Friday, June 21, 2024

Tips for New Arrivals

Cities are like people – you need to know how to tickle them the right way in order to get the most out of them. If you are visiting Kigali for the first time, there is no point wasting time figuring out the nooks and crannies of the city on your own: educate yourself with this short list of the essential tips and you should be good to go!

Hello Muzungu!

First of all, you need to know what the meaning of ‘muzungu’ is, as you will mostly hear it here and there. People will say ‘muzungu’ after you to point out – in case you were unsure – that you in fact are white, and that your hair is straight and light. I guess a reminder once in a while isn’t too bad, and most of the time people mean no harm when calling you this, especially young children outside Kigali who, amazingly enough, still manage to be ecstatic every time a white person walks by.


No expat Rwanda is unfamiliar with the genocide, and many already know that April 7 is the national genocide Memorial Day. What you might not know, however, is that for the entire week of 07th April – 14th April, the country shuts down. Restaurants, bars and radio stations are not allowed to play music (apart from the traditional Rwandan mourning songs), and there is a general somber atmosphere throughout the country. There will be commemoration walks through Kigali, as well as several assemblies with speakers from the government. April is an interesting, but bitterly sad time to visit Rwanda, and though people living here for a longer period of time should part-take in at least one memorial event, this really is not a time for party-crazed tourists to visit.


On the last Saturday of each month, every Rwandan citizen is obliged to participate in a communal clean-up! If you want to participate, feel free to, if not, non-citizens aren’t really expected to. Though you might not want to take part, however, you do need to be aware that the roads, coffee shops, grocery stores, and other businesses are closed from 07 am until 11 am. To be honest, the only thing you can do is sleep in. Fridays before Umuganda are obviously extra crazy!

Don’t Litter, Don’t Walk on the Grass

Though you will see beautiful, lush, green grass all over Kigali, you aren’t welcome to sit or walk on it. It’s also prohibited to litter anywhere in the city; there are public dustbins placed in various locations for people to dispose their waste responsibly.


…is not really required in Rwanda but has become more and more normal as Kigali continues to experience rapid development. You should leave a little tip – from Rwf 1000 to Rwf 5,000. You don’t tip taxi- or moto drivers (unless they use a fare meter), as these don’t have set prices to start with, and whatever you haggle the price down to is what you end up paying. For hotels, you could leave some tip in an envelope for the cleaning staff.

Mobile Money

Perhaps the first thing you should do when you get in Rwanda is buy an MTN line and opt in for Mobile Money. Kigali is quickly transitioning into a cashless city, and MTN Mobile Money, commonly known as MOMO, is used by everyone to quickly transact money. All restaurants, hotels, hospitals, supermarkets, and many shops have a code you pay through at no cost to you. You don’t really need to walk around with cash.

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  1. thanks for the advice. We have found out a lot of these things through experience. Some friends were shocked and really annoyed that their food took 45 mins to get to them recently. everything here is laid back. Go with the flow I say.

  2. Love the site and everything nerdy nomad in general but um, what if I’m not white? Does the article just assume that all the folks visiting kigali are white? Are, in fact, all the people who visit Kigali white? Or do all the black, brown and asian folks also get lumped into the “white/western culture” pile by the residents? That wouldn’t be such a stretch, as I and other folks of color I know, have traveled to other countries and been called white, even though I’m a pretty deep chocolate. Just curious.

  3. Yep boothism, for all intents and purposes, you’re white! Nah, that’s not true… but even if you’re a nice shade of chocolate, if you’re a foreigner you’ll still be called a muzungu. The kiddies might not get as excited when you walk by, though! 🙂

  4. Great advice. However, I would like to nuance the bit about ‘local’ bars. I am still not quite sure how it all works, but indeed the ‘snacks’ in the strongly colored bars take forever. I guess its because the primary reason to be there is to drink beers. However, if you go to one of the many small restaurants that serve buffet lunches (for as little as 1000 Rwf), the service is quick and attentive and very flexible. I know its a buffet, but they are generally helpful at serving drinks, removing plates, cleaning tables and taking orders if its not the buffet. Far better than at fancy places like Umubano, Shokola or Bourbourn.

    • Thanks Simon! You’re right… the Rwandans know how to do buffets! They’re really popular here and a great choice for a quick and filling bite. I’ll write something up about buffets soon. The problem is that they’re usually only around lunch time and I’ve never seen brochettes at one. So if you’re wanting a meal at a local place at night and want brochettes, I’m not sure there’s any choice than to wait.

    • I just wash them with tap water and eat them and haven’t had any dubious stomach issues as a result. I boil the water I drink so if you want to be extra safe you could do the same and use this water to wash veggies. But I think just using the tap water is fine.

  5. ha ha ha!! wash your rice in Kenya too… maybe a little less! i love the info on this site! i shall bow and kiss a Norwegians feet… Question: do they kiss MY feet too? #awkward 😀

  6. We all know Kigali is expensive and i found it hard to find a cheap hotel. The minimum i used to pay was $100 then i found this place in Kibagabaga called DV Appart Hotel.
    They are not ripping everyone off like the others i payed $50 and was defo value for money. Check there site:
    and i booked through there email and payed for the room once i was there. There email is: [email protected].

    I just wanted to share my find but if you have found something better let me know

  7. This is a really wonderful article, your info. are very clear to guide any new comer to Rwanda. and i am sure there are so many people who can benefit from your advice.
    keep it up as an expat!!!

  8. Good work! Updating such occasionally is required. Nakumat accepts Visa and Mastercard, Visa is I thought widely accepted in Hotels, and Mastercard at some places.

    must share with you: Services of Nakument on some of their unlimited offer of inferior china made products is poor, pls do not ask in the shop for product advice and do never try to get after sales service it will make you really unhappy.

  9. My husband and I will be there about three months, for a job he’ll be accepting.
    I’m a little terrified, but mostly excited!!

  10. It is now 2016, and I think one of the above comments can be updated. Credit cards are now very widely accepted. I do always carry cash. There are obviously mom and pop corner shops and people selling things in markets and on the street who only take cash. Cabs and motos take cash. But even moderate sized stores and restaurants now have the little hand-held devices for processing credit cards. Nakumatt and Simba certainly take credit cards with no problem.


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