Rwanda

Rwanda flag

Packing Guidance

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.


Overview

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Climate

When you arrive in Rwanda, you will see that the landscape is lush and green. One of the reasons for this is that the country experiences two rainy seasons per year – one long and one short. You will arrive towards the end of the long rainy season (March to early June) and the beginning of the long dry season, which ends in September.

At the time of your arrival, it will be relatively cold in the mornings and sunny all day long with intermittent rains. In general, weather is variable during the day, sunny and bright to heavy cloud cover and thunderstorms, and, depending on your elevation, hotter and dryer in low lying areas and colder and wetter at higher elevations.

In addition, Rwanda is known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Because of this topography, the weather can vary greatly from one location to another. While Kigali, the capital, has a very mild climate with average yearly temperature around 70°F (21°C), mainly due to elevation, temperatures tend to be slightly warmer in the east and cooler in the north and west. You will want to bring a light jacket, sweater or fleece; a light, packable rain jacket; and sturdy shoes with good traction that can be cleaned easily (the red clay mud or dust can be slippery and stick to everything).

A common practice is to dress in layers so you can add or subtract layers accordingly as temperatures change.

Items provided in-country

Peace Corps/Rwanda provides the following items:

  • Water filter: The tap and/or well water in Rwanda is not potable. All Volunteers receive a high-quality activated charcoal water filter for water purification after arriving in country.
  • Mosquito net: Rwanda is a malaria endemic country. In addition to taking malaria prophylaxis, Peace Corps Volunteers are required to sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Medical kit: Peace Corps Rwanda provides all Volunteers with a medkit. See the full list of items.
  • Bicycle helmet for PCVs approved to purchase bicycles: Following your arrival at your permanent site, you will have the option to opt-in to purchasing a bicycle. Helmets are provided for all PCVs with bicycles.
  • Motorcycle helmet for PCVs approved to use moto-taxis: Moto taxi use is approved for PCVs on a limited case-by-case basis depending on the conditions of their permanent site and/or their job requirements. Motorcycle use is strictly prohibited without prior training and approval.
  • Smoke detector
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Mattress

Peace Corps/Rwanda provides on-demand stipends for the purchase of the following items:

  • Basic text/call enabled Phone
  • Basic laptop

Peace Corps/Rwanda assists trainees with the purchase of the following items using their settling-in stipend:

  • Bathroom/kitchen items: Bucket, jerrycan and a mug
  • Cooking gas and stove top
  • Bedsheets/pillows ($60 value: Trainees may opt out if they bring their own)
Prohibited items

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms
Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

E-cigarettes, vapes, and hookahs

E-cigarettes, vapes, and hookahs are not permitted in Rwanda and will be confiscated upon arrival at the airport.

Plastic bags

Rwanda has outlawed single-use plastic shopping bags to promote environmental sustainability and reduce solid waste. Single-use plastic shopping bags will be confiscated on arrival at the airport. Reusable plastic bags such as Ziplocs are allowable as long as they are in their original unopened box.

Valuables

While Rwanda is largely an extremely safe country, petty theft is common. Do not bring valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms.

Work supplies

For both the education and health sectors, Peace Corps Rwanda promotes the use of local resources in Volunteer work. This presents a challenge as many schools and clinics have limited resources. One of the jobs of the Volunteer is to work with counterparts to identify local solutions to resource constraints using available means. Because of this, we discourage Volunteers bringing job aids from outside that may create conditions that are not replicable after the Volunteer’s departure.

Fixed-blade hunting/camping knives

Cooking knives and folding pocket knives are legal/permissible in Rwanda. However, fixed blade hunting or camping knives of any length are considered weapons and are prohibited.

Food

Many PCVs appreciate bringing high nutrition snack foods such as trail bars, nuts, or candy bars to assist in transitioning to the local diet during the first few weeks of training. Please do not bring large quantities of food. Part of cultural integration is learning to embrace and share local ways of eating.

Clothing

Rwandans are conservative in professional and casual attire. It is considered disrespectful to dress too casually or in an untidy manner. The settings in which Volunteers are placed make this a particularly important consideration.

Work clothing

Appropriate professional attire for both the education and health sector consists of long pants (chinos or khakis), jeans, long skirts, or long dresses, and shirts/tops that cover the shoulders and upper arms, waist, and lower back. All dresses and skirts should cover the knees, even when sitting. We recommend that you bring at least one nice outfit such as button-down/slacks or blouse/skirt for high-level meetings, weddings, and community events. Jackets and ties are occasional niceties, but not required.

While clothes may have quite a bit of wear and tear due to rough washing, transportation, and manual labor, great care should be taken to be neat, clean, and presentable. Being neat and cleanly dressed is a sign of respect and pride in Rwanda. Dirty or ripped clothing is unacceptable in professional and public environments.

Shorts are normally worn for exercise, or by children and students rather than adults and are not appropriate in professional environments. Similarly, short skirts, tops that expose the stomach or lower back, low-rise pants, backless dresses, and tank tops and spaghetti-strap tops are considered inappropriate in rural and professional settings. Pants are acceptable for women, although many women in rural and professional settings will wear long skirts or dresses.

While clothing is available for purchase in local markets, you will not have the time or language skills necessary to purchase them upon arrival. We recommend you bring adequate professional clothing for the first three months in country. Suggested items:

  • Long pants and/or long dress/skirt: 4-5
  • Blouses/dress shirts: 5-6
  • Cardigan or Pullover Sweater (sweatshirts and hoodies are not considered professional attire): 1-2
  • Tie: 1 (Optional)

Undergarments

Underwear and bras are available in Kigali, but may be more expensive to get a quality similar to the US. In the local community, quality will vary compared with what you are used to and may not be easily available in your size. Underwear tends to wear out more quickly due to rough washing and line drying. We recommend you bring at least a six month supply, if not more.

Leisure and recreational clothing

  • Leisure: Undershirts, tank tops, lightweight T-Shirts, shorts, yoga pants, and leggings are appropriate for sleep and lounging at home.
  • Exercise: It is appropriate to wear shorts and tank-tops for sports and exercise. If shorts are worn for exercise, they should be knee-length or longer. Sports bras and tight fitting leggings should be covered when exercising in public.
  • Swimming: Many Hotels in larger regional towns have swimming pools that PCVs may use while on leave or at Peace Corps events. Swimsuits should be modest, board shorts, one-piece swim suits, and modest bikinis.
  • Sun protection: The sun in the dry season can be very strong. Sunscreen is difficult to find in Rwanda and is expensive. Peace Corps provides sunscreen, but if you have a specific brand preference, we recommend bringing at least a 6-12 month supply. We recommend bringing a hat. Sunglasses are available locally, but may not be the quality you are used to and may not offer the same protections such as UV and polarization.
Shoes

Durable shoes are an essential investment. Shoes will wear out more quickly in Rwanda than you are likely accustomed due to all the walking you will do and the volcanic terrain in some regions of the country. Shoes are available for purchase in Kigali and regional market towns and come both second hand and new. Because Rwanda is a landlocked country you may find local prices are far more expensive than they would be in the US for the same item.

Shoes are available in a large variety of quality and sizes, but may be difficult at first to locate. Quality shoes larger than Men’s size 12 are difficult to find in Rwanda. Men’s size 15+ shoes are especially difficult to find, if not impossible. Beware of white/light colored shoes and suede as they may be difficult to keep clean.

We recommend that you use the below guidance to bring at least one pair of each type of shoe/accessory you think you will need to get you started.

  • Education sector: Closed toed shoes are appropriate for the classroom. We recommend lightweight, inexpensive leather or naugahyde shoes. Dress sandals are appropriate for female volunteers only. Tennis shoes are permissible in the classroom but are difficult to keep clean and are not recommended.
  • Health sector: The health sector may require moto travel and/or walking to community catchment areas. We recommend appropriate footwear such as tennis shoes or durable, fully securing sandals. Lightweight, inexpensive leather or naugahyde closed toed shoes are appropriate for higher level work meetings.
  • Shoe polish: The dust, dirt, and mud of unpaved roads and paths is hard on leather/naugahyde shoes. We recommend that you bring at least one tin of shoe polish of the appropriate color to maintain your shoes and keep them looking sharp. You may also consider waterproofing wax or sealer.
  • Leisure and recreation: We recommend bringing one pair of shoes for your preferred form of recreation, whether it is running, trail running, hiking, playing soccer, etc.
  • Flipflops/shower sandals: Many Rwandans wear inexpensive flipflops while in the home. They are inappropriate for professional settings and important public events such as weddings and funerals. We recommend you bring an inexpensive pair of flipflops or shower sandals for use in the home until you can purchase a new pair at the market.
Toiletries and medications

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps/Rwanda:

  • Hair: With the exception of the capital, Kigali, salons and barbers specialize in African hair. Outside of Kigali it is difficult to find salons and barbers who have experience with hair from other parts of the world. Given that travel to the capital is infrequent, you may consider rechargeable clippers/trimmers, hair cutting scissors, and/or razors if you do not intend to go to local salons/barbers. Hair ties and bobby pins can be difficult to find in Rwanda.
  • Menstrual Products: The Medical unit provides free pads and tampons on request. Pads and tampons are available throughout Rwanda. Some volunteers prefer using reusable menstrual cups.
  • General Hygiene: Basic hygiene items are available in most towns and cities; although likely are not the brands that are available in the US. Below are items to consider bringing. A 3-month supply for anything consumable is recommended to get you through training:
  • Nail clippers/nail file
  • Razors
  • Deodorant
  • Bath Towel: 1-2
  • Washcloth: 2-3
  • Floss (PC Medical provides some, but you may want better quality)
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Small Sewing Kit
  • Hard to find or expensive toiletries: Some toiletries are difficult to find in country or are expensive. Considering it is not possible to bring a 24 month supply of all items, please consider only adding your essentials to your packing list:
  • Aloe or after-sun lotion
  • Shaving soap or cream
  • Pumice stone/foot scrubber
  • Makeup
  • Mouthwash
  • Chapstick: Chapstick is provided in your med kit, but the quality may not be what you are used to.
  • Travel-size toiletries: Airport security has restrictions on quantities of liquids allowed in carry-on baggage. Consider bringing travel-size items for use while in transit to Rwanda.
Electronics

Some volunteers have electricity in their homes and many have at least access to a local source of electricity. Note that PCVs are not required to bring any electronics.

Voltage

Rwanda runs on 220v. Most phone and laptop chargers are compatible with both 120v (US standard) and 220v. Electronics sold in Rwanda are 220v compatible. Make sure in advance of bringing any electronics from the US that they are compatible with 220v. Electronics that are only 120v compatible may burn out, catch fire, or damage the battery if they are plugged into 220v. Small travel voltage converters are available for purchase online, but are generally low amperage and will not support high amperage electronics such as hair dryers or kitchen appliances.

Power surges

The electrical grid in Rwanda is generally reliable, however power outages, power surges, or mixed sources of electricity, such as gas or diesel generators are not uncommon. If you intend to bring electronics, we recommend bringing a surge protector. Surge protector mulitplugs are available in Rwanda, but may be more expensive than what is available in the US. Before buying a surge protector, make sure that it is 220v compatible.

Access and reliability

Access to electricity varies at Volunteer sites. Some Volunteers will have electricity in their homes, while others may need to charge devices at their work site. Many Volunteers find extra batteries, battery banks, and/or solar chargers very useful for keeping phones and other small devices charged.

You may consider bringing a rechargeable flashlight or headlamp.

Outlets

Outlets in Rwanda are typically the French, 2-pronged plug. US to French plug adapters are difficult to find in Rwanda, and are often low quality. We recommend bringing at least one high quality US to French adapter.

Personal devices

Peace Corps Rwanda does not require Volunteers to bring laptops, external hard drives, tablets, smart phones or other devices. Peace Corps Rwanda issues all Peace Corps Trainees stipends to purchase a small (not smart) phone if you choose not to bring your own phone. Upon Request, Trainees are provided a stipend to purchase a laptop upon request. That said, many volunteers find laptops, smart phones, tablets, and other personal devices convenient for entertainment and work. Peace Corps does not replace lost or damaged personal items except in extenuating circumstances. If you choose to bring personal devices, we recommend bringing used or inexpensive ones and opting in to personal property insurance.

Personal devices that some Volunteers have found useful (but are not necessary to perform job functions) include:

  • Smart phone: Only unlocked cell phones that accept international SIM cards will work in Rwanda. Some carriers provide e-sims that will still allow you to connect to your US number while in service. This can be convenient for 2-step verification linked to your US number – such as accessing a banking app.
  • Personal Laptop (PC/Rwanda will supply a laptop stipend on requested)
  • Flash drives
  • Hard drive
  • Battery bank
  • Extra laptop/phone chargers
  • Bluetooth Speaker
Other items to consider

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items to consider bringing with you. Below is a list of what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Arts and crafts

Art and craft supplies are largely unavailable or expensive in Rwanda, but can be an excellent hobby and way to bond with community members and students. If there is an art or craft that is near and dear to you, you may want to consider bringing some supplies.

Books

Many Volunteers bring paperback novels to Rwanda. The Peace Corps Rwanda Volunteer Lounge has a lending library of novels and educational text books that are available to Volunteers. Some Volunteers prefer e-readers to paper books due to the weight of transport, but it in some sites it can be difficult to charge e-readers, and the humid climate can be hard on electronics in general.

Camping

There are many camping opportunities available in Rwandan National Parks, although accessibility can be costly due to park entrance and transportation costs. For those who enjoy camping, you may want to consider bringing a small tent with quality rainfly, a sleeping pad, and lightweight sleeping bag. Consider additional camping gear based on what you would normally use. Keep in mind that you are prohibited from bringing fuels or other flammable materials.

Cooking

Many Volunteers find comfort and connection in cooking for themselves and others. Traditional Rwandan kitchens are very different from kitchens in the United States. Cooking is typically done in pots rather than pans, food is cut while being held in the hand rather than on cutting boards, and meals are heated over charcoal, wood fires, or gas burners rather than stove tops – although most Volunteers use a two burner gas range similar to a stove top. For Volunteers who love to cook, consider bringing a good quality pan, small cutting board, decent chef knife and sharpening rod, and any other “essential” cooking utensils.

Seasoning

Herbs and spices from other parts of the world are expensive and difficult to find. Some Volunteers choose to bring an assortment of dried spices for a taste of home. Many volunteers appreciate seasoning mixes, such as taco seasoning, chili, italian, garam masalla, etc. to bring some variety to meals.

Spicy foods

While Rwandan dishes tend to be very mild, many Rwandans love to add “Akabanga”, an intensely hot habanero oil, or “pilipili” hot pepper sauce to their food. Spice lovers will find no shortage hot sauce in Rwanda.

Coffee

Rwanda does coffee right. There are many varieties of whole bean, ground, and instant coffee available at prices ranging from accessible to prohibitive. Many road towns and gas stations boast above adequate cappuccinos. Coffee lovers may consider bringing a durable (not glass) French press, or other “can’t live without” coffee paraphernalia.

Gardening

Depending on housing accommodations, many Volunteers take up gardening as a physical outlet and to produce herbs and vegetables that are harder to come by in rural and regional settings. Garden tools and common variety seeds are available on the local market.

Games

A version of mankala, known locally as “Igisoro” is played throughout Rwanda. Scrabble, monopoly, and chess are available in Kigali, but are expensive and less known in the counties. Other games such as cards, Uno, Settlers of Catan, or other card or board games can be fun and engaging ways of connecting to your community – Just no gambling!

Gifts

While by no means required, a small gift can be a nice way to make early connections with host families and community members. Calendars of American Scenes, small coffee table books, pictures of yourself in the US, and small knickknacks are very much appreciated.

Household Goods

Pillows, bedsheets, towels and other household goods are available in Rwanda, but the comfort and quality may be below what is available in the United States. Consider packing any “can’t do without” household items.

Correspondence

If you like to send letters the old-fashioned way, you may consider bringing US stamps. While mailing from Rwanda may be cost prohibitive, many volunteers send letters back to the States with other Volunteers to be placed in the mail.

Music

Many Volunteers who play a musical instrument find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them to Rwanda. Please be aware that the climate can be very hard on musical instruments and they may be attractive to theft. If you consider bringing a musical instrument please do not bring something of high monetary or sentimental value. Many Volunteers enjoy having a small, portable Bluetooth speaker to play music in their home and with community members.

Personal items

Showing photos of your home and family can be an excellent way to connect with your new community and work partners. Consider bringing a small photo album with prints or curated digital album (be mindful of images on your phone or social media that may be in appropriate for socially conservative cultures). Consider bringing other sentimental or personal items that help keep you grounded and connected to your sense of home and self, but please do not bring anything that you could not live without in case of loss or damage.

Photography

Rwanda’s boundless natural beauty make it a destination for professional landscape and nature photographers. Many Volunteers take excellent photos on their smart phones. For more avid photographers, consider bringing your camera equipment, but understand that it may present a temptation to theft. Please consider how you intend to use your camera equipment, especially when taking photos of people. “Extractive” photography is highly discouraged by Peace Corps Rwanda and can create conflict when photos are taken without the subject’s consent. It is common for Rwandan’s to expect financial compensation when photos are taken by a stranger. Please seek consent before photographing others.

Sports

Rwanda loves sports! Primarily football (soccer), but also basketball. Sports can be a great way to connect with your community and students. Footballs and basketballs are available locally, but other types of sports equipment can be harder to find, such as Frisbees, baseballs/gloves, badminton, etc.

Travel

Many Volunteers travel within Rwanda, East Africa, and farther afield over the course of their service. The airport in Rwanda is extremely secure, but there are unknowns in potential transit points. We recommend that you secure checked baggage during international flights using TSA-approved locks. Other items you may consider are a backpacking backpack, small-mouthed water bottle (easier to drink from on bumpy roads), and a debit or credit card if you intend to travel outside of Rwanda.