Kampala, Uganda Report of what it's like to live there - 10/07/19
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?
Third expat experience. Previously lived in Harare and Hyderabad.
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?
Northern VA. It took about 22 hours due to the layover in Amsterdam and 1-hr pit stop in Kigali.
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?
Single family residence with guest quarters, and staff quarters. 3br 3bath + 2br 1 bath (guest) + 1br 1 shower (staff quarters). Medium-sized yard with banana, avocado, mango, and jack fruit trees. I added a few arabica coffee trees to the mix.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local produce (bananas, pineapples, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions) was plentiful and cheap. The pineapples were incredibly delicious. Imports like salad greens, cheeses, and ice cream were available from specialty grocery stores at a premium price. I did not like the taste of local milk, so I ended up buying imported (more expensive) dairy products.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I either called the restaurant directly that would arrange a motorcycle delivery, or I would use Jumia.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Typical tropical infestations. Roaches, mosquitoes, and lots of ants. Keep tidy and call the exterminator!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We were fortunate to have diplomatic pouch and diplomatic mail (DPO). I received local mail from time to time, so I know it exists, but can't speak to its efficacy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very reasonable. About US$250-350 a month when I was there for a full-time live-in nanny. About the same for a maid. $200-$250/mo full-time driver. $100/mo part-time gardener. Add 10% for the Christmas/Eid bonus. Expect requests for loans.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There were a couple private-owned gyms in the neighborhood. I mostly ran/played sports at the Embassy (might not be possible during current construction).
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?
I used them at some grocery stores and restaurants. I even used a Barclays ATM card (I had a local bank account for petty cash needs) at gas stations. There were guards at the reputable ATMs (and they could give you a heads up if the machines ran out of money). I still used cash a fair bit, but wasn't completely reliant on it either.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Its an Anglophone country, so I would assume so.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Uganda was a British colony. You'll do fine with English. If you want to make a positive impression with Ugandans, you could say a few key phrases in Luganda or Swahili.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
As with most developing countries, it would be tough to get around with physical disabilities. Not impossible though. There are sidewalks in some areas. You could walk on the road, but you really have to mind traffic if you're doing that. Some buildings (modern or government) had elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable yes. Mini-buses (matatus) and motocycle taxis (boda-bodas) were poorly maintained, over stuffed, and/or operated in a dangerous manner. Local staff would complain about petty theft on the buses as well. I used Uber from time-to-time. It was cheap, but not very reliable (cancelled rides, pit stops for gas, getting lost despite the pin on the map).
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 with clearance. The roads are in bad shape (potholes or unpaved in many areas + treacherous rain and poor drainage).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
In 2015-2018 it was slow and expensive. 4mbs for US$150/mo. I was able to stream. 80-90% reliable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local service is cheap (MTN and Africell seemed pretty good). I used Google Fi for personal use and it worked fine.
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?
We had a good experience with a vet that made house calls. I am the proud owner of perhaps the fattest cat (ever?) in Uganda (24 lbs). I was kindly admonished to give my cat smaller portions. I tried. He rebelled. I digress...
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?
Telecommuting is possible, but have redundancies for internet.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Uganda is swarming with charities/religious organizations.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal/business attire expected in professional settings. Casual wear was fine in restaurants.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Poor street lighting at nights, so evening travel was a little challenging. Crime in general, was an issue, I saw thieves reach into lowered windows and steal phones, so common sense and a general awareness of your surroundings is a good idea, especially in crowded places at night. Terrorists bombed a cafe during the 2010 World Cup, so its a good idea to keep your guard up. That said, I didn't have a bunker mentality - you understand the risks - mitigate them as best you can, and you go about your business.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Malaria just about everywhere. Ebola/Marburg in remote areas. HIV prevalence (6% - much higher in some locals). Medical care was fine for routine examinations and issues. We had the option to medevac for baby deliveries, but we knew of expats that delivered locally. Serious medical care might require a trip to Nairobi or even 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?
You'd think being next to a lake would help, but I found air quality to be fairly poor. Lots of trash/cookstoves burning. Lots of cars stuck in traffic. I didn't suffer from allergies there though. I struggled with a noisy neighbor (outdoor church service with screaming and blown out speakers). Noise had a surprising effect on my resiliency.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Air pollution and peanuts (ground nuts) are common in some food items/snacks. Also watch out for aflatoxin issues in milk (its a problem with the feed supply for animals). Might want imported milk or powdered milk, especially if you have young children.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Nearly on the equator so I didn't feel/notice anyone else with SAD. Traffic, pollution, noise can sap your resiliency. Exercise, golf, safaris were great ways to restore my resiliency.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's sunny and 75-80 with a chance of rainfall year-round. Its extremely pleasant.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My son was too young, so I can't speak directly, but I heard good things generally speaking.
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?
Play groups and preschools are available. We had a very positive experience with them and it was a great chance for our nanny to socialize with other nannies and breakup the routine a little.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, running. Ugandans like to jog!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large: lots of diplomats, development partners (UN), and entrepreneurs. Overall morale seemed good.
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?
Make your own fun. Go to kids' birthday parties with hired artists and bouncy castles. BBQs. Fun evening parties. Interesting shows at the theater downtown. Bars are plentiful and fun as well.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It was great for families. Lots of other families to meet and with whom one could socialize.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Its extremely challenging from what I observed. A LGBT Ugandan will have to be very careful as there is a large stigma in Ugandan society towards non-heterosexual behavior.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Ugandans are friendly and like to smile. I felt welcome.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are ethnic issues within Uganda, but Ugandans overall appeared fairly comfortable with foreigners, although I understand there are lots of stereotypes held by some (e.g., white people are rich, the Chinese are up to no good, men are automatically more respected than women, etc.).
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Safaris in Uganda were amazing. Lots of outdoor adventures in Jinja (source of the Nile River). The countryside is gorgeous and its a treat to get out of Kampala.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Its fun to explore the food and bar scene in town. Definitely make time to visit the gorillas and chimps in the western regions.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Luxury items are imported and expensive. Local crafts (clothing, baskets, paintings) are available and reasonably priced.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Honestly, Kampala was my least favorite part of Uganda. It was crowded and polluted. Once you're out of town, the fun begins. I suppose if you're into a nightlife scene, Kampala never sleeps.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Conditions vary drastically between neighborhoods within town. Some neighborhoods are nice, with sidewalks, and have amenities. Some are noisy/polluted.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Depends on the neighborhood, but, yes.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Coat, skis, low-clearance car, arrogance.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience, humor, malaria pills, kindness.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Most travel guides are a good place to start. The State of Africa is a good read, too.