Zaire - Democratic Republic Of The Congo - Consular Information
April 24, 2001
WARNING(Issued April 11, 2001): The Department of State
continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC), due to security and political uncertainties.
On April 11, 2001, the Department terminated the authorized departure
status of U.S. Embassy personnel in non-emergency positions and
family of Embassy personnel from DRC. However, minor children
are still not permitted to accompany Embassy personnel. U.S. citizens
living in the DRC should continue to review their personal security
situations, exercise caution and, if appropriate, depart the country.
DRC government-imposed curfews are often in effect and may be
imposed or lifted with minimal warning. U.S. citizens who travel
to DRC in spite of this warning should adhere to any curfew in
place to reduce the possibility of questioning and detention by
military authorities and police. Security personnel have been
known to enforce DRC government-imposed curfews with gunfire.
The U.S. Embassy has also imposed a curfew on U.S. Government
U.S. citizens, English-speaking individuals of other nationalities
and travelers who appear to be members of military or missionary
groups have sometimes been specifically targeted for arrest, detention,
deportation, increased scrutiny and difficulties at the airport
and other ports of entry, or other forms of harassment. Travelers
entering the DRC with visas and/or entry/exit stamps from Uganda,
Rwanda or Burundi may experience difficulties at the airport or
other ports of entry, including being detained for questioning
or refused entry into the country. Anyone who wishes to travel
outside of Kinshasa must obtain advance written permission from
the Ministry of the Interior.
Extremist groups continue to make threats of violence against
U.S. citizens and interests in the Great Lakes region. While operating
out of northeastern DRC in March 1999, a rebel group specifically
targeted and killed U.S. citizens and other English-speaking people
in southwestern Uganda.
Unofficial armed groups operate in parts of the country and are
responsible for pillaging, vehicle thefts, carjackings, extrajudicial
settling of differences, ethnic tensions, and continued military/paramilitary
operations. Travelers run the risk of attack or detention. Travelers
should avoid any area where demonstrations are occurring or where
crowds have gathered.
Consular access to arrested/detained U.S. citizens cannot be
Ferry services between Kinshasa and Brazzaville are subject to
interruption with little or no notice.
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The government of the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to be faced with a deep
political and economic crisis, partially inherited from the previous
regime which was deposed in the spring of 1997, and an ongoing
war in the north and east involving national armies from Central
and Southern Africa and rebel groups from neighboring countries
that affects approximately half the country. There has been a
dramatic deterioration of the country's physical infrastructure
and basic security environment. Urban crime remains a problem.
There is occasional official hostility to U.S. citizens and other
expatriates, periodic shortages of basic items such as gasoline,
a chronic shortage of medical supplies, high inflation, and in
some areas, corruption and serious malnutrition.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Visas should be obtained from
an Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo prior to arrival.
Individuals who experience difficulty entering DRC with a visa
issued overseas are asked to contact the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.
Travelers entering the DRC with visas and/or entry/exit stamps
from Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi may experience difficulties at
the airport or other ports of entry. Some travelers with those
visas or exit/entry stamps have been detained for questioning.
Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy
of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1800 New Hampshire Avenue,
N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009 at (202) 234-7690 or 234-7691, or
the DRC's permanent mission to the U.N. at 2 Henry Avenue, North
Caldwell, New Jersey 07006, telephone (201) 812-1636. Overseas,
inquiries should be made at the nearest DRC Embassy or Consulate.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments
have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include
requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission
for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not
present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required,
may facilitate entry/departure.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in the Congo
is unstable. DRC is at war with its three eastern neighbors, Uganda,
Rwanda and Burundi, several thousand of whose troops are present
in the country. Rwanda and Uganda are supporting different Congolese
rebel troops against the Kinshasa government. Their forces have
fought against DRC government troops and, on occasion, against
each other. Congolese rebels or foreign armies occupy about half
of the DRC's territory, and the Kinshasa government exercises
only nominal control over many areas in those parts of the country
under its authority. Although armed soldiers and police are common
in urban areas, including Kinshasa, the multiple and competing
security forces are unable to maintain order. Ill-trained, ill-paid,
well-armed, operating in a system with little effective command-and-control,
the security forces often act arbitrarily and may, themselves,
pose a threat to the population instead of protecting them.
Large numbers of security forces remain stationed in all urban
areas, notably the capital, Kinshasa, where government-imposed
curfews are often in effect. The DRC government has imposed curfews
in the past with minimal warning; please check locally before
traveling to DRC to confirm current curfew status. Entry by car
or boat after 6 p.m. is prohibited. Travel in the downtown parts
of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi is generally safe. The outlying areas,
including Kisangani, are less secure due to the ongoing war, lack
of adequate training/supervision of the security/rebel forces
present and high levels of criminal activity. Tension in the capital
is further heightened by the influx of refugees from the civil
conflict in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), across the Congo
River. Civil disturbances may occur without warning in all urban
areas and have the potential to turn violent.
There are numerous, often poorly marked, military roadblocks,
especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons,
and travelers checked for identity papers. Troops regularly seek
bribes and transportation. If confronted with such a situation,
it is suggested that U.S. citizens not question the individual's
authority, remain as courteous as possible and report the incident
to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.
REGIONAL TERRORISM: One of the many extremist rebel factions
in the Great Lakes region has committed, and continues to threaten,
violence against American citizens and interests. This rebel faction
was responsible for the March 1999 kidnapping and murder of several
Western tourists, including Americans, in Uganda. An extremist
rebel faction was responsible for the kidnapping of four foreign
nationals in August 1998 in the DRC. Rebel factions are known
to operate in northern and northeastern DRC and the surrounding
areas, including sections of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.
CRIME: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, low levels
of economic prosperity continue to promote crime, vehicle thefts,
burglaries, armed robbery and carjackings throughout the country.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported
immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. Embassy or
consulate. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's
pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad
for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet
is available by mail from
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C. 20420, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs
or via the Bureau of Consular
Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: In the Democratic Republic of the
Congo (DRC), medical facilities are
limited, and medicine is in short supply.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges
Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior
to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas
and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical
evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs
incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage
is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do
not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance
plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including
emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans
should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require
payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical
evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured
travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme
difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical
insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving.
When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain
whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider
or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.
Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric
treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau
of Consular Affairs brochure Medical
Information for Americans Traveling Abroad,available via the
Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations
and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention's International Traveler's
hotline at telephone 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax, 1-888-CDC-FAXX
(1-888-232-3299); or via CDC's
Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign
country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which 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 circumstances.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor/Non-Existent
Inter-city roads are poor 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 a traffic incident involving bodily injury to
a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under
any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station
or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government
intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate
the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction or stoning.
Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks
to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When you hear the sirens
or see security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, pull
as far off the road as possible and stop your vehicle. Do not
take pictures. Do not use your cellular telephone, radio or any
other communication devices. Do not restart your vehicle or move
until the entire motorcade has passed by (the security forces
will physically indicate when this has occurred). Failure to comply
may result in arrest.
Visitors who wish to travel anywhere outside of Kinshasa must
obtain advance, written permission from the Ministry of Interior,
regardless of the purpose of the trip. Failure to comply may result
Ferry service between Kinshasa and Brazzaville may be closed
with minimal notice due to the security situation. If ferry service
is functioning, a special exit permit from the Democratic Republic
of the Congo's (Kinshasa) Immigration Service and a visa from
an Embassy of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are required
to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.
Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is
suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has not assessed the Government of DRC's Civil Aviation
Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards
for oversight of the DRC's air carrier operations. For further
information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation
within the U.S. at 800-322-7873, or visit
the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/.
The Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign
air carriers and has put many DRC carriers on non-use status for
their personnel. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific
carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
CURRENCY REGULATIONS: U.S. citizens should be aware that
there are currency laws in effect which require that all transactions
be exclusively made in Congolese francs. Regulations issued September
22, 1999, prohibit the possession of foreign currency (including
U.S. dollars) by anyone in DRC. U.S. citizens, as well as all
other persons traveling to or from DRC are required to declare
all foreign currency in their possession. Upon arrival in DRC,
travelers are allowed three business days to deposit their foreign
currency in a bank-run Exchange House or convert the foreign currency
(at the official, government-controlled rate) at a bank or bank-run
Exchange House. It remains unclear whether these facilities will
sell foreign currency to travelers upon their departure. Currency
transactions that are not done at a bank or bank-run Exchange
house are illegal. The regulations reiterate that local currency
must be used for all commercial transactions in DRC and that there
are criminal sanctions for non-compliance. Any questions regarding
the legality of currency transactions or conversions should be
referred to the U.S. Embassy's Administrative Counselor.
American Express, Visa, Master Card and Diner's Club are accepted
for payment of bills at Kinshasa's two major hotels. No other
businesses in DRC accept credit cards. Credit cards may not be
used at banks to obtain cash advances. Traveler's checks are accepted
only if accompanied with a letter from a bank confirming the issuance
of the Traveler's checks to the individual cashing the Traveler's
checks. However, the use of Traveler's checks is generally not
advised in DRC because banks charge substantial fees for cashing
them. Traveler's checks are rarely accepted outside Kinshasa.
PROHIBITIONS ON PHOTOGRAPHY: Photographing public buildings,
military installations, airports and the banks of the Congo River
is forbidden. Offenders can expect to be arrested, held for at
least several hours and fined. Film and cameras may also be confiscated.
Due to the threat of harassment and the lack of signs designating
sites prohibited for photography, photography is best practiced
in private homes and among friends.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens
are subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes
differ significantly from those in the United States and may not
afford the protections available to the individual under U.S.
law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in
the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating DRC,
even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties
for possession, use, and trafficking in illegal drugs are strictly
enforced. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For
information on international adoption of children or international
parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site
at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATION: U.S. citizens
are strongly encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa
upon their arrival and to obtain updated information on travel
and security within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The
U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, tel. 243-88-43608.
The Consular section of the Embassy may also be reached at 243-88-43608,
extension 2164/2376 or 243-88-46859 or 44609, fax 243-88-00228,
43467 or 03276. Cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone
service is often unreliable.