Moving to a new country can be an exciting, yet daunting experience. For expats moving to Uganda, the culture, climate, and regulations can present a number of challenges. At the same time, moving to Uganda offers expats a unique chance to explore the wonders of this East African nation and expand their worldview. In this guide, we’ll outline everything you need to know about living in Uganda as an expat. We’ll cover the cost of living, visas, housing, safety, health, transportation, shopping, entertainment, making friends, the local culture, and much more. Whether you’re a digital nomad, expat, or long-term tourist, hopefully, this guide makes your move to Uganda a little smoother and easier.
I’ve also made this YouTube video about my experience living in Uganda
Quick Facts About Uganda
Population- 47 million
Region- East Africa
Capital city- Kampala
Climate- Tropical and Equatorial. There are two rainy seasons per year
Geography- Diverse. There are plateaus, plains, mountains, and lakes
Main languages spoken- Luganda, English, and Swahili
Currency- The Ugandan Shilling (UGX). Currently 1 USD=3750 shillings.
Main Religions- Catholicism, Christianity, and Islam
Time zone- GMT+3
Drives on the- Left side of the road
Electricity- 240V 50Hz
International Dialing Code- +256
Table of Contents
- Info About Uganda
- Cost of Living in Uganda
- Visas for Uganda
- Is Uganda Safe?
- Staying Healthy While Living in Uganda
- Corruption and Bribes
- Staying Connected: Sim Cards, Internet, and Phone Service
- What to Pack
- Transportation: How to Get Around Uganda
- How to Find Housing in Uganda
- The Best Neighborhoods in Kampala
- Shopping in Uganda
- Bars and Restaurants
- Making Friends and Dating in Uganda
- Pros and Cons of Living in Uganda as an Expat
- FAQ About Living in Uganda
A Bit of Info About Uganda
Nicknamed the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is a landlocked country located in the heart of East Africa. Uganda is a diverse country with varying climates. The country is bordered to the north by South Sudan, to the east by Kenya, to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to the south by Rwanda and Tanzania. Uganda sits on the north shore of Lake Victoria.
The terrain of Uganda is made up of hills, valleys, and mountains which surround a large plateau in the center of the country. Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, is located to the south of Uganda. Temperatures throughout the year remain fairly mild due to Uganda’s location on the equator. There are two rainy seasons in Uganda. The rains usually arrive between March and May and October to December. Uganda also enjoys a lot of sunshine throughout the year.
Rich with culture, history, and natural beauty, Uganda offers an abundance of attractions. From safaris to bustling markets to vibrant nightlife, there is something for everyone. Uganda is a perfect destination for outdoorsy expats. From the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Victoria in the south to the lush green hills and forests in the north, Uganda offers a stunning landscape like no other. You can enjoy numerous outdoor activities such as hiking and safaris, as well as view diverse wildlife from gorillas to elephants With its friendly people and welcoming atmosphere, this East African nation is an amazing expat destination.
Some Important Things to Know Before Moving to Uganda
Uganda is an extremely religious country- 39% of people are Roman Catholic, 32% are Anglican, 11% are Pentecostal Christian, and 14% are Muslim. Only 0.2% of people identify as agnostic or atheist. When talking to people, you should try to respect everyone’s beliefs. People are extremely passionate about their religion here. There are churches everywhere. If you live near a mosque, you will hear the call to prayer played over a loudspeaker multiple times per day.
People will call you a mzungu- Mzungu is a Swahili word used to refer to a white person or foreigner. This term is used all over East Africa. If you’re of European descent, you’ll hear it all the time while you’re out and about. Usually, it’s used in a friendly manner. It can be used in a derogatory manner as well. You can tell by the tone. Mzungu is used similarly to the term ‘gringo’ in Latin America.
There are lots of kids in Uganda- Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. Around 46% of the population or 21 million people are under 14 years old according to this interesting article. You will see children playing everywhere you go. Kids are usually well-behaved. Once in a while, some kids will approach you to beg for money. They’re mostly harmless. You should keep an eye on your belongings when there are street kids around.
Many different languages are spoken in Uganda- There are around 43 living languages in Uganda. In the capital city, Kampala, the most common language is Luganda. English is widely spoken throughout the country. If you can, try to learn a few words of Luganda. It’s a fun and relatively easy language to learn. If you’re not good with languages, you’ll get by just fine with English alone. Swahili is not widely spoken in Uganda though more and more people are learning the language. Last year, Uganda adopted Kiswahili as an official language. The government is pushing for people to learn the language.
Uganda is not LGBT friendly- Same-sex relationships are illegal in Uganda. LGBT people are often discriminated against in the country. Even visitors. If you are part of the LGBT community, Uganda may not be a safe expat destination for you.
Uganda is a developing country- Infrastructure is poor in places. Some of the products and services that you’re used to may not be available. Medical facilities are lacking, even in the captial city.
Ugandans are soft-spoken people- When you first meet someone, they may speak very quietly. I often have to ask people to repeat themselves because I can’t hear them. This is common in restaurants when I’m speaking to the server or when I meet someone for the first time and ask them their name. Once people get to know you a bit, they open up. Of course, not all people are like this. There are plenty of loud, outgoing, and talkative Ugandans. Part of this may also be the language barrier. Some people may not feel comfortable speaking in English.
Uganda has a strong British influence- Uganda was a protectorate of the British Empire from 1894-1962. You can still notice signs of British influence today. For example, in Uganda, you drive on the left. People learn British English in school. Tea is more popular than coffee.
Cost of Living in Uganda
Uganda is an extremely affordable place to live. An average expat could live comfortably on a budget of $1000-$1500 per month. This budget includes rent, food, transportation, and entertainment. This budget would allow you to rent a nice one-bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood of Kampala. You could eat out a few times per week, take taxis and boda bodas everywhere you want to go, and go out to enjoy the nightlife on the weekends.
It’s possible to get by on a much lower budget. If you were to rent an unfurnished apartment outside of the city center and furnish it yourself and cook most of your own meals, you could live on as little as $600-$800 per month. If you want to save even more, you could move outside of the capital city. It would be possible to live on less than $500 per month in smaller cities.
Millions of Ugandans live on less than $100 per month. It’s possible to live very cheaply here. As a foreigner, you will spend more than the locals.
In the following sections, I’ll outline the cost of rent, food, transportation, and entertainment. All prices are listed in U.S. dollars. Currently, the exchange rate is about 1 USD for 3800 Ugandan shillings.
Rent in Uganda
Renting a furnished one-bedroom apartment in Kampala costs around $400-$600 per month. This price includes a bed, couch, table, fridge, gas stove as well as all utilities.
To save some money, you could rent an unfurnished apartment for around. $200-$300 per month. In this case, you’ll have to buy furnishings and pay all of your own utilities.
If you’re moving to Uganda with your family or if you want some more space, you can also rent 2 and 3 bedroom properties for around $600-$800 per month. Luxury apartments in wealthier neighborhoods such as Kololo cost around $800 per month.
Some long-term expats choose to buy a home or build their own home. It is possible to build a nice home in Uganda for $150,000.
Food Cost in Uganda
Groceries are affordable. If you cook your own meals, you could maintain a balanced diet for $100-$200 per month. Exactly how much you’ll spend on groceries depends on your diet.
Locally produced foods are cheap. You can save money by shopping at local markets and buying local products. If you maintain a diet of local foods such as matoke, posho, potatoes, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, chicken, soups, etc, you could spend less than $100 per month on food.
For some examples of the cost of some common grocery items, a loaf of bread costs around $1.60. A dozen eggs costs around $2.20. One kilo of chicken costs around $8-$10. One liter of milk costs around $1.
Imported foods and western foods are more expensive. If you want to maintain a western diet, you may spend closer to $200-$250 per month on groceries. On this budget, you could buy frozen foods, cheese, meat, ice cream, etc.
Restaurants in Uganda are also reasonable. Expect to spend $10-$15 on a meal at a mid-range restaurant. A couple of popular chains include Cafe Javas and Caramel Cafe. At a typical mid-range restaurant, a pizza might cost around $8-$10. A burger and fries might cost around $8. A piece of chicken and some fries might cost $5.
If you eat at a local restaurant, you can enjoy a Ugandan meal for $2-$3. Street food is also available. A rolex (an omelet with onion and tomato rolled in a chapati) costs around $0.70. Muchomo (a skewer of grilled pork) costs around $0.90. A piece of chicken costs around $1.60. Some fries cost around $0.9. Some fresh fruit (pineapple, mango, or watermelon) costs around $0.50.
Transportation cost in Uganda also affordable. A one-way ride across town in a taxi (shared minibus) costs around $0.80-$1.00. A ride to a nearby town, such as Entebbe or Jinja, costs around $1.40.
A one-way boda boda (motorcycle taxi) ride of about 7 or 8 km costs around $2.25. A 10-12 km rie costs around $4. A short ride of 2-3 km costs around $1. Prices increase slightly at night.
Uber is a bit more expensive. A one-way ride across town might cost $10.
Many long-term expats choose to buy their own vehicle. Used vehicles are reasonably priced. You could buy a decent used car for $5000-$10,000. It’s possible to buy a decent motorcycle or scooter for under $1000. You do have to be careful not to buy a lemon and get ripped off.
Going out in Uganda is pretty affordable. A domestic beer usually costs around $2-$3 at a bar. Cocktails cost around $6-$10. Some clubs charge a cover of $1-$2 on Friday and Saturday nights. A movie ticket to see a new release costs around $3-$4.
Utilities are affordable. For a one bedroom apartment, you might spend $15-$20 on electricity and about the same on water. A gas canister for a stove costs around $25. This will last several months.
Internet service is surprisingly expensive. Depending on how much data you use, expect to spend around $20-$40 per month. An unlimited Wifi connection costs $40-$50 per month.
Buying imported items, such as luxury goods and electronics is expensive. In most cases, it’s best to buy these items in your home country and bring them with you.
Labor is also cheap. If you want to hire a housekeeper, cook, security guard, nanny, or personal boda driver, you can. Many expats hire help around the house.
Overall, Uganda is an extremely affordable place to live. If you’re able to adapt to the local lifestyle, it’s probably one of the most affordable countries to be an expat or digital nomad.
It’s important to note that local salaries are pretty low. If you’re working for a Ugandan company and earning a local salary, Uganda may feel expensive. If you’re working remotely or if you’re employed by a foreign company, Uganda will feel cheap.
To get a better idea of the cost of living in Uganda, check out this list of common expenses in Uganda from Numbeo. Also, check out this list of common expenses from Expatistan. For more general info on budgeting, check out my guide to traveling Africa on a budget.
Visas for Uganda
Most nationalities require a visa to visit Uganda. If you don’t plan to work in Uganda, you can apply for a tourist visa. Uganda offers an easy-to-use e-visa system. You can easily apply for a visa online in around 15 minutes. All you’ll need is a copy of your passport, up to date yellow fever vaccine certificate, and proof of onward travel.
A Ugandan tourist visa allows you to stay in the country for up to 90 days. The visa fee is $52. The visa can be extended for an additional 60 days for free. You can apply for a single-entry visa, multi-entry visa, or East Africa Tourist visa on Uganda’s ministry of Internal affairs website here
If you plan to work in Uganda or stay for longer than 150 days, you will need to apply for an entry permit. This document allows you to stay in Uganda long-term. Some entry permits allow you to work and earn money in Uganda.
A number of different entry permits are available. Which one you need to apply for depends on your specific situation. You will have to meet additional requirements to obtain an entry permit. For example, you may have to prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself. If you’re working, you’ll need a letter from the company you’re working for. There is also an application fee. I believe long-term entry permits cost around $1000 per year. For more info on the various entry permits available, visit Uganda’s ministry of internal affairs website here.
Long-term residency permits are available to those who have been living in Uganda long-term as well as those who are married to a Ugandan citizen. These allow you to stay in Uganda permanently.
It is possible for foreigners to obtain citizenship in Uganda but it is an expensive and time-consuming process. There are also quite a few restrictions. Dual-citizenship is allowed under Ugandan law.
Working in Uganda
If you plan to work in Uganda, you should have a job set up before you arrive. The main sectors where you will find expat jobs include non-profit, public health, diplomacy, and tech. Many foreigners also work as aid workers for NGOs.
There are a number of websites where companies list job openings in Uganda. One of the most popular is Jobnet Africa. Your employer can help you obtain the necessary visa.
Is Uganda Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams
Uganda is generally considered to be a safe country for expats and digital nomads to live in. The rate of crime is moderate. Foreigners generally aren’t targeted. That said, it is important to exercise caution.
Break-ins occur frequently in Uganda. For this reason, pretty much all homes and apartments have bars over the windows. There are also large fences with barbed wire or an electric fence around most residential properties. Apartment complexes and gated communities enlist the help of security guards at the gate. Some expats hire a private security guard to stand outside their gate at night. To stay safe, be sure to keep your home locked up tight at all times. Always lock your front door and your gate. This is particularly important at night. During the day, the risk of break-ins is much lower.
When traveling in crowded areas pickpocketing and petty theft are common. It’s important to keep a close eye on all belongings at all times while you’re out and about. Also, keep an eye out for pickpockets and thieves while riding in shared taxis. I had my phone pickpocketed in a taxi in Tanzania. For more info, check out my guide to avoiding pickpockets.
There is also a risk of robbery in Uganda. After dark, the risk of robbery increases substantially. To stay safe, it’s best to take an Uber, taxi, or boda while moving around at night. It’s generally not safe to walk around alone at night in Uganda. You can walk around crowded areas at night but you should never walk through deserted areas. Robbers can hide in the darkness on the side of the road and attack. Robbers can also ride up on a motorcycle, hit you, then rob you. For more info, check out my guide to avoiding getting robbed while traveling.
It’s important to note that it is not safe to take a random boda boda at night. A boda driver could take you to a secluded area and rob you. Some drivers work with other criminals. They could drive you to their criminal accomplices who are waiting to rob you. At night, you should order a Safe Boda, order an Uber, or call a boda driver that you know. During the day, it’s safe to flag down any boda or hire any driver that you see on the street.
Scams also exist in Uganda. One of the most common scams you’re likely to encounter is overcharging. Taxi drivers, boda drivers, and street vendors will try to charge you more than the going rate. To avoid getting overcharged, always make sure you know how much things cost beforehand. Always agree to a price before accepting a ride or making a purchase.
Additionally, fraudsters may try to entice you with “too good to be true” offers like investments or business opportunities. For example, someone might try to sell you gold or land. People will say anything to separate you from your money. Investing in real estate or starting a business in Uganda is incredibly risky. Chances are, you’ll lose your money. If something seems too good to be true, it is. For more scams to look out for, check out my list of 25 common travel scams.
Violent crime against foreigners is relatively rare in Uganda, but you do have to keep an eye out. Muggings and armed robberies can occur. There have been instances of terror attacks in the past. Civil unrest can also occur. Particularly during elections. Always stay alert when out and about. If you feel unsafe, leave the area.
Some parts of Uganda are more dangerous than others. There are some regions that are best to avoid. The Karamoja region of north-eastern Uganda is considered unsafe. The border zone with South Sudan is also unsafe due to the risk of banditry. The border zone with the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also unsafe at times. If you plan to visit these regions, you should hire a local guide that is familiar with the security situation in the area. Visit on a tour rather than independently.
For more general info, check out my guide: Is Africa Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.
Road Safety in Uganda
Being involved in an auto accident is your biggest risk while living in Uganda. Road safety is poor in Uganda. Motorcycle accidents are extremely common due to reckless driving and poor road conditions. Taxi accidents also happen. Road deaths occur frequently.
One of the first things you buy in Uganda should be a good helmet. Always wear your helmet when riding a boda boda.
If your boda or taxi driver is taking too many risks, tell them to drop you off, pay them, then find another driver. It’s not worth risking your life over a couple of dollars.
Staying Healthy While Living in Uganda
There are a number of illnesses that you could encounter while living in Uganda. Healthcare is also pretty poor. In this section, I’ll outline how to stay healthy while living in Uganda.
One of your biggest health risks while living in Uganda is Malaria. Malaria is an infectious disease that is caused by a parasite that is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. This disease affects millions of people worldwide every year. Symptoms of malaria can range from mild fever to more severe cases where there can be complications such as anemia, kidney failure, and coma. If left untreated, malaria can lead to death.
To avoid getting sick, you’ll have to take some precautions. Always sleep under a mosquito net. You’re more likely to catch malaria at night when mosquitoes can feast on you. A mosquito net prevents this. While you’re out in the evenings, wear clothing that covers your arms, legs, and ankles. Also, wear bug spray with DEET when mosquitoes are out. Cover the windows of your home with screens to prevent mosquitoes from getting in. Avoid leaving standing water around your property. Avoiding getting bitten is the best way to prevent malaria. You can take malaria prophylaxis if you travel to a high-risk area.
If you’re only staying in Kampala, the malaria risk is fairly low. You don’t need to take malaria prophylaxis. If you travel outside of the city, you may consider taking malaria pills. Most types of malaria prophylaxis can only be taken for up to 6 months at a time. They can have side effects. If you’re staying in Uganda for less than a few months, you can take malaria prophylaxis for the duration of your trip.
If you spend enough time in Uganda, you will catch malaria. There is no avoiding it. Every local has had it at one point or another. The best thing you can do is avoid getting bit.
If you start feeling a fever coming on, go into a clinic for a malaria test. Every clinic offers malaria testing. They take just a couple of minutes and cost just a few dollars. If the test comes back positive, the clinic will supply you with the medication you need to treat malaria. If you catch it early, you can recover in just a few days.
For more info, check out my guide to traveling in a malaria zone.
An upset stomach or traveler’s diarrhea is the most common sickness for travelers, according to the CDC. Anyone traveling to Uganda should be aware of traveler’s diarrhea and know how to prevent it.
Traveler’s diarrhea is caused by drinking water or eating food contaminated with bacteria strains that your body isn’t immune to. Common symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. In Uganda, Locals refer to this as ‘having a runny tummy.’
Contaminated food and water are the most common ways traveler’s diarrhea is contracted. To avoid traveler’s diarrhea, staying away from potentially hazardous meals and street food should be a priority.
Before you eat in a restaurant or at a street food stand, try to check the cleanliness. Only buy rolex, muchomo (grilled meat skewers), and chicken from clean-looking stands. Try to eat in busy restaurants that serve fresh food. If the food has been left uncovered or if it looks like it’s been sitting around for a while, find someplace better to eat.
If you spend enough time in Uganda, you will get sick from the food at one point or another. There is no avoiding it.
If you get food poisoning in Uganda, you should drink plenty of clean water. Also, follow the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for banana, rice, applesauce, and toast. You can also go to the pharmacy to buy some over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine such as Imodium. If your symptoms don’t ease up after a couple of days, go to a clinic to get some antibiotics. You should also drink some rehydration salts. These are available at pharmacies.
Can I Drink the Tap Water in Uganda?
No. The tap water in Uganda is not safe to drink. The water is treated. When it leaves the treatment plant, it is safe to drink. The problem is that the water can run through contaminated pipes on the way to your faucet. There is no way to know whether or not the water is clean without testing it.
For drinking water, you should always buy bottled water. You can buy bottled water at any market, convenience store, or grocery store. It’s sold everywhere. You can also get large jugs of drinking water delivered to your home for just a couple of dollars.
You can drink the tap water in Uganda if you boil it or filter it first. I regularly make tea and coffee with the tap water. I just boil it in my kettle. You can also brush your teeth with the tap water. While brushing, try not to swallow excessive amounts of water, to be safe. You can also use the tap water for cooking, as long as you make sure that it comes to a boil. I have never gotten sick from the water while living in Uganda.
Swimming in Uganda
Swimming in Uganda can be an enjoyable experience, but there is an unfortunate risk to consider. Swimmers should be aware that any body of freshwater in the country, including the Nile, may contain a waterborne parasitic infection known as Bilharzia. Bilharzia is caused by tiny parasitic worms known as Schistosoma, which live in snails. They are released into bodies of freshwater.
If a human comes in contact with Bilharzia by swimming or drinking contaminated water, they can suffer flu-like symptoms. Sometimes liver damage or neurological disorders can occur if not properly treated. luckily, Bilharzia is pretty easily treatable. If you start feeling sick, you can go to a clinic and get tested and treated.
It is important to be aware of the risks that come with taking a dip in any body of water in Uganda. Personally, I only swim in pools.
For more info on Bilharzia, check out this guide.
Corruption and Bribes in Uganda
Uganda is a country that has long been plagued by corruption. Despite efforts in recent years to crack down on such practices, many people in Uganda are still forced to pay bribes to get access to basic services. These bribes often take the form of cash payments, gifts, or favors. Unfortunately, this type of pervasive corruption makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to go about their daily lives.
Recently, there was a problem with corrupt immigration officials asking for bribes before allowing people to leave Uganda through Entebbe International airport. You can read more about this issue in this article.
As a foreigner living in Uganda, you will experience corruption from time to time. You may be asked to pay a bribe if you’re pulled over by the police while driving. You may have to pay a bribe for extending your visa. Usually, these bribes can be avoided if you have patience. In some cases, you may have to pay to get things done.
Unfortunately, this is the reality of living in many developing countries. This isn’t an issue that is exclusive to Uganda.
You can read more about corruption in Uganda in this interesting article.
Staying Connected in Uganda: Sim Cards, Internet, and VPNs
When you arrive in Uganda, buy a local SIM card so you have a local phone number and data on your phone. The two main telecom companies in Uganda are Airtel and MTN.
Both offer about the same coverage and prices. MTN offers a slightly better network. Particularly outside of Kampala. Personally, I use MTN. Other telecom companies exist but their coverage isn’t as good.
To get a local SIM card in Uganda, you need to bring your passport and visa to the service center of the phone company you plan to use. You can find service centers all over the city. They’re usually located in malls.
An agent will take a photo of your passport. They will also take a photo of you holding your new SIM card. They may also take your fingerprint. It’s a bit obtrusive but it’s the only option. You must pay in cash. Cards aren’t accepted.
I highly recommend that you buy a Mifi as well. These devices cost about $20. You can load it with data and use it for home internet. I pay about $23 for 45 Gb of data. A Mifi is nice to have because it continues working off of the internal battery when the power is out. This is important because the power goes out frequently in Uganda. Also, unlimited home internet isn’t available in some neighborhoods so a Mifi is your only option to stay connected. If you don’t want to buy a Mifi, you could tether from your phone instead.
It’s a good idea to get a VPN (virtual private network) if you plan to live in Uganda. This is necessary because some sites are blocked. For example, Facebook is blocked. A VPN establishes a secure and encrypted connection that hides your internet activity. I recommend Private Internet Access VPN. I’ve been using their service for many years and have found them to be reliable and fairly priced.
It’s also important to note that your SIM card will automatically shut off when your visa expires. I found this out the hard way. My phone and Mifi suddenly stopped working one day. I went into the service center to find out why. They told me that I had to re-register when I renewed my visa because my original visa that was connected to my account expired. I had to bring my passport and new visa to re-register. It took 24 hours for my SIM cards to start working again.
What to Pack When Moving to Uganda
When coming to Uganda, you don’t need to pack a lot of clothing. Clothes are cheap here. You can buy whatever you need when you arrive. You can even buy custom clothing if you choose.
It’s also best not to pack expensive clothing because they will most likely get ruined. Your clothes will be hand washed and dried in the sun. You will have to wash frequently due to the red dust that covers the roads. You’ll also sweat a lot due to the hot weather. Clothes don’t last long here.
You should pack clothing for warm weather. Loose-fitting cotton and linen clothing is ideal. Uganda is hot.
It’s also a good idea to pack a rain jacket if you’ll be visiting during the rainy season. Even though the weather is warm, it’s you should bring a jacket or sweatshirt. You may need it if you travel to the mountains, where it gets cool. It can also get cool in the evenings.
You should also pack all of the electronic devices that you will need during your stay including a laptop, phone, camera, and accessories. Electronics are expensive in Uganda because they are imported and highly taxed. There are also lots of counterfeits. It’s best to bring a good phone, laptop, and camera with you.
You should also pack a good first aid kit. This will allow you to care for your own minor injuries such as cuts and burns. Be sure to include burn cream and antibacterial ointment in your first aid kit. Also, bring some anti-diarrheal medication. Traveler’s diarrhea is common. It’s best to be prepared.
Transportation: Getting Around Uganda
Uganda’s transportation infrastructure is pretty basic. Traffic can get crazy. During rush hour, it can take a couple of hours to cross the city in a taxi. The roads are also full of potholes. Many smaller roads are unpaved.
Around cities, the main modes of transport are boda bodas and taxis. On longer journeys between cities, there are busses.
Boda Boda (Motorcycle Taxi)
Boda bodas are motorcycle taxis. Bodas are the best way to get around Kampala. They are everywhere. It is estimated that there are over 300,000 bodas operating in Kampala. Wherever you are, you can flag one down within a couple of minutes.
To take a boda, you find a driver, tell them where you want to go, negotiate a rate, then hop on. The driver will take you to your destination. You pay the driver in cash when you arrive.
There are a few ways to call a boda boda. The easiest option is to simply flag one down on the street or go to a boda stand where drivers wait for customers. Pretty much anyone riding a motorcycle is a boda driver. You can just waive at them and they’ll stop if they don’t already have a passenger. If you simply stand on the side of the road, chances are a boda driver will pull up next to you within a matter of seconds. Tell the driver where you want to go and they’ll take you.
You can also call a boda boda driver through the SafeBoda app. This app works just like Uber. You input your destination and pickup location and the driver comes to you. You can identify the driver with an ID number that is printed on their helmet. SafeBoda drivers wear orange helmets and vests.
The app doesn’t tell you the exact price for the ride. Instead, it gives you a price range. For example, the app might tell you that the ride will cost 4000-6000 Ugandan shillings. When you arrive, the app will tell you the exact price. You can pay through your phone with mobile money or you can pay the driver in cash when you arrive at your destination.
Another option is to call your favorite boda boda guy. If you meet a boda driver that you like, ask for his number. Call him up when you need a ride. If he’s nearby, he’ll come to pick you up. If he’s not available or if he’s far away, you’ll have to find a different driver.
You can also hire a full-time boda driver. Some expats pay for a private driver that is always on call. I don’t know how much this would cost. Check the Uganda expat facebook group for recommendations.
Tips for Taking Boda Bodas in Uganda
Find a landmark near your destination- Many boda boda drivers don’t know how to read maps. You can’t just show them where you want to go on Google Maps. You need to know a landmark near your destination. This could be a main street, large business, mall, gas station, etc.
Try to flag down a moving boda if possible. For whatever reason, they tend to be cheaper.
Negotiate- Boda boda drivers often try to overcharge foreigners. A short ride of a couple of km should cost 2000-3000 shillings. A ride halfway across town might cost 7000-8000 shillings. A ride from one end of the city to the other might cost 10,000-15,000 shillings.
Carry small bills- Many boda drivers don’t carry change. Sometimes they have a few thousand shillings. They can’t break large notes. Try to pay in exact change when possible.
Wear a helmet- Taking bodas is dangerous. Accidents are common. Most drivers don’t have a spare helmet. Buy your own and wear it whenever you ride a boda.
Don’t hire a random boda driver off the street at night- You could get robbed. Instead, use Safe Boda or call an Uber. If you’re in a situation where you have to take a random boda at night, go to a boda stand where there are lots of drivers.
Taxi (shared minibus)
In Uganda, the word taxi refers to a shared minibus taxi. Not a private taxi. Taxis run on set routes all across the city. They also run between nearby cities.
Taxis are the cheapest mode of transportation in Uganda. A ride usually costs 1000-5000 shillings ($0.25-$1.25) depending on the distance. For example, a ride halfway across the city costs 2000-3000 shillings. A taxi from Entebbe to central Kampala costs 5000 shillings.
You can catch a taxi at a taxi park or flag one down while it’s moving. When you’re ready to get off, just tell ask the driver to stop.
You can travel pretty much anywhere in Uganda by taxi. If you’re traveling long distances, you will have to make several transfers. Taxis usually only operate within towns and between nearby towns.
The drawback to taking taxis is that they are incredibly slow. They don’t leave until they are completely full. Most taxis hold around 15 people. If there are only a few people in the taxi when you arrive, you’ll be waiting for a while. You might sit around for an hour or more waiting for passengers. If a few people get off, sometimes they’ll stop in the middle of the route to wait for more passengers. They’re also uncomfortable. Everyone is packed inside. Taxis get hot and smelly.
It can also be tricky to find the right taxi. If you go to a taxi park and tell one of the attendants where you want to go, they will point you in the right direction. Sometimes you’ll have to make a transfer or two.
Uber operates in Kampala. You can open the app and request a ride, just like anywhere else. You have the option to pay with your credit card or pay in cash. It can be difficult to give the driver directions. They sometimes have trouble reading the map. It’s helpful if you know a landmark near your destination.
Uber is more expensive than boda bodas and taxi but it is affordable. Expect to spend $5-$10 for a ride across town.
When traveling long distances, you can take the bus. Taking the bus in Uganda is affordable. A ticket across the country might cost $10-$15. An international ticket to Kenya or Rwanda costs $20-$25.
A number of bus companies operate in Uganda including Mash Bus, Modern Coast, Gateway Bus, Jaguar, and more. The buses are in good condition and the service is operated professionally.
Driving Your Own Vehicle
Most long-term expats buy their own car or motorcycle. Having your own vehicle makes it much easier to get around. Used car prices in Kampala are reasonable. Foreigners are allowed register vehicles in Uganda.
When buying a car in Uganda, you have to be extremely careful. There are lots of con men and scammers. People will try to sell you junk cars. It’s extremely easy to get ripped off.
If you want to buy a car, it’s best to buy from a friend or acquaintance that you can trust. You’re less likely to get scammed this way. Also, consider asking around on the Facebook expat group. Someone might point you in the right direction.
Cycling can be a great way to get around your neighborhood. If you live in a small city, you could use a bicycle as your main mode of transportation. Bicycles are popular in the more rural areas of Uganda.
You could ride a bicycle around Kampala but I don’t really recommend it. The traffic is too intense. There are no sidewalks or bike lanes. It would be dangerous.
How to Find Housing in Kampala
Finding a place to live in a new city is stressful. When you first arrive, it’s best to stay in a hotel or Airbnb for the first couple of weeks. This gives you time to shop around for a house or apartment to rent.
A great place to find long-term housing is the Kampala expats Facebook group. Post a short message with a bit of info about yourself, what you’re looking for, how long you’re staying, and your budget. People will message you about available housing. You can find some great deals this way.
You can rent a decent apartment in a good area for $300-$500 per month. There are also more expensive luxury apartments available in the $800-$1200 range. If you’re on a tight budget, there are cheaper apartments available in the $100-$200 per month range as well. The quality of these cheap apartments can be poor.
The most affordable apartments come unfurnished. You’ll have to buy a bed, couch, table, refrigerator, gas stove, and whatever else you need. This will cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on what you want to buy.
If you’re staying in Kampala short term, like 1-3 months, it’s best to rent a furnished apartment. You can find furnished apartments on Airbnb. Expect to spend $450-$550 per month for a furnished one-bedroom apartment.
Long-term expats often buy a house or have a house built. This is an option if you plan to stay in Uganda for many years.
The Best Neighborhoods to Live in Kampala
Kampala is Uganda’s capital city. It is massive. It’s also pretty spread out. Some neighborhoods are better than others. As a foreigner, you’ll want to live in one of the more upscale neighborhoods for security reasons. A few of the best neighborhoods in Kampala include:
Kololo- Kololo is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Kampala. Here, you’ll find mansions and a golf course. Kololo is also a very safe neighborhood, with a low crime rate. This is an expensive place to live.
Mbuya- Mbuya sits on a hill. The neighborhood is full of large apartment complexes. It offers great views of the city and a laid-back feel.
Naalya- Naalya is another popular neighborhood for foreigners. The neighborhood is home to a number of international schools, a couple of hospitals, and plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops. Naalya is also a very safe neighborhood. It is located a bit far from the city centre. I lived here for 3 months and enjoyed it. This is a higher-end neighborhood.
Ntinda- Ntinda is another popular neighborhood for foreigners in Kampala. This neighborhood is home to many restaurants, bars, shops, and international schools. Ntinda is also a very safe neighborhood, with a low crime rate. It’s a higher-end neighborhood.
Muyenga- Muyenga is another popular neighborhood for foreigners in Kampala. This neighborhood is home to many government officials and diplomats. It’s known as ‘tank hill’.
Bukoto- Bukoto is a neighborhood located on the edge of the city center. This area has lots of nice apartment complexes.
Shopping in Kampala
Kampala offers plenty of shopping opportunities. Whether you’re looking for clothing, local artwork, or souvenirs, Kampala has something for everyone.
The city boasts a number of modern malls that carry international brands as well as locally made items. The Acacia Mall is one of the largest malls in Kampala and features popular global chains. Forest Mall is another great spot for shopping with a variety of stores including boutiques, department stores, and electronics. Freedom Mall and Kingdom Mall are smaller but still very modern.
If you’re looking for local goods, head to one of the many markets scattered throughout the city. Owino Market is the largest market in Kampala, offering everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to fabrics and spices to clothing and artwork. You can also find street stalls selling traditional Ugandan crafts such as baskets, carvings, jewelry, and paintings at reasonable prices. There are some great plazas downtown too where you can buy clothes, shoes, and accessories from small vendors at affordable prices.
For grocery shopping, you’ll find modern supermarkets located throughout the city. Most malls also have a supermarket. The supermarkets carry everything you need to cook your favorite dishes. To save money, you can also buy food at local markets.
Bars and Restaurants and Going Out in Kampala
Kampala is a cosmopolitan city with an abundance of great places to eat, drink and enjoy the night. Kampala offers some excellent nightlife.
There are dozens of excellent restaurants serving unique flavors from around the world. You can find everything from traditional Ugandan dishes to international flavors such as Indian curry, sushi, Italian food, or even Mexican tacos.
Cafe Javas is one of the most popular local spots. They have a number of locations throughout the city. Some other popular restaurants to try include Cantine Divino, Haandi Restaurant, Caramel Cafe, and Il Patio Italian Kitchen.
For those looking for a night out in Kampala, there are plenty of bars and clubs to choose from. For a night out, head to Kololo. Here, you’ll find dozens of bars and clubs. Guvnor is one of the most popular nightclubs in the city. Some other bars and clubs to visit include The Terrace, Bubbles O’learys, Otters, Cask, Kush Lounge, and Illusion. There are also many neighborhood bars where you can sit back for a casual drink and people-watch.
But it’s not just about eating and drinking. Kampala also offers plenty of entertainment options as well. Most malls have movie theatres where you can catch the latest international releases at affordable prices. Tickets cost $3-$7 depending on the time of day. Or, you can spend some time relaxing at one of the spas located throughout Kampala. They offer massages as well as facials, manicures, and pedicures. If you’re looking to get active there are several swimming pools at hotels across the city where you can pay by the hour or day to use their facilities.
Making Friends in Uganda
It’s easy to make friends in Uganda. You can make friends with other expats by joining expat Facebook groups. Make a post introducing yourself and ask if anyone would like to grab a coffee or a drink. The expat community in Kampala is pretty small. After you meet a few, you’ll likely have a common friend with most expats you meet.
It’s also easy to make friends with locals. Ugandans are friendly people. Many Ugandans enjoy making foreign friends. Ugandans also love to have a good time. You can meet people at bars, parties, and other local events. Online dating is also a great way to meet people. Once you have a couple of Ugandan friends, they will introduce you to their friends.
You can also make good friends with travelers. People come from all over the world to go on Safari and view the mountain gorillas in Uganda. Head to a hostel bar to meet some travelers.
Exchange contact info with everyone you meet. Pretty soon, you’ll develop a solid friend group. For more ideas, check out my guide to making friends while traveling.
You do have to be careful about who you make friends with. Some people will expect you to pay for everything when you go out. People wrongly assume that all foreigners are rich. There are also plenty of scammers and con men who will pretend to be your friend and then run various scams. Romance scams are also common. Someone will show interest in you and then ask for money.
Dating in Uganda
A great way to meet locals is through online dating. Tinder and Badoo are the most popular dating apps in Uganda. Make a profile and see who you meet. Chances are, you’ll get plenty of matches. Ugandan people love meeting foreigners.
HIV rates are high in Uganda. It’s important to practice safe sex. Your date may ask you to get tested. This is common. You and your date can get tested for just a few dollars at any clinic. Testing takes just a few minutes.
It’s also important to note that there are lots of scammers working on dating apps in Uganda. If someone asks for money through a dating app, they’re trying to scam you.
Gyms in Kampala
It’s important to get some exercise while living in Uganda. There are plenty of gyms where you can work out. Most neighborhoods have a gym. You’ll also find a gym at most of the major malls.
Most basic gyms in Uganda charge around 10,000 shillings (around $2.75) per day. Larger gyms with better facilities charge more. There are also discounts for monthly memberships.
The gym is the best place to exercise in Kampala. You can go running or cycling If you decide to do this, you’ll have to find a safe area without much traffic. Traffic is dangerous. There are no sidewalks or bike lanes on most streets. Hiking can also be a great source of exercise if you live outside of the city.
Pros and Cons of Living in Uganda
Uganda can be a great place to live but it’s certainly not for everyone. In this section, I’ll outline the main benefits and drawbacks of living in Uganda as an expat.
The weather in Uganda is excellent- The weather is comfortable every day. During the wet seasons, it only rains a couple of hours per day. Because most of Uganda sits at elevation on a plateau, the weather doesn’t get too hot Expect weather in the mid-70s most days. You can wear a t-shirt year-round.
Ugandan people are incredibly friendly- Most Ugandans are welcoming and kind. They’re happy to chat with you, offer advice, give you directions, etc. They are friendly people.
English is widely spoken- In Uganda kids learn English from a young age. Pretty much everyone speaks basic English. People who are educated speak fluent English. You won’t have any trouble communicating with anyone. You don’t need to learn a different language to live here if you don’t want to.
Uganda is affordable- African cities can be expensive for foreigners but Kampala is an exception. You can live comfortably on almost any budget. Most expats will spend $1000-$1500 per month. It’s possible to get by on as little as $500 if you’re frugal.
It’s relatively safe- Kampala has a lower rate of crime compared to similarly sized African cities. There is a rule of law here. The biggest danger you’re likely to encounter is traffic. Riding a boda boda can be risky. Even walking around can be dangerous due to traffic.
Natural beauty- Uganda has snow-capped mountains, dense jungles, open plains, and powerful rivers. During your stay, you can hike Sipi Falls, visit the Mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, go on a Safari in Murchison Falls National Park, or raft down the White Nile in Jinja. If you’re a nature lover, Uganda is an excellent destination.
Fresh fruits and vegetables- Uganda is an incredibly fertile country. Everything grows here. You can enjoy the most delicious tropical fruits including mango, papaya, jackfruit, passionfruit, and more. The avocados are also spectacular. Fruits and vegetables are also shockingly cheap. You can eat healthily on a budget in Uganda. I can buy a big bag of fruits and vegetables for $5.
The power goes out frequently- Power outages are extremely common in Uganda. The power goes out almost daily. Sometimes it goes out for 10-20 minutes. Sometimes it goes out for a couple of hours. Sometimes it goes out all day. My friends have told me that occasionally it goes out for several days. When the power goes out, you may not have Wifi or hot water. If you need to work at home, I recommend you get a Mifi and a spare battery pack. Some higher-end properties have a backup generator or solar system so you can keep the lights on when the power goes out. If you need electricity at all times, be sure to rent a property with a generator.
Slow internet speeds- The internet speed in Kampala is decent. It’s good enough for watching videos and making video calls. If you regularly have to upload or download large files, you may struggle. Expect an average download speed of around 20 Mbps. Some internet providers aren’t very reliable. My wifi has been out for days. I’m using my Mifi as I write this. Also, wifi isn’t available in all neighborhoods. Sometimes your only option is to use mobile data.
You will draw attention- When you’re out and about, people will stare at you if you’re not of African descent. Most people are just curious. Sometimes someone may approach you to chat or to try to sell something. Beggars will approach you to ask for money. If you’re a foreigner, people will assume that you’re rich. In the capital city, people are used to seeing foreigners so it’s not really a big deal. If you live in a smaller town or rural area, you will draw lots of attention. This can be annoying if you’re the type of person who likes to stay anonymous. In Uganda, you can’t blend in if you’re a foreigner.
The transportation system is poor- Uganda’s transportation system consists of shared minibusses and motorcycle taxis. Shared minibusses are slow and uncomfortable. Motorcycle taxis are dangerous. The only alternatives are to Uber everywhere or buy your own vehicle. This can get expensive. The roads are also poor. There are lots of potholes and dirt roads. Expect a bumpy ride everywhere you go. This makes getting around a bit of a hassle. Remember, Uganda is a developing country. Consider this when choosing where you want to live. You won’t want to commute across the city every day. Try to stay someplace central if possible.
Safety- Uganda is a safe country by African standards but there are some risks. At night, you could get robbed if you’re walking around alone. Road safety is also bad. Auto accidents are common. There are also plenty of scammers and con men to look out for. Uganda isn’t necessarily a dangerous place to live but it’s not the safest either.
The air quality in Kampala is bad- There is always a haze over the city. You can smell the pollution in the air. A number of factors contribute to the poor air quality in Kampala. Much of the pollution comes from industry. There are a number of power plants that run on coal. There are also lots of older vehicles on the road that let out lots of emissions. There aren’t many regulations on pollution. In addition, many people still cook with wood or charcoal. Cooking introduces lots of smoke into the air. If you are sensitive to pollution, Kampala may not be the best city for you.
People will assume you’re rich- Most people will assume you’re rich, just because you’re a foreigner. People will randomly approach you and ask for money. When you try to buy something, people will overcharge you. You have to negotiate hard. If you go out with friends, they may expect you to pay for everything. It gets annoying when people treat you like a walking ATM.
Poverty- While you’re out and about, you will see signs of poverty. There are street kids wandering around. You’ll see slums while driving through the city. Uganda is a poor country. People are often broke or barely scraping by. It gets depressing to see this.
Bribes- Uganda is an extremely corrupt country. To get things done, you may be asked to pay a bribe. This is common.
The schools aren’t very good- If you’re raising kids in Uganda, you will have to send them to private international schools. This can get expensive.
Tip for Living in Uganda: Join Kampala’s Expat Groups on Facebook
There are a number of Uganda expat Facebook groups. Probably the best one is Kampala Expats 3.0. This group is a great place to learn about what’s going on in Kampala, ask questions, make friends, find apartments, buy and sell things, learn about the city, and more. The group is incredibly helpful. I recommend anyone who is moving to Kampala to join. The expertise of the group can make living in Uganda much easier.
FAQ About Living in Uganda
In this section, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions about living in Uganda.
Is Uganda a Good Place to Live?
Yes. Uganda is a great place to live. The country offers a nearly perfect climate. The people are incredibly hospitable. It’s easy to make friends. Foreigners are welcome. These days, Uganda is also a relatively safe and peaceful country. It’s also a very affordable place to live. The economy is growing.
According to this article, “Since 2015, Uganda has been ranked by international research firms as one of the best places to live in Africa, and among the countries with the happiest people worldwide.” If you want to live in Africa, Uganda is hard to beat.
It’s important to keep in mind that Uganda is a developing country. The infrastructure is poor in many places. Some of the products and services that you’re used to may not be available.
Can a Foreigner Live in Uganda?
Yes, a foreigner can live in Uganda provided they have the necessary visa. Uganda offers work visas and investor visas for those who want to stay long-term. There are also visa available for those who earn money abroad and retirees.
The process of obtaining a visa in Uganda is relatively straightforward. There are agencies that offer assistance with the application process. If you’re working for a company, they may assist you. You will have to pay a visa application fee.
To obtain a long-term visa in Uganda, you may need to provide some backup documents such as a cover letter, a background check, a letter of appointment from the company you work for in Uganda, and bank account balances. Once in Uganda legally, foreigners can enjoy all the same benefits as locals, including healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. After living in Uganda legally for 10 years, foreigners can apply for residency.
Visitors to Uganda are also able to stay for up to 90 days with a tourist visa. The visa is extendable for an additional 60 days. This gives foreigners ample opportunity to explore this beautiful country. Before moving to Uganda, you can visit for up to 150 days to decide whether or not it’s the right choice for you. The tourist visa is a great choice for digital nomads who only want to stay in Uganda temporarily.
Is it Expensive to Live in Uganda?
No. Uganda is not an expensive place to live. The cost of living is low. You can find basic necessities such as food, transportation, and accommodation at affordable prices. The average expat spends around $500-$700 per month on basic living expenses, excluding rent. With rent, an average expat spends $800-$1500 per month.
The country has a large supply of affordable housing options that accommodate all budgets. It is possible to rent an apartment for as little as $100 per month. Most expats pay $500-$800 for rent to live in an upscale neighborhood. Utilities such as electricity and water are also quite affordable with rates much lower than in many other countries.
My Experience Living in Uganda
At this point, I have been living in Uganda for about 5 months. Overall, Uganda is an excellent destination for expats and digital nomads. It’s cheap, the people are friendly, and there are lots of interesting places to explore. Uganda is also a relatively safe country, by African standards.
On average, I have spent about $1100 per month while living in Uganda. Some months, I spend as little as $800 while other months I spend over $1200. How much I spend depends on how much I go out. I could easily cut my budget down to around $900 per month if I cooked all of my own food. It would be possible to get by on as little as $600 per month here if I rented an apartment and furnished it myself.
Currently, I’m renting a one-bedroom apartment near Ntinda for around 1.5 million shillings or around $410 per month. The rent includes unlimited wifi, electricity, water, and gas for the stove. The apartment came fully furnished with a bed, couch, table, fridge, stove, oven, kitchen utensils, etc. The apartment has an instant hot water heater for hot showers. The neighborhood is safe and walkable. It’s very comfortable. Previously, I stayed in an Airbnb in Naalya for around the same price with similar amenities.
One of my favorite parts of living in Uganda is how easy it is to make friends. Whenever I go out, I meet someone new, even if I’m alone. It’s easy to get dates.
One major drawback I have experienced is how unreliable utilities are. The power goes out almost daily. This gets incredibly annoying. Particularly if I’m trying to work. When the power goes out, I can work on my laptop’s battery and my Mifi. Sitting around in the dark gets old though. The water also goes out occasionally. Usually, it’s restored within a few hours. The Wifi also isn’t reliable. It goes out randomly. Sometimes for days at a time. Uganda is a developing country. The infrastructure isn’t great.
Getting around the city is also annoying. I’m always on edge while riding a boda. I imagine crashing and hitting the pavement. Taxis are slow, hot, and exhausting. I tend to stick around my neighborhood and only go to town once in a while. If I were to live here long term, I would buy a vehicle to make getting around easier.
Overall, Kampala is a great expat and digital nomad destination. There are some annoyances that you don’t have to deal with in other popular expat destinations such as Mexico City, Bangkok, or Bali.
Final Thoughts About Living in Uganda as an Expat
Living in Uganda can be an excellent choice for expats looking to experience a different culture and immerse themselves in new surroundings. With its low cost of living, favorable weather conditions, beautiful natural scenery, fascinating wildlife, interesting culture, and friendly people, Uganda offers something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to make a home or just explore the country for a few monhts, Uganda is worth checking out!
Do you live in Uganda as an Expat? Share your experience in the comments below!
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