Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 01/08/24

Personal Experiences from Kampala, Uganda

Kampala, Uganda 01/08/24

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, have lived in Amman, Jordan and traveled all over. Spouse has done Baghdad, Kabul, Beirut.

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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, D.C. It is almost 24 hours to get here. Most connections are through Amsterdam, Brussels, Istanbul, or Doha. There is usually a long layover coming from DC to Entebbe and there is usually a stop in Kigali. Entebbe is 45 min to the closest neighborhoods and 1+ hour to the farthest neighborhoods of Kampala.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years 3 months.

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4. What years did you live here?

2021-2024

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is generally great and improving, large houses or apartments, there are a few compounds with multiple houses. Very large 4 bedroom relatively new houses. Would recommend living in Muyenga/Tank Hill, Munyonyo, or Lubowa neighborhoods for best commute. Commute is horrible for all of the mission on the north side of town - up to 90 min. They are trying to move more housing south. The good shopping is in the North but the expressway around makes it easy IF you live in Munyonyo or Lubowa. There is a motorpool shuttle to the embassy but that is all changing and/or going away. Uganda is cracking down on only one dip vehicle per household. Commute on Southside is still anywhere from 15 min to 1 hr depending on neighborhood and traffic. Traffic is the worst I have ever seen in my life, like Mumbai. Google images, it is not wrong.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Cost of groceries is astronomical if you have any special needs. Good quality meat is expensive. Fish is expensive if you buy imported. Fish from the lake is polluted. Household goods are expensive, we order most everything through Amazon. Local detergents cannot be trusted if you have allergies. Local produce is cheap but must be bought from trusted sources. I don't do my own grocery shopping as it takes too long- a whole day - to go around and get everything needed.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

This post lost its consumables shipment during covid and has not been able to get it back. This is really a problem with increasing limits and rejections from DPO. GF items are hard to find, but you can get creative with cassava flour, etc. The problem is cross contamination. I carry my epipen everywhere. They do not understand allergies here. It takes a lot of effort if you live in the easier commuting neighborhoods because all the specialty shops are on the north side of town. Everyone delivers and you can order via WhatsApp and some places will send the card reader to pay with Visa.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Call/whatsapp restaurant direct. There used to be the Jumia app but they were very unreliable and shut down. The embassy has a great cafe managed by a local vendor and you can order take out from there to bring home for dinner. There are restaurants available, many are indoor/outdoor. The best ones that can be trusted are expensive, and also a drive.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Yes. Mosquitos, spiders, bats, geckos, mambas, ants, lake flies. Be prepared. You cannot order much of anything through DPO to help. You can pay to fumigate but the chemicals are strong so educate yourself and be prepared. My kids are sensitive and almost every bite the first time has caused a rash.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO, do not use local. Although one friend did use DHL to ship a rug with success.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very cheap household help, difficult to find honest help. Find and hire early. We got very lucky, we have a housekeeper, chef, and driver for under $1,000/month. We pay on the high end. Housekeeper/nanny is 800k UGX - 1.5m UGX per month ($200 - $400/mo). Drive is about the same. Just depends on what you want. I do not drive here and I've driven everywhere. The driver and chef do all the shopping because it simply takes too long if you both work.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

They are available at a few hotels and resorts, annual memberships around $1200/family. Those are the only ones I would use. There is a good yoga studio but it's on the opposite end of town.

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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 are widely accepted at most places, but local markets and delivery is cash or mobile money app. There's an ATM and cashier at the embassy. Only certain ATMs can be trusted, the fees are exorbitant.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Plenty of churches and mosques, not sure of English services.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, but it's useful to always have your staff communicate for you to clarify things.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, this is not a place where you can even take a safe walk outside.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No and they are forbidden.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

Do not bring to post. Buy something cheap with 4WD and a high clearance. Some of the roads are like driving on the moon. This city will destroy your shocks and your brakes and your suspension. It is also British drive. The traffic is horrible.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes and no. They say it is, you pay for it, it does not work. It's expensive, we pay $500+ per month to have two providers plus my US cell phone. There are outages constantly, it's jammed a lot by the government. My cell phone from home roaming on data still has faster speeds. A few have been able to bring starlink successfully. Would highly suggest that.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked device and get a cheap local plan solely for the purpose of using mobile money. Keep your US number if you have ANY business at home or if you travel and want anything to work. The UG number will not work or roam anywhere, not even Kenya. I also use my US phone to send western union to my mobile money to pay for internet and other vendors and providers.

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Pets:

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?

There is one or two decent vets. Only one that I know that can navigate the CDC rules. No quarantine. I would not kennel my animals here. I would think twice about bringing dogs as you will not be able to walk them because of all the street dogs and if you are going back to the US you will have to deal with the CDC issues. That being said, I'm glad we have our German Shepherd with us to guard the house and keep the monkeys away.

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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?

Lots of EFM positions that cannot be filled due to the commute and traffic. I work remote for my company back home, thankfully.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Too many to count, be sure to find legitimate ones.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual/formal. Ugandans dress business formal and love an excuse to dress up.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Many. The situation here seems to be deteriorating. There have been a few targeted violent assaults and muggings of expats and diplomats. We simply do not walk anywhere, always drive in dip plates, only go to places that are known to be safe (hotel restaurants and restaurants in certain neighborhoods with security). Christmas is awful, the police constantly try to pull you over to get money for school fees. In my opinion, no one can be trusted.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

In my opinion, the health unit is lacking. There is a good hospital, UMC Victoria. They take good care of you. The health unit has yet to meet with them at all. You can find good providers if you know where to look. The current Community Liaison Office (CLO) is great and trying to compile a good list and handbook. Much street knowledge was lost during covid. Many things require a medevac and the medevac point is Pretoria which needs to change.

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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 unless it's rainy season or you get out of the city. Today it was 195. The average this week has been over 150. I've been collecting screenshots over the last year and the AQI is rarely under 120. Do not believe the averages listed by State Dept. There are air purifiers provided by the embassy for each bedroom but it is not enough. I would not come here if you have asthma or breathing issues. Mine have gotten worse. It wasn't like this at first when Covid still had everything half shut down. It has gotten progressively worse throughout our tour. Going out to dinner when the AQI is bad takes three days to recover.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Very difficult here. Be very vigilant.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

This has to be the hardest post to get out and about. The community is spread out and disconnected. It's hard to make friends outside of your neighborhood. The closest safari is six hours, the closest descent place to get a long weekend is 5. The lake is polluted and can't swim in it. I find it very isolating here with a huge lack of support. The CLO is trying to improve things and a group got the employee association (also shut down a few years ago) up and running again, but it is slow moving. The friendships that grow here seem to grow out of combined misery.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Climate is great if the air quality would improve. Two rainy seasons although they seem to be getting longer. The rains can be torrential and storms violent with a lot of flash flooding in the city.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

ISU is great and my kids love it. It is, at least, not in the city center. It is an indoor/outdoor environment so no protection from the elements really.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not sure, but I've heard good things.

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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?

Yes, many. I have no experience with them.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Through the schools yes, and multiple private instructors for boxing and martial arts.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large but spread out. Morale here is low, many are leaving or curtailing their tour. This is without a doubt a hardship post. We know people who liked Abuja better.

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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?

There are some clubs, there is an Irish ball, Scottish ball each year. It's a very caucasian affair. There are still a lot of colonial throwbacks here which is why getting household help is so inexpensive. You will find your people and plan things with them. You cannot do anything last minute due to traffic. The CLO has been putting on great events.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Singles struggle. Couples do okay I think if they are adventurous and get out. Families do find if they are close to other kids that go to the same school and can get together. The best part about this city has been the ISU community by far.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

No. And it's not encouraged to make friends with your staff. There is a lot of imbalanced taking advantage. I have been able to make friends with other expats.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No. Uganda passed AHA last year and it's been going downhill.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Much on all fronts. I worry for the next elections.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

A very expensive safari I took last year in Murchison. Sipi falls hiking.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Leave and go to Nairobi or Diani, Kenya or South Africa whenever you get the chance. It's cheaper and easier there.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Plenty of the same crafts all over east Africa. I have bought some good art.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

None really. This is not a money saving post because you spend it all on traveling and staff.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The traffic and horrible roads, the lack of any infrastructure or public services, the constant power outages, the expensive and unreliable internet.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectations of a magical African experience.

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4. But don't forget your:

Grit and patience. Plan ahead to get out of the city/country at least once a quarter.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

This is a hardship post advertised as a non-hardship post and it is getting worse. There are new leaders in place trying to improve it, but with elections in two years it will be very difficult.

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