Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 01/04/19
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, I also lived in Africa for more than eight years.
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?
DC/Baltimore, USA. It's long, usually through Amsterdam or it's possible to take direct flight to Addis Ababa and then to Kampala.
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?
Our house is very reasonable. The rooms are very small, such that we don't really have any floor space to put anything, but it's a cute house with a pretty yard. Commute time ranges from 15 minutes to 1.5 hrs depending on the jam.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Relative to USA there is not much selection and the prices are moderate to high. Relative to other African posts, there's quite a bit here and it's very reasonably-priced. A tiny bit of looking reveals locally made/produced cheeses, organic meats and produce, jams, etc. Uganda even makes its own aluminum foil and plastic wrap. It has great local coffee and chocolate, too. You just can't expect everything you want to be nicely on the shelves of the ShopRite grocery store, but it's here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None. We can either find it here or we're able to ship via DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are plenty of restaurants in town, and a few food delivery services. Pretty good options, IMHO. Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Greek, Italian, some good pizza, etc.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not really. Lots of ants, some places have bad mosquito problems, but not much different than anywhere else (USA included, depending on where one lives).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO at the embassy. Never used local facilities.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Full-time live-out household help is paid around US $300-ish per month. Most folks have a housekeeper or housekeeper/cook, a p/t gardener, and a driver (or driver/gardener). Families with kids usually have a nanny as well.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of gyms. Range from moderate to very expensive (~US $650/yr - $2000ish/yr memberships). Lots of classes (Zumba, dance, boxing, etc etc), too. The problem is that the TRAFFIC is so terrible that it's nearly impossible or just not worth it to go any distance to get to any of these. And despite wonderful weather year-round, the air pollution makes it hazardous to run or bike outside (as does the narrow roads and terrible drivers) and there are no parks. SO, lots of options but can be a hardship to figure out how to make use of them.
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?
This is really a cash-based place. Lots of stores and restaurants do accept credit cards, and there are lots of ATMs, and they are mostly safe to use. So I haven't really had a problem, but it's way easier and better here to just get and carry cash.
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, as English is spoken widely.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, definitely. It's possible, but would not be easy.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Uber is available in Kampala, and is incredibly convenient. However, the drivers constantly run out of gas and will cancel trips on you based on whether you are paying by cash or card (yes, even Uber uses cash here) or what neighborhood you are getting picked from or where you are going. Otherwise, however, there is no public transportation that I'd recommend using. No trains, other taxis besides uber are essentially non-existant, and buses and motorcycle-taxis are dangerous and uncomfortable. Most folks find a taxi or Uber driver they like and then store their number and use them as pseudo-personal taxi-drivers, which works very well.
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?
SUV. Very high ground clearance is critical. I've not used 4x4 since arrival, but I have driven through Kampala city roads so flooded the water washed over the hood of our Prado. And the potholes can swallow a bus. Even Rav4s seem to sit way too low. There is every kind of car on the road out there, and people are making it work, but I wouldn't recommend anything nice (it's like bumper cars out there, with motorcycles and whatnot always hitting and dinging your car), or anything without good ground clearance. Burglary of car mirrors, radios, dashboards, door locks, and such is very, very common.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Some neighborhoods have fiber internet, which is fast and reliable and can be installed on day 1. Everyone else suffers with moderate speeds, moderate to low reliability and "limitless" plans that actually are only limitless from 12-6am or such.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Google Fi works very well and gives you an American phone # and $10/GB data plus free texts. I also have a local number.
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?
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?
Folks have a very hard time. There's some volunteer stuff around but not much. Local economy doesn't pay anything worthwhile.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are opportunities, but mostly folks have to put in effort and/or make their own opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It's business-type or slightly dressy here both at work and in public. Ugandans like to dress 'smart'. Formal dress is rarely needed but there are embassy functions for which it's needed.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Sure, like everywhere, but mostly the hazard is burglary or petty crime. It's a pretty safe city, overall, if one has typical common sense for city-life.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Lots of health concerns. Uganda has more crazy viral illnesses than possibly anywhere on earth, and even named many of the big ones. Upper respiratory illnesses and diarrheal illnesses seem to be constant. Air pollution and allergens are rampant so lots and lots or respiratory complaints. Medical care is pretty hit or miss (but mostly miss).
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 bad, and it does impact health. Depending on what neighborhood one lives in, the air pollution can be of high concern. Respiratory ailments, asthma, allergies, etc are very common and affect negatively a good number of folks here. In the mornings one can smell burning garbage, and by afternoon on a dry week the air is smoggy. It's quite a downer, as the weather is so perfect all the time.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
While there are plenty of folks here with allergies, I would think twice if I had a serious peanut, sesame, or egg allergy. Restaurants and locals aren't tuned into allergy problems and likely won't know or won't care about hidden allergens in the food.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
We don't have winter, and it's 12hrs daylight all year round, so no winter blues. The terrible traffic and commute times seem to lower morale and make it hard for folks to be socially engaged.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's always 75-85F and 12 hours of daylight. Some times it's a bit more rainy, other times a bit more dry, but generally the weather is always nearly perfect year-round.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several good international schools available. Commute times are a problem.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Lots of preschools that are not expensive and full-time in-home care (nannies) readily available and affordable. Childcare is really not a problem here. We adore our preschool, and it offers before-and after-school care.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there's a lot available. The traffic makes it difficult to make use of it. Our kids like swimming lessons, horseback riding, and dance.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Lots and lots of expats. Overall morale is great; expats tend to come and stay long-term. In the USG, however, I'd say morale is moderate to low.
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?
Lots of groups and clubs. Traffic makes it hard to get to them and be social. Folks tend to be isolated to their own neighborhoods or else spend all day trying to get somewhere.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's good for all of the above. Lots of single folks here, and there's a good bit going on with the music scene, outdoorsy stuff, etc. Lots of restaurants and get-aways for couples. Plenty for families. Problems are, as mentioned, traffic and air pollution (but get outside of Kampala and both go away).
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Probably not. Uganda has a history of aggressive policies against LGBT folks.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Easy to make friends with locals ; it's quite integrated in Kampala. Unsure about ethnic prejudices.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really. Definitely not when compared to other countries in the continent.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Hard to say. We loved camping and hiking in the game parks. Mostly what is great about the country is how child-centered the population is. If you have a family with young kids it's wonderful. Anywhere you go the kids are very catered-for and you get lots of help from happy strangers.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Game parks are fun, lots of beautiful places to visit for hiking/scenic drives. Lots of the islands are fun (or at least look fun).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Uganda makes a lot of stuff that is nice. I wouldn't say it's a "shopping post", but it's not bad. There is locally-made everything: furniture, clothes, art, handicrafts, etc.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great weather, friendly and welcoming local population, plenty of food and restaurant options, English as the main language, and good school options.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How bad the traffic and air pollution affect quality of life.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Possibly not. I adore it, but the long times spent in traffic make it somewhat socially isolated. The weather is amazing, but the air pollution makes it not-great to run or bike outside. Morale at the embassy is 'eh.' It's harder here to find a good work/life balance.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Cold medication. URIs are constant.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The only book I've read is "the Atlas of Forgotten Places" and it was quite good but probably not the best insight to life in Kampala.
6. Do you have any other comments?
It seems like most folks have a love/hate relationship with Kampala. It's a wonderful, warm, welcoming place that could be awesome, but traffic and pollution negatively impact quality of life to an extent that cannot be ignored. I'd still recommend it over our neighboring countries any day, though.