Banking and Withdrawing Money in Kampala

Banking and Withdrawing Money in Kampala

So you’re moving to Kampala and wondering to yourself: What do I do about money? Here’s most everything you need to know.

Uganda is a cash economy (meaning you’ll rarely find a place to swipe your plastic) based on the Ugandan Shilling, which at this writing (August, 2012) is trading at about 2,500 to one US Dollar. Get used to thinking in the hundreds of thousands and millions.

The easiest way to get money when you first arrive is with a Visa ATM card (Mastercard is tougher, don’t bother with anything else). ATMs are liberally scattered all over Uganda, starting at the airport, and most of them have that friendly Visa logo. It’s wise to talk to your home bank and ask about any deals they have with Ugandan banks – for instance, at this writing, if you use your Bank of America ATM card at a Barclays Uganda ATM you won’t be charged that pesky ‘not-our-ATM’ fee.

Western Union is also an option for quick cash from abroad, though the fees are rather hefty. Nonetheless, if it works for you, there are a number of Western Union locations in Kampala.

If you have cash or traveler’s cheques, foreign exchange businesses are easy to come by, but not all are created equal. For competitive rates try Shumuk at the Grand Imperial Hotel and Crane Forex on Kampala Road (see end for phone numbers). And remember that you’ll get the best rates on big, recently minted bills ($50 and over in USD, and 2006 and newer).

If you’d like to open a bank account locally you’ll usually just need your passport, copies thereof, a couple passport photos, and often a letter of recommendation from a current account holder at your bank of choice. Different banks have different requirements at different times, so don’t hesitate to walk in and ask.

The most well-ATMed banks are Stanbic and Barclays, which seem to have ATMs just about anywhere you would need one. A well-informed friend tells me that Barclays, despite its international name, is rather lacking in service, and that Stanbic might be the better choice. Other options include Standard Chartered, which has fewer branches and ATMs but relatively good service, and Centenary, which caters more to rural areas.

One new and growing way to deal with money in Uganda is through cell phones. Sign up with a local carrier and you can send and receive money right on your phone, redeemable pretty much anywhere in the country. But of course, you have to have the money first.

I leave that up to you.

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About James

I'm a writer and a founder of Ember Arts, a company that uses craft jewelry as a front for helping women achieve their dreams. I've been in and out of Kampala since 2006 and just can't get enough of the Indian food. Could do without the traffic, though. Contact me at james@livinginkampala.com.