Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 06/04/18
Personal Experiences from Kampala, Uganda
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Seoul, Kyiv, and Hamilton (Bermuda).
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC, which is an 8.5 hour flight to Amsterdam and an 8.5 hour flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe.
3. How long have you lived here?
One year out of a three year tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
EFM with the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Very nice housing with a great yard. Traffic is terrible. The embassy is two miles from our house and takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours to get there. Most people prefer the neighborhood that is closer to the embassy (10 minutes) but we weren't assigned to it.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and veggies are delicious, plentiful and very inexpensive. Meat is of poor quality and relatively expensive. Staple products (flour, oil, sugar) are available. "Bud light" quality beer, wine and other types of alcohol are available. Virtually no other snack foods besides potato chips are available. Low quality household cleaning supplies are available. I bought a breadmaker and make my own bread because I'm not fond of the bread here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Kid cereal, snack foods, tortillas, chulala or other spicy food/seasoning; Ugandan food seems very mild.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a very convenient delivery service called Jumia that delivers from most restaurants. Indian is very popular here. You can also get so-so pizza, sushi, Lebanese food, and "American" food.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of bugs, not surprising to me due to our location on the equator.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch at the embassy. I haven't used the local mail except for one time when we forgot something at a lodge a few hours away. We were warned that our item would never arrive, but it did, so at least in that one instance, it was useful.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available, inexpensive and relatively good. Nannies, housekeepers, cooks, gardeners and drivers. If you have a need, you can pretty much find someone here who will do it for you.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a few machines. I know there are some gyms around as well but not sure of their quality or costs. Some people hire personal trainers. The embassy also has quite a few classes. Some people walk, run and/or bike but the traffic and air quality really hinders it.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit card use is not recommended, but I do use them at the big shops or grocery stores. I only use the ATM at the embassy. Petty crime is an issue and it is wise to guard against theft any way you can.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic mass is held at the Vatican Embassy. Not sure about other places about lots of Protestant churches around.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are no sidewalks. I am able-bodied and I find it difficult to get around in the city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Uber is here and widely available and safe to use. We are not allowed to use the local taxi vans (matatus) or buses for safety reasons.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
If at all possible, you will want a high-clearance SUV even for in the city. There are massive potholes and major rain storms. I would bring or buy a beater that you don't mind it getting dinged up because it will no matter how careful you are. Most everyone has a Toyota, so that is probably the easiest to get serviced. Unfortunately, it seems like the brand most likely to get parts stolen off it as well. Crime is an issue. We are advised to drive with windows up and doors locked. There has been one carjacking in the embassy community in the year that I have been here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Home internet is available; I wouldn't call it "high-speed." It is expensive and a hassle. You can't buy it by the month, you have to buy data bundles and I have found it to be confusing and difficult to decipher the packages. It doesn't take long to install. Just buy a wireless router and you are good to go.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have a magicjack ap on my cell phone to call people in the U.S. and a local provider for Uganda. It is the same deal as home internet; you don't pay by the month, you just have to buy data bundles and keep re-upping when they run out.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
I do not have pets, but lots of people here do. I know they are happy with the vets.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Some work as teachers at the international schools, some have jobs at the embassy, some work or volunteer with local organizations. Local salary is low compared to the US.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Uganda is very poor and there are lots of needs here. I know one spouse who volunteers with an environmental group, one with Catholic Relief Services, and others with kids with cancer. It really depends on your interests.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress is rarely if ever required besides the Marine Corps Ball. Work is casual Friday and other days it is nice but not "suit and tie." The weather here is gorgeous. It rarely gets hot, but you do have to contend with a lot of dust and two rainy seasons so I would plan for those.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. I do not wear any jewerly or anything else expensive. I have a purse that zips shut. I don't walk with my cell phone out and try to stay aware of my surroundings at all times. Generally Ugandans are kind and welcoming but it is a very poor country in which most subsist on $2 a day. What we have can be very tempting if we are lax about it.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Poor air quality, unsafe blood supply, lack of decent medical care, etc. We get medically evacuated for pretty much everything that isn't minor. HIV/AIDS is quite high here, so you also need to be careful about clippers at hair places and other ways you might come in contact with other's blood.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
It seems bad to me. Some neighborhoods are worse than others. We are also at 4,000 feet so some have trouble with the elevation when they first arrive at post.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lots of dust and there are ground peanuts in a lot of Ugandan food (relatively easy to avoid once you know).
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Beautiful weather is one of the best things about Uganda.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have kids at International School of Uganda. We are very happy with it. The commute can be difficult but it is nice that it is a bit out of the city center so the air is very clear. The campus is gorgeous. Teachers are committed and rigorous curriculum.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
They have been able to support my two sons who need extra learning support. They have kids with extensive physical and mental challenges and integrate them well into the classroom.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I am not sure of the size. It seem pretty big and people seem pretty happy here. There are the usual challenges of living in a developing country but there are a lot of advantages. A good school, great weather, good help, nice housing, good travel within Uganda, good services (food delivery, tailoring).
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Dinners, embassy CLO, whiskey club, school activities, biking club, and climbing club.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think best for couples and families; I think it is pretty difficult for singles to get out and meet others.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I wouldn't think so. Uganda seems pretty conservative and I feel there is hostility towards LGBT issues.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I do not feel Ugandans are particularly kind to women.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Murchison National Parks, Sipi Falls, Mountain Gorilla treking, and jinja.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. You can get great baskets and fabrics here but I wouldn't say you would come here for shopping.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather, the cost of living, decent amenities, and relatively safe compared to other African capital cities.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, though I did need to get used to it. The roads seem crazy to me, and the poverty overwhelming, but it is very nice living here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Malaria meds and sense of adventure.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Queen of Katwe; even if you don't have kids you should watch this. Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Today's Uganda, The Atlas of Forgotten Places, and The Impenetrable Forest: Gorilla Years in Uganda;