FAQ for International Visitors to the Church of Uganda

What are the requirements for entry into Uganda?

Uganda operates on the “reciprocal visa” system. That is, if your home country requires Ugandan citizens to obtain an entry visa, then you are required to obtain an entry visa to enter Uganda. Beginning 1st July 2016, all visas must be processed online through a dedicated website; after 1st July 2016 visas may not be purchased on arrival.  Citizens of East Africa do not need a visa to enter Uganda.  If you are also traveling to Kenya or Rwanda, you can get an East African visa that allows free movement in all three countries without obtaining separate visas for each country.  These are also available through the online application process. Proof of yellow fever immunization is also required.

How do I obtain local currency?

The vast majority of financial transactions in Uganda are by cash. Credit cards are accepted in very, very few places and credit card fraud is common.  Do not plan to be able to use a credit card in Uganda, and if they are accepted, it is not advised. Likewise, personal cheques are not accepted.  Traveler’s Cheques are only accepted at a few Forex Bureaus, and garner a much lower exchange rate.

The two best ways to obtain local currency are:

1.      Bring cash to convert to Ugandan Shillings at a Bank or Forex Bureau.  Larger bills, dated 2006 or more recent, bring the best exchange rate.  For example, US$50 and US$100 bring much better rates than lower bills.  The best rates for converting cash will be at Forex Bureaus in Kampala. Banks upcountry will have limited capacity for converting large amounts of foreign currency.

2.      Bring your ATM/Debit card to withdraw Ugandan Shillings from your home bank. Your ATM/Debit card must have on it either the VISA logo or the MasterCard logo.

Finally, it is advised that you do most currency conversion in Kampala before going upcountry.

Forex Bureaus are open Monday – Friday during business hours, and Saturday mornings. Only Forex Bureaus in the major hotels in Kampala are open on Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday.

How do I communicate with home while I am in Uganda?

Check with your local mobile phone provider to find out if they have roaming agreements with Ugandan mobile phone providers. Be advised, however, that it will be difficult for your Ugandan hosts to communicate with you if you are using an international number because of the expense.

It is recommended that you purchase a local Ugandan sim card to facilitate communications within Uganda, especially with your local hosts. A Ugandan sim card is very easy and inexpensive to purchase, generally costing less than US$1. To use a local sim card, however, your phone must be unlocked. Airtime is purchased on a pre-paid basis and is available everywhere. The major mobile phone providers in Uganda are MTN, Uganda Telecom, Airtel, and Africell.

Uganda operates on the GSM platform (sim cards) at 900 and 1800 Mhz frequency, which are the same frequencies used in Europe and Asia (except for Japan). So, European phone handsets should work in Uganda. American and Canadian phone handsets are typically hard-wired to operate on the North American frequencies of 850 and 1900 Mhz.  Therefore, American or Canadian phone handsets will only work if they are tri-band phones, i.e., if they also operate on the 900/1800 Mhz frequencies. (For more information about frequencies used for mobile telephony, click here.) All most all smart phones today are automatically tri-band phones.  For North Americans using older phones, you should expect to need to purchase an inexpensive phone handset while in Uganda.  Finally, only an unlocked phone will be able to recognize another sim card.

So, in summary, if you plan to use your phone handset with a Ugandan sim card, the following conditions must apply:

  • Hard-wired to operate on 900/1800 Mhz frequencies. North American handsets, therefore, must be tri-band.
  • GSM platform (uses a sim card)
  • Unlocked

Genuine phone handsets are available in Uganda for approximately $40.  Some groups/teams share the cost of purchasing a phone and regard it as the “group phone.”

Internet access is limited in Uganda, and only a few hotels and public places offer wireless access, and it is typically very slow. Mobile modems can be purchased through the cell phone companies and internet “bundles” can be purchased through a pre-paid system that is reasonably priced. If you are using a smartphone to access the internet, you can purchase a local sim card and get an internet “bundle” to reduce data expenses. Smart phones using local sim cards can also be configured as a mobile hotspot to enable other devices to access the internet through its broadcasted signal.

What is the electricity situation in Uganda?

Uganda operates on 240 watts and 50 cycles (like the UK).  If you are from a country that uses 110 current, either bring a transformer or bring dual-voltage electronics.  Wall sockets use the three-pronged plug found in Britain.  If you are coming from a country other than the UK, make sure you bring adaptor plugs.  Electricity is unpredictable and unreliable in Uganda. The country does not produce enough electricity for its customers, so there is regular load-shedding. Some places have back-up systems like generators or solar, but others simply rely on candles or kerosene lanterns when power is out. Back-up systems are not usually able to support high-demand electrical appliances, such as, hair dryers.

What do I need to know about water, health, and safety concerns?

Water that comes from the tap is not safe for drinking. Only purchased bottled water, filtered, or boiled water is safe for drinking. Malaria is prevalent throughout Uganda. Taking a malaria prophylaxis is advised. Check with your doctor about which prophylaxis to take. Yellow fever immunization is required for entry into Uganda. Eat only well-cooked foods. Milk should be boiled before drinking. Road accidents are common; wearing safety belts is recommended. Walking alone at night in Kampala is not advised.

If I need emergency medical care, where can I go?

In Kampala there are several medical practices/clinics that operate on international health standards:

1.      The Surgery

2.      The International Hospital Kampala.  The International Hospital Kampala is part of the International Medical Group and they are expanding their family of clinics throughout the country.

3.       Nakasero Hospital.

We recommend travel health insurance that includes medical evacuation (for emergencies) and repatriation of remains in the event of an untimely death.  Both the Surgery and the IHK can arrange for medical evacuations.

What are some important things to know about local culture?

1.      In Uganda, Christians do not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes; it is part of the culture of the East African Revival.  We recommend abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes during your visit to the Church of Uganda.

2.      A culture of modesty and formality prevails in Uganda.  Women are advised to wear skirts or dresses with lengths ideally below the knee and shoulders covered.  No slacks or shorts. Men should wear button shirts; a tie and sports coat are recommended for church or public speaking.  Clergy should wear clerical collars.  Do not dress as if you are going on a camping trip…because you are not!

3.      Greetings are a very important part of Ugandan culture.  Take time to thoroughly greet people.

What kinds of gifts are appropriate to bring our hosts?

Practical gifts are appreciated the most. Staple foods, such as sugar, rice, or beans, are always appropriate and can be purchased locally within Uganda.  Other ideas include:

  • Towels
  • Flat bed sheets
  • Memorabilia from your church or town/city, e.g., t-shirts, mugs, pens, etc.
  • Ministry resources, e.g., African Bible Commentary
  • Sports equipment, e.g., soccer ball, frisbee

What recommendations do you have for accommodation?

In Kampala, the Church of Uganda runs a Guest House that has a reputation for its “Million Dollar View” and is known as an “international crossroads” because of the number of visitors it receives every year from around the world. The Namirembe Guest House is modest, but reasonable, provides convenient access to the headquarters of the Church of Uganda and supports the Church.  Bookings for the Namirembe Guest House can be made through their website. They also offer airport pick-up and drop-off service for a fee, which can be arranged through their website.

In Entebbe, there are quiet Guest Houses, and vibrant resorts. The Airport Guest House offers a quiet environment with en suite rooms at a very reasonable rate.

If you are going upcountry, your local host will make accommodation arrangements for you.

How do I arrange local transportation?

IMG_0379Personal car hires are available, but it is not recommended that one hire a car without a driver. Your local hosts will usually make all your in-country transportation arrangements on your behalf. Typically, a car hire and driver for upcountry trips cost $100 per day; fuel is extra.

Public transportation consists of bus, special hire cars, taxis (15-seat passenger vans), and boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis).  Boda-bodas are not advised, as they are extremely dangerous and life-threatening.

For recommendations on personal car hire services, please contact the Church of Uganda at COUOffice@gmail.com.

Are there any special sites I should make sure I see when visiting Uganda?

In the greater Kampala area, one should not miss visiting the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs. Likewise, if possible, you should visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe. This is the mother church for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire and is where the first missionaries settled and began evangelizing Uganda.

A trip to a National Park is always recommended. If you are planning an upcountry trip, your local hosts can advise you about National Parks near to where you will be.

If you are traveling East of Kampala, we recommend visiting Uganda Christian University in Mukono and the Source of the Nile in Jinja.