Tell your Westerner friends that you are setting off to live in Africa, and they will surely comment on how “cheap it must be.” Well, guess again! Your dime doesn’t go as far as you’d think if you want to maintain a similar lifestyle in Uganda to that in your home country. In fact, I could actually enjoy a nicer lifestyle in my home state of Oklahoma (USA) for cheaper than a life of similar luxury (that’s a bit of an overstatement) in Kampala.
Rent prices are across the board. Literally, the range varies as widely as $50 – $5,000 per month. If you are on a crazy low budget, you can find a room in a slum for about 50 bucks. Wash closest and cooking area will be shared (and dirty). Any takers? Didn’t think so. On the higher end of the spectrum, you can rent a marvelous mansion-like house in Kololo or Munyonyo at $5,000+ per month. Any takers? Not many. The good news for you is that the most common accommodation price points range from $300-$1,500 per month.
The areas of Naguru, Kololo, Nakasero, Munyonyo, and Bunga boast as some of the finer residential locales. A furnished apartment in these areas will generally go for $1,000+ per month. Unfurnished houses tend to start at around $1,500 in these areas. Areas like Ntinda, Bukoto, Makindye, and Kansanga act as more affordable options while still retaining good locations. Furnished apartments in these areas are likely to start at $600 per month. Unfurnished houses here tend to go for $1,000+ per month.
If you really do want to keep your costs low, your best bet is to look for a roommate. The most effective way of doing this right now seems to be by posting on the Facebook groups geared towards Kampala expats. You might be able to get by on $100 a month if you can snag a house-share deal! Or try making a post on our Kampala forum which is pretty new, but it’ll be getting busy!
I’m a bachelor, so I don’t cook. Let me give one piece of advice that I definitely do know, though. Cooking is certainly more cost effective than dining out! Unfortunately, I just don’t do it. But here is what I’ve learned from my friends that do:
There are a plethora of places to purchase groceries, but the real goodies are always a bit pricey because they are imported! The following basic food prices are taken from Nakumatt in Bukoto in July 2012 (Forex = $1 USD : 2,500 UGX):
A loaf of quality bread will cost you $1.50 while a six-pack of eggs will set you back $1.30. A 200g block of cheddar cheese goes for $4.30. You’ll drop $3.60 for a 2kg bag of quality rice and three bucks for a one-litre bottle of sunflower oil. A box of tasty Frosted Flakes will cost $8.40, and a one-litre bottle of Splash juice goes for $2.00. Looking for vodka? Try Smirnoff Red 750ml at $8.00. If you fancy whiskey, go for Johnnie Walker Black Label at $31.50 for a litre. A 500ml Coca-Cola runs at $0.70. (Pretty happy about that one after paying $1.92 in the US last week for the same!)
The nicest supermarkets – Nakumatt, Uchumi, and Shoprite – are definitely the priciest. Try out the smaller roadside supermarkets for better prices and better deals. Be sure to definitely do your fruit and vegetable shopping from the open-air markets, particularly Nakasero market. You won’t find better prices. If you are on an ultra-thin budget, then emulate a Ugandan’s diet. That will keep the cash in your pocket!
Call me an expert on this one. The bachelor life demands it. Kampala is filled with a vast array of eating establishments that bring a truly international flavor to this landlocked African country. Who would have thought!?
Eating out isn’t as cheap as it was a decade ago, but it also won’t send you home crying. A typical nice meal for two at one of Kampala’s finer restaurants will cost around $40 (glasses of wine included). One of my favorite special meals is the game meat platter at The Lawns. Enjoy Wildebeest, Crocodile, Impala, Ostrich, and more for about $30. Not bad for such a unique and tasty meal! Yet, it’s also easy to have excellent meals at many of Kampala’s top restaurants for under $10. On the lighter side, there are great finds at cafes like Endiro, Café Javas, and Soho Café. Don’t miss out on the $4 french toast for breakfast at Soho!
All in all, it’s definitely worth checking out the many eateries throughout Kampala, as they many have fun and relaxing atmospheres. For the budget-minded person, consider inconspicuously bringing your own water bottle with you. The savings will add up! Also, splitting meals with friends is another good strategy, especially at the restaurants that serve huge portions.
Kampala nightlife is very affordable by international standards. Most clubs and bars do not have cover charges while those that do rarely exceed $5. Beers are also a steal, as they are almost always priced under $3 at any nightlife hotspot. Mixed drinks generally range from $3 to $5. Top clubs like Ange Noir and Club Silk have exclusive areas dedicated to the elite clubber, as covers can go for as much as $15. Covers at the hotspots for expats, such as Bubbles O’leary and Cayenne, are usually around five bucks. Not bad for a fun night out!
Getting around Kampala can be a bit pricey thanks to the rather high price of fuel ($1.40/L as of July ‘12). Luckily, you’ve got a lot of options for moving about in the city. Boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) are by far the fastest way to get from point A to point B. An average trip will set you back less than two bucks. Alternatively, for true budget travelers (and risk averse people), a matatu, or shared taxi van, will run you less than a buck on average to get from place to place. Good luck figuring out the routes though. It’s a trial and error endeavor that is entirely possible!
If you have your own car, expect to get around semi-efficiently, except during Kampala rush hour gridlock. (FYI, “rush hour” can be at the most random times and largely depends on the weather, school holidays, and who knows what.) Alternatively, you can hire a private taxi to ferry you around. A trip across town usually goes for around $8 to $10. The other option is to rent a vehicle. Ready to spend $100 per day for that? Neither am I!
Phone & Internet
MTN is the largest carrier in the country, commanding the majority market share. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the best rates. Do your research on arrival of the exact calling rates and promotions, as these change fairly frequently. In general, making calls locally and abroad from Uganda is pricey. (My recent bill from MTN for my iPhone’s calling and data usage came out to $180!) This is not unusual for folks that use their phones a lot. Most of my friends on the other hand are able to squeeze by with a budget of under $30 for the month for calling only.
Local calling rates (excl promotions) are usually less than $0.08/min while regional calls are closer to $0.15/min. Calling many far away countries, such as the United States and China, is surprisingly inexpensive at around $0.10/min. Local SMS fees are usually around $0.05/msg and up to $0.15/msg for international SMS.
My best advice is to download the following apps if you have a smartphone: 1) Skype, 2) Whatsapp, and 3) MagicJack. Do this and you will have said goodbye to expensive calls and messages (SMS & MMS)! Of course, you can always use Skype from your computer, which has the advantage of reasonable quality video calls. Beware that this does eat into your Internet bandwidth, though.
Let’s move onto internet options. The most common way to connect is by use of a dongle, or 3G modem. All of the major telecom companies offer modems that are usually locked to their networks. Pricing ranges depending on the carrier you select and the monthly data package you choose, which can range in size from 100MB to an unlimited data use. Expect to spend somewhere around $35 for 3GB of data monthly. That’s what I buy. MTN and Orange are considered the market leaders in the mobile data space. One other thing: There is good news for people on short stays in Uganda. MTN along with a few other carriers offer pay-by-the-day Internet packages. You can buy as little as 20MB per day for $0.20.