Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 03/04/19
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?
Not first experience. This is our fourth African country, and sixth overseas post as a family.
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?
We call Northern Virginia our home. To get here, it takes about 18 hours flying time plus layovers. Highly recommend spending a night or two in Brussels or Amsterdam on the way to break up the trip. The flights from either land in Kigali for a 1 hour stopover and then head to Entebbe. Then you'll have 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hour drive to Kampala.
3. How long have you lived here?
One and a half years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Our house is great. We live in Muyenga (one of the hills in town). Our house is not huge, but definitely adequate. Definitely the size we'd be able to afford in the States! Some houses are larger, but then usually they have smaller yards. We have a good sized yard and are lucky enough to have a small pool. Muyenga is one of the closest hills to the Embassy; our commute is about 20 minutes (can be 10 or up to 60+ depending on traffic). We even have decent little grocery stores on our hill, so can rely on those for our primary grocery options, rather than heading through the traffic to the larger chain grocery stores (Shoprite).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
We can get pretty much anything we want. Many convenience food options (mostly from South Africa, but some from US) are available but expensive. We love the variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Cleaning supplies are all readily available. As mentioned above, we use a couple of the local, smaller grocery stores rather than making the long drive and paying higher prices for the stores with imported goods. The coffee here is great, but know that it is quite finely ground so does best in European-style stove top coffee makers or French-press style.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We always ship toilet paper from the US. I am not a huge fan of local dish soap, either, so get that online. The rest is all great, though.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a local restaurant delivery service that works well (Jumia). We love love love the Indian food here. Good Ethiopian too.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants are an issue. Otherwise, not too bad.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is really reasonable. Perhaps not as well-trained as in other countries, but very reasonable. Most people have at least a part-time housekeeper and part-time gardener.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a tiny gym (currently located at the warehouse). There are other gyms available, but most are for locals but yes, expats use them too. The nicest gym is at Kabira Club and it is quite expensive, and probably traffic would inhibit anyone not living nearby (Kololo and Naguru and the closest areas). Otherwise, there are a few dance schools and yoga studios available and are reasonable.
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?
Yes, especially in larger grocery stores. ATMs are available but we typically recommend using the one at the embassy or in larger hotels.
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?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Absolutely. This would be a challenging post for someone with physical disabilities. That said, we had an employee here in a wheelchair and she did great (had an amazing attitude, too).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis and Uber are available. We are not permitted to use local taxis or motos.
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?
Four-wheel drive and right-hand drive. You are permitted to bring left-hand drive but I can't imagine how one would drive a car like that on these roads with this traffic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available. About $200+/month. It is not really that 'high speed' though. The higher speed options often also have packages where you have a data cap which is probably one of the most frustrating things, especially when you have kids in middle or upper school (where 90% of their school work and assignments are online).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your unlocked smart phone. SIM cards are super inexpensive. Airtime is really inexpensive, too.
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?
Decent vet services available. No quarantine. Pets will need to be treated regularly for pests, and heartworm. We keep our cats inside only to not have to deal with the ticks and fleas and mango worms.
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?
You can get a job at the embassy, or local economy. Volunteer opportunities are definitely available. Local salaries are not great, though, and if you work on the local economy, you'll likely have to pay taxes (~30%).
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Schools, different aid groups, animal shelter, you name it.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It isn't overly conservative but better to not wear bare midriffs or short-shorts. We see a lot of teenagers wearing those, though. Formal dress is required only for the various evening events (e.g. Marine Ball.)
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Grab and runs, maybe for bags and jewelry. It is a mostly safe city, especially compared to some of our sister cities in East Africa. Like any big city, it's good to lock doors, not put your bag on the passenger seat, be aware of your surroundings.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air pollution is pretty unreal. We live in Muyenga and often our air is significantly better than Bugolobi or other areas. Serious issues (heart conditions, etc) would be medevaced but broken limbs and other significant but not urgent issues can be handled at post. Good dentist and great orthodontist.
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?
Horrible. And it isn't seasonal, it is year-round. Especially sad considering how beautiful the weather is here. We still hang out outside mostly at our house, but I think other areas of the city might not like doing that due to the air quality.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring a nasal spray or neti pot to keep sinuses clean. Food allergies are not really an issue. You can get gluten-free products here, or order them online.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Kampala has the most beautiful weather. Amazing, really. Our average is about 85, I think, and barely varies from that.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids go to International School of Uganda. We have been quite happy with the experience, especially with the junior school. The biggest issue is the distance: the kids are on the bus 45 minutes to 1.5+ hours each direction. But otherwise, it is a good school, and they have a fairly robust athletic array, as well as musicals and theatre, and more. The school is PYP/MYP/DP. They are expanding the arts offerings with the PAC coming online next year. And they are expanding their language offerings, too, to include Chinese, Lugandan, Japanese, Spanish, and French.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
They do their best to differentiate in the classroom. If the student's needs cannot be met that way, they facilitate the connection to an in-class learning assistant (paid for by the parent, this person helps with the student's learning in the class). Or they facilitate connection with after school tutors.
3. 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?
We don't have young kids. After school care looks more like after school activities, and is not necessarily expensive. From ISU, kids get bussed home afterwards. arriving home around 5 or 6 depending on the activity.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer is available but not especially well-organized.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
THere are a lot of expats here. I think most really like their experience. Kampala is pretty easy to navigate.
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 at restaurants or at people's homes. There is a diplomatic spouses' group. Sport-specific, too, with biking groups, and running groups (HASH house), mountain climbing club, too.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For families, yes, because the kids meet a lot of amazing other kids from all over the world. The school is a great place to meet other families with similar aged kids. And, luckily, most expats live in the same general areas, so it is easy to get together. I don't know about singles or couples.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. LGBT-related activities are illegal and there have been recent arrests and issues surrounding the enforcement of this law.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, but we hang out more with expats. There is a pretty big discrepancy between 'normal' Ugandans (quite poor) and the wealthy (hugely wealthy). So it is easier to find common ground with other expats.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender-based violence is definitely a problem in Uganda and one can see a difference in how men and women are treated. The tribal groups are definitely distinct, too. The current President and therefore the GoU is mostly from one region and this is definitely a sore spot for Ugandans of other ethnicities.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Amazing in-country trips for safaris. Loved loved loved Kidepo. And Sipi Falls was a great experience, too. We've had some really fun weekends away with other families, just to hang out at AirB&Bs. In-country travel can be expensive, but if you manage your expectations, it is a rewarding experience.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
LakeShore Adventure park was a great experience for birthday party (middle school ages).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great weather, decent work/home balance.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The lack of green spaces to meet has a big impact on the community cohesiveness.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrellas and rain boots!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The last king of Scotland (book and movie). The Atlas of forgotten place (Jenny D Williams) paints an excellent picture, especially of the northern part of Uganda and the heart-breaking past of that area.