Uganda -Ultimate Guide For Getting Around Safely

Thinking about planning your trip to the “Pearl of Africa’’?

Here is practical information to guide you before and during your travels in Uganda. It is suitable for a week’s visit in the city or a year in and around Uganda for expats and exchange/research students. Having worked with loads of expats, researchers and exchange students it was about time I compiled this.

Uganda lies on the equator, so you will enjoy warm sunny weather most of the time. Prepare yourself for a welcoming and beautiful country! Ugandans are friendly warm people and there is so much to explore. You will enjoy the cultural diversity and the natural beauty she has to offer.

Visa Application

Acquiring a visa is easy and can be done on beforehand on the immigration office. When confirmed that you are travelling, book an appointment to get your yellow fever vaccination.

I recommend applying for the East Africa Tourist visa as soon as possible; it may take some time before it is processed. It takes at least 2 weeks before you receive feedback. Apply for your required visa here:

You need to submit:

  • Copy of the passport (Bio-data page)
  • Copy of recent Passport size Photograph
  • Travel itinerary
  • Vaccination Certificate (Yellow fever)
  • Return Ticket

When you arrive in Uganda, you will need to show your permit, your passport and your yellow fever vaccination card.

Once at the airport, be sure to double check the number of days you are given when your passport is stamped. If your passport is stamped for less than a month, it is possible to get an extension at no Cost at the Immigration office.

You can also apply for a students’ visa 2 months prior to your departure. You also need a letter from your school and the local company you will be attached. The student visa costs 50$ but is not guaranteed to be received in time.

Plane tickets

Book a return ticket, as some airlines will not let you onboard without one. Check with your airline before going to the airport. 

Vaccination and health

You might be advised to take a number of vaccines before departure to Uganda. Please consult your doctor and immunizations office about vaccines, anti-malaria medicine and general health advice before you travel to Uganda. Note that vaccination for yellow fever is mandatory upon arrival in Uganda.

Vaccines:

You need to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, meningitis A, C, W, and Y, tetanus, typhoid, rabies, and influenza (annually).

Take initiative to ask your doctor to make a summary of your medical history and the medication you are taking which you can present to any doctor in Uganda for reference in the event that you get a health problem during your study period.

You can bring a personal first aid kit with basic medical supplies to treat mild illnesses and first aid needs. Your personal first aid kit can include;

  • A good drying antiseptic like iodine or potassium
  • Band-Aids (small dressings)
  • Aspirin or paracetamol
  • Anti-fungal cream
  • Ciprofloxacin or norfloxacin
  • Antibiotic eye drops
  • A pair of fine-pointed tweezers
  • A digital thermometer (for remote areas)

Housing

Living conditions vary widely. There are several hotels in Kampala and lodges (mid-range, budget and luxury) outside the city.

Apartments and Airbnbs range from 150$ to 200$ per month.I recommend booking in residential areas like Bugolobi and Muyenga as these are safe neighborhoods with many expats.

Ugandan Food

  • The local diet is healthy and includes a variety of plant protein foods (beans, peanuts, peas) and there are a lot of fresh vegetables, greens, and starches. Food can be bought from local markets or small shops and you can cook for yourself.
  • My two favorite food bloggers demonstrate how to use local ingredients; A Kitchen In Uganda (akitcheninuganda.com) and Roger’s bites (rogersbites.com)
  • Are you vegetarian?  No problem, as a vegetarian diet is very achievable in Uganda once one becomes familiar with our local food.
  • Fish and meats are easily sourced. There are likely to be some local restaurants in the area you’re staying. Imported foods, while expensive, can be found in larger towns and serve as a great treat.

Staying Healthy

Just like with travel to most countries, remember to take preventive measures to stay healthy.

Private clinics, hospitals and pharmacies can be found in most large towns and doctors generally speak fair to fluent English. If you have any allergies, it is strongly recommended to bring your necessary treatment with you.

The most common health problems in Uganda are relatively minor ones, like colds, diarrhea, skin infections, headaches, dental problems and alcohol abuse.

Diarrheal diseases are common, but can be avoided by regularly washing your hands, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, and either boiling your drinking water. Thankfully, bottled water is available in most supermarkets.

The most serious health concerns are malaria, HIV/AIDS, and traffic accidents. Malaria is endemic in Uganda, so taking antimalarial pills is required.

Health Tips:

  • During your travels, you might have the urge to swim. However some lakes or rivers contain parasites and are not safe for swimming. If you must, please take Praziquantel (Biltricide) tablets before you do.
  • Tap water isn’t safe for drinking like in some European countries and make sure your food is cooked properly. Boil your drinking water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Remember to drink enough water during the day!
  • If you do get sick, you can contact The Surgery Uganda, located in Naggulu Drive and their phone number is: +256 772 756003 Or International Hospital Kampala in Namuwongo (0312200400)
  • Always practice safe sex! Condoms can be bought in Kampala, but bringing some is a good idea.

Life Is Good In Kampala

Compared to her neighbors, the cost of living in Uganda is lower meaning travelers can indulge in all that Uganda has to offer.

Cafes with Good Wifi:

  1. Endiro Coffee (charge 1000Ugx) link
  2. Cafe Javas (At most City Oil Petrol stations)
  3. Java House (Village Mall Bugolobi and Lugogo bypass)
  4. Riders Lounge (Kisementi)
  5. Kahwa2Go (Ntinda Complex)
  6. Prunes

Where To Withdraw Money; Zero ATM Charges

In Uganda we use Ugandan shillings and mainly cash payment. Due to fees when using a credit card, you should probably keep some cash when you withdraw money from the ATM.

The banks that have zero ATM charges include DFCU, Stanbic and Standard Chartered bank. The banks that work best with Dutch cards (Maestro) are Barclays and Stanbic bank.

Stanbic ATM Visa outside Village Mall has no charges. The bank in the city center Industrial area is at Game Lugogo. If you are travelling out of Kampala, we recommend you take out cash from Kampala before departure.

You can also find ATMS around town in Kisementi at Acacia Mall and Krishna Mall, Ntinda at the Ntinda stage, Naalya at Metroplex mall, Bugolobi and at Village Mall.

Try to use the big bills in restaurants and supermarkets and save the small ones to pay for transportation, street food, water and other small expenses.

Getting Around

Private hire

Private hire is similar to taxis or cabs abroad. This is one of the more expensive ways to travel, but most reliable as you can schedule a pick up. If you need some recommendations feel free to contact me.

Uber

Another option is to use the Uber app which picks you up and takes you where you need to go. It can get expensive if you’re going far or get stuck in a traffic jam.

Taxify

Just like uber, but fares are slightly cheaper.

Boda bodas

Motorcycle taxies, cheap and fast transportation, but can be dangerous. As mentioned previously, avoid these as much as possible, but I know that you might have to use them! Opt for Safe boda, or uber boda and Taxify boda and stay away from random bodas after dark.

Taxi/matatu

These mini-buses also known as matatus take routes through town and out of town. It’s the cheapest way of transportation in Kampala. Just be aware that there can be extended waits for passengers to fill them up and they can get crowded during rush hours. This is usually where lots of pick pocketing happens so be cautious if you must take them. They are safer to take for longer distances.

Safety Tips

People are very friendly and welcoming in Uganda. Kampala is a safe city and during daytime you will be safe walking around almost anywhere. You should however be very careful after dark, around 20:00. Prepare to assume a large degree of responsibility for your own safety.

To reduce the likelihood of becoming victim of crime, you can take steps to make yourself less of a target by integrating into your community, learning the local language and acting responsibly.

In many ways, you can do what you would do if you moved to a new city anywhere: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and only use Ubers to get where you are going at night.

Theft is more likely to happen in crowded locations (such as markets or public transport), or when items are left unattended. Crime in villages or smaller towns is much less frequent than in the large cities; people in smaller villages/towns know each other and are more likely to look out for their neighbors.

Be cautious walking alone after dark and avoid carrying a lot of money around. Remember that foreigners can be a target for pickpockets and robbers at night time. Be careful with your phone and cash it is better to have them on you than in your bag or purse.

Though unlikely to happen during your time here, violence through riots may erupt quickly and with little warning, so busy streets should be avoided during known political demonstrations that could involve conflict.

There have been a number of thefts of personal property from cars and taxis while stationary in traffic. You should keep car doors locked and windows up when driving and parking in public places. Ensure that no valuables are left visible in vehicles, whether parked or while the vehicle is moving.

Traffic in Kampala can be dangerous, there are a lot of cars and even more boda-bodas (motorcycles) but once you are careful and alert you will adjust and soon be walking around Kampala’s lively streets on your own.

Avoid boda bodas as much as you can, should you however choose to travel by boda-boda there are a few things you could do to for safety:

  • Use safe boda. You can download the safe boda app, or get a safe boda from a stage. The safe bodas are easily recognizable with their orange wests and helmets. Uber-bodas and Taxify bodas are also available
  • Always use a helmet. You can by your own or ride with drivers that have an extra helmet. A good helmet shouldn’t cost more than 250,000Ugx
  • Avoid random bodas. Use a recommended one and Safeboda, or at worst take from a boda-boda stage.
  • Never use a boda-boda after dark.

Being Social and Big Events

Events Around Kampala

  1. Blankets and Wine
  2. Cooking Competitions
  3. Sunday Brunch
  4. Artisan Market
  5. Kampala Restaurant week
  6. Jazz Concert

Swimming Pools and Gyms

  1. Hotel Africana
  2. Cassia Lodge
  3. Sheraton Kampala
  4. Pearl of Africa
  5. Speke resort Munyonyo
  6. Fairway Hotel

Cool Bars Around Kampala

  1. The Alchemist
  2. Zone 7
  3. Sky lounge
  4. Panamera
  5. Otters Bar
  6. The Hickory
  7. Monot
  8. Illusion
  9. BubblesOlearys
  10. Big Mikes

LGBT Community

Ugandan culture is conservative and as long as you respect the culture, you will be fine. In 2014 the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed in Uganda, the LGBT community have been targets of violent acts. Attending LGBT events, such as Pride, can be dangerous as they have been targeted by the police. Ugandans generally wouldn’t differentiate and will still be friendly and welcoming to everyone.

Religion

Christianity is the majority religion in Uganda, practiced by about 66% of the population. About 90% of all Christians are Roman Catholics or Anglicans. Muslims account for about 16%, most are of the Sunni sect. There are also small numbers of Hindus, Baha’is, and Jews. Traditional beliefs and customs are often practiced in conjunction with other established faiths.

Email Access and Phones

You typically purchase mobile phones and secure local phone services through a “pay as you go” plan. This means you pay for every minute when you place a call. I recommend Airtel or Mtn and getting them in Entebbe on arrival.

You can purchase portable internet connection modems from differen providers.

Extra Tips

  • Remember to take copies of your passport, insurance documents, plane tickets and vaccination card and store them safely online as well.
  • Be prepared for some heavy rain and thunder; especially in the rainy season thunder storms can get loud.
  • Electricity can at times be unstable so prepare your family for the possibility of not reaching you on you mobile phone at all times. The power usually comes back quite fast. If you are staying at a hotel this shouldn’t bother you at all!
  • Though internet is fine, it can be quite expensive to stream your favorite shows. On the other hand, buying all you favorite TV-shows and movies on DVD is possible at a great price. There are also several cafes and areas with free Wi-Fi
  • Remember to keep the money out of sight and split it up at home.
  • Prepare for African time! It can be frustrating at times as SOME Ugandans don’t have the same concept of time as in some other countries, remember to be patient.

Let me know if you need additional information in the comments below, or by emailing me through the contact section. What would you add to this? I’d love hear your thoughts and happy planning for your adventures in Uganda!

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