Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 08/22/18
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?
After 23 years in the USAF, and 13 in the FS, my wife and I have lived in England, Germany, Turkey, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Egypt, South Africa, Iraq, Pakistan, Singapore and Fiji.
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?
Kampala requires 30 hours of travel to DC, with connections in either Brussels or Amsterdam.
3. How long have you lived here?
One year into a two year tour.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US Foreign Service.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We are one of eight families living in an apartment building, which is not typical for Embassy housing. The apartment is nice, and the building sits high above the city above air pollution and noise. We have a swimming pool and gym. Commute to the Embassy is about 20 minutes, and anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes to go back home. A decent fully stocked grocery store in 10 minutes drive away, and a department store 15 minutes away.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Readily available! Several large grocery stores within 15 minutes drive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We have found everything here, except perhaps some brands of breakfast cereals. The few items I have not found is real maple syrup, good quality cat liter and cat food, and Mexican dinner kits. I have not found Masa Harina flour here, nor good tortilla chips.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Few American fast food options, other than Pizza hut and KFC, but Kampala has many wonderful restaurants serving all types of cuisine. Chinese, Lebanese, Japanese, Greek, French and American restaurants are available, and all offer home delivery.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants will find there way in, so we use insecticide along the doors.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the embassy DPO and pouch services as well as DHL.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Housekeepers are plentiful. Cost ranges widely. An typical cost may be US$15-$20 for an 8 hour day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy apartment building has a gym. Few others use a gym, as the cost for using the big-name hotels is too expensive.
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 cards can be used in western restaurants and at most tourist resorts, as well as the larger department and grocery stores. The Embassy has a safe ATM inside, and one can cash personal checks.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks English, unless you travel deep into the most rural parts of Uganda, especially in the far North.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. No sidewalks, and few businesses have any amenities for physical challenges.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Uber is the best option, and there are some commercial cabs. We have been advised not use buses or motorbike taxies.
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?
You MUST have a rugged 4x4 vehicle. A regular car will be destroyed here. If you plan on traveling out to the national parks, and I HIGHLY recommend you do, bring a good 4x4 off road vehicle with high clearance and either all-terrain or mud tires. Most people buy locally imported vehicles such as the Toyota land cruiser or Prado. We brought our Jeep Rubicon and LOVE it here; it's perfect to explore far off road on safari in all weather. Roads in the city of Kampala are filled with deep potholes, and I have seen water up to my hood twice on the road to my home.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is expensive, and not super speedy. We pay US$150 per month for 4 mbps from 7PM to 7AM and all day on weekends.
There are lower cost options, but the reliability and/or speed will be slower.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I only use my Embassy phone, but most use an iPhone or Android with a local voice and dataplan.
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?
No quarantine necessary if all pre-departure paperwork has been received by the Government of Uganda and signed off. There are vets in the city that many Embassy staff have used with good results, and they do house calls.
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?
Most eligible family members (EFMs) work in the Embassy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty. There is a large need here for help with everything.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual is the typical Embassy dress.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Uganda is fairly safe, much more so than South Africa. We have never encountered a problem in all our travels around the whole country. That said, there are reports of car and home break-ins here, so you have to keep valuables secure.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes! Uganda is a petri dish for diseases. Several infectious diseases have outbreaks in the rural countryside every year. Malaria is endemic, and people not taking prophylaxis get infected regularly. Yellow fever and polio vaccine is required. Medivacs can be to South Africa, Dubai or the USA.
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?
Bad air once a week, but worse down in the lower parts of the city. Pollution can easily exacerbate asthma or allergies. Air quality outside the city is very clean.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Usual precautions. We get two times a year where pollen is intense.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is wonderful. The temps (F) range from 70's and 80;'s in the day to high 50's and 60s at night. All year around. It can rain any day, but usually this lasts for less than hour then the sky gets clear. There are two rainy seasons, where the rainfall will be slightly more frequent, but even then it's not bad. The cool temperature for the equator was the biggest and best surprise about Kampala.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have no experience, but I only hear good things.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, I hear of school kids participating in sports and other activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large. Morale is very high.
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?
Clubs, restaurants, movie theaters are common, but also there are lots of outdoor activities such as white water rafting and safaris where people gather.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Local Ugandan laws and the public lack of acceptance will make LGTB expats very uncomfortable or worse.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I have seen, unless perhaps if you are openly Wiccan. Superstition and is rampant here, and a general ignorance of non-Christian/non-Muslim religions.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Uganda has amazing wildlife and the safaris are more authentic here than in more commercial parks in South Africa. My wife and I go out camping in the bush every month, hiring an armed park ranger to camp with us for just $20 a night. The big-five are here, as well as over a thousand bird species. There are none National Parks and over a dozen wildlife reserves you can explore. White water rivers, tranquil lakes, dense forests, savannahs, mountain trails, and glacier peaks! Uganda is perfect for anyone who enjoys the outdoors and African wildlife.
Our best trip so far was to Kidepo National Park, rated as the #3 best safari park in all of Africa. We drove the two days to get there, stopping at a remote little know campground at the half-way point. At Kidepo, we hired a ranger to camp with us right in the middle of the park, watching thousands of cape Buffalo run across the valley, and over 100 elephants grazing along the river. At night the stars filled the sky while lions roared in the darkness. In the morning found the lions getting ready to sleep on high rocks just 2km from our tent site. Stunning sunrises, and endless beauty. Kidepo is fantastic - and we were the only ones there in the three days we stayed there. That's the beauty of Uganda - amazing safaris and so few tourists compared to Kenya and South Africa.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
African wildlife safaris, white water rafting down cat-five rapids in the Nile, fishing for 400 lb Nile Perch, and climbing the 14,000 foot Rwenzori mountains. Don't forget to go on a Mountain Gorilla trek into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - the only way to see these amazing primates as they do not exist in captivity anywhere in the world.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of handicrafts here.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Access to western foods.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That access to far off-road trails is easy, but I wish I had known that in time to outfit my jeep with a bigger lift, and roof-top tent.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes (except a light jacket).
4. But don't forget your:
Non-Toyota spare car parts, long camera lens for wildlife (400mm or longer), camping gear, BBQ grill.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
If you are a hiker, google the phrase "Rwenzori mountain 4K".
6. Do you have any other comments?
You do not have to spend a fortune on safaris in Uganda. While there are lots of options for expensive luxury lodges, every National Park and wildlife reserve offers camping and low-cost huts to stay in. You can self-drive in the parks, or hire a guide. Bush camping is safe with inexpensive armed rangers who will join you to protect you from wildlife. Purchase a one-year National Park pass which will pay for itself if you visit the national parks more than four days per year.