Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/14
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?
No. We've lived in several Latin American countries.
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. 24-36 hours--connecting through Amsterdam with a quick stop in Kigali on the way from Amsterdam to Entebbe.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is generally older but spacious and nice. Our commute is usually 15-20 minutes but sometimes traffic can turn it into an hour or two. One afternoon it took us FOUR HOURS to get home. Word was that the President was driving around and that was the issue but I never saw any real evidence to support that. Anyway, traffic in Kampala can be horrendous for no apparent reason. Despite the presence of traffic police everywhere, they are completely incompetent and do more harm than good.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is cheap if you have your housekeeper buy it for you at the local market. Better yet, grow it in your garden! Imported items have imported prices (but are often worth it, in my opinion). Sometimes things that are plentiful in the grocery store one week completely disappear the next. We can usually get sour cream (imported from South Africa) and cheddar cheese (imported from Ireland), two luxuries I've never enjoyed at any other post.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More liquids--soap, cleaning supplies, salad dressing, bug spray, sunscreen, stain remover, etc. I'm glad we shipped plenty of TP, paper towels, canned goods.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC recently arrived in Uganda and now has two locations. Significantly more expensive than home but sometimes it's worth it. Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Persian, and American food is available. As I mentioned before, none of it is fantastic, but most of it is decent. Cost is generally US$10-$15 per person, sometimes a bit higher. Coffee here is very good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Malarial mosquitoes are everywhere. This post had more cases of malaria than any other in 2013. Every Ugandan I know has had malaria. That said, if you take your anti-malaria medication and use your mosquito nets, you should be fine. Also, ants are ubiquitous. You will never win that battle, no matter how clean you think your kitchen/dining room/anywhere is. You just have to get used to them and deal with them as best you can.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The Embassy has a pouch facility and is on the waiting list for a DPO. I don't expect the DPO to open anytime soon, however.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available and very reasonable, though quality varies a great deal. Between our gardener, housekeeper, and nanny, we spend about US$700 per month (quite a bit less than we spent for just our nanny at our previous post). We don't have a driver at this time but many people do. A full time driver costs about US$250 per month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a small gym and there are some country clubs that have nice gyms. They tend to cost US$100+ per month.
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?
It's generally advisable to use cash though we've used our credit card at the grocery store with no problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A variety of Christian and Muslim services. Not sure about other major religions.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is widely spoken. All children are educated in English. There are over 50 ethnic languages, Luganda being the most prominent in the central region, but it is not necessary to speak any of them. You will inevitably pick up a few words here and there.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Extreme difficulty. They only place I know of with any sort of accessibility at all is the Embassy with the possible exception of a couple newer malls.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable, yes. Safe, no.
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?
Must have a high-clearance, all-terrain vehicle. Even the roads in high-income residential areas are terrible. Potholes the size of an entire vehicle are common.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed is a bit of a misnomer here, but yes it is available. You can either get DSL service hooked up at home or buy a wireless router and load it with data as needed. The latter is actually the better option these days, but the options--and which one is the best--change regularly. We did have broadband at home for about a month, and it was fantastic. But then it just completely stopped working and no one was able to fix it (par for the course here).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone from the States. Data is cheap and easy to buy.
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?
No quarantine. There are a few decent vets in the area.
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?
For teachers and people with backgrounds in development, possibly. Otherwise no.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are countless NGOs here, big and small. Every organization I know of would be glad to have some extra help.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work: business. Public: casual but conservative. Ugandan women generally wear long skirts, though that is not expected of expats. The recently enacted Anti-Pornography Act could be interpreted to outlaw "sexy" clothing such as mini-skirts and low-cut tops (really, anything that a man could perceive as a turn-on--yes, that vague). That said, you'll still see plenty of revealing clothing at bars, nightclubs, concerts, etc.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Read the report on Uganda at travel.state.gov. The terrorist threat here is very real. Crime is also an issue though not nearly as bad as other places we've lived.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria is a huge concern. Parasites are relatively common. Lots of mystery stomach bugs. We have a great clinic at the Embassy and they can recommend a good local doctor for most minor issues. Anything serious gets a medevac to South Africa.
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?
It's decent during the wetter seasons but during the dry season, air quality is terrible.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Temperate in Kampala. It's dry for several months of the year and then it rains regularly for the rest of the time. Everyone here tells me something different for the exact months of the dry/rainy seasons.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My kids aren't in school yet but people with older kids seem happy with the schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I'm not sure but I suspect that they don't make many.
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?
We've had a great experience with the two nannies who have worked for us. We pay about US$300 per month. There are some preschool options here--from what I hear, they're decent but not great.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Limited but available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large. Besides diplomatic missions, there are many, many international NGOs here. I would say that morale is okay. This can be a really tough place to live. Some people love it, but most people I know will be really glad to finish their tours. The countless small daily frustrations wear you down after awhile.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Potlucks, dinner out, there are a few popular bars, several expat bands are quite good and play often, there is a new movie theater. You will have to create a lot of your own fun.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Best for families with kids who are in school, I think, especially outdoorsy type families. Okay for couples. Very tough for singles. There are NO PARKS in this city. There are some playgrounds for young kids at malls but those also tend to be the biggest targets for the (very real) terrorist threat, so it's a bit of a risk. There are a wide variety of restaurants/cuisines--most are decent, none are fantastic.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely not. If you are an LGBT individual/couple/family, DO NOT COME HERE. The Anti-Homosexuality Act passed recently will complicate your life endlessly and it's simply not worth it.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender, yes. Despite gains in recent years, women are NOT equal or particularly well-respected here. Racial or religious prejudices do not seem particularly strong though there are some very distinct divisions. It's actually quite incredible that so many people of different ethnic groups (over 50) live together in relative peace in such a small geographic area.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great nannies, great house, great garden. Everything grows here. Just stick it in the ground, and it grows (literally). It's quite incredible.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We've really struggled to find fun things to do outside our home. We make our own fun at home in the yard with the kids and getting together with friends. If you like nature travel, though, and have money to burn, there are lots of opportunities to see big animals. Also, Ugandans are really nice to kids which is a huge plus. I'm not sure how my children are going to react when we go back to the U.S. and everyone ignores them...
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of handmade jewelry, baskets, and other crafts. Impressive woodwork.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Household help is inexpensive and we've had great luck with nannies. Temperature is good year round. Country is beautiful outside of Kampala. We've also been able to save some money but we haven't traveled much. That's the trade-off.
10. Can you save money?
If you don't travel much and both spouses work, yes. If you want to do several safaris and/or if one spouse doesn't work, probably not.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had a better sense of how challenging it would be to find things to do and to deal with the daily frustrations of life here--both at work and at home.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. I've learned a great deal and don't regret coming here but I wouldn't do it again and I will be very glad when this tour wraps up.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Notions that the Pearl of Africa is idyllic. Winter clothes, sweatshirts. Sense of timeliness.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, patience, and more patience. Sense of humor. Micromanaging abilities. Malaria medication. Good camera (as mentioned before, there is a great deal of beauty outside Kampala).
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda (I recommend reading this after you have been here for a few months. The context is important.)