Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 03/22/13
Personal Experiences from Kampala, Uganda
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC, to Kampala via Amsterdam is about 22 hrs of travel time.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Kampala for two years, a first expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Large homes and apartments are available. The Tank Hill neighborhood is the closest to the US Embassy, with a commute of about 10 minutes. Traffic here can get pretty crazy, so some of the farther neighborhoods require an hour or more in traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Depends on what you are buying. You will find tons of fresh fruits and vegetables cheap at the local markets. There are large western-style grocery stores that have everything you need, but you may pay a premium for it. Good meat is available at decent prices from the grocery store or butcher's shops....or you can get a REAL bargain at the open-air roadside butcher...YIKES! I splurge on imported cheese and occasionally important fruits (grapes and strawberries) but the local fruit (pineapples, mangoes, passion fruit, etc.) is really fantastic.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not much. You can get most stuff here or order it online. Maybe just some of the bigger-ticket items for kids. Although there is a local guy who builds swing sets, clubhouses, etc., and he does a great job.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are a couple local and South African chain fast food places, although I have never tried them. No McDonald's or other American brands to speak of, although there is a rumor of a KFC coming soon. There are MANY restaurants to choose from and all types of food: Italian, Indian, Asian, even a great SUSHI place. That sounds dangerous in a land-locked country, but it is safe and actually quite good. There is every type of food, and prices run the spectrum, but even the most expensive places still don't compare to DC restaurants.We always feel like we are getting a great deal. Dinner for two with apps, alcoholic drinks, dessert, the works will run about $80-$100 at the highest priced places.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
LOTS of insects. Big ones, too. First, you will always have ants no matter what you do. I've just learned to deal with it. Some houses have roach issues. We have only found a few really big roaches --- a few too many if you ask me. Mosquitoes are an issue, we all sleep under nets and use bug repellent. Most people take an anti-malaria drug of some kind. There are spiders and a variety of other creatures. Honestly, you get used to it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
US Embassy folks have access to the Diplomatic Pouch. There is also FedEx and DHL, which I have not used, but I imagine they are quite pricey. But at least they are there. There is no residential mail service in Kampala, but there is a post office where you can rent a PO Box.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and inexpensive. Ugandans, in general, are very warm with children, and a nanny is easy to come by. As is a gardener, driver, cook, and housekeeper. We have a housekeeper who doubles as a nanny, and we pay her about $200/mo for full-time work. We also have a gardener we pay about $100/month, also for full-time work.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Several of the large hotels have beautiful gym facilities, but you pay big prices for them. The US Embassy has a very basic workout facility, and the American Club has a modest gym. It gets the job done even though the larger gyms are much nicer.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
We have only used our credit cards occasionally at the larger chains or hotels. Generally speaking this is a cash economy, most places will just get confused if you try to use a credit card, and it will take you forever to get out of there.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, most denominations, I believe.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. US Embassy employees have access to AFN, although there is also local satellite service (DSTV), which provides a greater variety of channels. Not sure of the price for DSTV.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None. That being said, though, there is still a language barrier. Accents, slang, and other factors do impart a certain degree of communication difficulty. Locals are very quick to just nod and say "yes" even though they have no idea what you are talking about. Be sure to speak clearly, and maybe make your point a couple different ways before assuming they understand.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
MANY. Sidewalks are rare as are elevators. The malls do have ramps, though.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are a few good taxi services. I would not recommend taking the Matatu vans-- those are van taxis that cram as many people in as possible, and they drive like a bat out of hell. Also, do not take boda bodas: these are motorcycle taxis that have to be one of the most dangerous things you can do while in Kampala. They weave in and out of traffic, and most people don't wear helmets. It is not uncommon to see a family of five on a boda with the toddler up front holding the handle bars and mama on the back cradling an infant...crazy.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
4x4 was a must for us, although you see lots of sedans here. The road conditions are poor, and if you get stuck in the rain you might be in trouble with a low-clearance vehicle. Toyota (we have an old Land Cruiser Prado) is the easiest to get parts for around here. Don't get anything you won't mind getting dinged a few times. Traffic is crazy and driving is a full contact sport.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
es, there are many different suppliers, and the service is getting better all the time. We pay about $100/mo for wireless service, and I have a back-up plug-in from another carrier just in case.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones are easy to get locally, or you can bring an unlocked phone and pop in a local SIM card. Most phones are used with prepaid minute cards that you can buy anywhere, even roadside at a stop light. Super convenient.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
I believe if you have your paperwork all in order, there is no quarantine necessary.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes, good quality vets are available and make house calls. There are also several reputable dog trainers for hire who also make house calls. Kennels I don't know about, but you can generally get your household staff to care for your pets if you are out of town, or get a friend to mind them.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
I don't have first hand experience with this, but there are LOTS of NGOs here of all kinds. There are also lots of volunteer opportunities.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business-casual at work. Super casual in social settings. Women to tend to dress more conservatively; it is just a conservative society. Perhaps leave your short shorts at home. Otherwise, bring lots of cargo pants, flip flops, and dry fit tops.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is a high-threat post for crime and terrorism. That said, most of the crimes I hear about are crimes of opportunity. Lock your doors, drive with your windows up, use your security system at your house. Most homes and businesses have guards. It took a while to get used to seeing armed guards at the grocery stores, but again, you get used to it. I feel safe here but always keep my sense of awareness and try not to do anything stupid.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria, Bilharzia (aka Schistosomiasis-- caught from contact with fresh water sources), food-borne illnesses, and a variety of other ailments. Riding on a boda can be really bad for your health. Most major ailments at the US Embassy will get you medevac'd to South Africa. There are two approved hospitals here, and from what we hear there is good care. I have also heard, but not seen for myself, that there is a very good pediatrician in the Bugolobi neighborhood.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is not very good. Lots of old diesel vehicles, burning trash, and dirt in the air make it tough. Most of the neighborhoods are built on hills, and the higher up you are, the better your air quality. Unless your neighbor burns trash.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
75-85 degrees year 'round, with beautiful breezes. There are two rainy seasons, and the temps go down a bit then. But you rarely get a full rainy day; the sun almost always shines at least part of the day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
International School of Uganda is the most popular with American expats, although the commute for kids there can be long. KISU (Kampala International School of Uganda) is another option. We have heard good things about both schools. We send our son to preschool at Heritage International School and are very happy there; he only goes for part-time preschool, though. But we have heard good things about the upper grades as well. It is pre-K through grade 12.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Most of the large international schools do make accommodations for special-needs kids, but resources can sometimes be limited. Definitely contact the schools well ahead of the move and make sure they are aware of your child's particular situation.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are lots of preschool options available from Christian-based programs, general day care. Rainbow School is based on a British curriculum, I believe. Most families also have a nanny for the young ones, and there are plenty of play groups to get involved with.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Lots available for kids 4 or over: swimming lessons, swim teams, soccer, gymnastics, dance, and horseback riding lessons for the bigger kids. Most of the international schools have their own sports programs as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
HUGE. Expats from everywhere around the world are here. It is very easy to get out meet people and make friends from outside your inner work circle.
2. Morale among expats:
Depends on who you talk to, but most people like it here. Kampala is not without its challenges and frustrations of daily life, but there is so much to do, and people are so friendly, it is really hard to complain.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Restaurants, bars, clubs, sports, movie theaters, bowling alley, paintball, resorts to hang by the pool and have a weekend 'staycation', just to name a few. Most every restaurant is family friendly, kids are welcome just about anywhere.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for families. Lots to do to stay occupied, entertainment for the little ones is based on friends and getting together on weekends, birthday parties, etc. For singles and couples there is a lively nightlife here: dance clubs and bars. And great restaurants for all.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality is technically illegal here. However, there is an active LGBT community here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I have had experience with, but I am sure they exist on some level. White people are referred to as Muzungus everywhere, but it is not meant to be offensive. Religion is about 85% Christian, 12% Muslim, and the rest is a mixture.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting the national parks, relaxing poolside at one of several resorts in Kampala, the friends we have made.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Going out to eat, getting together with friends, tennis, golf, etc. Hash House Harriers (a running group) is one of the largest in the world. Jinja is about 2 hours from Kampala and has whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, ATV treks, horseback riding...the list goes on.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Baskets, wood carvings, artwork, jewelry. There is a large market every Friday where you can get great deals on local goods.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Beautiful weather year 'round, great restaurants, and fantastic safari options. You are only bored if you want to be!
11. Can you save money?
Yes. If you don't buy all imported food goods and jet off to Zanzibar every chance you get. (But go at least once!)
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
ABSOLUTELY. This has been a wonderful experience for my family. We are going to be sad to leave.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter coat, snow skis, and bad attitude.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience, bathing suit, sunscreen, bug spray, and sense of adventure.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Last King of Scotland
6. Do you have any other comments?
This is not hard-living Africa. It is still a third-world country for sure, but there is so much to do here. The people here are kind and a smile goes a long way.