Heart for Uganda

Helpful Tips for Living in Uganda

I hope to document helpful tips to others contemplating making a move to Uganda.  There is no Guidebook for such a transition, so here are a few things that I learned along the way.  Hope they help...



Travel VISA—Uganda requires a Travel Visa to enter the country (along with a Yellow Fever vaccination).  The Visa fee is $50.00 for a 3 month single entry permit.  There are 2 options to obtain the Visa:  applying for a visa online while still in America through an internet Visa company or waiting to purchase the visa at the Entebbe airport upon arrival.  The cheaper option is to get it in Uganda, as any internet company will charge you a processing fee.   For those staying in Uganda for work/volunteer purposes for an extended period of time, there are 2 options for prolonged stay:  traveling to another country, like Kenya, to renew a 3 month visitor’s permit, or applying for a work permit with Uganda’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (on Jinja Road, Kampala).  Both will come with their pros and cons…time and money will be a factor for both. 


Money Exchange--  Currently the exchange rate within Uganda ranges from 2200-2300 Ugandan shillings per American dollar.  These rates fluctuate very minimally daily though.  Plan to bring $50 or $100 for the better exchange, and banks will not accept printed currency before 2002.  Check your bills.  Major credit cards charge a large additional fee to take money from ATM, but consult your bank about minimal charges on your banking checking/debit card (only if it is Visa or Mastercard).  Only the higher-scale hotels and some upscale supermarkets will take credit cards.  Discover and Mastercard is not typically accepted in Uganda.  Visa can be found though. 




Time—Uganda is ahead of time in America.  In Central Standard Time, Uganda is 8 hours ahead (9 hours during Daylight Savings Time). 




Safety:  Personal safety should be your first priority here in Uganda.  Plan to bring a colored copy of the front page of your passport, and keep it in a safe location.  Always know where purse/wallet, laptop, digital camera, ipod, valuable jewelry, etc are at all times.  Never keep these items out in public or flash them around.  Be cautious of new friends, and always go with your gut feeling.  If something does not feel right, get away.    




Village Life:  As an American coming to Uganda, time slows down considerably.  There is not a rush on time, and typically nothing ever starts on time.   As a rule of thumb, add at least 1 hour to any time that is given to the start of an event/activity, keep a sense of humor for the 2nd hour added, and find a way to leave gracefully during the 3rd hour.  Ugandans do not mean to be late/tardy with anything, but it is the culture to place emphasis on relationship and people above timeliness.  Also there are factors, like lengthy commutes on public taxis, which simply cause delays.   Expect losses of some given elements, like power and water, at any given time.  There will be no logic, so don’t try to predict it.  Simple chores, like cooking, household chores, and washing clothes, will take double (if not more) time to complete in Uganda.  Don’t set too many deadlines during any given day, as even simple tasks will take longer to complete.  Finally, Caucasian should be introduced to the word “Muzungu” (muh-zoon-goo).  There is the often false perception that Muzungus (or anyone recognized with a non-Ugandan accent) are wealthy.  Children will call and wave, men will attempt to capture attention, and vendors will attempt to take advantage of inexperience.  Remember that it is nothing personal against you, but it is reality here.  To avoid any backlash or safety issues, always be courteous, cautious, yet firm. 




Food:  There is an abundance of fresh produce available in Uganda.  Fresh produce markets are filled with tomatoes, onion, green peppers, pumpkin, potato, cabbage, watermelon, pineapple, oranges, banana, matooke banana, and so many more.  In addition, carbs (like pastas, rice and breads) are a main staple within Ugandan diet.  Meats, like chicken, beef, pig, and goat, are available but not prepared daily within most Ugandan households.  Recently food prices have seen an increase within Uganda, but the prices for individuals are still really cheap for American standards.  Most traditional Uganda meals (like matooke/ground nut sauce or rice/pumpkin) can be purchased for about $2-4 per meal (for a family of 4-6 people).  Add a couple of additional dollars for meat added to any meal.  Most American foods can be found within Uganda, but many of those food items are expensive here.  Bring things like peanut butter, any granola bars, snack foods (pretzels, crackers, nuts), favorite candy, and flavor packets for bottled water.  For eating out, the local restaurants (with traditional Ugandan foods) will have a meal for under $5.  Within Kampala there are restaurants with America or special cuisine foods for under $10.  Water should either be bought in a bottle (if a short-term visit) or cooked in a kettle before drinking (if a longer-term visit).   




Hygiene Items:  The majority of hygiene items (like lotion, bath soap, shampoo, toothpaste, female sanitary napkins, toilet paper) within the supermarkets (especially the larger ones in Kampala).  There is a combination of recognizable American brands and Ugandan brands.  Plan to pay more for American brands of any products.  Hygiene items to bring would include deodorant (only roll-ons), hairspray (not to be found), saline solution (here but expensive), any makeup products, tampons, and medications (like cough syrup, pepto-bismol).  




Health Services/ Insurance:   There are options for health insurance.  Be sure that any insurance purchased will connect to services through an International Hospital.  The best medical care in the area is definitely at International Hospital, they also have 3 walk-in clinics in and around Kampala.  Generally speaking though, health care is very cheap and prescription meds can be picked up at any pharmacy without a prescription (antibiotics).  Long-term residence of Uganda should seriously weigh the pros and cons of taking malaria medications.  For people who have not built up a tolerance for Malaria, it can be a very dangerous illness.  Consult your physician about taking doxcycline long-term.  Vivid dreams will likely be a side-affect.  Malaria medications can be purchased cheaply in Uganda in daily and weekly dosages. 




Clothing:  Kampala is an interesting mixture of traditional Ugandan garments and modern western-influence fashion.   As a sign of respect for the culture, it is better to be conservative in dress.  Generally women wear skirts to business or formal meetings.  Men would wear button up shirt/polo and slacks.  No low cut tops or spaghetti straps without a shirt, vest or sweater over it.  No shorts above the knee worn outside of your general residence.  Certainly be sure to careful of light colored pants or skirts as light colors attract the dust.  Pack only comfortable, walking shoes. Flip flops and sandals can be bought very inexpensively.



Internet Connections/Cell phones:  All of Uganda’s major cell phone companies have instant internet USB plug for computers, where internet (as long as a signal can be found) is instantly available.  There are initial device costs and pre-paid usage (like 500MB, 1GB) for uploaded data.  Otherwise internet cafes are easily available and plentiful.  In addition, Skype will be a good source of keeping in touch with family back home.  It will be much cheaper than international cell phone costs.  Ugandan cell phone can be bought cheaply with pre-paid airtime.  International calling can be costly, but it is possible.  Phones with multiple functions, like Blackberries, are also found in Uganda, too, and service plans are possible.  Cell phone companies have become very competitive with one another, so prices are getting lower and more competitive. 




Electrical Outlets:   Most Ugandan outlets will have the 3-pin, rectangle blade plug.  When buying the international outlet converters, look for the converter for Great Britian/Ireland/Africa/Hong Kong or universal converter.  Surge protectors can be bought in Uganda, but NEVER plug your computer or expensive electronic devices directly into an outlet, as power surges are common.  Bring your own batteries (Duracell are expensive).




Religion:  Within Uganda, many different religions are practiced.  There are places of worship for

Catholic, Protestant, Born Again (which is pretty much any other Christian denomination lumped together), or Muslim.  In addition, a couple of places of worship for Jewish and Hindu religions can be located within Kampala. 




Fun/Travel while in Uganda:  There are many sidetrips that could be taken in Uganda, like Entebbe beach, Equator, tour source of Nile River, famous waterfalls of Uganda, national park for safari, Wildlife center, Gorilla trek, African craft markets....just to name a few.  There are also many museums and sites to see within Kampala, too.  Pretty much anything has an admission fee, and it is higher for non-residence of Uganda.  The major fee would be transportation (hiring a driver and gas costs).  Other costs, like lodging and food, are really cheap.