You'll usually need to bargain with boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) and special-hire drivers, though bear in mind that there are many honest drivers out there, and in many cases the price they propose is the standard fare for a journey.
Dangers & Annoyances
Uganda is generally a very safe destination today. As a traveller your main dangers are those of mosquito-borne disease and dangerous driving. Gay travellers should be aware that recent evangelical-led campaigns against homosexuality have resulted in a high level of homophobia. Discretion is vital, as is taking serious safety precautions online: only meet contacts in a public place, and inform others where you are going and whom you are meeting.
After a disarmament program and resulting stabilisation, more people are travelling in the Karamojong area of the far northeast (though not within Kidepo Valley National Park); however, foreign governments still warn of banditry. Due to the instability of South Sudan and occasional conflict between Kenyan and Ugandan cattle-herding groups, the border areas in the far northwest have ongoing problems that may deter travellers. Various rebel groups hang out in the far eastern DRC and occasionally slip across the porous border to wreak havoc. Even with additional Ugandan troops in the area, the chances of this happening again cannot be completely discounted. Finally, there are smugglers and Kenyan rebels on and around Mt Elgon, though the risk to visitors is small.
240V, 50 cycles; British three-pin plugs are used.
Embassies & Consulates
Embassies and consulates are located in Kampala.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Uganda's country code||+256|
|International access code||000|
|Police/fire/ambulance from landline||999|
|Police/fire/ambulance from mobile phone||112|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Uganda allows the importation of 200 cigarettes, 1L of spirits (over 25% volume of alcohol) or 2L of lighter alcoholic beverages (up to 25% volume of alcohol) as well as gifts and other items for personal use. Pornography is prohibited. Cultural artefacts and endangered species or related products are prohibited to export.
Visas are required for nearly all visitors, with an online process for obtaining them. Visas on arrival are only available with preapproval.
How to Apply
Most passport holders visiting Uganda require visas, including citizens of the USA, Canada, EU, Australia and New Zealand. The process for obtaining visas was moved almost entirely online in July 2016. It's important to note that visas on arrival are no longer available without online approval first, and this can take up to five days.
To apply for your visa, go to the immigration website (www.visas.immigration.go.ug) and follow the instructions. You will have to upload a scan of both your passport photograph page and your yellow-fever certificate, and fill in an application form. Once submitted, you should have your approval notification within three working days. You should print this out and present it at immigration when you arrive in Uganda to get your visa on arrival.
When you get your visa on arrival, you'll need to pay in cash at the immigration desk. Single-entry tourist visas valid for up to 90 days cost US$50; however, do be sure to ask for a 90-day visa, or you'll probably be given 30 or 60 days. Your yellow-fever certificate may be required again, so bring it with you, though you don't need to bring a photo. Multiple-entry visas aren't available on arrival, but it is possible for embassies abroad to issue them (US$100 for six months).
Uganda is one of the countries covered by the East Africa Tourist (EAT) visa, and for those also visiting Kenya and Rwanda on the same trip it is a cheaper alternative. The visa costs US$100, is valid for 90 days and is multiple entry – it is available upon arrival or from embassies abroad. If acquiring the visa before travel, your first port of call must be the country through which you applied for the visa. If Uganda is your first destination, then you have to apply for the EAT visa in a Ugandan embassy abroad – you cannot get it by applying online and then obtaining it on arrival.
In Kampala, the Immigration Office is just east of the centre. Regardless of how many days you were given on your original tourist visa, you can apply for a free two-month extension. Submit a letter explaining the reason for your request, stating where you're staying and detailing when and how you'll be leaving the country. Attach a copy of your passport and plane ticket, if you have one. It takes seven days to process, but extensions are much quicker at immigration offices outside the capital, and these exist in most large towns, including Jinja and Fort Portal.
- Greetings Ugandans formally greet just about everyone, even if they are stopping someone for driving directions. Skipping this step gets you off to a poor start.
- Bargaining Ugandans dislike arguments. If you have a conflict about charges at a hotel or the like, it's best to dig in your heels for a long but firm and polite discussion with a gentle joking welcome.
Homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since the time of British colonial rule, and in theory can result in a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Not satisfied with this relative lenience, in 2014 the Ugandan government passed legislation that punished homosexuality with life imprisonment (watered down from the death sentence proposed by the original law), but this draconian measure was thrown out by the Constitutional Court. As you might expect, the gay community here remains very much underground. LGBTQI tourists are advised to likewise keep things discreet, although there's no need to be overly worried as foreigners are rarely the subject of investigation. Some lodgings will refuse to put two people of the same sex in a one-bed room.
Free wi-fi is available at all but the simplest hotels, as well as some better restaurants and cafes. However, it's much less likely (or very slow) in national parks and remote regions.
Smartphone users can easily purchase a local SIM card with data, and this remains the most reliable way to connect. Laptop users can get a wireless USB internet/dongle for around US$30. The best networks are MTN and Orange, which have reliable access for most parts of the country (but not in the remote parks).
Internet cafes can be found in cities and most medium-sized towns.
It's advisable to wear your seat belt, drive the speed limit and not partake in drug use. In 2017 Uganda instated harsher penalties, including stiff prison sentences, for drug use and trafficking. If you are arrested in Uganda, you can request to call your embassy, but the help they give can be limited. If you are robbed, a police report of the incident is required by most insurance companies.
Being both beautiful and useful, Uganda Maps national park maps, available at UWA offices, safari lodges and tour companies, are a great buy if you're headed to any of the national parks.
- Magazines & Newspapers Local newspapers include the government-owned daily the New Vision and the more independent Daily Monitor. International magazines, such as Time and The Economist, are readily available in Kampala, as is the local equivalent the Whisper (www.whisper.co.ug).
- TV State-run UBC and private WBS are the main stations available on broadcast TV, but most hotels and bars have satellite TV for international news and sport.
- Radio BBC World Service broadcasts on 101.3MHz and the phenomenally popular Capital FM can be found at 91.3MHz.
The local currency is the Ugandan shilling (USh), though most tour operators and upscale hotels quote in US dollars. ATMs are abundant and US dollars are widely accepted.
The biggest banks (Barclays, Stanbic, Centenary, Crane, Orient and Standard Chartered) have ATMs that accept international cards. Even many remote small towns will have at least one of these banks, though try not to let your cash run out as the system sometimes goes down and machines sometimes run out of cash.
The Ugandan shilling (USh) is a relatively stable currency that floats freely on international markets. Most tour operators and upmarket hotels quote in US dollars (a few in euros), but you can pay with shillings everywhere.
Notes in circulation are USh1000, USh5000, USh10,000, USh20,000 and USh50,000, and commonly used coins are USh50, USh100, USh200 and USh500.
US dollars are the most useful hard currency, especially in small towns, though euros and pounds sterling are also widely accepted.
If you're using dollars, try to avoid bills printed before 2006, as often they're not accepted (due to a higher risk of them being counterfeit notes). If exchanging dollars, small denominations always get a much lower rate than US$50 and US$100 notes – so ask for larger notes when you collect your money.
The best exchange rates by far are offered in Kampala. Forex bureaus offer slightly better rates than banks plus much faster service and longer hours; but they're rare outside Kampala.
Note that Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offers fair exchange rates for park fees and accepts dollars, pounds and euros and either cash or travellers cheques.
Practical Tip: Cash at the Airport
There are no banks, ATMs or forex bureaus before immigration, but, if you're in a pinch, an officer will hold your passport while you go get money from the ATM just beyond airport customs.
Credit cards are accepted at better hotels in larger cities, as well as smarter restaurants and safari lodges, but it's always a good idea to bring plenty of cash as a backup. There can often be a surcharge of 5% to 8% when making payments by cards, but these are slowly becoming rarer as companies become more accustomed to people paying this way. Visa is the most widely accepted card, but MasterCard is increasingly accepted.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping isn't expected in Uganda but, as wages are very low by Western standards, it will always be appreciated. The size of a given tip is up to the individual.
- Restaurants USh1000 to USh1500 is enough in ordinary restaurants.
- Rangers USh5000 to USh10,000 is reasonable for ranger-guides in national parks.
Banks 9am–3pm Monday to Friday
Government offices 8.30am–5pm Monday to Friday
Shops 8am–5pm Monday to Saturday
Kampala's post office is slow but reliable; there's a chance things will go missing at provincial branches.
New Year's Day 1 January
Liberation Day 26 January
International Women's Day 8 March
Easter (Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Monday) March/April
Labour Day 1 May
Martyrs' Day 3 June
Heroes' Day 9 June
Independence Day 9 October
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
Banks and government offices also close on the major Muslim holidays.
- Smoking In 2016, Uganda banned smoking in public places, punishable by a fine (US$50) and up to two months' jail time. The law also bans the sale of e-cigarettes, flavoured tobacco and single cigarettes.
Taxes & Refunds
Uganda has a national value-added tax (VAT) of 18%. There is some talk in the government about removing VAT from hotels to promote tourism growth.
The country code for Uganda is 256. To make an international call from Uganda, dial 000 or, on a mobile, the + button. If you're calling Uganda from outside the country, drop the 0 at the start of the phone number.
In case of emergency, dial 999 from a landline or 112 from a mobile phone.
Landline telephone connections, both domestic and international, are pretty good, but almost everyone (including businesses) operates on mobiles these days.
Mobile (cell) phones are very popular as the service is better than landlines, although there are still large areas of rural Uganda with little or no coverage. MTN and Orange currently have the best coverage across the country. All mobile numbers start with 07. Mobile phone companies sell SIM cards for USh2000 and then you buy airtime vouchers for topping up calling credit or data packs from street vendors.
East African Time (GMT/UTC plus three hours).
Travellers will find standard toilets in most circumstances, though some budget places might have squat toilets or the option to use either. Unless plumbing is modern, paper should go in the wastebasket. Carrying toilet paper can be useful.
Birding Uganda (http://birdinguganda.blogspot.cl) An excellent resource for birders, this blog chronicles trips to parks and reserves all over Uganda with great tips.
Living in Kampala (www.livinginkampala.com) Useful resource for newcomers with reviews of restaurants and bars and information about neighbourhoods and travel throughout Uganda.
Uganda Tourism Board (www.visituganda.com) Stock information for travel and events listings.
Travel with Children
Although there are some risks and challenges when travelling in Uganda with kids, the numerous great national parks and water-based activities mean that Uganda can be a lot of fun for children. On the city side of things, Kampala isn't exactly bursting with activities for young people, but Entebbe and Jinja have plenty on offer.
Facilities that cater to people with disabilities are rare, though some urban hotels and tourist lodgings may have a wheelchair-accessible room. Minivans are available for rental and safari companies may be able to make adaptations to accommodate travellers.
Uganda has more volunteering opportunities than many African countries, thanks to a number of good grassroots organisations. The Uganda Community Tourism Association and Pearls of Uganda (www.pearlsofuganda.org) are in touch with many communities around the country and can connect you to a variety of projects, including tree-planting and teaching. Many volunteering roles involve an expenditure or donation on top of living costs.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Uganda uses the metric system.
While there are many volunteer opportunities in Uganda, a work visa requires sponsorship by a Ugandan company or one with a local presence and thus is difficult to obtain.