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Living in Uganda as an Expat: Pros and Cons

Uganda can be a great choice for expats, digital nomads, and retirees. The country offers a low cost of living, friendly people, amazing wildlife, great weather, and a laid-back lifestyle. It’s also an exotic destination for those who are looking for something a little bit different. Of course, there are some drawbacks to consider. You may experience some culture shock. Crime rates can also be high. Living in East Africa isn’t for everyone.

In this guide, I’ll outline everything you need to know about living in Uganda as an expat. I’ll cover the cost of living in Uganda, visas, the best places to live, renting an apartment, staying safe, how to get around, what to pack, vaccines, shopping, entertainment, making friends, the local culture, and more. I’ll also list some pros and cons of living in Uganda.

I just spent the past 5 months in Uganda. I spent most of my time in the capital, Kampala. It was my second trip to Uganda. I’m already planning to return in a couple of months. In this guide, I’ll share my experience living in Uganda as a foreigner.

I’ve also made this YouTube video about my experience living in Uganda

Living in Kampala, Uganda as a Foreigner or Expat: Cost of Living, Visas, Safety, Housing, and More
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Quick Facts About Uganda

  • Population- 47 million
  • Cost of living- Low. Expect to spend $1000-$1400 per month
  • Level of crime- Medium to high
  • Region- East Africa
  • Capital city- Kampala (population around 4 million in the metro area)
  • 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
  • Electricity- 240V 50Hz
  • International Dialing Code- +256

Table of Contents

Kampala, Uganda
Kampala, Uganda

Some Important Things to Know Before Moving to Uganda

  • 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. Usually, it’s used in a friendly manner. It can be used in a derogatory manner as well. You can usually tell by the tone.
  • Uganda is a very 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. If you live near a mosque, you will hear the call to prayer played over a loudspeaker multiple times per day.
  • 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 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 languages spoken in Uganda. The most common language is Luganda. It’s what’s spoken in Kampala. English is also 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. You can get by just fine with English. Swahili is not widely spoken in Uganda though more and more people are choosing to learn the language so they can speak to their neighbors in Kenya and Tanzania. Last year, Uganda adopted Swahili as an official language. The government is pushing for people to learn.
  • Uganda is not LGBT friendly- Same-sex relationships are illegal in Uganda. LGBT people are often discriminated against. 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. The roads are rough and full of potholes. Some of the products and services that you’re used to may not be available. Medical facilities are lacking. Many people live in poverty.
  • 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 be due to 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 see 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.
Ugandan banknotes
Ugandan banknotes

The Cost of Living in Uganda

Uganda is an affordable place to live. An average expat could live comfortably on a budget of $1200-$1500 per month. This budget includes rent, utilities, food, transportation, insurance, and entertainment.

On this budget, you could rent a nice one-bedroom apartment in a modern building 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. You would have to cook some of your own meals.

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 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 Kampala. 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 have to 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

My first apartment in Kampala
My first apartment in Kampala (in Naalya)
My 2nd apartment in Kampala (in Kiwatule)

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. You can find furnished apartments on Airbnb.

To save some money, you could rent an unfurnished apartment. You can find a decent unfurnished apartment for $300-$400 per month. Keep in mind that 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. Both apartments and single family homes are available.

There are also higher-end apartments available. Luxury apartments in wealthier neighborhoods like Kololo cost around $800-$1000 per month. These properties may have amenities such as a pool, 24-hour security, a gym, and a backup generator.

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 under $150,000. Buying real estate in Uganda is risky.

Food Cost in Uganda

A fruit stand in Uganda
A fruit stand in Kampala.

Groceries are affordable in Uganda. If you eat mostly local foods and cook your own meals and eat out a couple of times per week, you could maintain a healthy diet for $150-$200 per month. If you like to maintain a Western diet and out often, you might spend closer to $300-$400 per month on food.

Locally produced foods are cheap. You can save a lot of money by shopping at local markets and buying local products. If you maintain a diet of local foods such as matoke, posho, Irish (potatoes), fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, chicken, soups, stews, 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 much more expensive. If you want to maintain a Western diet, you will spend closer to $200-$300 per month on groceries. On this budget, you could buy frozen foods, cheese, meat, ice cream, etc.

Restaurants in Uganda are kind of pricey. At a mid-range restaurant, expect to spend $10-$15 on a meal. 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 $0.90. Some fresh fruit (pineapple, mango, or watermelon) costs around $0.50.

Transportation Cost

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 ride 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. You could buy a decent used car for $5,000-$10,000. It’s possible to buy a decent motorcycle or scooter for under $1,200. You do have to be careful not to buy a lemon and get ripped off.

Entertainment Cost

A domestic beer usually costs around $2-$3 at a bar. Cocktails cost around $5-$8. 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 Cost

For a one bedroom apartment, you might spend $30-$40 on electricity and water each month. A gas canister for a stove costs around $25-$30. This will last a couple of months if you cook regularly.

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. Data costs around $0.50 per Gigabyte.

Other Expenses

You’ll also want a local phone plan. Expect to spend $10-$30 per month depending on how much data you need.

Labor is 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. For example, a maid might cost $100 per month.

You’ll also want to factor in the cost of laundry, toiletries and cosmetics, and new clothes. Luxury goods and electronics are expensive. it’s best to bring these from home.

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.

The author in front of an old house

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 to apply for a visa is your passport, a yellow fever vaccine certificate, and proof of onward travel.

It’s important to note that a yellow fever vaccine certificate is an entry requirement. You need to get the vaccine at least 10 days before you enter Uganda. You can’t enter the country without it.

To apply, you will take a photo of your documents and upload them. You’ll also need to pay a visa application fee. The visa fee is about $52 for a standard single-entry tourist visa. You can also apply for the East Africa tourist visa for around $100.

A Ugandan tourist visa allows you to stay for up to 90 days. The visa can be extended for an additional 60 days for free. This allows you to stay for up to 150 days. After that, you’ll have to leave Uganda.

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. An entry permit allows you to stay in Uganda long-term. Some entry permits allow you to work in Uganda.

A number of different entry permits are available. Which one you need to apply for depends on your specific situation. The requirements also vary. 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.

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. They must be renewed periodically.

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.

Crested Crane in Uganda
Uganda’s national bird, the Crested Crane

Working in Uganda

If you plan to work in Uganda, you will need to find a job set up before you arrive. The main sectors that hire expats are non-profit, public health, diplomacy, and tech. Many foreigners 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 called Jobnet Africa. Your employer can help you obtain the necessary visa. It is also possible to start a business in Uganda.

It’s important to note that salaries are generally low unless you work for a foreign company or a foreign government. Good jobs are hard to come by. You will need some type of highly in-demand skill to find a decent position.

Is Uganda Safe? Avoiding Crime, Scams, and Corruption

Uganda is generally a safe country for expats to live in. The rate of crime is relatively high but it’s pretty easy to stay safe if you take some basic precautions and avoid wandering around at night. Foreigners generally aren’t targeted in violent crimes. As a foreigner, the crimes that you’re most likely to encounter are theft and scams. Road safety is also an issue.

Robbery

Home break-ins are a problem in Uganda. For this reason, pretty much all homes and apartments have bars over the windows. There are also large fences with barbed wire around most homes and apartment buildings. Most apartment buildings also have 24 hour security guards. To stay safe, be sure to keep your home locked up at all times. Always lock your front door, windows, and your gate. This is particularly important at night. During the day, the risk of break-ins is much lower.

There is also a risk of robbery in Uganda. You really only have to worry about this after dark. 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 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 and 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 have accomplices. 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 on the street.

Pickpocketing and Petty Theft

When traveling in crowded areas pickpocketing and petty theft are common. It’s important to keep an eye on all belongings at all times while you’re out and about. Keep all of your valuables in pockets or in a bag that zips closed. Be sure to keep an eye out for pickpockets and thieves while riding in shared taxis and in crowded markets. I had my phone pickpocketed in a taxi in Tanzania. For more info, check out my guide to avoiding pickpockets.

Scams

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.

Scammers could also try to offer you investments or business opportunities. For example, someone might try to sell you gold or land. 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, Terrorism, and Kidnapping

Violent crime against foreigners is relatively rare in Uganda. 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. Kidnappings aren’t common but they have happened. Always stay alert when out and about. If you feel unsafe, leave the area immediately.

Places to Avoid

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 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

A road in Kampala
A road near my apartment in Kampala

Being involved in an auto accident is probably your biggest safety risk while living in Uganda. Road safety is poor. Motorcycle accidents are common due to reckless driving, drunk driving, and poor road conditions. Taxi accidents also happen. Road deaths occur frequently.

One of the first things you should buy when you arrive in Uganda is 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. I recommend using Safe Boda. I have found that the drivers go a little slower and drive more cautiously.

Staying Healthy

There are a number of sicknesses and diseases that you could encounter while living in Uganda. Healthcare is also pretty poor. To stay healthy, you should:

Take some Precautions to Prevent Mosquito Bites to Avoid Malaria

There is a risk of malaria in Uganda. Avoiding getting bitten is the best way to prevent malaria. Always sleep under a mosquito net. 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. If you’re only staying in Kampala, the malaria risk is fairly low.

You can take malaria prophylaxis if you travel to a high-risk area. You won’t want to be on antimalarials long term. 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 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 prescribe you some medication. If you catch it early, you can recover in just a few days.

Be Careful What You Eat and Drink to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea is a common issue in Uganda because food hygiene standards aren’t great. In Uganda, Locals refer to this as ‘having a runny tummy.’

The best way to avoid getting sick is to be careful about what you eat and drink. 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 because they are more likely to serve fresh food. If the food has been left uncovered or if it looks like it’s been sitting around for a while, eat somewhere else. If you have a sensitive stomach, cook for yourself. That way, you know it’s clean.

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, 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 medication.

Don’t Drink the Tap Water in Uganda

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 it 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, roadside stand, convenience store, or grocery store. It’s sold everywhere. You can also get large jugs of filtered drinking water delivered to your home.

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 an electric kettle. You can also brush your teeth with the tap water. 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.

Avoid Swimming in Uganda Because there is Bilharzia in Most Freshwater

Lake Victoria, Uganda
Lake Victoria, Uganda

Most bodies of freshwater in Uganda, including the Nile, contain a waterborne parasite that can cause an infection called Bilharzia. Bilharzia is caused by tiny parasitic worms known as Schistosoma. These worms live in freshwater snails.

You can contract Bilharzia by swimming in or drinking contaminated water. Bilharzia can cause flu-like symptoms. Liver damage or neurological disorders can occur if it’s 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.

Corruption and Bribes in Uganda

Corruption is a problem in Uganda. 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. This only affected Ugandan citizens, as far as I’m aware.

As a foreigner living in Uganda, you may experience corruption from time to time. You could 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, you can avoid these bribes if you’re patient and calm. In some cases, you may have to pay to get things done.

Staying Connected: 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 faster and more reliable network. Particularly outside of Kampala. Personally, I use MTN. There are other telecom companies with cheaper prices 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. 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, Wifi 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. In some neighborhoods, home Wifi is available. An unlimited connection costs about $40-$50 per month.

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. It allows you to get around blocked sites. It can also help protect your info such as passwords and online banking.

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.

taking a walk around my neighborhood
Taking a walk around the neighborhood

Money and Banking

Most expats don’t open a local bank account. They just use their accounts from back home. There are ATMs where you can withdraw cash. Most malls have ATMs. Some gas stations also have them. There are also currency exchanges where you can change dollars or euros for shillings. Western Union also has locations in Kampala.

Credit cards are accepted some places. You can pay with a card at most grocery stores and larger restaurants. Locals often pay with mobile money. Uganda still has a mostly cash-based society. Cash is accepted everywhere. Oftentimes, it’s the only option.

What to Pack

You should pack clothing for warm weather. Loose-fitting cotton and linen clothing is ideal. Uganda is hot.

It’s best not to pack expensive clothing because they will most likely get ruined. If you pay for laundry, 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.

Clothes are pretty cheap in Uganda. If you forget something, you can buy whatever you need when you arrive.

For women, it’s best to pack more conservative clothing that covers your legs. It is acceptable to show some skin but it may draw unwanted attention. Avoid short skirts and dresses that are cut above the knee.

It’s also a good idea to pack a rain jacket. During the rainy season, it rains almost every day for an hour or so. You should bring a light jacket or sweatshirt. You may need it if you travel to the mountains. 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 import taxes are high. There are also lots of counterfeits.

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 so you’re prepared if you get burned on the exhaust of a boda boda. You should also bring antibacterial ointment to treat small cuts Also, bring some anti-diarrheal medication. Traveler’s diarrhea is common. It’s best to be prepared.

Transportation: Getting Around Uganda

Getting around Uganda is possibly the worst part of living here. The traffic is pretty 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. It can get dusty. Particularly during the dry season.

The main modes of transport are boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) and taxis (shared minibuses). On longer journeys between cities, there are large busses. Uber is also available. There are also regular taxi cabs.

Boda Boda (Motorcycle Taxi)

A boda boda in Uganda
A boda boda in Uganda

Boda bodas are motorcycle taxis. They are the most common mode of transport in 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 minute.

To take a boda, 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 station 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 to offer you a ride.

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. 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 than the guys waiting at the boda stations.
  • 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. You will pay more than the locals but it will only be a dollar or two extra.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Taxi (shared minibus)

A fully loaded minibus

In Uganda, the word taxi refers to a shared minibus. Not a private taxi. Taxis run on set routes. There are routes running all over cities and between 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 Kampala costs 2000-3000 shillings. A taxi from Entebbe to 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 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.

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 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. I don’t take taxis often. I usually only take them when I’m traveling longer distances.

Uber

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.

Bus

When traveling long distances, you can take the bus. 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.

For more info on bus travel, check out my guides: Kampala to Kigali by bus and Kampala to Nairobi by bus. Also, check out my guide to bus travel in Africa.

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 pretty 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 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.

Cycling

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. There are some neighborhoods where you can ride safely.

A boat tour in Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

The Best Neighborhoods to Live in Kampala

Kampala is 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 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 has 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 center. It’s about 7 km to the northeast of downtown. I lived here for 3 months and enjoyed it. This is a higher-end neighborhood.
  • Ntinda- Ntinda is another popular neighborhood for foreigners. This neighborhood has lots of restaurants, bars, shops, and international schools. Ntinda is also a safe neighborhood. This is a higher-end area. I stayed near here in an area called Kiwatule.
  • Muyenga- Muyenga is another popular neighborhood for foreigners. This neighborhood is home to many government officials and diplomats. It’s known as ‘tank hill’.
  • Bukoto- Bukoto is located on the edge of the city center. This area has lots of nice apartment complexes.
  • Naguru- This is another neighborhood located on one of Kampala’s hills. This is a nice residential area.
Kampala UGANDA Residential Neighborhoods Virtual Walking Tour
In this video, I walk around a couple of the neighborhoods where I stayed in Kampala.

How to Find Housing in Kampala

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. Word of mouth is another way to find apartments. Ask friends and acquaintances if they know of any apartments available.

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-$600 per month for a furnished one-bedroom apartment in a decent area. You can often negotiate a discount for long term stays. I booked a place on Airbnb and negotiated a better rate for 2 months with the owner.

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.

When you first arrive, I recommend you stay in a hotel or Airbnb for the first couple of weeks at least. This gives you time to shop around for a house or apartment to rent and get to know some different neighborhoods.

Shopping in Kampala

The has several modern malls. Acacia Mall and Forest Mall are two of the largest. Freedom Mall, Kingdom Mall, and Metroplex are smaller but also modern. In these malls, you can find clothing stores, department stores, restaurants, grocery stores, and electronics shops. Some of the malls also have movie theaters.

If you’re looking for local goods, you can shop at one of the many open-air markets throughout the city. Owino Market is the largest market in Kampala. Here, you can find everything including fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, clothing, and artwork. You can also find street stalls selling Ugandan crafts such as baskets, carvings, jewelry, and paintings. There are some great plazas downtown where you can buy clothes, shoes, and accessories. 

For grocery shopping, there are modern supermarkets located throughout the city. Most malls also have a supermarket. You can also buy local foods at the markets.

Bars and Restaurants and Going Out in Kampala

Kampala has some good restaurants. You can find both local Ugandan dishes and international cuisine. You can find Indian, sushi, Italian, American, or even and even Mexican food. Cafe Javas is one of the most popular local restaurants. 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.

Kampala also has some great nightlife. Ugandans love to party. There are plenty of bars and clubs to choose from. Kololo is a great neighborhood for going out. 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 grab a casual drink. 

There are other entertainment options as well. Most malls have movie theaters. Tickets cost $3-$7 depending on the time of day. You could go swimming. There are swimming pools at hotels across the city where you can pay by the hour or day to use their facilities. There is a golf course near the city center. You could also go to a spa for a massage.

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 and friendly. 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 are open to making friends with foreigners. 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 and family and you’ll develop a friends group. If someone invites you to a party or event, accept. There is a good chance you’ll make some friends.

You can also make 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.

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 so they can attempt to run scams on you. Romance scams are also common. Someone may show interest in you and then start asking for money.

For more ideas, check out my guide to making friends while traveling.

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.

It’s important to note that HIV rates are high in Uganda. If you meet someone, be sure to practice safe sex. Your date may ask you to get tested. This is normal. 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. Meet up in a public place to be safe.

Gyms and Exercise

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 gyms in Kampala 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. It’s not really safe to go running or cycling in much of the city because of traffic. There are no sidewalks or bike lanes on most streets.

Pros of Living in Uganda

  • The weather is excellent- The weather is comfortable every day because most of Uganda sits at high elevation on a plateau. It’s also on the equator. It doesn’t get too hot or cold. During the wet seasons, it only rains a couple of hours per day. 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, 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 at least basic English. People who are educated speak fluent English. You won’t have any trouble communicating.
  • 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 $600 if you’re frugal.
  • It’s relatively safe- Kampala has a low rate of crime compared to similar cities in the region. There is a rule of law here. The biggest danger you’re likely to encounter is traffic. Theft can be an issue as well.
  • Natural beauty- Uganda has mountains, lakes, jungles, plains, rivers, and waterfalls. There is incredible wildlife. 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, etc. The avocados are the best I’ve ever had. Fruits and vegetables are also really cheap.

Cons of Living in Uganda

  • The power goes out frequently- Power outages are extremely common in Uganda. They’re also extrmely annoying. The power goes out almost daily during the rainy season. Sometimes it goes out for 10-20 minutes. Sometimes it goes out for a couple of hours. Once in a while it goes out all day. 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. Data is also fairly expensive.
  • 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 Kampala, 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.
  • 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, pickpockets, 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. Much of the pollution comes from industry. There are 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. 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.
  • 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.

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. Another good one is Kampala Expat Community.

These groups are great for learning about what’s going on in Kampala, asking questions, making friends, finding apartments, buying and selling things, learning about the city, and more. I recommend anyone who is moving to Kampala to join.

My Experience Living in Uganda

The author at Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
At Lake Bunyonyi

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. The natural beauty and wildlife are incredible. 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. 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.

Getting around the city is also annoying. I’m really not a fan of riding boda bodas. I always 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. Uganda can be an excellent choice for expats looking for something different.

Do you live in Uganda as an Expat? Share your experience in the comments below!

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