Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 08/18/20
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?
Yes, first expat experience.
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. Roughly 16 hours without layover. 8 or so to Europe and another 8 or so to DC. Most itineraries go through Brussels or Amsterdam, but there are also flights through Dubai. Flights tend to arrive and depart from Kampala really late at night.
3. How long have you lived here?
A little over a year.
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?
Housing is OK and there is a wide range. Most houses are bigger than what people need and many have very large yards. Singles will mostly be put up in the apartments if there's one available.
Locations are hit and miss. Traffic here is horrendous. Some of the neighborhoods are closer to the embassy and have a 30 minute max commute time while others have longer commute times. I live under 5 miles from the embassy and my commute home is typically 45 minutes but once a week or so it can take over 2 hours.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cost of groceries is not as cheap as I expected. Not outrageous, but not cheap. Household supplies are OK if you aren't picky.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Liquids and favorite snacks. Good beer, but since we don't have consumables you'd have to save room in your HHE.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Jumia (like uber eats) works relatively well and has a good selection of restaurants. Most restaurants here are pretty mediocre once you get tired of the few good places. There is decent Indian to be had here and there are a couple places that do steak OK, but not consistently.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We have an ongoing war against ants at our house. Mosquitoes can be very bad in certain areas, but seem to come and go. If you have pets, they have cane toads here, which if ingested are toxic. Our dog had an encounter with a toad that nearly ended poorly.
A cockroach can be found on occasion but it isn't a big issue. Wasps from time to time. Geckos are the most welcome of our typical guests.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch. I would not care to find out Ugandan post works.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and affordable. This may be the biggest perk of this post. Almost everyone employs help of some kind. Drivers, housekeepers, nannies, gardeners. Labor in general in very inexpensive.
Typical cost for full time help is around $300 a month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Very few western style gyms, if any. They are expensive. The embassy is trying to put together a conex gym at the chancery but it is not adequate for much.
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?
I would not say widely accepted and safe. However, many places now offer this service. We typically use our cards at chain places and nicer restaurants. ATMs at bank branches tend to be safe to use and there is an ATM at the embassy that charges ridiculous withdrawal fees.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
English is spoken here, so I would imagine there are many, though I have no experience with them. There are a good number of families here who regularly attend church.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Zero. Though Ugandans seem amused when you make an attempt. Can't tell if they appreciate it or not. I haven't heard of classes or tutors.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yep. Would not recommend coming here if you are anything other than fully mobile. Practice some parkour before coming here if you plan to walk around a lot.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No buses, no trams, no trains, nano taxis. The first three don't really exist and the fourth is forbidden. Uber is here and is safe and reliable...if they ever show up.
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?
4x4. One you don't care too much about. Toyota is king here. Likely won't have a hard time finding parts or mechanics.
There is very little burglary or car jacking risk, but it does happen from time to time. If you lock your doors while driving and keep your windows rolled up when sitting in traffic, you'll be fine.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes it is available. Installation times vary. Ours took about 5 days. Currently there are two companies (maybe more) that offer fiber internet. It seems like slowly everyone in the embassy is switching to these services, so maybe you'll get lucky and move into a house where the previous occupant had fiber installed. This would drastically reduce the installation time.
I recommend paying for more than you think you'll need as whatever speed you pay for is rarely what you'll get.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use Google Fi without much issue, but local SIMs are relatively easy and inexpensive.
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?
Touchy subject. I would carefully weigh if you want to bring your pet here. We have had one issue after another with our dog and the veterinary care here is somewhat lacking, though not horrible. Lots of environmental stressors here as it pertains to pets such as bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Vets seem to either shy away from effective treatment or throw the kitchen sink at the animal without much explanation for what they're doing. They seem to have a decent handle on what to do with diseases that are common here, but if there is a serious issue that requires orthopedic type surgery then your are in some trouble.
Not to mention that the city civil authority will spread poison on the public roads from time to time in an attempt to cull the stray dog population. So if you walk your dog you will need to be pretty vigilant about what they are sniffing/licking/eating.
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?
Seem to be many EFM opportunites, though of what quality, I'm not sure. Local salary seems relatively low, but I'm not speaking from a position of experience. Some people do telework here and the process to do so is pretty easy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Probably a lot.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress only required for Marine Ball. Dress at work is mostly business casual, with some offices/positions going for business attire. You can dress casually almost everywhere here.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Use the locks and alarm system at your house. Lock your doors while driving. Very very few security issues here. Boda bodas (motorbike taxis) sometimes go riding past people and try to snatch their bags or their cell phones if it's being held. Be aware of that and you'll likely never have an issue.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Everyone will go through some form of GI discomfort. Medical care is OK for routine stuff but anything requiring a scalpel will result in a medevac.
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 air quality. I read that on one day recently, Kampala had the worst AQI in the world. Typically Kampala has the worst AQI in Africa and rivals Indian and Chinese cities frequently.
I think it has health effects on some, but I have not experienced any.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I would not want to suffer from food allergies here. Even though Ugandans speak English, I would not have any confidence eating at a restaurant even if I told them I had an allergy. If you're OK eating at home all the time you'll be fine.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Prior to COVID, no. Great temps year-round.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
This is the other aspect in the running for best aspect of this post. Never cold, never extremely hot. Even the rainy season is not super rainy.
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 many people have kids here and generally seem pleased with the schools.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, from what I've heard.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community. I think morale is mixed, but skews towards being positive.
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?
Many many gatherings at people's houses. There are activities around town, but you have to seek them out and traffic makes getting anywhere a challenge almost all the time.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Mostly good for families given the reportedly good schools and affordable help. I feel like being single here would be tough. Being here as a couple would likely be fine, but maybe not much to do in the city itself.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No it is not. Uganda does not seem progressive in this regard.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No prejudices that I can think of. That being said, it seems to take quite a bit of effort to make local friends. Most places that expats go are frequented by primarily other expats. I imagine if you made a concerted effort to go other places you would make Ugandan friends, as they can be quite friendly.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
This is a largely patriarchal society that does not respect women as much as men. However as an expat you may be shielded from that somewhat.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting out of Kampala. Uganda is a gorgeous country. Sipi Falls is a semi hidden gem.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Not much in the city itself. Get out of town as often as you can. It can be a pain to get almost anywhere, but once you're there it's worth it.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Meh. Baskets are big here. Otherwise, not really. You can have almost anything made here, but the quality is often lacking.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Affordable help. Good weather.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How truly insane traffic is. I have always lived in U.S. cities with really bad traffic and this makes those places look like an empty country road.
How terrible customer service is most of the time. There seems to be no concept of it at all. Usually it's not a big deal but in other circumstances it is incredibly stressful and frustrating.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Tough to say as this is my first expat experience, so I don't have much to compare it to. Many people here extend their tour.
Due to traffic and lack of communication/customer service (things that I have a hard time tolerating) I guess I would say "no". That being said, lots of people, especially those with kids, really enjoy their time here. If you can "go with the flow" and convert to "Ugandan time", you'll probably be fine.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes. Expectation of efficiency or punctuality.
4. But don't forget your:
Podcasts for long commutes. Bug spray. Vast reserves of patience.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?