The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country in Central Africa known by several names: the DRC, DR Congo, Congo-Kinshasa or simply the Congo. Expats considering moving to the DRC may picture gorillas or chimpanzees and the lush Congo Rainforest (which is the world's second-largest rainforest after the Amazon). New arrivals soon realise that life here has much to offer.
Living in the DRC as an expat
As Africa's second-largest country, the DR Congo boasts an area greater than France, Germany, Norway, Spain and Sweden combined. A simple glance at a map does not do justice to the DRC's diversity of environments, natural resources and cultures. The DRC is famous for its mineral wealth, from cobalt and copper to diamonds and gold. The mining sector is the economy's biggest attraction to foreign investors, while the growing job market allows expats to find work in a range of sectors from finance to tech.
The Congo's biodiversity encapsulates jungles, savanna grasslands, mountains, and volcanoes, as well as Africa's Great Lakes region in the east of the country. Meanwhile, most expats move to Kinshasa or Lubumbashi, the capital of the southern copper-rich Haut-Katanga province. Expats in these cities may find themselves staying in modern accommodation, far removed from the idea of an environment that is entirely jungle.
Kinshasa is the country's capital and most developed city; as an economic hub, it offers main services and amenities. Kinshasa hosts several Western-standard medical facilities, as well as a handful of international schools. However, the standard of infrastructure across the Democratic Republic of the Congo is poor. The provision of basic services in most towns, including electricity and water, is often subject to disruption if present at all.
Still, one of the main concerns for foreigners moving to the Congo is safety. Although its civil war ended in 2003, the country continues to struggle with political and economic insecurity. A tumultuous history and a diversity of over 250 ethnic groups have unfortunately left the country at the epicentre of ethnic conflicts in the Great Lakes region for decades. Conflict and violence are prevalent in eastern provinces, while security should not be taken lightly when living in Kinshasa either. The UN maintains a strong peacekeeping presence in conflict-ridden areas, and humanitarian aid work is another key sector in which expats work. That said, the DRC is rich in culture, and many new arrivals feel welcome here.
Cost of living in the DRC
With poor transport infrastructure and high food insecurity, the cost of living in the DRC is quite high. Furthermore, given the high level of poverty in the country, commodities that expats may take for granted go for a high premium when they're available at all. In 2023, Mercer's Cost of Living Survey ranked Kinshasa as 32nd out of 227 cities surveyed worldwide. This puts it on a par with the cost of living in Seattle, USA or Prague in the Czech Republic.
The overall healthcare system is in a dire state, and expats are advised to budget for the cost of medical insurance covering emergency air evacuation and repatriation.
Expat families and children in the DRC
Given numerous safety and infrastructural barriers, expats contemplating a move to the Democratic Republic of the Congo should consider their options carefully, particularly if relocating with a family. Congo's public education system is underfunded and understaffed. Local schools typically are not a viable option, while international schools are limited in number and capacity. Expat parents will need to ensure they apply well in advance to secure a spot for their children.
Climate in the DRC
The DRC has a tropical climate. Because the country straddles the equator, its northern and southern regions have opposite seasons. From April to October, it is dry season in the north and rainy season in the south. That said, the DRC is sweltering and humid (averaging 80 percent humidity) throughout the year.
Nevertheless, an expat's experience in the capital will differ greatly to one elsewhere in the country. Most new arrivals report a friendly environment, despite the hardships. With an open mind and determination, as well as caution for safety, expats can embrace their relocation to the DRC.
Population: About 108 million
Capital city: Kinshasa
Neighbouring countries: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is bordered by the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east, Zambia and Angola to the south, and the Republic of the Congo to the west.
Political system: Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
Major religions: Christianity
Main languages: French, while Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba are also officially recognised
Time: GMT +1 to GMT +2
Money: Congolese Franc (CDF) is the local currency and can be divided into 100 centimes. ATMs and card facilities are available in major urban centres, but rural areas seldom have these.
Electricity: 220 volts, 50 Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are used.
International dialling code: +243
Internet TLD: .cd
Emergency numbers: Emergency services are extremely limited. Expats are advised to seek out private security services and hospitals for cases of emergency.
Drives on the: Vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road. Public transport is limited and generally unsuitable for expats. Road infrastructure is underdeveloped, particularly in rural areas.