Things to Pack for Kigali

Things to Pack for Kigali

If you were to ask me what to bring when moving to Kigali, I would tell you to stuff your suitcase with heavy-duty boots, mosquito nets, durable pants, and a silly-looking sun hat.  I would tell you leave your jewelry and make-up at home, and instead make room for a year‘s supply of sun block, and a couple of emergency flares. And I would tell you all this because I am a rather mean and devious person, who take great pleasure in other people’s failure to dress themselves properly.

Against my innate inclination to screw people over, however, it has been bestowed upon me to provide you new arrivals with useful packing advice. If you’re staying any other place than Kigali or the other bigger cities, however, the durable pants and sun hat might come in handy for real.


Kigali is a capital city just like any other, with nice restaurants and nightclubs.  I’d maybe leave the leather mini-dress at home, but other than that you should bring clothes you’d feel comfortable wearing out in your home country. Personally, I prefer not wearing anything too short here, and if I do I usually wear dark stockings.  So pack a couple of those, along with your favorite shirts, dresses and party tops. For you guys, pack some nice shirts, and dressy pants. And bring nice shoes; they are crazy about how your shoes look here.


The dress code during the day obviously depends on your job, but in general people in Kigali like dressing up a bit.  Bring some nice suits and cardigans, as well as a pair or two of jeans, and cute tops/blouses and T-Shirts. Bring shoes you can walk in, but that still look cute, and bring many of them. Shoes are what go first here (no pun intended), and though there are a few places to buy new ones here, I’d make sure to bring enough with me to last awhile.

Staying Warm

During the evening and the rainy season it can get quite cold, so bring a few sweaters and a wind jacket.  Rain clothes might also be smart, as well as a few scarves. Rain boots might be practical, but are heavy to pack so I wouldn’t prioritize them. A heavy coat isn’t really required. Layers do the trick.

Bras and Bikinis

If you are peculiar about what you wear underneath your clothes, you should bring plenty of underwear and socks. It can be difficult to find good stuff here, especially bras and thin stockings and such. Swimwear is impossible to find here, so bring plenty of bikinis and bathing suits from home – you’ll need them for Sundays at the pool and the excursions to Lake Kivu.


You can find most things here at any of the major Kigali supermarkets but expect to pay a lot for imported goodies. Jars of pre-made spaghetti or curry sauces can be found here, but cost a fortune. Packs of dried soups are also really pricey. Anything processed and imported is expensive so if you’re into processed things from home… load up before you come.

You can get local gouda cheese but it smells like feet. If you prefer your cheese feet-smell-free then you’ll pay a fortune for it. A small block of cheddar, for example, costs about $7 so if you can find a way, bring cheese! And bring some for me.

Good chewing gum is hard to find. Walnuts are rare. Chocolate chips as well. If you plan on making your own hummous bring some tahini with you. Hmm… can’t think of much else… like I said, most things are available here – if you’re willing to pay.


Kigali is not the most eventful city in the world, and many people fill their days with sports. Tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, horseback riding, biking, and running are some of the options you have, so if you think you might get into any of these, make sure you pack the right equipment. If you are planning on hiking or gorilla trekking in Rwanda or something, you obviously need to bring appropriate gear for this. There are sport stores in Kigali, but they have a crappy selection and are often very pricey.

Entertaining Yourself

For you Kindle-less people out there, books are indeed available in Kigali but I would recommend bringing a few from home, as the books here are a little expensive. Then you can just trade with others once you finish them. A more important issue are movies and TV shows. Fill up a hard drive or two with stuff you enjoy watching for those evenings when nothing is going on, or when it’s raining and you’re trapped at home. Also, board games and a deck of cards might be a good idea to bring as they’re are hard to find here.

If you like painting or drawing, you should pack stuff you need from home as well; you’ll find play dough and crayons at Nakumatt (the main supermarket), but that’s about it. If you’re musical bring your guitar, flute, tuba, grand piano or whatever your instrument of choice is with you because you won’t find a decent one here.


Just bring it all: iPods, iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Macs (and inferior laptops), cameras, external hard drives, play stations, karaoke machines etc. Yes, you can buy electronics here but you’ll pay a lot more than you would at home. I just saw the latest iPhone for sale here for around $1000. I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t pay that price in the US.

If you think you’ll enjoy it, just pack it. If you’ll be living in the city, chances are you’ll have a guard. If you don’t have a guard, you probably won’t have a break-in, and if someone does rob you, the police have a ridiculously good record for tracking down stolen goods. If your stuff disappears forever, then it is a sad thing that could happen anywhere in the world.


The things that are hard to come by in Kigali are quality make-up and certain brands of face wash and lotions. If you are particular about your hair, pack some extra hair treatment or something. The shampoo and conditioner selection here is bleak. Other than that, most things are readily available at the supermarkets.

Other Smart Things To Bring…

…are pictures of your pets and/or friends and family, stuff for a Halloween costume or a dress-up party, a flashlight for when the power goes out, candy, proper sunglasses (just because everyone should have them anyway), inflatable toys for the pool, a little child so you can pretend the inflatable toys weren’t meant for you, sunscreen for your face (the type for your body you can buy here), and a cook book from home. Those hand blender things are great for smoothies and I’ve never found them here. Bug spray with Deet in it is expensive here so brin it from home if you can fit it. Mosquito coils are a good idea too. You should also bring a little fanny-pack pouch to keep your passport in at all times. Oops! That was me being devious again…

If anyone else has suggestions for things to pack, please add them in the comments!

About the Author

Related Posts

35 thoughts on “Things to Pack for Kigali”

  1. Just fyi, you can order things online and have them shipped to you in Rwanda. The trick is trying to find sites willing to accept money and send things in to the dark wilds of Africa, but they are out there. Also:

    Would you find better deals/selections if you crossed the boarder in to Congo, Uganda, Tanzania or Burundi?

    Will they hassle you for trying to bring a lot of shit in to the country? Would they confiscate things?

    As far as books go, do they have a good amount of books based on Rwandan history? Most of the books like that I’ve read have been published in America and might ruffle a few Rwandan feathers… Would bringing books like that in to Rwanda be a bad idea?

    Sorry for bombarding you with questions, but you seem like a knowledgeable source of information over Yahoo! Answers. 😀

  2. Hey Allie… good to know things can be shipped here. Keep in mind that items go missing a lot so I wouldn’t ship anything too pricey.

    Ya there’s plenty of shopping in Nairobi and a lot of people go there and load up on things. Kampala is pretty good, too and is 9 hours by bus from Kigali. There’s not much in the way of shopping over the border in Congo, Tanzania or Burundi.

    Unless you’re obviously importing loads of things I don’t think you’ll get hassled. I’ve never had my bags checked thoroughly at the Ugandan land border.

    The books selection at the two major places I know of (Nakumatt and the book store in Kacyiru beside the Great Wall Chinese place) isn’t particularely Rwanda heavy. So I’d bring them from home. There’s no problem bringing books in. At least, I’ve never heard of any issues.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Thank you so much Inga! You said it all! Perfect!

    Your site is valuable, and it’s worth thousands of recommendations. I know many people who travel to Rwanda from here for mission trips, so I am bringing them all here.


  4. A huge hunk of real Italian Parmesan cheese, a high quality chefs knife which will hold an edge, a square mosquito net, and post-it notes. Better yet, take out those shorts you won’t wear and pack another block of Parmesan.

  5. I was unable to find sunscreen in Kigali (although there are plenty of skin-bleaching products), so bring it if you’ll want it…

  6. Allie,
    The problem with shipping things here are the hidden fees and charges. Anything over a certain value, I think 100 EUR, will be charged a dossier fee ect. So watch out.
    I haven’t had any problems with books. The books here are quite expensive. Nakumatt has a selection of Rwanda books. I don’t know if they are available on amazon or not.

    What to pack for Kigali? Chocolate eventhough Inga doesn’t like it. The selection here is poor and expensive. I agree with Zach that real cutlery is a necessity, the Chinese stuff doesn’t cut it. Any technical equipment that you need to enjoy the sports scene (clothing, tennis racket, shoes). If you want to play golf bring golf balls/tees as they are expensive here. Club rentals are ok. Umbrella as the T2000 versions won’t last very long.

  7. kickin it kigali

    I was surprised by the fact that i dressed pretty normally here. i’m not that fancy, but i ended up wearing the same clothes here that i wore in nyc. also, inga and i did have some mysterious break-ins, but overall you definitely want a radio, and some sort of hard drive filled with movies and tv shows, might i suggest the wire (i know, but inga and i did have some serious marathons going. Idris Elba, anyone?

  8. I’m wondering about skirt length for ladies at work. Is just above the knee okay for a pretty big international NGO office?

    1. Yes, but realise that the locals will mostly be wearing something longer. Of course, the rules change when it is party time.

  9. Hi…

    I am probably moving to Kigali in few months time and its totally unexplored for me though I am based in Nairobi for past 12+ Years,

    I might have to move to Kigali by end of May 2012. I will be moving alone without my family. My House Rent, Water, Electricity Bills will be paid by company.

    I need a favour from you. I wanted to know if I can get a cook, maid, DSTV, Internet Connection, Desired Mobile Number.

    Has Airtel arrived in Kigali?

    Also are there any good Sports Clubs with swimming pool and gym where i can be a member?

    Are there any activities for Weekend? What could be the expense for the above? So i can negotiate with my Boss 😉 accordingly.

    I appreciate your response…

    Best Regards

    1. Hey,

      I’ve never heard of Airtel and I’m not sure if you can choose your own mobile phone number. But yes, finding a cook, home help, and an internet connection are possible. I’m not sure about TV, though.

      There are several gyms and pools around town. Check out this post for more info:

      I’m not really sure what a cook costs and I forget the price of our home helper. Sorry! A gym membership can cost as much as US$200 per month at the Serena or a lot less at less fancy places.


    2. Hi Hiren
      Airtel arrived here recently. We have had DSTV for a long time although the customer service in their office is nonexistent. you can easily find a cook/maid here and depending on how much you are willing to pay you can get one who speaks English or French. Mine only speaks Kinyarwanda but my kids speak it as well so no problems there. la palisse on the road to Rwamaganna has a good pool and a gym and you can become a member there. I guess that you have already arrived so maybe you have discovered this already.

  10. Kirsty and Inga,

    What can you tell me about internet connection in Kigali? Is it readily available in homes? Affordable?

    1. Hi Irene,

      Most people here have a USB wifi stick using one of the three internet networks – MTN, Tigo or Rwandatel. The modems cost about Rwf20,000 (about US$33) and I use MTN which costs Rwf21,000 per month.

      I used Rwandatel when I first arrived and it was crap and never seemed to connect. Then I switched to MTN which was pretty slow at times up until recently and now it’s pretty fast (for Rwanda). I’ve heard good things about Tigo but they don’t have an unlimited plan, you pay per GB.

      It’s also possible to get wifi but I don’t have any details, sorry. The USB modems are recommended because you can work from anywhere you choose. Plus, wifi will go down during power failures which can happen sometimes and the modems will work, as long as your computer is charged. 🙂

      Hope this helps,

  11. Elaine McRobbie

    I’m moving to Kigali and peanut butter is a staple in my vegetarian life. Are peanuts available and if so are they affordable?

    1. Kirsty Henderson

      You can get pads and tampons at Nakumatt. Sometimes they run out of tampons but you can get them at most pharmacies… they just cost twice as much.

    2. Don’t buy feminine hygiene products at pharmacies, go to supermarkets. I get them for my daughter at KIME and they are reasonably priced

  12. Deborah Williams

    Do any of the expats have dogs? Big dogs? Is dog food available? Does anyone know any info on living in Gitwe? Any help is much appreciated!

  13. Gunter Schalbe

    For dog food , just buy some rice at the market and some meat. No need to by over expensive imported industrial dog food.

  14. If you are a man do bring some trousers, for ****’s sake. Kigali is overran by dozens of hairy brutes. And I don’t mean the gorillas. They flipflop everywhere sporting hairy and sunburned legs – Sunday is particularly bad. Not even the restaurant is safe. If we were on a beach it would be fine, but hey, that’s three days’ drive from here…

  15. What’s the scoop on malaria meds? I have 3 kids and am being told to keep them on meds for the year. What are others doing? Are meds reliable and cheap there? (Mephloquine, Doxy)?

    Also, how cold is it at night? Do I need to pack blankets?

  16. i would like to ask about the offecial language in Kigali weather it is English or French
    thank you

  17. Hi all,

    Probably joining you all within a month I still have some questions. What is a reasonable price for rent for a 3 room appartment? And… Do we have good and affordable internet service? If there’s internet, there’s streaming television….

    Hope to hear!

  18. Well you don’t really have apartments here like you would in other places. All of the apartments seem to have been reserved for use as ‘serviced apartments’ which, from what I can tell, doesn’t mean much more than being able to charge US$2,000 a month for rent for big companies and organisations.

    You’ll most likely be in a house and rents will vary a lot depending on the quality of the place (how expat-friendly it is… hot water, full kitchen, furnished etc) and the location. In Kiyvu you probably wouldn’t find a three bedroom place for under US$800-900 but out in Kibagabaga you can find a four or five bedroom place for US$500 if you look around. But you’ll also be living on the edge of beyond. So… hard to say prices without a lcoation and minimum living standard.

    Internet here mostly sucks. I pay Rwf 21,000a month (about $35) with MTN. I hear Airtel is better but not sure of the prices. Streaming TV shows isn’t going to happen, though.

  19. Hi Kirsty,

    Thnx. Although I was not so specific indeed, you did give me an impression. I’ll have accomodation provided by my employer. That would be a 2 room apparment. I considered that as maybe a bit cheap ass and small and backlocked, but maybe it is that kind of serviced appartment and not bad as at all. Although I think it would be much more fun to live in a house with other ex pats and people from abroard or locals, but at least not alone.


    I have to stuff my harddisk with movies in any case.

    And than, just to give myself a good feeling. Am I going to be very alone over there? Or are there somekind of social gatherings? I read something about sunday afternoons at mille collonis? I like to socialize, but I am also in to sport. I lived in the Caribbean for 5 years. But I think that wave surfing and kiting is not going te be the case over there… But how about swimming (cercle du sportif) is there 25 meters pool? Or mountainbiking? Is there also a runners club? What do we do on a friday night? Do we (comming from abroad) also have a community of people who are discovering the beautifull surroundings and make trips in the country side?

    O before I forget: transport. How difficult is it to buy a reasonable car?

    Lot of question, but I am looking forward to beining over there!

  20. Waouh!! Thanks Kirsty for so much information. My own question is regarding moving my own furniture and personals container with me when I move next spring. I presently live in Ethiopia and customs here ask for a tax representing 70% of the price (new value) of every item you bring in, when you are not a diplomat or an NGO and of course, clearance takes up to 6 months!! Is it the same in Rwanda? Thnak you so much for your help!

    1. Hi all, Hi Dimitri!
      Are you russian? Are you already in Rwanda? Is it possible to have your mail if you are?
      Im moving in Kigali with my husb and 6 monthes baby. Is it ok for babys? How are hospitals in kigali?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *