What Living as an Expat in Kampala, Uganda, is Really Like

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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 Kampala, 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!

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

8:00 After hitting snooze once or twice, I roll out of bed. First item of business? Coffee, obvs.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

My Thermos says THUMP, not TRUMP, FYI

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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

 

 

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really likeWhat living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

A typical boda boda

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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really likeWhat living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

My office in Kampala, where eight people work. Our headquarters in Nairobi is much larger and has fifty employees. 

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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, interchange 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.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

A day in the life in Kampala, Uganda

 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 evening in Uganda because of all the night sounds; I hear crickets, hawks, and frogs in the distance.

What living in Kampala, Uganda, as an expat is really like

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.

A few things to note about living in Kampala:

In Uganda, you have to be patient. Sometimes there’s no wifi or hot water; you just have to deal with it.

It’s rare to find a restaurant or bar that accepts credit cards – cash is king here.

Living in Kampala is not as cheap as you would think. While labor is cheap (i.e. housekeepers, guards, boda drivers), things like rent, utilities, electronics, and imported goods are expensive.

And finally (and perhaps surprisingly), you can get any food you want in Kampala: Korean, Ethiopian, Japanese, Indian… you can find almost anything.

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!

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

34 thoughts on “What Living as an Expat in Kampala, Uganda, is Really Like”

  1. Beautiful photos but please include photos of “you” in action the next time. We enjoy seeing your pretty smile. Question: What type of budget or visa (from the US) do you need to visit Uganda?

    • Thanks, Chuck! So for the visa you can either get a single-entry visa for Uganda ($50), or an East Africa visa ($100), that allows you to travel to Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda. You’re supposed to get both visas online but I always get mine upon arrival. Budget-wise Uganda is fairly inexpensive, depending on what you want to do. Trekking with gorillas costs around $800 but it’s double that in Uganda.

  2. Regular power outage seems to be a part of life in many developing countries, some places are worse than others. I remember staying three weeks in Nepal and power outage always happened every day, more than six hours each day. I really love that photo of the skyline of Kampala — so green and blue. It looks like the Ugandan capital is quite sprawling.

  3. This was so interesting to read! Most people I know who go to live in Africa do so in a rural part of the country, so I thought this post was very insightful about living in an African city.

  4. Whatcha readin? I always love your recommendations. Brain on Fire, The Year of Living Danishly, and A House In The Sky were some of my faves. Currently reading: Die Again by Tess Gerritsen and Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance.

    • Hi Katie, I recently read Hillbilly Elegy and loved it! I also just read Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York and The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter. I really enjoyed both!

  5. Hi Ashley, I am from India. The post is quite interesting . I got an opportunity of work Visa in Kampala !! Hope life will treat me good over there

  6. I am an American of mixed Ugandan descent. I was born there. Traveling to Uganda soon. Looking forward to it!!

  7. Rent in Uganda can be extremely cheap also, just depends from the area where you want to live and the size of the house. I have lived in a house (1 room) for 16 EUR per month in Kampala (+ utilities) and I loved it.

  8. My wife Rosemary and I lived in Kampala for close to four years, and then returned a few times after that for short term work. We lived out at Munyonyo and loved it! I really enjoy your blog, but you make me nervous riding boda-bodas. I suppose I’d prefer one to a matatu, but they are dangerous.

    • Hi Kieran, which country are you from? I could offer some advice but the immigration process differs depending on your Nationality.

  9. Hi, I plan to move to Ug when my boyfriend gets done with college. I plan to move there for at least a year. What where your preparations for moving? ( visa etc)

  10. You have called Uganda to the “t” except you omitted….

    I have been travelling to Uganda since 2004 and love it BUT you forgot to mention the Mosquitoes at night :-)
    I know this may seem strange to you, but My SOURCE of income prohibits me from, leaving the country I live in, to move there permanently. I would move but cannot live without money :-) I am one of those humans who requires money to survive :-) :-);:-)…..oh that’s right we all are !!!

    I even married a Ugandan woman, which unfortunately did not work our, except we are still good friends, with a handsome young very intelligent,intellectually curious. personable son,but that is another story.

    I got “goose bumps” with envy and a tear in my eyes, by reading your article

    Enjoy

    Roger

  11. I am a South African and looking to move to Uganda. Was reading your blog to find interesting facts about the capital city and came across your reference to the names of your dogs. I am a Zulu woman and I honestly don’t appreciate your reference at all. Naming your dogs after one of the greatest warriors in my country is not a compliment. Just saying, you may think it’s cool, but its really not.
    Your blog is a good read though.

  12. Hi Ashley,

    I am thinking about coming to Uganda to teach with my son. What do you think? This might sound silly..but is it a safe place for white women and children? We would be coming for 12 months.

    • Hi Sarah, as a white woman I felt completely safe! My cousins (who are also white) are raising their two children there (3 and 5) and they feel very safe. Just don’t walk alone at night, and make sure your building has a security guard, and you should be totally fine.

  13. Hi Ashley,

    Thank you for this amazing post, it helped me a lot to have an insight for living in Kampala. As I might move there for a year, could I ask whether the tap water quality is okay to drink and take shower with? Also, how is it with air pollution? Many source I found said air quality there is very poor… hope to hear from you!

    • Hi Claire, these are good questions. You can’t drink the tap water but it’s fine to shower with. The air quality is really bad – Kampala’s one of the 100 most polluted cities in the world. I had a persistent cough for most of my time there.

  14. Hi Ashley,
    Thanks for sharing your experience , i like it
    my son going to study there , can you advice about a room with family not more than 200 USD M , nearby Makrere university .
    many thanks

  15. So glad I ran across your post, Ashley! I’m certain I’ll be asking you many questions over the next year or so.
    I am sponsoring a young Ugandan man through school to earn his teaching certificate. School is amazingly “CHEAP” there compared to Western schools – starting at only about $400-US a semester, at least for local nationals.
    When I first met Christopher online a year ago,he had typhoid from drinking infected water. His sister now has malaria. Unfortunately these, along with HIV, are still very “real” killers in Uganda!
    Both he and his sister went to the hospital for care. Yet most Ugandans could never afford to see a doctor or get the needed medications – and so, die.
    Could you (or a family member) provide me with the name of a physician that is affordable – or moreaffordable – to Ugandans than hospital clinic care?

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