We get it, you have questions about Kinshasa that we clearly failed to cover through anecdotes about our children.
So we thought we'd try to answer some of your FAQs. You've asked about medical care, grocery shopping, apartment hunting, "fun" stuff to "do" in Kinshasa, and how the heck to find a nanny. We'll address all those things, but let's start with your arrival.
You must have a visa ahead of time.
DRC is one of those places where they check at your departure airport for your visa. They won't let you leave for the Congo without it. Handy tip: If you have many expired DRC visas in your passport, as we do, attach a Post-it note to the current one to prevent the bolt of panic when the woman at the airport desk says, "Your visa is expired."
|Post-it = This is the good one.|
Don't forget proof of your Yellow Fever vaccine.
This is one of the only airports where they obsessively check to make sure you had your Yellow Fever vaccination. Have your vaccine book ready. From my experience, babies under 12 months don't need one. They'll also check for this vaccine when you leave Kinshasa.
Right about the time you step off the plane at N'djili - and the humidity slaps you in the face so hard it frizzes up your hair - a bus will roll up to take you to the terminal. It will transport you the distance of two bus lengths to get you there. We're fancy like that.
Once inside the terminal you'll immediately pass through immigration.
There are lines for special people and lines for non-special people. Tip: If you are not special, and your baby is crying (or you are crying) try to make eye-contact with someone who looks "official" and they may put you in the short line with the special people.
Next, the man behind the glass will snort at you, which means hand over your passport and immigration card. DRC should win some sort of prize for the details they ask on this card. After conducting very scientific experimentation, all the DGM cares about is your address in Kinshasa. Because we're juggling children and don't have time to fill-in the required manifesto, we half-write most things on that card. Don't sweat reading all those hand-written visa numbers in your passport. Scribble something down and they'll figure out the rest.
Tip: That bottomless triangle in your visa number is the Congolese way to write the number 1. (Can you find the 1s on the visa number above? Bonus points if you can find 3 of them.)
|Filling out one of these for each family member will keep you busy your entire flight.|
A word about protocol.
It seems that every author who's ever written a book about Congo likes to include their horror story of entering or exiting the airport. Apparently, it can be an author's biggest fear. Honestly, it's not that bad. Yes, there's a good possibility it will be the biggest hassle of your trip, but you'll survive.
Your best bet is to hire "protocol" who are basically men you've paid to pay-off everyone else. This one-off bribe to your protocol man might save you from paying a multitude of bribes. The going rate for protocol is around $50. Their job is to get you in and out with as little hassle as possible. It's not fool proof, but it's usually worth it.
There are many private protocol men, or you can hire one through Jeffery Travels. Jeffery can also help you with transport, which by the way you really should have in advance. This is not a hail a taxi at the airport kind of place. (You can, but it's not advised.)
And then you enter luggage claim.
After you've run the gauntlet of immigration and Yellow Fever vaccine verification, you enter luggage claim. There is one functional carousel for your flight of hundreds of people and any other flight that has also landed. This is usually where you meet your protocol man. He may ask for your luggage tag stub, which you got 48 hours ago and probably already lost. More on that later. He'll take your stub and tell you to go wait in your car. He will find your bag by comparing your stub with numbers on every single bag that comes through. This is your introduction to Congolese efficiency.
Or you can just wait there yourself and find your own luggage. We've done both. I like to micromanage and maintain control, so I prefer waiting myself.
Waiting for luggage in the past has taken as many as 3+ hours. Remember, the plane is literally 2 bus lengths away. There are several conspiracy theories behind this bizarre phenomenon. I have no verified explanation, but while writing this post, Adam and I had a 20 minute argument about what we think is happening to your bags before you see them. Everyone has an opinion.
Your bags will get here...eventually.
I am going to regret saying this, but we have never lost a bag arriving in Kinshasa. Your luggage might be delayed, but it always gets here. You may see your name written on a chalk board near the carousel if you're in the delayed luggage boat.
This is the point at the end of your epic journey where [insert name of travel companion here] practices misplaced anger and starts shouting about the airport using a 1970s chalk board. Can't THESE PEOPLE cough up enough cash for a 21st century WHITE BOARD!?
Recently, a friend's bag was stuck at the airport due to the little shoot-out we had there. But he still got it. Three weeks later and bullet hole free.
It's a good idea to lock your luggage, but I've heard more stories about stranger's items showing up in your bag than having your items stolen. Speculate amongst yourselves.
Some people like to split up their possessions to prevent theft. Think: One shoe in each bag. Because "Who would ever steal one shoe!?" But sometimes this backfires as in the case of the aforementioned friend who waited 3 weeks for his bag and only had one shoe of each pair.
Don't lose your luggage tag stub.
After you get your stuff, you have to show your luggage tag stub to men in orange vests. This is that sticker they give you when you first checked in for your flight. They're verifying you're taking your own luggage. I appreciate this step.
You're free to go after you pass the last row of men at the door who may or may not hassle you to open your bags. Usually if you have protocol, you can walk right past. Or start speaking in English and they'll give up on you.
Other rules (which may or may not be enforced):
1. You are not allowed to step on the grass.
2. You are not allowed to wait inside the arrival hall, or anywhere near the door, for your arriving friends/family.
3. You are not allowed to take local currency outside the country.
4. You are allowed to regret coming to Congo on your drive from the airport. This is normal. You will probably get over it.
Departing Kinshasa is an equally complicated process. As in, 12 hours before your flight you check in your bags at a completely separate location away from the airport.
But if you jump through the hoops, you'll be fine. Again, you can always pay someone to do the jumping for you.
I've only ever heard of one dramatic, Argo-esque departure in which panic ensued all the way until the plane took off. But you can ask Jill's parents about that one.
One final rule. Do not take photos at the airport. This is serious business. Many years ago, Adam and I were waiting for a friend in our car when, out of complete boredom, I took a picture of him eating a waffle.
In the parking lot.
In our car.
Of a waffle.
Quicker than you can say "mundele mistake" we were surrounded by police. Oh well, we lived to tell the tale, which is all that matters at the end of any N'djili experience.
|The infamous photo. Airport fun fact: The interior of your car is considered N'djili property.|
Note: N'djili Airport changes its hoops on a daily basis. These are just things we've found to be true from our experience.
Comment with your own tips and experiences at N'djili. Horror stories AND success stories welcome! Or are you one of those people who just rolls up to the airplane in your car? Surely there's a good story there too.
Any other FAQs you'd like us to answer? Let us know.
Other Kinshasa FAQs: Grocery Shopping.