25 Signs That You’re a Legit Kampala Expat

I’ll never forget when I first moved to Kampala and wrapped my mind around the concept of traveling by boda-boda. I thought to myself, “I’m supposed to travel around town on that? Interesting. Apparently my whole family AND a piece of furniture can fit on one bike!”

As we all can relate to now, the expat life is full of firsts as you adjust to a new culture. Sometimes these firsts are sad realizations like a favorite product you can’t find at the market, sometimes they take a bit of explaining, but my favorite are the firsts that make me laugh! Here are 25 ways to know you have officially arrived as an expat in Kampala.

25) You drink milk from a bag… and are totally cool with it.

Milk Bag

I’ve got to admit, this whole milk-bag thing really threw me off when I first moved to Kampala. To make matters even more disgusting, the bag you pick has about a 25% chance it will leak all over your cart and other groceries. Can we all just let out a collective “Eeeeeww!”

24) You take your first getaway trip to Jinja.

Kampala is a great city with tons to do, yummy restaurants, and a strong community. As awesome as those things are, that doesn’t begin to touch the negative effects that Kampala traffic has on the expat soul. When you’ve discovered that a weekend in Jinja does the trick, you’re earned your expat status.

23) You get more texts from MTN than all of your friends combined.

22) You tell off a boda-boda driver for his “mzungu prices.”

I was such a sucker when I moved here. 20,000 shillings to go down the street? No problem! It wasn’t too long until I learned about the whole “mzungu price” deal. Now, I see straight through it and set my own fair prices!

21) You can finally afford a Rolex.


As a newbie, a Ugandan friend asked if I wanted a rolex. “Yeah … and I’ll take a Mercedes, too, while you’re at it!” Now, I know better. Rolexes are without a doubt my favorite street food, a little slice of heaven in Kampala.

20) You’ve trudged through Owino Market and found a pair of jeans that fits you like a glove.

There’s something about the way a Ugandan man can stare you up and down and know the exact size of jeans you should be wearing. Sheer talent!

19) You purchase something made of Kitenge — and then stop wearing it.

When I moved here, I was determined to be “Lauren 2.0” or “Kampala Lauren.” In trying to connect with the African version of myself, I purchased loads of Kitenge headbands, purses, skirts, etc. In my early days, I looked like Banana Boat threw up on me and that is just not ok!

Disclaimer: I actually enjoy these brightly colored African fabrics. A well-seasoned expat knows how to select the perfect classy dress, skirt, or accessory and rock it!

18) You’ve partied at Bubbles/Big Mikes/Cayenne into the wee hours.

17) You finally understand that “Yes, pliz (please)” can be an answer to just about everything.

Example: “Richard, what time are you coming by the office today?” Only to receive a text back saying, “Yesssss, pliz.” Ummm… I’m confused.

16) Realizing your new love language – When the neighborhood ‘video store’ sends a boda driver each week with the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

15) When you’ve waited a half hour to use the ATM and the only bill size remaining is for 10,000 UGX ($4ish).

I just wanted to get out 250,000 UGX ($100ish). Don’t you dare give me 25 bills to lug around in my wallet!!

14) You’ve cried/bribed your way out of a ticket.

Within months of living here, I accidently turned onto an unmarked one-way street after circling the roundabout. Cop pulls me over. Cue= tears. Did I pay the bribe? Now, that’s none of your business. Let’s just say I didn’t get a ticket!

13) When the meaning of “treat yourself” translates to sneaking out to KFC for a bucket of chicken.

I wouldn’t be caught dead in a KFC in the US. Nope. No. Never. But here on the other hand, why does it taste so darn good? It’s not only a socially acceptable place to eat; it’s known to have some of the best chicken in town.

12) You’re completely comfortable speaking in commands.

You first wait.”

You give me….”

11) When you make a wimpy non-profit salary but you can still afford to have someone come daily and iron your underwear.

All joking aside, it is the ultimate blessing to both employ someone and to have them help around the house. It’s not common in my home culture, so it’s still a little odd to me! And no… she doesn’t really iron my underwear.

10) It’s now acceptable for restaurants to be out of 70% of the items on the menu. No biggie!

9) You’ve had something stolen in Kabalagala.

A night out for Ethiopian food, dancing, and partying until the sun comes up – all for the price of your cell phone, wallet, or entire purse.

8) You’ve enjoyed Uganda’s version of fast food… street meat!

Don’t have time for a three-hour stop to eat on your road trip upcountry? Just grab some street meat! It’s lukewarm, on a stick, and you’ll most likely have major indigestion in the following 24 hours. Bon appétit!

7) The phrase “Kampala/Jinja road anytime on Friday” sends chills up your spine.

Oh, so this is what hell is like.

6) You’ve had a “Real Housewives of Kampala” moment, asking your housekeeper to do menial tasks for you (and then had to apologize).

Sorry to bring up house help again, but the whole concept is still just SO unnatural to me! I’ll never be comfortable with the idea of someone working hard at tasks I should be doing around my apartment. I have on occasion caught myself asking my gal to chop a mango for me or scoop my kitty’s litterbox! Uncool. Instant apology. #realhousewivesofkampala

5) When the shirtless repairman comes wearing jean shorts, and by the time he leaves there are three more additional problems.

True story. I have a cell phone photo to prove it.

4) You drive a Rav4. ‘Nuff said.

3) You furnished your home with finds from the side of the road.


Gaba road is about the closest thing we have in Uganda to the American store “Bed, Bath, and Beyond.” Wicker furniture and gaudy tapestry couches for days!

2) You understand that de-wormers are for humans too.

Wait… aren’t those supposed to be for horses and other animals? Not in Kampala! Apparently they’re for humans, too. These days, taking a de-worming pill is just as common as the occasional dentist appointment or change of contact lenses!

1) You’ve survived some sort of tropical disease or gastrointestinal invasion.

Malaria, Yellow Fever, or (gasp!) Bilharzia. Most of us have sat in Dr. Stockley’s office at The Surgery waiting for these dreaded lab results. The prices we pay for camping and swimming in the Nile.

Anything fun I’ve left off? Leave your “Kampala expat” comment below!

About Lauren McBride

Hey, I’m Lauren. I’m what you’d call an “expat by marriage.” When my husband and I stepped off the plane in Entebbe in June 2012, I had no idea what I was in for: the breezy traffic on the open road, enjoyable boda rides through the heart of town, or the gentle, lingering smell of exhaust blowing in my face. I continue to be amazed by the strong community in Kampala, the arts, the delicious food, and the fun hangs around this town. I’m committed to sharing the very best of Kampala with you through this website. Contact me anytime with your ideas, feedback, or jokes at lauren@livinginkampala.com.