Buying and Selling

flag Rwanda Rwanda: Buying and Selling

In this page: Market Access Procedures | Reaching the Consumers | Distributing a Product | E-commerce | Organizing Goods Transport | Identifying a Supplier


Market Access Procedures

International Conventions
Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
International Economic Cooperation
• The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
• East African Community (EAC)
• The Commonwealth
• Rwanda is a a member of WTO (since 22 May 1996)
Non Tariff Barriers
As of June 30, 2018, according to the WTO, Rwanda had 30 nontariff measures in force. Certain products must have an "import visa" (i.e. a stamp from local authorities) before they can be imported in Rwanda, for example pharmaceuticals. More often an import permit is requested by local authorities (especially for livestock, poultry, plants, etc.). Difficult in transportation can also hinder the import/export of goods and make it more difficult to obtain shipping insurances and freight forwarding services: due to the country’s geography, most imports and exports are shipped by road from the ports of Mombasa (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), a distance of up to 1,500 km. Commercial traffic to and from the ports is subject to frequent delays, numerous weigh points, high transportation costs, and occasional theft.
Customs Duties and Taxes on Imports
Consumption tax (excise duty) is levied on certain locally manufactured products. The taxable value is calculated according to the selling price (exclusive of taxes), and the tax is payable when the taxable products are cleared out of the factory for consumer use or when the taxable services are provided. The rate ranges from 5% to 70%.

Rwanda is a member of the East African Community, which uses the East African Community Customs Act (EACMA) for levying import duty. EACMA’s Common External Tariffs system for goods originating outside the customs union prescribes three duties rates: 0% for raw materials and capital goods, 10% for intermediate goods, and 25% for finished goods. Enterprises established in Free Trade Zones are exempt from customs duty on machinery and inputs for exported products. According to data by the World Bank, the effectively applied tariff weighted average for Rwanda is 7.33%, and the most favored nation weighted average tariff is 13.32%.
All imported goods, except those listed as exempt, are also subject to the 1.5% Industrial Development Levy (IDL) and to the African Union Levy at a rate of 0.2%. Additionally, imported goods, regardless of whether they are exempted, are subject to a 0.2% Quality Inspection Fee (QIF), calculated on the customs value of imported goods. Excise tax is imposed on the manufacturer or importation of certain products, like soft drinks (5-39%), bottled water (10%), cigarettes (36% + RWF 30 per pack), alcohol (60-70%), fuels (RWF 183/lt on premium fuel and RWF 150/lt on gas oil), and lubricants (37%).

Customs Classification
Rwanda is a member of the World Customs organisation and does comply with the harmonised customs system.
Import Procedures
The documentation needed to import goods in Rwanda includes:

  • Air Way Bill (for airfreight) or Bill of Lading (for seafreight)
  • Supplier Invoice(s)
  • Packing List
  • Certificate of origin – especially for goods imported from COMESA countries
  • Import Declaration Form (IDF – from the Importer)
  • Importer’s Tax Identification Number (TIN) and Value Added Tax (VAT) numbers
  • Duties and Taxes Exemption Certificates, if applicable
  • National Drug Authority Certificate/Permit for import of drug and pharmaceuticals
  • Phyto Sanitary certificates for import of agricultural products
  • Registration/De-registration Card of country of origin of old/used vehicles
  • Gift certificates, if gifted to any organization eligible for duty free clearance
  • Passport of the individual for clearance of personal effects

Since 2012, the RRA implemented the “One Single Electronic Window (OSEW)”, an online system for filing, issuing, and modifying export and import declarations.

Importing Samples
Samples can generally be imported duty-free. After their use, they must be re-exported or destroyed, with the process being certified by a custom agent.
For Further Information
Rwanda Revenue Authority
Rwanda Trade Portal
Business Portal for Africa

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Reaching the Consumers

Marketing opportunities

Consumer Profile
Rwanda has a population of around 12 million people, with a GDP per capita (PPP) estimated at USD 2,081 by the IMF (2017). Though the living standard is generally higher compared to regional levels, the country is classified as low-income by the World Bank. The Rwandan consumers are relatively young: according to data by the CIA, the proportion of children below the age of 14 is 41.4%, 19.3% of the population is between 15 and 24, 32.8% between 25 and 54, while only 6.5% are 55 or older.
Rwanda is one of Africa's most densely populated countries; with large concentrations in the central regions and along the shore of Lake Kivu. In recent years the country is witnessing a process of urbanization, with people migrating from rural areas to bigger cities (with the vast majority directing to the capital Kigali) driven by better employment possibilities and higher salaries. According to a 2017 report by Oxfam, Rwanda has the highest inequality rate in East Africa (with the richest 10% of the population earning 3.2 times more than the poorest 40%). While the part of the population with lower incomes purchases mainly foodstuff and other essential goods, consumers of the middle class make more sophisticated purchases, including foreign imported products.
Consumer Behaviour
Due to low levels of income, price is the main purchase driver for Rwandese consumers. However, the country’s young population is extremely optimistic in their outlook to the future, thus motivated to work more in order to increase their purchasing power and be able to afford also more sophisticated goods (including imported ones). In fact, in recent years the impact of social media has been strong also on the consumers’ behaviour, with Rwandese people being more exposed to Western-style models of consumption (i.e. streetwear, technology, food products), especially the younger generations that are often willing to pay extra for better facilities or products if “prestige” may come with it. Though the country’s middle class is expected to grow in the next future, only a minority of the population can afford to allocate a part of their expenses to non-essential goods. Among the other factors that determine the Rwandese consumer behaviour are availability and proximity, particularly for the food sector (with small local shops still leading the market despite the presence of numerous supermarkets in bigger cities). Packaging can be another important tool to increase sales as it can easily catch the attention of local consumers. Lastly, according to a research by Nielsen, 53% of Rwandese consumers said corporate social responsibility policies influence their purchase decisions.
Consumers Associations
Rwanda Consumer's Rights Protection Organization (ADECOR)
Main Advertising Agencies
Skyline Digital
Tafari Designs

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Distributing a Product

Evolution of the Sector
There are currently no accurate figures about the size of the retail market in Rwanda. As most countries in the region, foodstuff is purchased mainly traditionally (proximity stores, small kiosks, etc.). Though the presence of retail chains has been increasing in recent years, the future traditional shops are expected to maintain their prominent role. There are several national players in the retail sector, however the market is dominated by the Kenyan firm Nakumatt. In recent years the number of shopping malls has been increasing, with most of the centres including a supermarket (for instance, MTN Centre, CHIC, UTC, KCT, M-Peace and Market Plaza).
Market share

Foreign supermarket chains:

  •   Naivas (Kenyan)
  •   T-2000 Supermarkets (Chinese)

National supermarket chains:

  •   Crystal Mini Market
  •   Simba Supermarkets
  •   BIG Supermarket (Be Indangamirwa Generation Supermarket)
  •   SAWA City Supermarket
Retail Sector Organisations
Rwanda Private Sector Federation (RPSF)

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Internet access
According to the Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority (RURA), of the current population of 12 million, internet users in the country have reached 5.6 million in 2018. The official projections show that by 2020 the rate should reach nearly 60%. Most of the users access the internet from smart phones: Rwanda’s mobile telephone penetration rate stood at 76.6% in 2018, with almost 9 million subscriptions. The main operator is MTN Rwanda (43%), followed by Tigo Rwanda and Airtel (38% and 19%, respectively).
Rwanda continues to be one of the fastest growing African countries in the ICT sector, with good IT infrastructure compared to the standards of the region.
The most popular web search engines in Rwanda are Google (93.5%), Bing and Yahoo (4.5% and 1.5% respectively).
E-commerce market
E-commerce is relatively new in Rwanda, nevertheless the market is growing at a fast pace, with several new tech start-ups and international companies that started activities in the country in the last couple of years. The government is actively supporting online retail and the ICT sector in general, and has put in place measures to protect e-shoppers, for example by adopting the proprietary information security standard for online payments.  Furthermore, citizens and businesses can now use e-government portals to pay taxes and fees. According to UNCTAD’s B2C E-commerce Index 2018, Rwanda ranks 116th out of 151 economies at world level in terms of e-commerce, and 19th out of 44 African countries. Among the factors that hinder the sector’s growth are the physical infrastructure of the country, which make it often difficult to deliver goods, and the fact that the population is not too used to banking services (65% of adults use other formal but non-bank financial products or services). For now, most of the B2C trade is related to the airlines, hospitality, banking, food delivery and courier services sectors. The main portals include Kaymu, Lamudi, Jovago, and Hellofood - which are all part of Jumia, a Nigerian e-commerce firm – Gurisha,, Carisoko and Ntuma. China and the United Arab Emirates are the main e-commerce partners and online ordering typically goes through Alibaba and Ali Express. The most common payment methods are Western Union, MoneyGram, and HubShil. Social media is widely used in Rwanda including WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Many start-ups and SMEs use Facebook or other social media for advertising. According to IWS, there are more than half a million Facebook users in the country.

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Organizing Goods Transport

Rwanda is a landlocked country and it therefore relies on the ports of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya for most of its imports and exports.
Kigali International Airport (KIA)
Kamembe International Airport (KME)
Gisenyi Airport (GYI)
For further information, consult the website of Rwanda Airports Company
Sea Transport Organisations
Ministry of Infrastructure
Air Transport Organisations
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority
Road Transport Organisations
Rwanda Transport Development Agency
Rail Transport Organisations
Ministry of Infrastructure

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Identifying a Supplier

Type of Production
According to data by the World Bank, the agricultural sector accounts for 31% of GDP, the main crops being coffee, tea, hides and skins, pyrethrum and horticulture. Industry contributes 15.7% to the country’s GDP, mostly focused on the processing of primary products. Services contributes 46% of GDP, mainly thanks to ICT and financial subsectors.

Business Directories

Multi-sector Directories
Afrikta - List of companies in Rwanda - Rwanda business directory
Rwanda YP - Rwanda's business directory

To search directories by industry in Rwanda, check out our service Business Directories.

Professional Associations by Sector
11 professional associations listed for the Rwanda.
Trade Agencies and Their Representations Abroad
Ministry of Trade and Industry
National Agricultural Export Development Board
General Professional Associations
Rwanda Private Sector Federation (PSF)

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Latest Update: May 2024