Foreign travel advice

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Safety and security

Foreign nationals have been detained or had their passports seized by local authorities following commercial disputes. You should be cautious when dealing with commercial disputes and seek legal advice. Foreign nationals have also been detained or had passports seized as a result of immigration offences.

The Congolese authorities rarely meet their international obligations to notify Embassies when foreign nationals have been detained. Even if requested, adequate consular access isn’t always granted. You should therefore keep in close touch with family or friends and ask them to notify the British Embassy Kinshasa immediately in the event that you are arrested in DRC.

Crime

Be alert to the risk of street crime and armed robbery at all times. Foreigners are at particular risk of street robbery in Kinshasa, especially near hotels and supermarkets in the centre of town. Robberies by gangs of street children are increasingly common and can be aggressive.

Robberies by people posing as taxi drivers or taxi customers are increasingly common in Kinshasa, and are often accompanied by a threat of violence. You should avoid using any taxis in DRC. If you must take a taxi, use a privately booked one. Don’t hail taxis on the street.

Car jackings are rare but not unheard of. There have been reports of an increase in criminal activity in North and South Kivu specifically targeting the international community. There have been many reports of robberies and banditry in Goma after dark.

Don’t walk in the streets alone at any time, especially at night. Avoid displaying valuables and cash. Use a hotel safe if possible and keep copies of documents, including your passport separately.

Some gangs use girls to lure people into traps; others promise cut-price gold and diamonds, or pose as police or security forces. There is a risk of arbitrary arrests of foreigners by security authorities who demand payment for release.

Local Travel

If you’re in Haut-Uele, Haut Lomami, Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, Tanganyika or within 50km of the border with the Central African Republic and South Sudan against FCO advice you should be vigilant at all times and keep your security situation under constant review. Attacks on the civilian population of Beni territory have led to several hundred deaths since 2014.

During fighting in the region in 2012 and 2013, shells landed on Goma causing civilian deaths and injuries. There was also shelling around the border with Rwanda in late 2012 and explosions in the town of Gisenyi on the Rwandan side of the border. While British Embassy staff do visit Goma, there aren’t always staff in the area, and our ability to offer consular assistance is therefore severely limited.

As well as civil unrest sometimes leading to anger at the international community, a risk of criminal acts remains, and attacks by armed men on NGO compounds have taken place.

There has been a series of kidnappings in North Kivu in the area around Goma in addition to military operations against armed groups. You should be especially vigilant, consider travelling in convoy on trips outside Goma and Bukavu and avoid making any journeys that would involve travel after dark.

The border crossings between Rwanda and the DRC at Gisenyi/Goma and Cyangugu/Bukavu are currently open between 6am and 6pm. Both borders are liable to short notice closure and you shouldn’t rely on them as a point of exit from the DRC. If you’re crossing regularly between Rwanda and the DRC you may encounter immigration difficulties if you haven’t regularised your residency status. There have been a number of security incidents in Lubumbashi and surrounding areas of Katanga, where the situation remains tense.

You should be prepared to move at short notice or lock down for a period of time. The local authorities may impose curfews without warning. You should follow the advice of the local authorities at all times. In the event of escalating tensions and civil unrest, commercial flights may be suspended and borders closed. Keep your travel documents up to date so you can avoid facing difficulties should you need to leave in an emergency.

The borders with Burundi and Angola can also be subject to closure at short notice. The opportunities for gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park in North Kivu are limited, and armed groups are sometimes active within the park. Tourists in eastern DRC have been known to be left very vulnerable as a result of trying to travel independently without escorted transport, and the risk of kidnap or injury as a result of armed or criminal activity remains high.

The Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park is active and has only limited access to tourists. The north eastern district of Ituri, near the frontier with Uganda, remains subject to inter-factional conflict despite the presence of the UN and the Congolese army. Following the unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), refugees from CAR have crossed the border into the DRC and are now in the Gemena area in Equateur Province.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group originating in northern Uganda, is currently operating in north eastern DRC.

Road travel

You’ll need an international driving permit and insurance to drive. Car hire is possible in Kinshasa although self-drive options are limited. Most car hire companies will only rent a car with a driver.

Driving conditions and standards are well below those in the UK and other European countries, and traffic accidents are common. Roads in Kinshasa are poorly maintained. Outside Kinshasa and other main cities, most roads are barely drivable even with a 4x4, especially during the rainy season (September to May). Consider the technical capability of your vehicle and be confident in your ability to safely operate it.

Be aware of vehicle theft and car-jacking. Lock vehicle doors and keep windows closed when driving and watch out for armed gangs who may target your car. Don’t drive off the main routes or park in unsupervised areas.

Security forces operate roadblocks, particularly after dark. If you are asked to produce documents for inspection at a check point, remain in your vehicle and show them through closed windows.

Rail travel

The railways are in a dilapidated state and you should generally avoid rail travel. In late 2015 a refurbished route opened between Kinshasa and Matadi, although services are infrequent.

Air travel

All air carriers certified in the DRC are banned from operating within the EU due to safety concerns.

You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network.

The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes lists of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list isn’t exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.

In 2014 an audit of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Civil Aviation Authority by the International Civil Aviation Organisation found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was below the global average.

UK government staff working in DRC are authorised to use aircraft operated by the Mission Aviation Fellowship for internal flights on a case by case basis.

River travel

The ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville is operating, but is subject to cancellation at little notice. The ferry stops running in late afternoon, and there is no service on Sundays.

Boats and ferries serving the rivers and lakes are poorly maintained and often overloaded. As a result of the low safety standards, high river traffic levels, strong currents, shifting sandbanks and poor maintenance there have been many accidents.

Political situation

The political and security situation remains uncertain ahead of elections due to take place before the end of 2017. In September and December 2016, violence relating to political protests led to dozens of fatalities in Kinshasa and other major cities, the closure of international borders and schools, restrictions on the internet and an increased police and military presence in many cities.

A heavy United Nations peace keeping presence is deployed in eastern DRC. The Congolese army is carrying out operations against foreign and domestic armed groups operating in North and South Kivu provinces. Large numbers of civilians remain displaced as a result of the conflict. Acts of violence, including killing, rape and looting continue against the civilian population.

Insecurity in eastern DRC has allowed other armed groups in the area to operate more freely. There has been an increase in armed group activity in Orientale, Katanga and both North and South Kivu.