Doing the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing is one of my primary goals when travelling to this region of Africa. Why would you want to go to Burundi? According to the World Happiness Report of 2018, Burundi is the unhappiest country in the world. Burundi is also included in the list of 25 most corrupt countries in the world. Sadly to say, that doesn’t bring my confidence in visiting this country. Therefore, my goal when it comes to visiting Burundi is to simply get in, get my passport stamp, take some selfies, then get out. No corruption for me and there’s not much I want to see in the country anyways. In this article, you’ll learn how to cross the Burundi border starting from Kigali. You might be able to use this guide also if you plan on going from Kigali to Bujumbura.
Getting the VISA to enter Burundi
To get the VISA to Burundi, you have two options. You can either mail your passport to the embassy that’s closest to you. In my case, I would have to mail my passport to Ottawa at the embassy of Burundi.
The second method is to go through a third party that can help you get your VISA for you.
Since getting the Burundi VISA was a bit complicated for me, I decided to go with VisaCenter. I went with VisaCenter is because they said that their turn around time is 13 business days. From what I’ve heard, it can take up to 60 days to get your VISA to Burundi if you apply yourself. Many third party companies are also stating that you should expect up to 60 days before getting your VISA. There’s just one problem…I was leaving to travel in under 60 days.
Was getting the Burundi VISA worth it?
Getting the VISA to Burundi was expensive after paying all the fees. It ended up costing me $274.50 CAD for the Burundi’s VISA fee, VISACenter’s fee, passport photo, “onward flight ticket” and being registered with the Canadian embassy in Bujumbura.
To be honest, I wasted money on the onward flight ticket because my Aeroplan mini-RTW’s booking flying into Rwanda was actually accepted. VISACenter was able to inform the embassy that I was crossing overland from Rwanda.
Was all this money spent worth it? Well, since I collect countries, for me it was worth paying the heavy price. But if you don’t care to go to Burundi, I wouldn’t recommend paying this expensive fee.
Arranging your transportation for the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing
The cost of taking the taxi to the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing is $100 USD. That’s quite expensive.
In early December 2018, there was an attack at the Rwanda-Burundi border where two Rwandans got killed. Apparently, since the conflict between both countries, buses that go between Kigali and Bujumbura has stopped running.
I didn’t see any buses crossing when I went through the border nor did I see any taxis. I think the best way for you to go to the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing is by hiring a driver. If you decide to continue your journey all the way to Bujumbura, I think you will also need to arrange for a ride ahead of time.
Hiring a driver and a car is the better deal from both an efficiency and financial stand point. Car rentals cost $50 USD per day and drivers typically cost $30 USD per day. If you plan on crossing over then coming back on the same day, you’re getting a round trip ride back to Kigali for $80 USD.
If you’re wondering where you can hire drivers, usually, the car rental companies can provide them for you. I went with Kigali Car Rentals and the owner provided us with great service.
The drive from Kigali to the Rwanda-Burundi border (Nemba border)
If you look at google maps, the drive to the border is merely 1 hour and 12 minutes. I think this estimation is wrong because the traffic in Rwanda can be quite heavy. This is especially true in Kigali.
There’s also other obstacles that can slow your trip down like bad weather and police check points.
However, the drive to the Burundi border is quite pleasant. I actually think this is a good journey to do because you can visit some of the genocide memorials on your way back to Kigali (more on this later).
Rwanda-Burundi border crossing process
The Rwanda-Burundi border crossing process is very confusing! When I arrived at the border, the Rwanda immigration staff arrived late for work. He looked at me suspiciously before I even went to the immigration office. He was pondering what my intent was to wanting to cross over to Burundi. The situation became even more suspicious when I told him I have two passports: Canadian and Philippines.
Anyways, after he was content with my answers, he went inside the office and I went towards the immigration window. It gets more confusing here because there are two line ups. One for Burundi and one for Rwanda. And both lineups are on the same window. Looks like they’re trying to improve relations between both countries by having the immigration staff work side by side.
I ended up lining up in the wrong line because I thought I had to get stamped out in the Rwanda line first before going to the Burundi line to enter the country. Turns out you go to the Burundi line (which makes absolutely no sense at all). After you go to the Burundi line to get stamped in Burundi, you go to the Rwanda line next to get stamped out. I swear, these African countries are always making shit up all the time.
Taking selfies and crossing back to Rwanda
Anyways, after I cleared immigration, I crossed over to the Burundi side. I started taking a bunch of selfies just for fun. The Africans were laughing at me while I was doing this thinking I’m so weird. After I was done, I went back and cleared immigration again. They had different immigration windows for when you enter Rwanda from Burundi and this one actually made sense.
They stamped me out of Burundi first then stamped me in Rwanda.
Kigali to Bujumbura?
As mentioned before, you can continue your journey here and go all the way to Bujumbura, the former capital of Burundi. However, I didn’t see any taxis on the Burundi side of the border. You might have to arrange for pick up ahead of time otherwise, I have no clue how you’re gonna go to Bujumbura.
Another option is to join a tour operator to help you cross the border and see things in Burundi. I know African Adventure Travellers or Churchill Safaris can arrange your trip to Burundi for you (I have no affiliation with either companies; though, I did my gorilla trekking tour through African Adventure Travellers).
Why doing the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing can still be worth it
If you decide to do a day trip to cross over to Burundi, on your way back, you can visit two genocide memorials in Rwanda.
The first one is the Nyamata memorial which is fairly close to the Burundi border. This is the location where Tutsi’s thought they were safe by hiding out in a church. This turned out to be a death trap by the Hutus.
The second one is the Ntarama memorial which is also a church with the exact same scenario as the Nyamata memorial.
To tell you the truth, I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to cross over Burundi at the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing. During my flight into Africa taking Ethiopian airlines from Addis Ababa to Rwanda, our plane randomly landed in Bujumbura! We ended up having a one hour layover here for refueling and to pick up passengers.
Had I known this was going to happen, I could have went through immigration in the Bujumbura airport and ticked off the country this way. After all, I already had the VISA handy.
Should you go to Burundi by crossing the Rwanda-Burundi border crossing? I think that you’re better off flying into Bujumbura first then take either a taxi or arrange a ride to take you all the way to the Rwanda-Burundi border. From there, you can arrange someone to pick you up and drive you to Kigali. I think that would be the better option until buses start running again between these two African nation’s biggest cities.
Otherwise, unless you are collecting all the countries in the world, I’m just not sure Burundi would be your first pick as an African travel destination.