Travel Consideration: Democratic Republic of Congo

Contributed By RealAdventures

The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC) continues to be faced with a deep political and economic crisis, partially inherited from the previous regime which was deposed in the spring of 1997, and an ongoing civil war in the east. There has been a dramatic deterioration of the country's physical infrastructure and basic security environment. Urban crime remains a problem. There is occasional official hostility to U.S. citizens and other expatriates, periodic shortages of basic items such as gasoline, a chronic shortage of medical supplies, high inflation, and in some areas, corruption and serious malnutrition.

Visas should be obtained from an Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to arrival. Individuals who experience difficulty entering DROC with a visa issued overseas are asked to contact the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. Travelers entering the DROC with visas and/or entry/exit stamps from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe or Burundi may experience difficulties at the airport or other ports of entry. Some travelers with those visas or exit/entry stamps have been detained for questioning. Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1800 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 at (202) 234-7690 or 234-7691, or the DROC's permanent mission to the U.N. at 2 Henry Avenue, North Caldwell, New Jersey 07006, telephone (201) 812-1636. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest DROC Embassy or Consulate.

The security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains unstable. Order throughout the country has not yet been established, especially in the eastern or Great Lakes region. Security forces are an amalgam of units, including reintegrated troops from the former regime. Their chain of command is often unclear; troops are often ill-trained, ill-paid, and, sometimes, poorly disciplined.

The change in regime in 1997 resulted in the stationing of large numbers of security forces in all urban areas, notably the capital, Kinshasa, where a curfew is in effect. Exact hours of curfew vary; please check locally. Entry by car or boat after 6 p.m. is prohibited. Travel in the downtown parts of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi is generally safe. The outlying areas are less secure due to command-and-control problems, the continued presence of former Zairian military, large numbers of weapons and high levels of criminal activity. Tension in the capital is further heightened by the influx of refugees from the civil conflict in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), across the Congo River. Civil disturbances may occur without warning in all urban areas and have the potential to turn violent. Travelers should follow the print and electronic media to keep abreast of where and when any political rallies and demonstrations are likely to take place, and of the potential for confrontation. Rally and demonstration sites should be avoided.

There are numerous military roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons, and travelers checked for identity papers. Troops sometimes seek bribes and transportation. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens not question the individual's authority, remain as courteous as possible and report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible

Low levels of economic prosperity continue to promote crime, vehicle thefts, burglaries, armed robbery and carjackings throughout the country.

Medical facilities are limited, and medicine is in short supply. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment in full for health services. The U.S. Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide for payment of medical services outside the United States

Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via its home page at and autofax service at (202) 647-3000.

Intercity roads are poor and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction or stoning.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning DROC is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor to non-existent

Visitors who wish to travel anywhere outside of Kinshasa must obtain advance, written permission from the Ministry of Interior, regardless of the purpose of the trip. Failure to comply may result in arrest.

Ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville may be closed due to the civil conflict in Brazzaville. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (Kinshasa) Immigration Service and a visa from an Embassy of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are required to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry service to the Central African Republic is not reliable.

U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. Penalties for possession, use, and trafficking in illegal drugs are strictly enforced. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

Currency rules are in a state of flux in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's complex, mostly-cash economy. The local currency is changing from the New Zaire to the Congolese franc. The U.S. dollar, however, serves as a reference for most financial transactions. Banks rarely accept U.S. currency in poor condition, in denominations larger than $100 or the old-style $100 bill and $50 bills issued in 1980 and earlier. There are limited alternatives to carrying cash. Credit cards are accepted only at a few major hotels, restaurants, and car rental firms (American Express is most likely to be accepted). Credit cards may not be used at banks to obtain cash advances. Only commercial banks cash travelers checks. Some travelers have complained about high fees, delays, and unavailability of cash at commercial banks for travelers checks and wire transfers (although commissions and taxes are technically less than 4%). Non-cash transactions are usually more difficult outside Kinshasa.

Most currency exchanges are done at licensed exchange bureaus (Bureau de Change Agree). Transactions by unlicensed dealers are illegal and pose risks to the customer.

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa upon their arrival and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, tel. (243) (88) 43608. The Consular section of the Embassy is located at Avenue d'Isiro, Mobil Building; tel. (243) (88) 43608, extension 2164/2376 or (243) (88) 46859, fax (243) (88) 00228 or 43605. Cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is often unreliable.

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