So you’re considering moving to Uganda? That’s awesome! In 2017, I spent almost a year living in Uganda and absolutely loved it.
I lived in Kampala, the country’s lively capital. Looking back on the experience, a few things come to mind. Red dirt roads. Humid night air. Delicious tropical fruits. Overall, I loved the laid-back lifestyle in Uganda.
But what stands out most is the people. The people I met in Uganda — both locals and expats — were some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.
I think moving to Uganda is an incredible opportunity to meet amazing people, grow as an individual and explore a fascinating corner of the world.
What living in Uganda is really like
Because there’s a dearth of information on how to move to Uganda, I wanted to write this guide. This guide is intended to give future expats in Uganda information on vaccines, visas, what to pack, where to live, how to stay safe, how to get around, and more.
In short, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about living in Uganda as an expat.
If you’ve been wondering, “what is life like in Uganda?” keep reading.
Quick facts about living in Uganda:
- Official languages: English and Swahili
- Currency: Ugandan Shilling (UGX)
- Level of crime in Uganda: High
- Cost of living in Uganda: Very Low
- Quality of life in Uganda: See more info here
Things to know before moving to Uganda:
The British influence is still strong in Uganda. From 1894 to 1962, Uganda was a protectorate of the British Empire. Today, the British influence is still strong; Ugandans learn British English, they drive on the left side of the road and often prefer tea to coffee.
You may get called a muzungu. “Muzungu” is a Swahili word literally meaning “someone who wanders around aimlessly.” In East Africa, it’s used to refer to a white or foreign person. It’s not a derogatory term, so don’t take it personally.
Ugandans are very friendly but soft-spoken. Obviously, there are many Ugandans who are outgoing and talkative. But by and large, I’ve found many Ugandans are very quiet until you get to know them better. I felt bad sometimes because I had to ask people to repeat themselves multiple times.
It’s a good idea to learn some Luganda words. Luganda is a major language in Uganda with more than 7 million speakers. It’s respectful to use some common words: webale (thank you), Nyabo (ma’am), and sebbo (sir).
Uganda has tons of languages. Uganda has 43 living languages (source). It’s a very multilingual place!
Uganda is very religious. 39% of Uganda is Roman Catholic, 32% is Anglican, and 13% is Muslim. If you live near a mosque (there are many in Kampala), you’ll hear the call to prayer many times a day on loud-speaker. Learn more about religion in Uganda here.
There are tons of kids in Uganda. In Uganda, the birth rate is around 5 children per woman. You’ll see groups of kids hanging out and playing in the streets wherever you go.
Uganda is not LGBTQ-friendly. Same-sex relationships remain illegal in Uganda, and Uganda is one of 36 countries in Africa where homosexuality is illegal.
Be patient. Things tend to move slowly in Uganda. At a restaurant, food can take up to an hour and a half. So crack open a Tusker and try to embrace it. As the expats say, “T.I.A.”, which stands for “This is Africa.”
Vaccines for Uganda you’ll probably need
There is a risk of contracting yellow fever in Uganda. So if you’re going to Uganda, you’ll need an International Certification of Vaccination, proving that you’ve had a yellow fever vaccination. Here’s more information from the CDC.
You may need other vaccines. For Americans, I recommend getting vaccinated at Passport Health — I had a great experience there, and they have clinics all over the country.
Note – If you’re traveling from Uganda to another country, you’ll need to bring your yellow fever card with you, as they may ask for it at customs.
Essential info about jobs, visas, SIM cards, and VPNs
One of my biggest living in Uganda tips is to be prepared and do your research. You’ll need a visa, and I strongly recommend getting a SIM card and a VPN too. Also, if you’re planning to work in Uganda, I recommend having a job set-up before you come to Uganda.
- Getting a job in Uganda: Most expat jobs in Uganda are in the following sectors: diplomacy, public health, and non-profit. The tech scene is also growing in Uganda. To search for jobs in Uganda and Africa in general, check out Jobnet Africa.
- Getting a visa for Uganda: You will need a work visa if you intend on working in Uganda. Here’s more information on visas for Uganda.
- Getting a Ugandan SIM card: MTN is the best SIM card to get in Uganda. You can buy an MTN SIM card at the airport. Here’s more info.
- Getting a VPN for Uganda – Some sites in Uganda are blocked, such as HBO, Hulu, etc. You can get around this by purchasing a VPN [Virtual Private Network] which hides your internet activity from third-parties. I recommend nordVPN, which has fast speed, high privacy (no logs of user activity), and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
The cost of living in Uganda
Living in Uganda may not be as cheap as you think. While labor is cheap (i.e. housekeepers, guards, boda drivers), things like utilities, electronics, and imported goods are expensive. Living as an expat in Uganda is not nearly as cheap as living in Thailand, for example.
Here are some examples of common expenses in Uganda.
Note – keep in mind that Kampala is much more expensive than the rest of the country.
Getting around Uganda
Driving in Uganda is hectic. People drive crazily in Uganda. On top of that, the roads are often unpaved and smattered with pot-holes. I once found a card that said, “I love you more than all the potholes in Uganda”, which basically sums it up.
Traffic can be insanely awful. Traffic, or “the jam” as they say in Uganda, can be terrible, especially in Kampala. During rush hour, a taxi ride from Kampala to Entebbe can take more than three hours, even though it’s only a 27-mile distance.
For short distances, the best way to get around is on a boda boda, which is a motorcycle taxi. (More info on how to do that below.)
Safety tips for Uganda
Understandably, many potential expats have safety concerns about Uganda and may be wondering “Is it safe to live in Uganda?”
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Break-ins are not uncommon in Uganda. That’s why almost all houses have bars on the windows as well as tall gates with barbed wire. It’s also why many people hire security guards.
As a young woman often on her own, I usually felt safe in Uganda, but I took certain precautions.
Here are my top tips:
- Don’t walk alone at night. That seems to be the time when people get mugged, robbed, or have their bags pulled off of them by boda drivers.
- Bring your own helmet when you ride a boda boda. Motorcycle-caused deaths are a huge problem in Uganda. Your driver may not have a helmet, so always bring your own.
Tips for staying healthy in Uganda
- Don’t drink the tap water. The tap water in Uganda isn’t safe to drink; don’t even use it to brush your teeth. Bottled water is readily available, and you can have filtered water in large containers delivered to your house.
- Swim in the Nile at your own risk. If you swim in the Nile (or other freshwater bodies of water in Uganda), you may contract Bilharzia. Bilharzia is “an infection caused by a parasitic worm that lives in fresh water in subtropical and tropical regions.” (Source) I knew several people who contracted it, so I decided not to swim in the Nile.
- Wear bug spray, especially at night. Malaria is a major public health problem in Uganda. You’ll find the mosquitoes are quite bad, especially after sunset. You can combat this by wearing bug spray, wearing flowy clothes that cover your arms and legs, or taking anti-malarial pills. In Kampala, the malaria risk is low, so you probably don’t need to take antimalarials.
- Don’t take a boda ride from strangers after dark. During the day, it’s fine to walk up to a guy with a motorcycle and ask him for a ride. But as every expat will warn you, this is NOT safe to do after sunset.
What to pack for Uganda
- Pack clothes you don’t mind ruining – Between the red dirt and line-drying clothes in the sun, Uganda is tough on clothes. Don’t bring anything you’d miss too much.
- Pack loose breezy clothes – Uganda’s hot! And do NOT pack polyester – you’ll never wear it.
- Women’s packing tips for Uganda – You’ll get a lot of attention from men if you wear short skirts, shorts, or dresses. Interestingly, it’s totally fine to wear low-cut, cleavage-baring tops, but it’s considered scandalous to wear something that hits above the knee. Because of that, I recommend packing lots of long skirts and dresses.
Important tip – bring burn cream – Pack burn cream in case you get a boda boda burn. One night, I got a third-degree burn from the exhaust pipe of a boda boda. Though I went to one of the best clinics in Kampala, they applied honey (from a jar from the grocery store) to the burn, and it left a bad scar. Bring your own burn cream just in case! Click here to buy highly-rated burn cream with lidocaine.
The pros and cons of living in Uganda
If you decide to live in Uganda, here are some of the perks:
- The weather. In Kampala, the weather is usually 75-degrees and sunny with blue skies every day.
- English is widely spoken. Ugandans normally speak English very well, and with a charming British-Ugandan accent.
- The people are incredibly nice. Most Ugandans are very kind and easy-to-be-around.
- The tropical fruit. Enjoy lots of avocados, mangos, and passionfruit. One thing to note is that the avocados are Florida, not Hass.
On the flip side, here are some of the downsides of living in Uganda:
- The poverty. Uganda is a very poor country. It can be hard to see widespread poverty on a daily basis.
- Frequent power outages. Power outages are common; once, the power in my neighborhood went out for our days. Sometimes there’s also no wifi for hot water.
- The pollution is terrible. Pollution in Uganda is a big problem. Kampala’s one of the 100 most polluted cities in the world. The air quality is especially bad — I had a persistent cough for most of my time there.
- The eggs are really gross. The eggs in Uganda have beige yolks and taste pretty terrible. For some reason, this is the case in most of East Africa.
Living in Kampala tips
Though it has it’s downsides, life in Kampala is pretty fantastic. Also called the city of seven hills, Kampala is a city that is rich in culture, gorgeous views, natural beauty, and things to do.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about becoming an expat in Kampala.
Essential info about living in Kampala:
- You don’t fly into Kampala, you fly into Entebbe – Kampala’s international airport is located 27 miles away in Entebbe. To find cheap flights to Uganda, I recommend using Skyscanner, which tends to find flights other sites miss.
- Have emergency numbers on you – Here’s how to call the fire department, police, and an ambulance in Uganda.
- If you get sick, go to The Surgery – The Surgery one of the best clinics in Kampala. It’s very affordable and fast.
Why you need to join Kampala’s expat groups on Facebook (IMPORTANT)
The Facebook groups on Kampala are an essential resource. They will help you meet people, find an apartment, and survive in general. Many things happen in Kampala by referral, so it’s important to plug yourself into the online community of expats in Kampala.
There are lots of Kampala expat groups on Facebook so join all the ones you find.
Here are some of the best ones:
How to find expat housing in Kampala
I get a ton of emails on how to go about finding housing in Kampala. Which is understandable – it can be very stressful and unclear as to how to go about finding it.
The best way to find housing is either by referral or through the Kampala Expats 3.0 Facebook group. Post a blurb introducing yourself and explaining what kind of housing you’re looking for, and then wait for people to chime in.
The best places to live in Kampala:
If you’re wondering “Where do expats live in Kampala?” here are some popular neighborhoods:
- Naguru — Located on one of Kampala’s hills, Naguru is a quiet residential area. One perk is that it’s near Kabira Country Club. This is where I lived.
- Bukoto — A great, fairly central neighborhood that has more of a local feel. Check out Bukoto Heights, a super nice apartment complex.
- Muyenga —Also called “Tank Hill”, Muyenga is an upscale neighborhood. I knew a lot of diplomats who worked at the CDC and American Embassy who lived here.
- Mbuya — Mbuya is another one of Kampala’s Hills. Mbuya has lots of big apartment complexes, stunning views, and a tranquil feel. It’s probably my favorite residential neighborhood in Kampala.
- Kololo — One of the swankiest neighborhoods in Kampala with huge mansions. Located near the Golf Course.
Getting around Kampala
The main way to get around Kampala is by boda boda. You have three ways of calling a boda boda:
- you can hire a full-time boda driver
- you can call your “boda guy” who may or not be available
- or you can walk up to boda drivers on the street. I was afraid to do this when I first moved to Kampala, but it’s extremely normal. I never had any safety problems doing it.
How to catch a boda ride off the street in Uganda
Here’s how it works – if you see a guy leaning against a motorcycle, you can ask him to drive you where you’re going. You typically agree on a price before getting on the motorcycle.
You may get charged the “muzungu” rate, but the ride will likely only cost a dollar or two anyway.
WARNING – taking a boda off the street is NOT safe to do at night. After dark, call a boda driver you know or take an Uber.
Here are my other tips for getting around Kampala:
- Use Uber – Uber is very common, though giving directions to Ugandan drivers is insanely complicated. Ask a friend who knows Kampala to show you how to order one. FYI – Lyft is not yet in Uganda.
- Download the SafeBoda app – SafeBoda allows you to call a boda driver the same way you would an Uber. I recommend hailing SafeBoda drivers over unaffiliated drivers. You can identify them by their orange helmets and vests.
- WEAR A HELMET – I’ve already said this, but it’s so important to wear a helmet on a motorcycle taxi. This may sound morose, but many people crack open their skulls and die riding bodas. Don’t let that be you.
- Consier hiring a private boda boda driver – Many expats hire a private boda driver whom they pay a monthly retainer rate. Ask for recommendations for good boda drivers in the Facebook groups.
Where to eat, go out, and shop in Kampala
Kampala is a fairly cosmopolitan city where you can find all kinds of international food, from phở to sushi to craft beer. Kampala also has excellent shopping, bars, and spas. All in all, the Kampala lifestyle includes lots of ways to relax and have fun.
Here’s what I recommend checking out in Kampala:
- Restaurants: Miso Garden, Pardis, Mediterraneo, Copper Chimney (order the butter chicken), Tamarai, Cantine Divino (order the charcuterie and cheese platter)
- Bars: Kurb, Embers, Otters, Que Pasa, Big Mike’s, Bubbles O’Learys, Casablanca, Bush Pig Backpacker’s
- Shopping: Acacia Mall, Kampala Fair, Good Glass, Banana Boat. Also, for a reasonable price, you can get clothes custom-fitted for you by a tailor in Kampala. Here’s more info.
- Spas: Imin Pasha (hang out by the pool and get a $15 massage!)
Tip – carry cash in Kampala. It’s rare to find a restaurant or bar that accepts credit cards.
Tips for making friends in Kampala
While living in Kampala, I made both Ugandan and expat friends. I made most of my friends through other friends; the expat community is really small, so once you know a few, you know ’em all.
Here are my tips for making friends in Kampala:
- Join expat groups on Facebook – Introduce yourself to see if anyone wants to grab a coffee.
- Use social media – Reach out to local bloggers or Instagrammers, email authors you’ve heard of, Tweet about moving to Kampala to see if anyone wants to meet up… be creative!
- Seek out large group gatherings – I’ve found barbecues and birthday parties are gold for meeting people and making friends. I met most of my friends in Kampala at a pool party.
- Say yes to everything for the first few months – You never know where you’ll meet people!
Tips for expat dating in Uganda
If you’re single and living in Kampala, here are some tips:
- Download Tinder – Tinder is by far the most popular dating app in Kampala.
- Be prepared to meet many nationalities – The Kampala dating scene is very international. You’ll meet people from the US to Kenya to Belgium.
- Practice safe sex – The HIV rate for adults (15–49 years) in Uganda is 5.7% (source). So don’t take any chances.
Related: The Truth About Dating as an Expat
Where to work out in Kampala
When you’ve had enough of drinking G&Ts on porches with aid workers, you may want to get some exercise. Here’s where I recommend:
The best gyms in Kampala: Paradise Fitness (located at Acacia Mall), Enlightened Cat Yoga, Kabira Country Club (they also have squash courts and a pool)
A day in the life of an expat in Kampala, Uganda
Here’s what I day in the life of living in Kampala looks like. This was originally published in July 2017.
A lot of readers have asked me about what living in Kampala is like. So here is a little about my daily life here!
But first, some background – in January I quit my job in Boulder, Colorado, to move to Uganda. I live in Kampala, the capital and economic hub of the country, where I work as the marketing manager of a food delivery company. Without further ado!
So, ready to find out what living in Uganda as an expat is really like? Here’s what a typical day looks like for me.
As a warning, my life is not all that interesting Monday through Friday. A girl’s gotta work!
8:00 After hitting snooze once or twice, I roll out of bed. First item of business? Coffee, obvs.
8:20 After some much-needed caffeine, I sit down with my aunt and uncle for breakfast. Our housekeeper makes breakfast Monday – Friday. Today it’s eggs, toast, and a smoothie.
In Uganda, It’s common for expats to employ a full-time housekeeper, who typically charge $150 or so per month. Our housekeeper is named Rachel and she’s the best – we hang out together and listen to music when I work from home.
8:40 I head back upstairs to shower. It’s always a gamble if there will be hot water or not, though I swear taking cold showers has made my hair shinier. At least that’s what I tell myself, ha.
After my shower, I do my make-up, a.k.a. I apply sunscreen and eyebrow gel. In Uganda it’s just too hot to put on a full face of makeup on the regular. Nooo thanks.
9:00 Today’s a work-from-home day so I sit down at my desk downstairs.
9:25 Welp, scratch that – the power’s gone out. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence – the power usually goes out once or twice a week.
Wifi not working, I decide to head to a café. I ask David, our security guard, to call me a boda boda, which is a Ugandan motorcycle taxi. Boda bodas are how most people get around Kampala as they’re plentiful and inexpensive – most rides cost only a dollar or two.
While I’m waiting, I snap a few pics of our puppies Shaka and Z. We recently adopted them from the Uganda Society for the Protection and Care of Animals. They’re a handful, but very cute.
9:45 We arrive at the café and I pay the driver 5,000 Ugandan shillings ($1.40 USD). This is actually more than most people would pay but I’m kind of a softie. Plus I never have change.
I start work (again) and order my second coffee of the day. The only problem is the café wifi logs me out every thirty minutes – ugh.
Around noon, I order a Cobb salad. Recently I’ve been trying to be healthy but it’s hard in Uganda – carbs are very much de rigeur here.
Over lunch, I chat with a Ugandan woman at the next table. She laughs when I timidly ask for the wifi password for the seventh time. “You must be more forceful! Watch how I do it.”
I tell her I don’t want to be a demanding foreigner and she laughs again. “It’s fiiiiine,” she says.
2:15 By this point I’m so fed up with the wifi I head to the office, which I generally avoid as it’s on the top floor and about 700 degrees.
I hail another boda boda and hop on. There’s honestly nothing I love more than riding on the back of a boda while listening to music (Lorde today) and observing everything around me.
As usual in Kampala, it’s a beautiful, 80-degree day, with puffy white clouds and blue skies.
6:00 I work until six, and then walk home with Z, who my uncle brought to the office. Luckily, it’s a quick walk – I only live about fifteen minutes from the office.
We walk home through a shantytown near our house, where around 400 people live. The kids who are crazy adorable, go back and forth between saying, ‘A DOG!’ and ‘A MZUNGU!” (Mzungu means foreigner or white person.) I wave at them and they reply, “”OW AH YOUUU?” So cute.
6:15 I get home and the power is still out. Sheesh. So I grab my book and pour myself a glass of South African box wine which tbh is kind of my lifeblood here.
7:30 My aunt and uncle get home. It’s getting too dark to read so I light some candles on the porch and chat with my aunt and uncle. I love the evening in Uganda because of all the night sounds; I hear crickets, hawks, and frogs in the distance.
8:45 Good news. The power is back on AND our delivery is finally here. My aunt and uncle ordered sushi but I got kimchi stew. Yum.
9:00 After dinner I retire to my room and work on my blog for a few hours. God, it’s good to have wifi.
P.S. You may also like:
- Safari in Uganda at Murchison Falls National Park
- My First Impressions of Uganda
- The Perfect Itinerary for Murchison Falls, Uganda
- Rhino Trekking at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda
What surprises you most about living in Kampala? Most of my friends seem to be most surprised that it’s so green!