Often referred to as the Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda’s landscape is dominated by rainforests, mountains, volcanoes and lakes. Beautiful weather prevails, making the country a pleasant spot to call home. Locals are also some of the friendliest, most open and welcoming people in Africa. And, although Rwanda has a tumultuous history, the situation today is much more stable, with expats reporting feeling extremely safe.
Living in Rwanda as an expat
Rwanda offers expats reasonably high-quality rural living. Despite its reputation as a third-world country, Rwanda is developing at a solid pace, with modern water, electricity and internet infrastructure becoming fairly common. The country has a sizeable expat population, and newcomers often find it to be quite trouble-free.
Rwanda’s economy is predominantly based on subsistence agriculture, with coffee and tea being the main cash crops for export. Tourism is growing rapidly thanks to the naturally beautiful environment and the endangered animals Rwanda is home to, such as the mountain gorilla.
Accommodation in Rwanda is relatively cheap, especially for expats earning in a foreign currency. Houses in rural areas tend to be older and more patchwork than those in big cities. Most expats prefer living in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, as housing here is still comparably affordable and offers greater access to shops and entertainment.
Public transport in Rwanda has a turbulent history, but lately, legal reform and public cooperation have led to stable bus services in major cities. In Kigali especially, buses are the main form of transport. A cashless payment system has also been set in place to make payment more convenient and quicker. Rwanda has no railway system and air travel is not common. An international driver’s licence is valid for one year, and driving is generally more convenient for most expats. Main roads here are generally in good condition, but secondary roads and smaller roads in rural areas can be heavily deteriorated and lack any form of lighting. Expats are advised to remain aware of their surroundings and drive defensively.
Rwanda has a universal healthcare scheme, largely subsidising the medical treatment for its citizens. The poorest citizens are entitled to completely free healthcare, while the more affluent pay a small amount for national healthcare coverage. That said, the quality of healthcare in Rwanda remains poor, as the country suffers from a shortage of qualified medical professionals. In the case of a serious emergency, expats will most likely need to be evacuated by air to another country, such as South Africa or somewhere in Europe. Expats should ensure that they have a comprehensive medical insurance plan in place in case this situation arises.
Cost of living in Rwanda
Life in Rwanda is pretty affordable for most, especially expats, who tend to earn higher salaries than locals. The capital city of Kigali was ranked 175th out of 209 cities on Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey in 2021. The standard of living for expats tends to be high here, especially those living in major cities.
Expat family and children
The Rwandan government provides free education in state-run schools but standards may fall short of expats' expectations. Alternatives include various private schools across Rwanda teaching the national curriculum, as well as a handful of international schools teaching foreign curricula. These are mostly located in the capital.
As a country with rich natural landscapes and myriad exotic animals, expats fond of the outdoors can always find something to do. To escape the pressures of work and city life, expats can make a trip to lake Kivu and relax on its shores. The bustling Kimironko market offers expats the chance to indulge in local tastes and culture with a wide array of things to buy.
Climate in Rwanda
Rwanda is pleasantly warm throughout the year, and nights are refreshingly cool. The country has a tropical climate and two rainy seasons: one from March to May, and another between September and November.
To make the most of their time in Rwanda, expats should be adaptable and able to keep an open mind. Though a little off the beaten path and somewhat rough around the edges in certain aspects, Rwanda offers a unique expat experience for those willing to venture outside of their comfort zone.
Population: About 13 million
Capital city: Kigali
Neighbouring countries: Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west.
Geography: Rwanda is a landlocked country in East Africa. The western part of the country is dominated by mountains with the eastern part of the country being defined by forest and savannah, plains and swamps. Lake Kivu makes up a significant part of Rwanda's western border.
Political system: Unitary presidential republic
Main languages: Kinyarwanda, French and English
Major religions: Catholicism, Christianity and Islam
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are used.
Currency: Rwandan franc (RWF), divided into 100 centimes. ATMs and card facilities are available in major urban centres, but cash is needed for rural areas.
International dialling code: +250
Internet domain: .rw
Emergency numbers: 112
Transport and driving: Vehicles in Rwanda drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Are you an expat living in Rwanda?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Rwanda. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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