What makes Rwanda a unique country to travel to?
Rwanda is a densely-populated, landlocked, developing country in central Africa, and is still recovering from the 1994 civil war and genocide. Economic activity and tourism are on the rise in Rwanda. Hotels and guesthouses are numerous in Kigali, the capital, and in major towns, but are limited in rural areas.
Pick-pocketing in crowded public places is common, as is petty theft from cars, hotel rooms, and other public places, including churches. Smart phones and other portable/mobile electronics are particularly targeted by thieves. Although violent crimes such as carjacking, robbery, rape, and home invasion occur in Rwanda, they are rarely committed against foreigners. The Embassy has also noted an increase in reported residential burglary attempts throughout Kigali. Burglars may break and enter or attempt to trick domestic staff into allowing them unimpeded entrance. You are advised to remain alert, exercise caution, and follow appropriate personal security measures. U.S. citizens who reside in Rwanda should also ensure that their domestic staff understands these measures.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are counterfeit and pirated goods illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Rwanda, you are subject to its laws. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own and criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country are crimes prosecutable in the United States. Rwanda has strictly enforced laws on appropriate speech regarding the genocide. If you break local laws in Rwanda, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you are.
Persons violating Rwandan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Rwanda are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Please see our information on U.S. Criminal Penalties.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Rwanda you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
There are very few emergency municipal response services. Ambulances are available in Kigali through SAMU by calling 912 from any mobile phone, or through King Faisal Hospital at 078 830 9003. Ambulance service is basic and works solely as transportation, usually with no medical treatment involved. The ambulance companies expect payment either up front or upon delivery. They charge an initial 5,000 Rwandan Francs (RWF),then an addition charge per kilometer traveled. Outside of Kigali, ambulances are extremely scarce. Medical and dental facilities are limited, and some medicines are in short supply or unavailable; you should carry your own supply of properly-labeled medications to cover your entire stay. In Kigali, King Faisal Hospital is a private facility that offers 24-hour assistance with physicians and nurses on duty in the emergency room. There are several dental clinics and a few private dentists. Charitable hospitals run by U.S. organizations with some surgical facilities can be found in Kibagora, in southwestern Rwanda, in Ruhengeri, near the gorilla trekking area, and in Rwinkwavu, near the entrance to Akagera National Park. Medical care in Rwanda is not practiced on the same standard one would expect in the US. There are some western trained physicians but many are locally trained where the standard of medical education is not on par with the United States.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a current list of healthcare providers and facilities in Rwanda on its website.
There are periodic outbreaks of meningitis in Rwanda, and the meningitis vaccine is recommended if you are traveling during the dry season, May-October. Yellow fever can cause serious medical problems, but the vaccine is very effective in preventing the disease. The yellow fever vaccine is required for all travelers over 9 months of age, and travelers who cannot show proof of vaccination will not be permitted to enter Rwanda. Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Rwanda. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
Malaria is endemic to Rwanda. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens visiting Rwanda to take prophylactic medications to prevent malaria. These should be initiated prior to entry into the endemic area. Many malaria prophylactic medicines are not available in Rwanda and, because of possible counterfeit of anti-malarial medications, these should be obtained from a reliable pharmaceutical source before arrival. Multiple outbreaks of Ebola have been reported in neighboring DRCin 2007 and Uganda in 2008, but none within Rwanda. Rabies is present throughout the country. All bites, scratches, and licks should be taken seriously and post-exposure rabies treatment sought. Pre-exposure rabies immunization is recommended for long-term travelers, and those adventure travelers who will be more than 24 hours away from reliable post-exposure treatment. Post exposure treatment for rabies is not always reliably available.
Schistosomiasis, transmitted by waterborne larvae that penetrate intact skin, presents significant risk throughout the country. All fresh water lakes in the area should be considered contaminated. You should avoid swimming or wading in Lake Kivu and all freshwater exposure.
Safety and Security
There are currently no daytime travel restrictions in place for official U.S. citizens within Rwanda, but please review U.S. Embassy Kigali’s security messages for U.S. citizens in Rwanda.
In April 2012, conflict broke out in the eastern DRC between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the M23, an armed group comprised of formerly integrated soldiers who defected from the FARDC. Ongoing fighting between those forces and among other armed groups has caused thousands of Congolese to enter northwest Rwanda as refugees. The U.S. Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens exercise caution when traveling near the Rwanda-DRC border given the possibility of renewed fighting.
In mid November 2012, cross-border fire landed within the borders of Rwanda in the vicinity of Gisenyi. One week later, there was an incursion by armed militants in the vicinity of Mudende. In early December 2012, a small element of armed individuals crossed the border from Eastern DRC and attacked a ranger camp northwest of Kinigi. The attack, which occurred just south of Volcanoes National Park, left one ranger dead. The Government of Rwanda has accused the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) of responsibility for these incursions. The FDLR is an armed group that includes former soldiers and supporters of the regime that orchestrated the 1994 genocide and that continues to operate in eastern DRC, near the border of Rwanda.
Grenade attacks aimed at the local populace have occurred on a recurring basis over the last five years in Rwanda. The most recent attack took place on March 26, 2013 at Kimironko vehicle park; one bystander was killed and several were injured. The Embassy urges you to remain vigilant, exercise caution, and avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering.
An area of potential concern is the Mount Nyiragongo volcano, just outside the eastern DRC town of Goma and near the Rwandan border. The volcano is active and last erupted on January 17, 2002 killing 47 people, destroying 15% of Goma and leaving 120,000 people homeless. Rwanda is also located in a seismically active region. In January 2008, an earthquake centered in eastern Congo killed 39 people and injured about 700, including residents of the Rwandan border town of Cyangugu. In November 2012 an earthquake centered in southern Uganda was felt as far south as Kigali.
On occasion, travel by U.S. Embassy personnel may be restricted based on changing security conditions. For safety reasons, U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from driving outside Kigali city limits after dark (6:00 p.m.), and are not permitted to use motorcycle-taxis or mini-bus taxis.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Rwanda, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Rwanda is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. In Rwanda, as in the United States, traffic moves on the right-hand side of the road.
U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from driving outside Kigali city limits after dark (6:00 p.m.), and are not permitted to use motorcycle-taxis or mini-bus taxis. Due to safety and security concerns, the use of motorcycle-taxis or mini-bus taxis for transportation is not recommended. Regulated orange-striped (along the base of the vehicle) sedan auto taxis are safer, but be sure to agree on a fare before beginning your trip. Public transportation can be dangerous due to overloading, inadequate maintenance, and careless drivers.
The main roads in Rwanda are in relatively good condition, but during the rainy season many side roads are passable only with four-wheel drive vehicles. Nighttime driving, particularly outside major cities, is hazardous and is discouraged. Often, roadways are not marked and lack streetlights and shoulders. Many sections have deteriorated surfaces. Due to possible language barriers and lack of roadside assistance, receiving help may be difficult. You may be stopped at police roadblocks throughout the country, where your vehicle and luggage may be searched. Service stations are available along main roads.
You should especially exercise caution at traffic circles and traffic lights, as drivers do not always respect the right-of-way. Excessive speed, careless driving, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are hazards on Rwanda's roads. Many vehicles are not well maintained, and headlights are either extremely dim or not used. Drivers tend to speed and pass other cars with little discretion. Some streets in Kigali have sidewalks or sufficient space for pedestrian traffic, while others do not, and pedestrians are forced to walk along the roadway. Street lighting is limited and drivers often have difficulty seeing pedestrians. Additional road hazards include cyclists, pedestrians, and livestock.
Third-party insurance is required and will cover any damages from involvement in an accident resulting in injuries, if you are found not to have been at fault. The driver’s license of individuals determined to have caused an accident may be confiscated for three months. Causing a fatal accident could result in three to six months' imprisonment. Drunk drivers are jailed for 24 hours and fined 20,000 Rwandan Francs (RWF)(approximately $35). Call 311 from any mobile phone to reach local police or any of these local police station numbers. Ambulance assistance is very limited but can be obtained in Kigali by dialing 912. Wear seat belts and drive with care and patience at all times. In the event of an emergency, U.S. citizens can contact the Embassy duty officer at 078-830-0345.
Rwandan traffic laws prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving and, if apprehended, the driver will be fined 10,000 RWF (about $18). Hands-free devices may be used. As of August 2010, after-market tinted window treatments are prohibited on all vehicles; those apprehended will be required to remove them.