Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 10/18/18
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?
This was our first overseas experience, however, both my spouse and I have traveled extensively for work in past.
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?
East coast of the USA. Not a terrible terrible trip, as there is a layover somewhere in Europe and then another flight to the east coast.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost two years.
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?
Our housing is amazing but not without its issues. We have four bedrooms, four bathrooms, an office and a huge and beautiful yard for my children to play in. A lot of people complain about the housing, however, I think that they do not remember that they most likely could not afford a home like the one they are assigned if they were back in US. I have visited many of the homes in the housing pool and find pretty much all of them to be more than adequate. Are some old? Sure. Do some have funky layouts? Yes. Are there issues with the houses? Absolutely, but that is normal for all houses, whether they are in Kampala or in the US. Things break and need to be repaired in housing all over the world, it's no different here. Facilities tries their best to get to issues in a timely manner.
The houses are spread out over several neighborhoods, Muyenga (closest to the embassy), Kololo (closest to restuarants and nightlife), Naguru (close to restaurants and KISU) Makindye (not really close to anything) and Lubowa (farthest from embassy, but closest to ISU which is the embassy-sponsored school). Traffic can be terrible, and you have to decide if you want your kids to be stuck in it or yourself......
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I would say that you can pretty much find anything you want here. There are several supermarkets as well as many farmers markets around the city on varying days. If you HAVE to have a specific brand of something then DPO is the way to go. This was previously a consumables post and I feel that I unnecessarily spent a lot of money on things I could have found locally. The things I was grateful to have brought are, cleaning supplies, beer, and shampoos/soaps. While you still can get these items here, those are the things I am picky on when it comes to brands.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I wish I has shipped more beer that I like. Although there are several local brands, they are not to my liking. You will find yourself entertaining a lot due to the amazing weather and tons of outdoor space. This is where all your good beer will go! Either ship more beer or only offer your guests the local stuff and save the good stuff for yourself! Aside from that, you can find pretty much anything and if you can't, you supplement with DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many good restaurants to choose from and it seems like more are popping up everyday. There is Italian, Japanese, Ethiopian, Pan Asian, Lebanese, Chinese, AMAZING Indian, and the list goes on. JUMIA food is an app that allows you to order food from pretty much any restaurant anywhere in Kampala. They send driver to pick it up and is usually delivered within an hour. It is extremely convenient and cheap.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We've only had issues with ants, and mainly in our kitchen. Quite annoying, but better than having roaches and rats.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is a local postal service but I have never used it. I receive all of my packages through the embassy and have mailed a few as well. To receive packages through DPO it takes about a week, pouch usually takes about ten days.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Quality household help is easily available and inexpensive compared to the US. Most people have several people working for them, including myself. We have a nanny/housekeeper, a cook, a driver and gardener. Our staff has been amazing, they've made our lives easier, and have become part of our family. Some people have had issues of theft but we have been very blessed with the people we selected.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
No experience. We brought our own equipment with us and purchased extra items locally.
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?
Credit cards or local ATMS are not safe to use. RSO discourages the use of credit cards and ATMs. We pay cash for everything with the exception of our interest service, which we can pay online with Paypal.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None at all, as most Ugandans speak English very well.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
They would have definitely have a hard time. There are no sidewalks and no building are adapted to accommodate people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
RSO prohibits us from using the local buses (matatus) and local taxi motorcycles(boda bodas). They seem to be extremely dangerous and seem to drive recklessly. We are not fond of either one. Uber is available and very inexpensive, however, I would not expect nice cars or air conditioning. The Uber drivers also do not seem to know how to use the map function on the app, so they will always call you for directions.
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?
A high clearance vehicle is a must, as we have not found the roads in Kampala to be good. The high-clearance is also helpful for trips outside of Kampala to the national parks. Toyota Prados seem to be the most popular. You can purchase a vehicle from outgoing embassy employees for a higher price or you can order one from Japan like we did. I have heard of several stories from people who purchased cars from outgoing embassy employees and they turned out to not be worth the price; do your research and negotiate if you need to purchase a car from someone who is leaving. There are several reputable Japanese companies that ship vehicles to Uganda.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is hit or miss and is expensive. We have switched between three providers in our time here and finally settled on Smile. They charge about $150 a month for 100GB. We are able to stream Netflix without a problem. The service does go out from time to time but never for too long. There apparently is a new Kenyan company that offers quality internet service, but only in the Naguru neighborhood for now. Hopefully they will expand to other neighborhoods soon.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We brought our US phones and pay a small fee to keep our US numbers active. We also bought cheaper phones and put in a local sim card. All sim cards are prepaid and relatively cheap. There are a few companies all offering similar service at around the same price.
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 don't have experience with this, but I know of many people that have pets here.
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?
There were no jobs for EFMS at the embassy when we arrived due to the hiring freeze. Now that it is over, several people have been hired and are actively working. The jobs are mainly administrative in nature. I have only heard of a handful of people that were able to find jobs on the local market as the salary is very low. Unless you have experience with development or NGOS or something of this nature, I suppose you can try your luck.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress is business casual at the embassy. Ugandans are more informal in their dress, however, ladies do seem to dress up.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, security is a concern, however, I have never really felt unsafe since we have been here. All of the compounds have 6 foot walls and are surrounded in barbed wire. The houses have bars on every window and the doors are reinforced with steel. Each house has 24-hour guard service and a roving patrol that makes rounds to the residences. All of that being said, we go out like we would in the US, to grocery stores, to restaurants, to friends houses, to parties etc. The security risk does not affect our every day lives, we take precautions as we would in any big city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Yes, there are many diseases that are prevalent here. Overall it seems to be a dusty and dirty city. My children have gotten quite a few bacterial and viral infections. Malaria is a risk here as well as Bilharzia. We have found a couple of decent local pediatricians for regular check ups and minor illnesses. Medical care and facilities overall seem to be lacking. For anything above routine, you will likely need a medevac. For an emergency, you have to hope you have time to make it out of the country. This has been my biggest concern while being here.
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 great, all houses are given several air purifiers. We run all of ours whenever someone is home. There are issues with burning trash but luckily we haven't had that experience in our neighborhood.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I would not trust eating out if you have serious or life-threatening allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I know of; the weather in Uganda is AMAZING. It is between 75-85 all year long, some rain during rainy season, but the sun comes right back out.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Amazing all year round. 75-85 all year with no humidity. Rainy season it obviously rains a bit but clears up relatively quickly.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are several choices for international schools, and deciding factor seems to be traffic. ISU is the embassy-sponsored school and where most kids go. It is located farthest from the embassy, but has a bus system in place. Some people have their drivers take their kids to school and that seems to cut down on the commute time. Ambrosoli is in the Bugolobi neighborhood and (I believe) goes up to sixth grade. KISU is in Naguru and is similar to ISU in that it is a large campus and goes all the way through high school.
2. 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 several great preschools and all seem to be very inexpensive. We have been very happy with the care our child has received in the local preschool and pay about $175 per term.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are a limited amount of sports and activities outside of the school programs. One of the art teachers from one of the schools offers an art class during breaks kids have from school. I believe there are some tennis classes as well as swimming classes that can be arranged through private teachers.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is huge and have been a highlight of our time here. Most of our friends are outside of the embassy bubble and have made our time in Uganda very pleasant. I would say that most people are happy here. However, if you focus on all of the negative things, you will of course, make yourself and everyone else around you miserable.
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?
There is everything here, people with kids in school have the never ending birthday party circuit to entertain themselves with. There are restaurants, bars, cafes, a couple of malls, quiz nights, dancing classes, work out classes, embassy events, the list goes on. If you want to do something you will find it, you just have to make an effort. If you stay at home and sulk about how bad you have it, well.............
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good city for all.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There definitely seem to be gender equality issues.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Amazing housing, excellent schools, amazing weather, accessibility to household help, wonderful friendships with expats and Ugandans, VERY easy living. The national parks are great, although they come with long drives and not so great hotels. I would say that the customer service at most hotels is average at best but expensive. Uganda is still very far behind in terms of their tourism industry and customer service. My favorite trips have been Fort Portal and gorilla tracking in Bwindi.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Glamping in Queen Elizabeth Park, seeing the waterfall at Murchison National Park, chimpanzee tracking in Fort Portal, zebras in Lake Mburo, lion tracking in QE, gorilla tracking in Bwindi, Ngamba chimp sanctuary... the list goes on.....
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are plenty of craft markets to chose from, though most have similar items. They are great for sending trinkets back home, but I wouldn't necessarily fill my home with these items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Large homes, amazing weather, great people, great schools, lots of household help, interesting places to visit, EASY LIVING.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, my family will miss Uganda.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, your expectation of things happening the way they do back home, etc.
3. But don't forget your:
Open mind, toiletries, sunblock, patience, sense of adventure and willingness to learn.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
God loves Uganda.