Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 12/27/21
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?
This was our 11th post. Have also lived in Asia and Africa.
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?
Northern Virginia. Through Dubai, Brussels, Amsterdam, Doha, etc. It is fairly easy, but not with pets especially during pandemics with new CDC and airline restrictions.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
I would say there are no typical housing sizes. New and old, big and smaller size, decent to large size yard, large storage to not so much storage. All the houses are built with bricks or cinder blocks, and concrete.
Commute depends on the weather, traffic, time of the day, condition of roads, activities in some neighborhoods, and route you use. We lived in a suburb and a good day was 30 min. Another day was two hours or more into/from Kabalagala.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries: basic fresh produce are inexpensive if you shop at the roadside, wet market (I do not recommend going to large ones during pandemics), and even in some supermarkets. You can grow your own and it is quite easy. During the pandemic time, prices did go up so much. If you live in a suburb, you may need to go to more than one store in town. There are delivery services of groceries which quality could be hit and miss and could be expensive.
Household supplies - you can find most of the products here, but liquid dishwashing detergent sold locally is not good quality. Sanitizing wipes were hard to find once the pandemic hit.
There is a store called Verity which carries Costco and Walmart goods (not cheap). You can request them to import.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The US mission employees no longer have consumables for this post. I preferred US dishwashing detergents, laundry pods, dryer sheets, and cockroach bait.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Jumia food is a food delivery app. It does not cover some of the areas. Delivery may take forever. Some people have their own Boda guy (motorbike taxi) and use them. Some restaurants have their own Boda delivery guy. Others just use whoever Boda is available around the restaurant and they could ask for a crazy amount of delivery fee.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Our house had geckos, three types of cockroaches, millipedes, ticks and fleas (our dog brought them in), mosquitos, and ants.
For cockroaches, get a large size cockroach baits from the U.S.
To prevent ticks and fleas infestation, we had our own carpets but only a few. We also applied for tick, flea, fly, mosquito prevention medicine on our dog every month and checked out the dog’s body every day. Ticks come out a lot after the rainy season, but yes, they are anywhere year around.
Millipede - we just swept up and threw outside.
Ants - it is a battle. We have applied mint extract (we grew mint), and sometimes had baits, etc.
Mosquitos - we had mosquito nets in our bedrooms but planted lavender around our house. There are other plants that these do not like.
To reduce snakes’ visits to our garden, we planted tobacco and planted different herbs around our house for bug prevention.
Small mice came in from outside, but you can use mouse baits.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
If your diplomatic mission has a postal service, that is the best way to do it.
The local postal facility (the main one) is somewhat chaotic. It is hard to find a place to park first of all. If you have a driver, you can have him/her drop you off. You cannot seal packages before you send them. First, you need to go to the area that checks the content, then you get an approval paper, then you can seal it. Take it to the window for postage. There is no what is called a service mind. You wait for your turn, and you can let people know if someone cuts you off. There may be a person at the window when you arrive, they may not be anyone at the window because they are on break. The postal service seems to be reliable.
I've heard many expats have not had good experiences with independent courier companies. Ask Kampala Expat FB group for more information.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Help is abundantly available, but good and honest help may not be. Due to inflation, I do not know how much it would cost now. I had a household helper UGX 30,000 per day for a part-time. Our gardener's wage was approximately $10 a day. Live-in nannies, helpers are also available. Some people pay more, others pay less. If your diplomatic mission has an average cost survey result, check it out. 8
Make sure you try them out, check their references. I found some could be unpleasant in a different ways.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms at hotels, and independent ones, however, during the pandemic, I do not recommend anyone to go. I did not have a membership at any place, but it was US$5 to US$10 per visit depending on group exercises to simply usage of gym equipment. Some housing complexes have gyms. Online group exercises or small group exercises are available.
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 but please make your own decision to see when and where you are going to use them. In some places, the wrong amount is charged by mistake or intentionally and tiny numbers on your receipt is hard to read.
I did not use the ATM since I had a complicated situation when a machine ate my card in another African post.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are churches where English is spoken. Refer to the Kampala Expat Facebook group.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
No need to learn it, but if you speak Luganda, you may get a better price at a local market or receive amazing smiles from locals.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Minivan taxis, airport taxis, big long-distance buses, motorcycle taxis. Uber.
Minivan taxi prices have gone up twice as much within 3 years of our time. Expats and locals use all the transportation methods, however, you need to be very careful. Minivan taxis drive too roughly in my opinion, and I would be concerned about robberies. Uber has a hard time finding you (most drivers do not know how to read maps and use navigation, so you need to constantly tell them how to find your location), the app has glitches and may charge you for the route the car did not take, then you need to send message to the company to adjust the fee, and drivers may give you a sad story and want more out of you, and will more likely to cancel your request if you are paying with a credit card. If you do not have exact cash, they tell you that they do not have change. It is just a hassle.
Motorcycle taxi - could be the fastest way to travel but in my opinion, it is not safe even if you are wearing a helmet.
Bicycle taxi - new one during the pandemic since there was a time of restrictions in personal vehicles (diplomatic vehicles were exempt).
All the local transportation is affordable, however, if you get injured, the local hospital may not be able to give you the adequate care you need.
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?
Uganda’s traffic keeps left. If you do not mind having a driver seat on the opposite side, bring yours from the States. You can buy used cars from local used car dealerships, can order used cars from Japan, or buy from other expats. Be careful, some used cars will have unpaid traffic tickets and you will inherit them.
I highly recommend Toyota and high clearance vehicles for traveling out to the countryside or being able to go through the water during the rainy season. Potholes can be deep and big.
It is best to have bull bars on your car. Van Taxis and Boda could hit your car and that will prevent damage to the body of your car. If you can put bars over lights, it will protect them, too. Some people put brackets on the side mirrors from getting them stolen. I have heard others put small holes on plastics on light covers, so that when thieves try to pop and steal, the plastic would shatter.
Keep your vehicle locked and do not have your windows open. Any small opening is an invitation of theft when you stop.
I do not recommend bringing a low-clearance vehicle. It would have a hard time going over high humps, go over the potholes.
Large vehicles have more chances to save your life.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I would not say that there is any high-speed internet in Uganda yet. Certain area of Kampala have fiber, others do not. I would recommend subscribing to different internet companies. They are not cheap, and they are not reliable, but at least you have one that works when another goes down.
For a sense of speed, our Northern VA home's internet has 450 times faster than the ones that we actually had in Kampala.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We brought our iPhones. It is inexpensive to buy a local SIM. SIM validity is the length of your visa. If you have a visa that expires 3 months of arrival, you need to go into your carrier’s office with your passport that has your new visa, otherwise, it will automatically stop working. It is good to have one local SIM for mobile money payment; this way you do not need to handle cash as much. Mobile money is accepted at supermarkets and you can pay most of your fees such as your internet fees, hotel deposits, membership fees, phone data, pay for Jumia.
I recommend subscribing and downloading VPN on all your devices before your enter Uganda.
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 required. There are kennel services, but if your household employees can take care of your dog while you are away, that may be the best.
There are decent vets that have experience and they are affordable, but pet owners should be on top of pet care. Vets may not have adequate tools or facilities to care for sick pets. It is easy for dogs to get African tick fever for instance, but I have seen dogs die from it because a simple blood testing was not done even at the well-known vet office.
Exit from Uganda with your pet during the pandemic was the most stressful experience so try to prepare your exit as early as possible. Money will fly away.
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?
Teaching, Embassy jobs, NGO, some do their own business, full time and part-time.
I do not know the local salary for expats.
For diplomatic mission EFMs, employment in a local job market may not be allowed.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It depends on the office and job that you have. If you are planning to attend a formal event, yes.
Side note: You may find a great dry cleaner, however, I did not find a trustworthy dry cleaner, so I avoided using them after having two ruined clothing. Our friend’s items were lost or partially returned.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Snatching phones and bags is normal. Group robbery with lots of tools (Machete, claw bars, etc) at night using sleeping gas. Car parts theft. Lots of petty scams.
As long as you are aware of your surroundings and lock your doors, have extra measures do not give a copy of keys to your house, you should be ok. Many house robberies are done by someone who once worked at the house or your own employees. If you have a security alarm, use it.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I have known people either lose their life or near death from Malaria and African Tick Fever. Medical facilities are adequate for non-life-threatening issues. Ambulances are the most uncomfortable vehicles and I feel like your conditions would get worse. Sometimes equipment is broken or no electricity to run. Reading of X-ray is rather hard - not a good image quality. If you are hospitalized, there is no food or water service so your family or friends need to bring food, a change of clothes, blankets, etc.
People with weak stomach systems may suffer in Uganda. There is a good orthodontist and less expensive than the US.
Medical evaluation is for serious injuries, extensive testing, and such.
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, especially in the city. People and pets could develop allergies or respiratory problems from pollution.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Food - There are different things available at the market, such as rice flour, cornmeal, chick pea flour, etc. Ordering food at a regular restaurant could be very tricky. Nice hotels usually can accommodate your restrictions.
Asthma - it will be hard to manage it.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
During pandemic, it is rather difficult to meet people. I have seen many new arrivals to the country may suffer from feeling isolated. Others may suffer from constant harassment from traffic police when driving, constant scams, electricity outages, no city water, constant unexpected breaking and issues of your rental house, etc. If you are not associated with an organization that takes good care of you, it can be difficult to navigate on your own, however, there is a number of Facebook groups that are of good help.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is the best climate - a very pleasant climate year round. The rainy season is still pleasant.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a couple of international schools that I would say are fine. Our children attended ISU that has PYP, MYP, IB DP programs. The school became much better and now there are more IB DP classes offered. It is not a big school, so you still feel like you need to keep an eye on children’s study, and their college applications, but other than that, ISU was the only one that was able to switch to online school right after the lockdown.
ISU is part of ISSEA The International Schools of Southern and Eastern Africa; ISSEA for short, is a varsity organization that manages competitive athletic competitions and cultural conventions for its 8 member schools. Before the pandemic, students had opportunities to travel to compete in person. I hear that now they do competitions online. Our children were happy at this school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISU is all about inclusion, however, I do not know how accommodating the school would be for special needs kids.
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?
Preschools are available. Most families would hire nannies for their small children for daycare.
ASA is available at international schools.
4. 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?
Large. Foreign missionaries, NGOs, Diplomats, Teachers, Agro businesses or any business owners and all sorts of expats live in Uganda.
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?
Gathering at someone’s house or going out to eat at outdoor dining place with friends are popular. Before pandemic, people socialized at bars and clubs, also.
There are groups - biking, rock climbing (MCU), and I am sure there are more.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For singles, it may be tough unless you love activities. I have met many singles do hike, play tennis, or gather and do other activities. It depends on family - if your older children would prefer to have more electives at school, ISU is not a big school to have many electives, although students can take online courses. For families with small children seem to really enjoy Uganda.
I would say it is a good post for couples.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, it is easy and people seem to like making friends with expats. Ugandans are very friendly. Our experience - most of the local friends we made ended up asking for jobs, money, school fees, food, rides, helping with family issues. It is just normal practice for people to ask for assistance. You can make your own decisions and be honest with them. Sometimes this can be exhausting to those who are not used to this type of interaction.
Prejudices - While we were there, at the beginning of lockdown, any Asians who look like Chinese were targets of harassment, then Italy’s Covid situation made locals uncomfortable with Caucasians. Even after the lockdown was eased, villagers in rural areas of Uganda did not seem to like seeing light-skinned expats for fear of the Covid virus.
It seemed prejudice happened here because people were not well-informed or educated.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Uganda is not as accepting as other countries.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
In general, women are treated unequally by men unless they are caucasian women.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visited all the national parks and reserves. We recommend buying a national park pass (quite expensive in my opinion) from UWA to save money. It is not a cheap country to travel within, however, you can always find a way to make it affordable. Uganda is an amazingly beautiful country.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Chocolate making, visit paper beads jewelry company, Ajuna - learn how they run the company with benefit to their employees, Buganda kingdom’s site, a double-decker bus tour of the city, Victoria lakeside cafe’s and restaurant, fish market area off Ggaba road (this is not a gem, but just an experience), eat crepe on top of Holy Crepe in Kololo and see the city. We enjoyed traveling outside of Uganda. Organic farming of vanilla, kayaking in Nile, horseback riding in a rural area, ATV through villages, river cruises, a site visit of Marburg disease was found, driving off-road in a safari with big cat conservationists, chimp trekking, gorilla trekking, bird watching, and much more.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
It can be. I have seen many have shopped baskets, made furniture, kitenge fabric goods, such as table runners, cushion covers, items of clothing, dog bets, bags, etc.
You may find bugs in some baskets and wooden furniture.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Weather. The abundance of fresh vegetables. National Parks. Easy to get to Europe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The following is what I learned through my experiences :
Rich red soil will come into your house and will change white color shoes, clothes, bedding turns to beige or light brown. We switched kids’ socks to all dark colours.
It was made known prior to my arrival that people are usually late for appointments and it is very true. “Almost there” can be three hours away.
Many locals (for me, most Uber drivers, and some safari guides, friends we met) will tell you very sad situations.
Some expats have a certain stereo-type view of other expats.
People who think they have authority will practice that entitlement over you, including police, airport agents, federal police especially if you are a woman.
We were told that you could get anything, but things ran out from store shelves, so it is important to bring things you absolutely need.
Surge happens, kitchen appliances will break even with step down transformer.
Do not put anything important on the ground to protect them from broken pipes and flooding in the house.
It is hard to find a good place to get things fixed or made. Having a low expectation of it may not be fixed or last long even if you pay so much money helps. Local shops will say they can do it, but it may not be true. It is better not to go to the same place three times. Quality does not remain the same.
If things break in your house, it may not be fixed for a very long time. It can be a couple of months to a year and a half.
Make sure you use the service of people who have good references.
Prices displayed at supermarkets and what you are charged at the cash register are different. Supermarkets' cash registers can be programmed to give you less change.
Sometimes it is good to pick a fight but other times, just let it go. It is not worth your energy.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Our children who enjoyed their school will say “Yes” in a heartbeat. If it were not pandemic time, and I were younger, I may say, “Yes”.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Your own fixed opinions. A thought of how things should work gives you too much stress. There is no “should be this way” in this country.
4. But don't forget your:
Adjustability, low expectation, thick skin, ability to laugh off, online library accounts, surge protectors, swimwears, gumboots (rain boots), good hats, good hiking boots for going to national parks to protect your feet from snake bites or Safari Ants crawling upon you, bug spray, long breathable pants, warm jackets for night safari or climbing mountains, hats, sunblock, headlamps, solar operated chargers. If you are coming from 220 to 240 v country, bring small kitchen appliances. It is expensive here and not of great quality. Good camera if you like to take pictures.
For ISU older students, certain calculators, Apple computers, and other things that you may not be able to find in Uganda. Sports-related goods are sold but may not be of good quality.
Earplugs if all the bars are open. Quiet time was from 8 am to 4 pm, but had whole night long of pounding and loud music made us a bit sleep deprived..
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Guidebooks on Uganda. If pandemics is over, guidebooks on neigbouring countries.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Even though Uganda is a hardship post, it is a gem.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are fresh and lovely. Amazing weather year-round, beautiful nature makes up for it. Enjoy your life as much as possible. Good luck to you all.