franc (CFA), a stable currency also used by five other countries in the region. It's pegged to the euro at an unchanging rate of CFA655.957. For travellers, euros are the best currency to bring, though you can change US dollars and British pounds in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. Banks willing to exchange money are rare outside these cities, but businesses owned by Lebanese and West Africans usually change money, though rates will not be competitive. Whichever currency you bring, make sure your foreign bills are in pristine condition.
Crédit du Congo, Ecobank and BGFI Bank all have ATMs in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire that accept Visa, MasterCard and Plus cards.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
While a relatively new concept in Congo, tipping is now expected in fancier places. Around 5-10% is normal in good restaurants. Guides and resort staff will also usually expect something – there's normally a staff tips box in top-end places. As rates are normally negotiated before the journey begins, taxi drivers do not need to be tipped, though some may ask for one.
Banks Open around 8am and typically close at 2pm.
Offices Open 8am to 5pm weekdays and until noon on Saturdays. Many close for an hour or two over lunch.
Restaurants Open from midday to 2.30pm, and again from 6pm to 10pm.
The Congolese postal system is thoroughly unreliable and not really worth bothering with. Use an international delivery service if you need to get something important sent.
Public holidays in Congo:
New Year's Day 1 January
Labour Day 1 May
Reconciliation Day 10 June
Independence Day 15 August
All Saints' Day 1 November
Christmas Day 25 December
There has been a comprehensive smoking ban in Congo since 2013, when smoking in public places was outlawed. This includes smoking inside restaurants, bars or hotels, though outside at any of these venue you'll normally have no problem.
Taxes & Refunds
Taxes are included in prices for the most part in Congo. There is no mechanism for reclaiming taxes as a visitor, however.
Landlines (starting with 281 – there are no area codes throughout the country) are appalling in Congo and you'll be lucky if they work. Most businesses rely exclusively on mobile phones.
Mobile phone numbers in Congo start with 05 or 06, and they are used by everyone. SIM cards cost very little and can be purchased from one of the major mobile-phone providers, including Airtel and MTN. One of the easiest places to do this is at Maya-Maya Airport in Brazzaville, where there are Airtel offices on both the arrival and departure levels. You'll need your passport to register your SIM card.
Congo uses GMT+1 year-round. The 24-hour clock is commonly used.
All the toilets you come across in Congolese 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.
While tourism remains a very low priority for the Congolese government, there are now two tourist information kiosks at Brazzaville's Maya-Maya Airport, with friendly staff who speak a little English and can give out various flyers and free publications.
Travel with Children
Congo is not really suitable for travel with children, though in Pointe-Noire there are plenty of working expats with children.
Congo is extremely poorly set up for travellers with disabilities.
While there is a large UN and NGO presence in Congo, most posts are held by salaried professionals in their field. There are certainly volunteering opportunities, however. The best place to look is on specialised online forums including www.african-volunteer.net and www.africanimpact.com.
Weights & Measures
Weights & Measures: Congo uses the metric system.
There's a significant number of expats working in Congo, particularly in the oil city of Pointe-Noire, where the oil industry has developed Congo's most vibrant foreign-worker scene. Brazzaville also has a sizeable population of expats working in diplomacy and conservation.