The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a land rich in mineral resources, human potential, biodiversity and ecology, diminished by political and economic instability, corruption and weak infrastructure. Expats generally move to the DRC either to do business in its promising minerals industry or to work in or support NGO missions to aid the victims of violence and food insecurity in the eastern provinces.
But what is it really like to live in the DRC? Here are a few pros and cons of living in the DRC for prospective expats to consider.
Accommodation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- CON: Leases are usually in French
Expats who are not fluent in French are advised to have their lease contracts translated, even if they have the help of an estate agent to go through the contract.
+ PRO: Very modern and aesthetic housing is available in population centres
Expats moving to Kinshasa or Lubumbashi for work can expect to stay at lush hotels or in secure gated communities – for a price. Given the complexity of living in the DRC, employers are more likely to provide for accommodation and utilities, along with transport and medical cover.
- CON: Burglary and petty crime is prevalent
Given the massive inequality and poverty in the country, burglary and petty theft are common. Expats who live in freestanding houses should take necessary precautions, including securing their walls and contracting private security services.
Lifestyle in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
+ PRO: Rich natural beauty
The DRC is home to dense tropical forests, winding rivers and a range of rare and endangered species. Expats who are lucky enough to visit the country's national parks will be blown away by the richness and diversity of animals and plants.
- CON: Lack of security or freedom of movement
Much of the DRC has been in a state of war, political protest and poverty for decades. Security is often at the forefront of expats' minds, and there are many districts and regions where they should not wander. Unlike in the EU, travel plans should be carefully planned well before being carried out.
+ PRO: USD is accepted
Given the volatility of the national currency, USD is accepted and often preferred. Expats from the US will probably not even need to change their currency to francs.
+ PRO: High expat concentration
Life is difficult in the DRC. As a result, the expat community is tight-knit and supportive. The capital city of Kinshasa has a high concentration of expats who share language, culture and backgrounds.
- CON: Distrust of foreigners
Although many expats have moved to the DRC to help the people, the country's history is steeped in colonial and commercial exploitation. As a result, Congolese people can be slow to trust newcomers. It may take expats some time to win their trust and respect.
+ PRO: Friendly and welcoming people
That said, the Congolese are famously friendly and dependable, willing to share what they have with their neighbours. Making an effort to learn their language and customs will pay off in lifelong friendships.
Cost of living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
+ PRO: Economic growth
The International Monetary Fund recently indicated a strong rebound in the country's economy following the slump in 2020. With any luck, the relatively new government can take advantage of this and work to improve the country's infrastructure and food security.
- CON: High cost of living for expats
Almost all goods that expats are used to sell for precipitous prices. Expats are advised to budget carefully, considering that many common goods are imported and sold as luxuries.
+ PRO: Affordable, organic fruits and veg
Locally produced groceries are world-class and inexpensive. Fruits, especially mango and pineapple, are larger and tastier than expats may be used to.
Education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- CON: Underdeveloped education system
The Congolese education system is underfunded, underdeveloped and stretched thin, and the local curriculum is taught in French. For these reasons, expats usually enrol their children in private or international schools. Homeschooling presents another, more cost-effective alternative.
Healthcare in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- CON: Low standard of healthcare
It is important to have health insurance that includes medical evacuation or repatriation, and expats are advised to bring prescription medications with them into the country.
+ PRO: Decent private hospitals and clinics in the capital
Kinshasa has a few private hospitals that meet Western standards, so expats with comprehensive private health insurance will have access to good healthcare.
Getting around in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- CON: Poor road infrastructure and dangerous travel conditions.
Road infrastructure in the country is virtually non-existent. Driving conditions are hazardous outside of major population centres, and many roads are unserviceable during the rainy season. Besides the low quality of roads, there is the question of safety. Protests and insurgencies make many parts of the DRC dangerous to travel through.
+ PRO: Affordable and effective air travel
The UN provides air transport support to the DRC, and the country has several domestic air carriers as well. Air travel is the most viable means of getting around the DRC.