Rwanda travel guide
Known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’, Rwanda is making the headlines again – and this time, it’s for all the right reasons. With the devastating genocide behind it, this small, landlocked nation has emerged as one of Africa’s most exciting destinations. A tangible sense of optimism resonates from its towns, cities and colourful villages, which welcome foreign visitors with wide smiles and open arms.
The transformation of this country has been remarkable. In 1994 nearly one million inhabitants were slaughtered senselessly in their homes, churches and streets. It was one of the darkest days in modern African history and, at the time, it was almost unthinkable that Rwanda could bounce back.
But is has. In fact the country has even blazed a trail for others to follow, particularly when it comes to gender equality (in 2014 there were more women in parliament here than anywhere else in the world) and conservation.
Indeed the country is a pioneer in eco tourism, which it has used to fund conservation projects such as mountain gorilla protection in the steamy forests of Volcanoes National Park. Trekking to see these endangered primates is the main attraction in Rwanda, where the famous zoologist, Dian Fossey, studied the great apes and inspired the Hollywood film Gorillas in the Mist.
It’s not all about gorillas, though. Nyungwe Forest is one of the largest remaining rainforests in Africa and is home to 13 primates, including chimpanzees and colobus monkeys, as well as rare orchids and nearly 300 species of bird. And, although landlocked, Rwanda still manages to serve up a coastal vibe on the shores of Lake Kivu, with beaches at Gisenyi and coves at Kibuye.
It’s also worth spending a few days in the capital, Kigali: a cool, calm and cosmopolitan city, whose rising skyline reflects the country’s lofty ambitions. Join hip young things in Hillywood, the beating heart of Kigali’s fledgling film industry, or imbibe the vibe in the city’s burgeoning collection of bars, restaurants and hotels, which are helping put this country back on the map.
26,338 sq km (10,169 sq miles).
11,882,766 (UN estimate 2016).
480.7 per sq km.
President Paul Kagame since 2000.
Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi since 2014.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are most commonly used.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Rwanda is generally safe and crime levels are relatively low, but street crime does occur. There have been reports of an increase in burglary, theft and mugging in Kigali in recent months. You should take precautions with valuables and remain vigilant.
The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains unstable, and the situation in Burundi has also become volatile with increased tensions and violence related to the ongoing political crisis, including deteriorating relations with Rwanda. There’s a continuing risk that the security situation in the region could deteriorate rapidly. You should remain alert to the possibility of military incursions, stray bullets and/or artillery fire entering Rwanda if you’re near the DRC border.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Rwanda, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Safety and security
The border crossings between Rwanda and the DRC at Gisenyi/Goma and Cyangugu/Bukavu are currently open between 06:00 and 18:00. Both borders are liable to close at short notice and you should not rely on them as a point of exit from DRC. If you are crossing regularly between Rwanda and the DRC you may encounter immigration difficulties if you have not regularised your residency status. Take care when travelling near the borders with DRC and Burundi. This is because of instability close to both borders.
Relations between Rwanda and Burundi are strained. In July 2016, Burundi banned public transport vehicles from crossing the border with Rwanda and introduced restrictions on Burundian food products being exported into Rwanda. Tensions along the Rwanda/Burundi border remain heightened, with allegations from both sides of cross-border raids targeting local inhabitants.
Gorilla trekking is available as part of organised tours in the Parc National des Volcans (also known as Volcanoes Park). The park authorities only permit gorilla trekking that is undertaken as part of an organised tour.
Grenade attacks have occurred sporadically over the last five years. Genocide memorial sites, markets, bus stops, and taxis have been targets in Kigali and Ruhengeri (Musanze). The most recent grenade attack was in June 2017 in Rusizi district, which killed at least one person. While such attacks have reduced in frequency, further indiscriminate attacks cannot be ruled out, including in places frequented by foreigners. You should remain vigilant.
Levels of crime remain relatively low in Rwanda, but there have been reports of increased instances of burglary, theft and mugging in Kigali in recent months. Incidents of bag snatching, mugging and stealing from vehicles in traffic jams targeting foreigners have been reported in recent months.
You should take sensible precautions. Take care when walking at night. Pre-arrange transport. Lock car doors when driving, don’t leave valuables in cars when parked and don’t leave cars unsupervised in the town centre. Don’t carry large amounts of money or other valuables.
Some off-limits military zones in Kigali may not be well-lit or signposted. You should take extra care when walking around less populated zones, particularly at night time.
You can drive using a UK driving licence or an International Driving Permit for up to 1 year, after which you should apply for a Rwandan licence. To apply for a local driving licence, you need to write a letter of application to the Commissioner Traffic and Road Safety attaching your existing licence and a copy of your visa or Foreign Resident ID card, and pay a fee.
Roads from Kigali to all major towns are good. There can be landslides during the annual rains in late spring and autumn. Avoid road travel after dark as roads are unlit and driving standards are poor.
Shared taxis (mini-vans) and motorbike taxis are the most common form of public transport within towns and around the country. However, they are also the most vulnerable to accidents.
Before using internal or regional flights that are not with major international carriers, you should check the airline’s accreditation and see whether the airline operates in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) safety standards.
Health and Safety
Levels of health and safety in Rwanda are lower than in the UK. There have been incidences of buildings and construction sites collapsing, causing deaths and serious injuries. Fire safety standards are also variable, with incidences of fire in residential and public places a continuing risk.
There have been a number of building fires apparently caused by poor wiring and substandard electrical cables. Take extra care when using electronic equipment.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Rwanda, attacks can’t be ruled out.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Photography of government buildings is prohibited.
Plastic bags have been banned for environmental reasons. Visible plastic bags will be confiscated on arrival at the airport.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You need a visa to enter Rwanda. 30 day tourist visas are available on arrival for £20 or $30. You can pay in cash (sterling, US dollars or Rwandan francs) or by Visa/Mastercard. Payment by credit card may not be available at all land border crossings. The Rwandan Directorate General of Emigration and Immigration publishes a list of visa types and costs.
If you are planning to apply for resident/business or missionary multiple entry visas on entry to Rwanda you will need to get UK police clearance before you travel. You can find details of how to do this on the ACRO Criminal Records Office website. This usually takes a minimum of 10 working days to process.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Rwanda. If you’re travelling into Rwanda on an ETD you’ll be expected to provide Rwandan Immigration with a reason for the use of an ETD, eg proof of residency. If you’re seeking to use a two-way ETD, should clear this with Rwandan Immigration before you travel.
Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry into Rwanda. You’ll need one blank page on your passport for entry stamps.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Only limited medical facilities are available in Rwanda. In the event of serious accident or illness evacuation by air ambulance to Kenya or South Africa may be required. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
According to Rwandan law, any person on Rwandan territory must have health insurance.
There is a high risk of malaria in all areas of Rwanda, including Kigali.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
There are occasional earthquakes. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has advice on what to do before, during and after an earthquake.
There are ATMs in Kigali, but not all of them accept foreign cards. Credit cards are increasingly accepted in bars and restaurants, but are not widely accepted in shops.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.