The Democratic Republic of Congo is Africa's second-largest country by area. This is just one of the factors that make travelling difficult. While getting around in cities can be done by road and a few, though limited, public transport options, travel between major cities is best done via air travel.
Bear in mind that the transport infrastructure and country-wide road network are underdeveloped. Expats should also consider the numerous safety concerns when travelling in the DRC.
Public transport in the DRC
Several bus services operate between the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbouring countries. However, given the safety concerns, particularly around the border regions, bus travel across the country is best avoided.
Buses and minibus taxis also operate in most towns and cities, but they’re often overcrowded and poorly maintained, so should be used with caution.
Boats and ferries
With thousands of kilometres of navigable rivers, water transport is a popular means of getting around in the DRC. Ferry services operate between Kinshasa and Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, which is located just across the Congo River. Expats can ask the ferry service provider for information on the safety standards. A safer and somewhat more pleasant option is to cross the river via speedboat.
While there is a railway network in the DRC, including one operating between Kinshasa and Matadi, services are infrequent and unreliable. Despite some rail refurbishment projects by foreign firms operating in the mining sector, there are very few passenger services.
Expats can also get around by taxi in the DRC. However, it's best to contact a known private taxi company rather than hail one off the street. This is a safer and more reliable option of getting a taxi. We also suggest agreeing on a fare before departing.
Driving in the DRC
Most expats will get around in the DRC by car. Even if places are within walking distance, it's normal to drive to the destination. Whether an expat drives themselves or hires a driver is another decision to make.
Expats who do want to drive in the DRC must get an International Driving Permit before arriving in the country. However, having a driver is greatly beneficial as these professionals will be familiar with and able to navigate the local roads.
Many companies provide their expat employees with a car as well as a driver. If not, this perk may be negotiated. Alternatively, expats can hire a car. Most rental companies only rent cars with a driver.
Factors to consider
Although Kinshasa's main streets are relatively clean, chaotic traffic and poorly-maintained roads, especially outside of the capital city, make driving hazardous. Driving is particularly dangerous during the rainy season from September to May, and road accidents are common. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is best if driving outside of the main cities, and driving at night should be avoided.
Roadblocks, both official and unofficial, are common and expats should ensure that they carry all the necessary documents when travelling. Requests for bribes are not unusual and caution is advised when dealing with security officials.
Air travel in the DRC
Given the country’s vast size and for various safety reasons, it is best to fly between cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two main airports in the country are Kinshasa International Airport (N’djili International Airport) and Lubumbashi International Airport.
A number of African and international airlines offer regular services to and from the DRC. There are also regular charter services operating within the country. However, Congolese air carriers have a dubious safety record and expats should choose their carrier carefully.