Foreign travel advice

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Important COVID-19 travel guidance

From 5 November to 2 December 2020, travelling away from home, including internationally, is restricted from England except in limited circumstances such as for work or for education. Different rules apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You must follow all the rules that apply to you.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides guidance on COVID and non-COVID risks overseas. The FCDO currently advises against all but essential travel to many countries and territories on the basis of COVID risks. You should check the travel advice for your destination.

Travel disruption is possible worldwide. Other countries may bring in new measures with little notice such as border closures, movement restrictions or quarantine rules. Travellers should be prepared to stay overseas longer than planned.

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.

Protests and demonstrations

Public gatherings and demonstrations can occur with little or no notice and can quickly turn violent in Kinshasa, Goma and elsewhere.

Protests have targeted UN and government vehicles and premises due to instances of anti-government and anti-UN sentiment.

Protests may result in:

  • the closure of shops and public services
  • restrictions on movement

In the event of serious unrest:

  • commercial flights may be suspended
  • roads may be blocked
  • borders may be closed, making it difficult to leave the country
  • internet connections and mobile phone networks may have reduced services or be cut off.

Previous periods of unrest have seen an increased military and police presence in Kinshasa and other major cities. Police and military have used stop-and-search checkpoints in some areas, especially after dark.

You should remain vigilant and be aware of disruptions to journeys. If a demonstration or disturbance takes place, leave quickly and don’t attempt to watch or photograph it.

There are limits to the assistance the FCDO can provide in a crisis, depending on the security and transport situation. You shouldn’t assume the FCDO will be able to provide assistance to leave the country in the event of serious unrest.

You should:

  • follow local media for news of any planned protests
  • avoid travelling around Kinshasa and other large cities on and around days of planned protests including travel to and from N’Djili airport, where demonstrations may take place, large sporting or music events, universities, political party headquarters, the parliament and the offices of the electoral commission.
  • consider making contingency plans in the event of demonstrations, including keeping a stock of essential supplies and up-to-date travel documents and visas.

See how to prepare for a crisis overseas and information on how to contact the British Embassy.

Eastern DRC and border regions

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 (CAR) and South Sudan against FCDO advice you should be vigilant at all times and keep your security situation under constant review.

The security situation in eastern DRC remains unstable. Armed groups are present and intercommunal violence can affect political, security and humanitarian situation. There are continued reports of several towns in eastern DRC being attacked by or falling under temporary control of armed groups.

There are reports of attacks and kidnappings, including against staff from NGOs. In May 2018, 2 British nationals were kidnapped on the road north of Goma to Virunga National Park. They have since been released. There have been a number of reported attacks on Ebola responders working in affected areas.

Following unrest in the Central African Republic, refugees have crossed the border into the DRC and are now in the Gemena area in Equateur Province.

There have been a number of security incidents in Lubumbashi, most recently violent clashes involving a militia group in September 2020, and surrounding areas of Katanga, where the situation remains tense.

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. 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.

While British government staff do visit Goma, they aren’t always in the area, and as with anywhere outside of Kinshasa the British Embassy’s ability to offer consular assistance is severely limited.

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 and Lubumbashi, 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 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 can occur.

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 remains a risk of arbitrary arrests of foreigners by security authorities who demand payment for release.

Local Travel

The border crossings between Rwanda and the DRC at Gisenyi/Goma and Cyangugu/Bukavu are liable to short notice closure. You shouldn’t rely on them as a point of exit from DRC.

If you’re crossing regularly between Rwanda and DRC you may encounter immigration difficulties if you haven’t regularised your residency status.

The Ministry of Health in Rwanda has established new policies for travellers, including health care workers and humanitarian volunteers, wishing to enter Rwanda from Ebola-affected areas of DRC. You should check travel advice for Rwanda for further guidance.

The borders with Burundi and Angola can also be subject to closure at short notice.

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.

Virunga National Park

The Nyiragongo volcano in Virunga National Park is active and has only limited access to tourists.

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.

Road travel

From 28 March 2019, you will need to have a 1968 International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the DRC. 1949 IDPs previously issued by the UK may no longer be accepted in the DRC after this date. From 1 February 2019, you can only get IDPs over the counter from 2,500 UK Post Offices. You will not be able to buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel.

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. 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 FCDO 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 DRC’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 DRC 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

Political gatherings and demonstrations can be called with little or no notice and can quickly turn violent in DRC. In July and August 2020 political protests took place in Kinshasa and throughout the country regarding electoral and judicial reform.

A heavy United Nations peacekeeping 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.