How to Survive N’djili Airport in Kinshasa

ndjili-map

Upon arrival in Kinshasa, DR Congo, the first stop for visitors (unless coming across the river) is N’djili_Airport. This is definitely not the most pleasant of sites. It’s rundown. It’s smelly. It’s crowded and it is overall a complete zoo.

Previous to visiting Congo, I read up a great deal on the country and this airport was one of my biggest fears. The endless delays in getting through it, the possibility of losing a great deal from your luggage when going through “customs”, and then trying to get away from the airport and in to the center of Kinshasa were all daunting problems not allowing me to sleep on the seven hour leg of the flight from Paris to Kinshasa.

Once we got there, my fears weren’t fully lived up to. They have apparently cleaned up the airport a great deal in recent years and the need to have a “control” to usher you through the airport has lessened. It still sucks though and there are what I consider to be the five levels of purgatory before you are actually released upon Kinshasa.

1. Passport Inspection This is pretty minor and is just checking to see if you have a visa. The line is lengthy and stretches out on to the tarmac as naturally there are no true landing gates for the planes. I’m not really sure what would happen if you didn’t have a visa at this point, I assume either a little “push” to the guards or getting right back on the plane.

2. Passport Control A much longer process. You stand in lines with everyone else as you weed your way through a couple of booths checking each person’s allowance to be in the country. This was apparently much faster in the past, but has been slowed down in the last month as the Congolese staff are learning to use some new computers that the EU got them. Once they get used to it, it will most likely speed up–a little. One thing to note here is that no matter how seemingly stupid of a request the police might ask of you, go along with it. They have nothing else to do other than controlling that line. Just be patient and listen to them and respect them. This is a useful skill to learn as you’ll be dealing with police in Kinshasa proper.

3. Health Control A minor step to make sure you have your yellow fever vaccination and your immunization card, which if your traveling here, you should most definitely have had. I believe they’ll make you get one there if (and pay for it) you don’t have it, but this is only if you’re not Congolese. In theory, they’re “immaculately immunized” and don’t need to prove it.

4. Luggage… Sweet Jesus almighty. This is the worst part. You stand along the luggage conveyor for something like two hours or more waiting for your baggage to come out. This may seem like just a boring wait, except that there is no air conditioning in the space and there are all these random guys who want to “help” you grab your bags for a tip. It’s sweaty and completely not fun, but is part of this journey. The biggest issue here is if your bag was lost, like one of ours was during the tight transfer in Paris. You don’t find out that the bag is gone until the very end of all of this and then once you know, you have to register it as lost and then wait until the next flight, of which there are only three a week.

5. Clearance and Onward Once you have your luggage, ignore every single person outside the airport. They will forcefully try to grab your bags to again “help” you carry them for a tip. Just cling on to them and keep going for either your ride, the taxis, or if you’re lucky enough, the UN shuttle to the center. It should be noted that the taxis will be $50+ to get in to the center. Why? Because it’s an hour ride with tons of traffic.

But that’s it. Just a few simple steps. Just a few minor hours and you’ll soon be in Kinshasa, home to 10 million people and a whole lot more craziness that I’ll get in to again when I can get at the internet, which is scarce commodity in these parts.

Update: This article tends to get a lot of hits around the middle and the end of the year as that’s when people get UN contracts, are terrified by what might await them and find this article. Let me emphasize that this was published in 2008 and that a number of things have changed at the airport. Sadly, Congo is pretty much the same despite the untold hundreds of millions being blown on MONUSCO which you’re probably heading to right now as it serves as an entry point for the inexperienced to try and and get in to UN work…

18 Replies to “How to Survive N’djili Airport in Kinshasa”

  1. Thank you for writing this! I’m flying into Kinshasa this weekend and this is exactly the sort of thing I want to know!

  2. In case you didn’t notice, this is from five years ago. It may be completely different now.

  3. Kinshasa has improved greatly over time. I am congolese and have been flying out of the Ndjili airport for the past ten years, things were terrible but there is great improvement this time. In my recent arrival last night i only spent 20 minutes for passport control and picking of the luggage, With on going construction, the time spent will be reduced greatly and service improved.

  4. Yes, agreed and friends who have traveled there recently have said the same. Again, note that this article was from five years ago. This article gets a lot of hits by foreign aid workers freaking about about traveling to Congo and they don’t pay attention to how old it is, nor do they do anything to educate themselves more about the country they intent to work in for “aid” purposes.

  5. congolese and have flown here for the first time after 16 years and u are on point ! literraly 2 hours for my luggages

  6. Quite correct for my experiances of travelling to Kinshasa. My last travel was early december 2013. Pay attention to the Health Control; if your Yellow Fewer vaccination date is less than 10 days old, it will set you back 60US$ to be allowed into the country. Spent more than 2 hours waiting for the luggage, only 2 Of 3 times arrived. The last one arrived at a downtown office 3 days later

  7. if you whites believe its filthy bad and unsafe..pls dont go there to loot more wealth out the country and rendering it bad…Please give others space to live..when will you guys learn that..i guess your brain can never let your heart learn dat..shame

  8. There is certainly a lot of hard work left to be done. What Miquel said was true 5 years ago. There have been a lot of improvement on the infrastructure, but the personnel is still less to desire. They will try to rip you off if they can. They will disrespect you regardeless of whether you are congolese or foreigner. Educating the immigration officers there will be a challenge. Lets be honnest it is a very umpleasant airport to travel through and no one cares…

  9. The fact of the airport being unsafe or bad has nothing to do with races, if the airport is bad, it has to be said in order for the authorities to make it better, I myself was there last month, the service actually was faster, I spent about 20 mins to pass the the passport control and inspection, the only part that took me more time was the Luggage, it took me about 45min to get my 2 bags. Terms like this “you whites” shouldn’t be said out, that’s giving the impression as if congolese people don’t take critics, in modern world critics are considered as a way to make thing better, even the most exepnsive hotels, airlines and services in general will always ask for a feedback, if you can’t accept a feedback from people from other places then that’s shameful, and for the wealth that Congo has, the “whites” as you call them, don’t come and still it openly, they take visas as regular people, they don’t come with guns and enter the boarder, it the congolese leaders who let the “whites” come and make money like every other company who wants to attract investors. So please read what you write before you post them.

  10. I worked in Kinshasa for 7 years and things have not changed at the airport much. It is still a struggle to get to your baggages. Unfortunately it is the passengers agressive behavior and rudeness that makes it worst,
    Irene

  11. I was there in December 2013 and nothing has changed!!!.. A whole bunch of kolunas that work at the Airport trying to benefit off of people coming from Poto!! Very sad and shameful

  12. I was crying from the joy when I crossed all the process up to “waiting hall”. Policmen inside have stole me last money (thanks God by miracle I let them in case of difficulties), then 7-8 controls. But people in RDC wonderfull anyway.

  13. Fransois, it’s funny how you attribute problems in DRC with whites and yet you’ve conveniently left out the fact that your own neighbours in Uganda and Rwanda are heavily involved and that there are more Chinese people there alone than white people let alone the Indians, Arabs, Jews, Japanese, and Koreans.

  14. Kinshasa airport was worst travel experience I have ever had by a long way. Arriving late on a Sunday night was bad enough – queues, luggage problems, “problems” with my visa letter, $90 fee for a “special visa” (no receipt possible….) etc. But leaving was even worse – 7 layers of dantes inferno. Chaos at every step. Almost wept with joy when the plane finally took off.

  15. I have travelled in over 130 countries, many times arrival and/or departure through airports. And yes, Kinshasa airport is ranking no 1 for my worst airport experiences… I had read the comments at this website prior to my arrival, so I thought I would be ready for the fun.
    Arrival went very smooth, it was just a very rude female officer at immigrations that made me a bit furious. I am very sorry, but I can’t help that I am white…
    But departure, that was another story. The airport lacks any signs, but fortunately my taxi driver dropped me at the booth for payment of the 50 USD airport tax. That’s the first rip off, I can’t remember that I ever paid this much for leaving a country (I flew in from Benin where, for example, there was no additional airport tax to be paid at all). And then, yes, luggage control. I had one suitcase and one large travel bag, stashed with 6 wooden statues (4 from Benin and 2 from Congo) and 2 wooden masks. Each of these items had cost me no more than 30 dollars but the 4 officials made a really great fuss about their discovery. They were sure that all these souvenirs were Congolese and otherwise I should show them the permission to export these statues. Yes yes, they just wanted to rip me of. The argument became quiet heated and I felt truely intimidated at a certain point. I finally said that they should really feel ashamed, I asked for their names to write these down and I said that I would instantly call my embassy. At that point they reluctantly let me go….And I thought, well, that was it.
    No way!
    A second argument about my souvenirs started at check-in at the Brussels Airlines check-in counter. One of the Congolese workers asked me if I had paid the officers at luggage security control as otherwise your luggage may be at risk for theft….I said that everybody could ….himself or herself (all in French, there is no better place in the world to practice French than at Kinshasa airport) and that I would take this risk. One of the smarter things to do is having your luggage sealed for 10 US dollars per piece (cost me 4 USD in Benin though).
    Then I had to wait for some more time as the machine providing the boarding passes had broken down. Well, no worries, this is just one of the charms of Africa. If you cannot handle these small issues you better stay home. On the other hand, it is always nice not to miss your flight. As there was still more work to be dealt with.
    Immigration officer, always big fun. But, as with my arrival, this went by pretty smooth. Nowhere a smile to be seen, but I understand that these guys have a very very strained life full of huge responsibilities. And then, of course, they picked me out of the line of people for checking my vaccinations. Now I am a medical specialist myself and I do understand that you check whether incoming people have their yellow fever vaccination, but is it not just rediculous to check this for people leaving Congo for Belgium? No, it is not, as this provides the officials another opportunity to bribe travellers. If you cannot show your yellow fever certificate (you were so stupid to put your vaccination passport in your suitcase that has already been checked-in) then be prepared to take out a stash of money from your wallet.
    Prices at the “duty-free” ( or “duty heavy”?) shops were hilarious and really invite you to buy nothing at all. So if you come for duty free shopping you better fly to Singapore or Dubai. So the only option is to wait, at the very very cosy gate.
    And then, in front of the plane, a final check of your hand luggage. Safety first!! I opened my bag and then the official noticed my two large Nikon cameras with professional zoom lenses. And he was convinced that I was a journalist and that I should have declared my cameras. Again (normally I am really not that rude, believe me) I had to tell somebody to ….. himself. I recall that he was not amused but let me pass.
    And yes, finally, after a walk of more than three hours through the jungle I could seat myself in the plane. Which, of course, had to be desinfected, accorrding to the health care rules of DR Congo. Now I had to laugh about this hilarious action. In my opnion you should spray the whole country then…
    I tried to catch some sleep during the 8 hour flight but in the end not even one minute of dreaming…..
    Bye bye DR Congo, we’ll never meet again.

  16. I remember my first time there. When I arrive, I was lucky to be with someone, but the day I left, I lost a lot of money paying all the employees

  17. I’ve been travelling to and from Kinshasa for a few years. The facilities have been recently upgraded to a very good standard with the arrival of the new terminal. My sense is that as long as all your documents are in order and you pleasantly and patiently rebuff any efforts to earn a few extra dollars from you, then you should be fine. There really is nothing to fear- everyone who has posted here was ultimately fine and got on their flight ;)

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