Bargaining is perfectly acceptable at any market or stall and is essential with taxi and moto-taxi drivers, who will often put the prices up for foreigners. Forearmed is forewarned – do check what the going rate is for any journey before starting to haggle. Of course, there are many drivers who do not put prices up for foreigners, so consider this before entering into outraged negotiation.
Dangers & Annoyances
Mention Rwanda to most people and they think of it as a highly dangerous place. However, it's actually one of the safest countries in East Africa to travel in today.
- Serious crime or hostility aimed specifically at travellers is very rare, and there’s no more to worry about here than in most other countries.
- Kigali is a genuine contender for the safest capital in Africa, though, as in any big city, take care at night and don't take unnecessary risks.
- Never take photographs of anything connected with the government or military (post offices, banks, bridges, border crossings, barracks, prisons and dams) – cameras can and will be confiscated by the rather overzealous police or security services.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information for travellers.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Global Affairs Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- French Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)
Electricity in Rwanda is 240V, 50 cycles, and plugs are mainly two-pin.
Embassies & Consulates
Australia's embassy in Nairobi (Kenya) handles Rwanda, while New Zealand's embassy in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) is responsible for Rwanda. Ireland handles its affairs from its embassy in Kampala, Uganda.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Rwanda does not use area codes.
|International country code||250|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Yellow-fever vaccination certificates are compulsory for entry or exit, although they are not always asked for.
Customs in Rwanda has one particular peculiarity: a total ban on bringing plastic bags into the country. While this is enormously progressive (and was designed to stop the disfiguring of the countryside), it's not enforced with any great rigour and suitcases are rarely searched. Otherwise, customs in Rwanda is fairly relaxed.
Nearly all visitors require a visa for Rwanda, and as of January 2018 all nationalities can get one on arrival.
Almost everyone requires a visa to enter Rwanda.
- From January 2018 citizens from all nations (no longer just those from Australia, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the USA) can automatically receive visas on arrival at Kigali International airport and all land borders.
- The cost of the 30-day tourist visa depends on your nationality. Citizens of Australia, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the USA will pay US$30, while many others may need to hand over US$50.
- Another option is to apply for your visa online before you travel by registering at Rwanda Immigration (www.migration.gov.rw). Single-entry (V1) and conference visas (T6) take three days to process (both are valid for 30 days). You have the option to pay online or upon arrival.
- To extend your stay or apply for any other type of visa, you must do so at Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration in Kigali’s Kacyiru district, about 7km northeast of the city centre near the US Embassy. For extensions you'll need to bring the appropriate form (available online), a passport-sized photo, your passport, a letter of introduction or a letter addressed to the Director of Immigration explaining why you require a visa, and RFr30,000. Extensions take five days to issue.
- Rwanda is one of the countries covered by the East Africa Tourist Visa, and for those also visiting Kenya and Uganda on the same trip it is a cheaper alternative. The visa costs US$100, is valid for 90 days and is multiple entry (if staying within the three countries) – it is available online (www.migration.gov.rw), upon arrival or from embassies abroad. If acquiring the visa before travel, your first port-of-call must be the country through which you applied for the visa. These visas can not be extended.
Rwanda is a welcoming country, but following a few rules of etiquette will make your travels smoother.
- Greetings Rwandans are generally very polite and somewhat formal on first meetings. It's extremely common to exchange quite stilted pleasantries and greetings before moving into conversation, in the French style. Otherwise, Rwandans are rather relaxed and far more outgoing than their Ugandan cousins. Most are delighted to meet travellers visiting their country and so you can expect to feel extremely welcome wherever you go.
- African time Impatience will get you nowhere in Rwanda, where nothing is hurried.
- Photographing people Ask permission to photograph if a candid shot can't be made and don't insist or snap a picture anyway if permission is denied.
- Ethnicity It is considered inappropriate to ask if someone is Hutu or Tutsi. Most people identify themselves as Rwandan, keen to put the tribal divisions of the past behind them.
Rwanda is not nearly as homophobic as its East African neighbours, but that's not to say that gay people here don't face significant prejudice. Same-sex relations are not illegal in Rwanda, but that's about it. Gay people are not afforded any rights or protections such as partnership, but despite several attempts by religious groups, legislation to proscribe gay sex has not been successful. Just as it was in Uganda and Kenya a decade ago, homosexuality remains a taboo subject that most people simply never discuss or think about. Kigali has several gay-friendly locales, but otherwise, if you want to make contacts, online is the best bet. Always be cautious, however, and meet people in public places.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even hiking. Always check the small print and make sure that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet access is widely available in all towns and cities. All midrange and top-end hotels, bar a few remote ecolodges, have wi-fi available (often in room but sometimes just around the reception area) and an increasing number of budget hotels, restaurants and cafes offer wi-fi. However, speeds are slow and service is often cut off for no reason.
A good alternative (or supplement) to hotel-provided wi-fi is to buy a local SIM card with data or an internet dongle from any of the main mobile-phone providers (MTN offers the best network coverage). This means you'll be able to get online in all but the most remote corners of Rwanda.
Despite its poor record on freedom of speech and human rights in the past few years, Rwanda's legal system is efficient and relatively uncorrupted. Your main contact with the police will be if you're driving, as dozens of patrols monitor speed limits and you can expect to be pulled over if you travel even slightly over the posted speed. Foreigners are routinely let off fines, however, though being asked for a bribe is certainly not rare. Politely refuse and try to stick to the speed limit. There is a presumption of innocence in Rwanda and a legal right to a lawyer if you are arrested.
- Newspapers The English-language New Times (www.newtimes.co.rw) is published several times a week, plus the Ugandan New Vision (www.newvision.co.ug) and Monitor (www.monitor.co.ug) are also available as is the East African (www.theeastafrican.co.ke) – a region-wide paper.
- Radio Radio Rwanda is the government-run station, broadcasting in Kinyarwanda, French, Swahili and English.
- Television TV Rwandaise (TVR) is the state-owned broadcaster.
Most banks in larger towns have international ATMs. Credit cards are accepted at most tourist hotels. Bring US dollars or euros.
The unit of currency is the Rwandan franc (RFr). It is divided into 100 centimes. Notes come in RFr100, RFr500, RFr1000, RFr5000 and RFr10,000 denominations. Coins come in RFr10, RFr20 and RFr50.
Banks in all towns and cities have ATMs, but not all work with foreign credit cards. The notable exceptions are the Bank of Kigali, GT Bank and Ecobank, which work with both Visa and MasterCard.
Banks throughout the country can exchange US dollars or euros, although they can be very slow to do so. Most people use the foreign-exchange bureaus in Kigali and other larger towns instead, and this is quite safe. Foreign-exchange bureaus also offer slightly better rates.
Rwanda, like other African countries, is very particular on which notes it will or will not accept. Anything older than 2006 or deemed too dirty, crinkled or tatty will not be accepted. Denominations of US$50 or US$100 are preferred.
If you bring US dollars, note that you won't really need to change them, as most activities can be paid in US dollars and almost all hotels accept US dollars.
Credit cards are increasingly accepted at midrange and top-end tourist hotels and restaurants. The Rwanda Tourism Information Centre (RDB) office in Kigali also accepts them, as do most national park offices (though lines are sometimes down at these).
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com
Although service charges are generally included in the bill, tipping is common in the cities these days due to the large international presence.
- Hotels RFr500 per bag is standard.
- Restaurants For decent service 5% to 10%.
- Guides/drivers US$10 per person per day.
- Car parks It's a good idea to tip the men who watch (and sometimes clean) your car. A tip of around RFr1000 is appropriate.
Travellers cheques are not accepted in Rwanda.
The following are common business hours in Rwanda. Sunday is the weekly holiday for offices and most shops.
Banks 8am–5pm Monday to Friday
Government offices 8am–5pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants Breakfast 7–10am, lunch 11am–3pm, dinner 6.30–10pm
Shopping centres 8am-10pm
Never take photographs of anything connected with government or the military (post offices, banks, bridges, border crossings, barracks, prisons and dams) – cameras can and will be confiscated.
The postal service is fairly reliable and you can find a post office in every town.
New Year’s Day 1 & 2 January
National Heroes Day 1 February
Easter (Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Monday) March/April
Genocide against the Tutsi Memorial Day 7 April
Labour Day 1 May
Independence Day 1 July
Liberation Day 4 July
Umuganura Day First Friday in August
Assumption 15 August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
From 8am to 11am on the last Saturday of every month, the whole country stops whatever it is doing and works for the public good, cleaning streets, repairing roads and building schools. Known as Umuganda Day, you’ll find it difficult to get around at this time although some tour operators may have dispensation to travel during these hours.
- Smoking Rwanda instituted a comprehensive smoking ban in 2013, meaning that it's illegal to smoke in cinemas, restaurants, hotels, bars, public transport and indoor public transport terminals.
Taxes & Refunds
- Throughout the country, quoted prices and tariffs almost always include all local taxes.
- There is no system of sales-tax refunds for tourists who purchase items in Rwanda.
- Rwanda's country code is 250.
- There are no area codes.
- Few people use landlines in Rwanda and nearly all numbers in use in the country are for mobile phones.
- When phoning Rwanda from abroad, you’ll need to dial the international code for Rwanda (250), followed by the 10-digit local number (without the initial '0').
Access Rwanda's GSM network through MTN, Airtel or Tigo; international roaming and local SIM cards easily available.
- Mobile-phone reception is excellent throughout the country.
- Most businesses use mobile phones rather than landlines.
- Mobile numbers begin with 078, 072 or 073.
- The main operators in Rwanda are MTN, Tigo and Airtel.
- It's cheap, fast and painless to get a Rwandan SIM card for your phone; just go to any operator with your passport.
- Top-up cards start from as little as RFr100. Mobile phone calls cost about RFr1 per second, although rates vary depending on when you call.
- Rwanda is on GMT plus two hours. When it's noon in Kigali, it's 11am in London, noon in Paris, 6am in New York and 8pm in Sydney.
- If you’re coming from Uganda or Tanzania, be advised that Rwanda is one hour behind the rest of East Africa.
- Rwanda does not operate a system of daylight saving; being close to the equator, its sunset and sunrise times vary only slightly throughout the year.
- The vast majority of toilets provided for travellers will be Western style, even in the cheaper hotels and restaurants.
- There are public toilet facilities in the national parks and at major tourist attractions.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB; www.rwandatourism.com) runs the state tourist board. Currently it has several tourist offices: one in Kigali, one in Musanze (Ruhengeri) and another one in Gisenyi (Rubavu). While they have only limited amounts of promotional information, the staff are – for East Africa – unusually well trained, knowledgeable and helpful.
Travel with Children
- Rwanda is a very safe and reasonably well-developed country, so you needn't worry about travel with children here. However, the genocide remains prominent at many sights in Rwanda and could be confusing and traumatic for younger children who may struggle to understand the events of 1994.
- Otherwise, nappies and baby formula are widely available, children are welcome in restaurants, hotels and resorts, and most will love the chance to see wild animals in the national parks.
- For older kids, wildlife-watching in Akagera National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park is a sure-fire hit. Note that kids must be over 15 for gorilla tracking. Gisenyi (Rubavu) and Kibuye (Karongi) have excellent resorts that are suitable for families.
- Rwanda has a much better infrastructure than most of its neighbours and has been generally very progressive in accommodating the needs of travellers with disabilities. Most of the better hotels have lifts, pavements are in excellent condition and some hotels and restaurants have disabled toilets as well.
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Rwanda is full of volunteering opportunities and, due to its safety and decent infrastructure, is an excellent place for a first timer wanting to spend time in an African country. Despite its massive progress in recent years, Rwanda still needs all the help it can get, particularly with teaching and medicine. Most volunteer positions have to be paid for, however. Try contacting VSO (www.vsointernational.org).
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Rwanda uses the metric system and all distances are in kilometres.
Compared with many African countries, Rwanda is pretty easygoing for women travellers. The risk of rape or other serious offences is likely lower than in many Western countries. Keep in mind that local women usually dress reasonably conservatively, mostly covering up their shoulders and legs; dressing in a similar manner will help to avoid unwanted attention.
With all the international money sloshing around Rwanda, one might be forgiven for thinking it would be easy to pick up some work here. However, most international organisations tend to recruit professionals from home and in the local community. Anyone considering looking for work must secure a work permit from a Rwandan embassy before entering the country.