COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) (DRC), located in central Africa, is the second largest country on the continent. The capital is Kinshasa. French is the official language. The country endured more than a decade of civil war that ended in 2003, but still faces continuing political instability and extreme poverty. Read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit the DRC, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). we can keep you up-to-date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date. It is important during enrollment or when you update your information to include your current phone number and email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency.
U.S. Embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
310 Avenue de Aviateurs
Telephone: 243-081-5560151 (dial 243 815 560 151 when calling from abroad)
Avenue Dumi, opposite the Ste. Anne Residence
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport, visa, and proof of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. It is your responsibility to obtain a visa from a DRC embassy and arrange onward travel before arriving. U.S. citizens entering the country without visas have been detained and deported. Likewise, travelers arriving in the DRC without proper proof of yellow fever vaccination have been temporarily detained, fined, or had their passports confiscated. For inquiries and further information on entry/exit formalities, please visit the Congolese Immigration website (in French). Please note that generally visa applicants must apply in their country of residence; thus, U.S. citizens should apply for a visa to the DRC at the DRC Embassy in Washington, D.C. Congolese immigration in some cases has denied entry to foreigners with visas issued by Congolese embassies not in their country of origin.
All journalists working in the DRC must obtain permission from the Congolese Ministry of Information in Kinshasa. The U.S. Embassy recommends that journalists enter the DRC via Kinshasa. Visitors who wish to travel to any mining areas must first obtain government approval from the appropriate government agencies or ministries, a cumbersome and often time-consuming process.
On occasion, travelers to the DRC experience difficulties at the airport and other ports of entry, such as temporary detention, passport confiscation, and demands by immigration and security personnel for unofficial “fees.” If confronted with harassment, please ask to contact the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section at 081-556-0151. All resident foreigners, including U.S. citizens, are required to register at the office of the Direction General of Migration (DGM) in the commune of their place of residence.
For departure from the DRC, airlines require a valid visa for all destination countries before they will issue a ticket or allow a passenger to board. All departing travelers, including U.S. officials, must pay a $50 airport exit fee, in cash. Airlines and the DGM also require that passengers have the correct entry stamp in the passport they wish to use to exit the country. Dual nationals arriving in the DRC should carefully consider which passport they use to enter the DRC. Passengers who are unable to leave the country on the passport they used to enter the DRC may not be able to continue on their travel itinerary.
You may obtain additional information about visas from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1726 M Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20036, tel.: (202)234-7690, fax: (202) 234-2609, or the DRC's Permanent Mission to the UN, 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 511, New York, N.Y. 10017, tel.: (212)319-8061, fax: (212)319-8232. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate.
The United States Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the DRC.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information Sheet.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Department of State’s Security Environmental Threat List Report has designated the DRC as a Critical Crime and High Political Violence Post. The security situation in many parts of the country remains fluid and problematic, including in Kinshasa. Visitors are encouraged to review the current Department of State Travel Warning for the DRC for additional details. Poor economic conditions, high unemployment, and low pay that is often in arrears for the military and police contribute to criminal activity in Kinshasa and throughout the country. Visitors are urged to remain vigilant at all times.
Both inside and outside Kinshasa, security forces are known to set up occasional, spontaneous roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons and valuables, and passengers are checked for identity papers. Security forces regularly seek bribes. If confronted with such a situation, it is best to remain courteous and calm and remain inside your vehicle with doors locked. If detained, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.
The United Nations’ largest peacekeeping operation in the world operates in the DRC. Known by its French acronym of MONUSCO, it has nearly 18,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country, primarily in the east. Violence, nevertheless, persists in the eastern DRC due to the presence of numerous militias and armed groups, with sporadic outbreaks occurring in North Kivu, South Kivu, and northern Katanga provinces, as well as in the Ituri, Bas-Uele, and Haut-Uele Districts of Orientale province, and less frequently in Bas-Congo and Equateur provinces. Military actions against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Haut Uele District have reduced the group’s presence but elements of the LRA are still active in this area and especially areas on the border with the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The DRC military has conducted a series of operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda since January 2009. In April 2012, members of a former rebel group that had previously been integrated into the Congolese military mutinied resulting in heavy fighting in Masisi and Rutshuru territories as well as in Virunga National Park. In November 2012, these mutineers, known as M23, captured Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu. Although they later withdrew from the city, they still occupy large portions of North Kivu and maintain a presence just kilometers from Goma. As a result, the number of internally displaced persons has risen to 1.7 million. Moreover, renewed violence among foreign and Congolese rebel groups present in the northern part of North Kivu and former Rwandan militants in the southern part of the province and throughout South Kivu pose a serious and significant risk to travelers in the region. This fighting underscores the persistent insecurity arising from the activities of rebel and other armed groups operating in the Kivus, which contribute to the overall high risks and dangers associated with travel to eastern Congo. The Department strongly recommends against all travel to the city of Goma and the province of North Kivu, and all but essential travel to the province of South Kivu and the Ituri region in the province of Oriental.
The security situation in the DRC remains unstable and difficult to predict. All travel by Embassy personnel outside of Kinshasa must be vetted by Embassy security staff for approval. Criteria considered in vetting such areas include, but are not limited to, political violence, criminal and violent activity, and the presence of armed or rebel groups. Travelers should take into consideration the above factors when making travel arrangements for the DRC.
Stay up to date by:
CRIME: In the DRC, poor economic conditions continue to foster crime, especially in urban areas. Most reported criminal incidents in Kinshasa involve crimes of opportunity, which include pick-pocketing and petty theft, often committed by homeless street children called “sheggehs.” Travel in certain areas of Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi, and other major cities is generally safe during daylight hours, but travelers are urged to be vigilant against criminal activity that targets non-Congolese, particularly in traffic jams and areas surrounding hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, and nightclubs. Outlying, remote areas are less secure because of high levels of criminal activity and the lack of adequate training, supervision, and salary for security forces. Individuals purporting to be security officials have detained and robbed U.S. citizens and other foreigners in Kinshasa. This type of crime occurs more frequently during the holiday season, including the Christmas and New Year's holidays and prior to the beginning of the school year.
Vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robberies occur throughout the country with reports of some carjackings in the North Kivu area resulting in deaths. The Embassy recommends that motorists drive with doors locked and windows closed at all times. Do not permit soldiers or police officers to enter your vehicle, and avoid getting into the vehicle of anyone purporting to be a security official. Have color photocopies of your passport and other identity documents that you can give to security or police officials instead of the originals. If confronted, remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, do not resist. Please report any incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.
Laws and regulations are not administered consistently in the DRC. Legal recourse in cases of theft and robbery is limited. Valuable items should be kept at home or in a secure location.
If you use public transportation or visit busy areas, be on guard against robbery and pick-pocketing, which are problems in all major cities in the DRC. The “sheggehs,” particularly in Kinshasa, can be aggressive and persistent.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
There is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the Congo.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in the DRC, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In the DRC, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you or if you take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These 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, and 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 is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in the DRC, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
Photography: Travelers should note that it is strictly forbidden to take pictures of government buildings, officials (including police or soldiers), or international borders in the DRC. Persons caught photographing such sites or persons will likely be fined, have their photographic equipment confiscated, and will risk detention and possible arrest.
Travel to and from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo): Passenger and VIP ferry service, known locally as “Carnot Rapide,” is available to and from Kinshasa and Brazzaville. The ferries operate daily and make multiple stops throughout the day, with the last boat departing at 3:00 p.m. Prices for the ferries are: US $15 for the passenger and US $25 for the VIP ferry (Carnot Rapide). If ferry service is functioning, U.S. citizens are required to have a special exit permit from the DRC's Immigration Service and a visa from the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.
Phone Service: In the DRC, cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is unreliable and landlines are nearly non-existant. Depending on the type of phone, it may be possible to purchase a SIM card locally to use a U.S.-compatible cell phone in the DRC.
Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted in urban areas, but most vendors and banking institutions will accept only bills printed from 2006 or later, with the large, off-center portraits that provide stronger protection against counterfeiting. In addition, bills must be in near perfect condition; even those with minor stains or small tears will be rejected. One-dollar bills are rarely accepted. You should examine U.S. bills before accepting them to ensure that they are legitimate; counterfeit currency is widely circulated. Currency exchange should be conducted only at reputable banks and not on the street.
If you are a women traveling abroad, please review our travel tips on the Women Travelers page on Travel.State.gov.
LGBT RIGHTS: Same-sex sexual relations are not illegal in the DRC. However, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community is not protected by anti-discrimination laws, and prejudice against LGBT persons is widespread. The DRC does not recognize same-sex marriages. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in the DRC, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, stipulates that all citizens regardless of their abilities have access to public services, including education, and provides that persons with disabilities are afforded specific protections by the government. The government does not effectively enforce these provisions, and persons with disabilities often find it difficult to obtain employment, education, or government services. The law does not mandate access to buildings or government services for persons with disabilities. In general, the accessibility of facilities in the DRC (including public transportation, public roads, taxis, lodging, restaurants, and other tourist locations) is poor or non-existent, and individuals with disabilities may find it very difficult to get around the country.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities are severely limited, and medical materials are in short supply. It is wise to carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications; an adequate supply of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in local stores or pharmacies is generally not available. Payment for any medical services is expected in cash, in advance of treatment.
Malaria is common throughout the DRC and malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended. It is advisable to consult your primary care provider, prior to travel, concerning proper prophylaxis. Outbreaks of polio, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, the Ebola virus, measles, influenza, and hemorrhagic fever also occur. Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the DRC. Travelers are encouraged to obtain tuberculosis testing pre-travel and repeat 8-12 weeks after return. Travelers should take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Many insect-borne illnesses are present. Follow insect precautions at all times, including using insect repellant and mosquito nets when possible. A yellow fever vaccine is required for entry into the country. Travelers are encouraged to avoid contact with non-chlorinated fresh water to prevent schistosomiasis.
There is a high risk of traveler’s diarrhea and cholera throughout the country. This can be mitigated by using good judgment when choosing what food to eat and water to drink. When in restaurants, it is best to ask for bottled water and avoid ice.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will cover you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas.
You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t cover you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out additional coverage for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in the DRC, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the DRC is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Roads throughout the DRC are generally in poor condition, and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of an automobile accident, remain inside your vehicle and wait for police. If a hostile mob forms or you feel your life is in danger, leave the scene and proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report in the incident.
Official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. If you hear sirens or see security forces announcing the approach of a motorcade, pull off the road as far as possible and extinguish your headlights. Do not attempt to move until the entire motorcade has passed; security forces will indicate when this has occurred. Failure to comply may result in arrest or vehicle damage with possible personal injury.
Use of cell phones while driving is prohibited in the DRC. As with other traffic regulations, enforcement of this law is inconsistent. Distracted drivers pose a threat in large cities, especially Kinshasa.
Any form of public transportation is unregulated, generally unsafe, and unreliable. Taxis, mini-buses, buses, and trains are in poor mechanical condition and are often filled well beyond their intended capacity.
Drivers should stop their cars and pedestrians should stand still when passing a government installation during the raising and lowering of the Congolese flag. This ceremony occurs at roughly 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the DRC's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
The U.S. Embassy prohibits official travel by U.S. government employees and certain contractors on most airlines flying domestic routes in the DRC due to safety and maintenance concerns. International flights on foreign-owned-and-operated carriers are not affected by this prohibition.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for The Democratic Republic of the Congo dated January 23, 2013 with updates to all sections.