Cost of Living - Uganda

Cost of Living in Uganda-Living Cost in Uganda

My Style of life in Uganda


What does it cost to live in Uganda for a Westerner? It is a question I often hear or rather read when people write to me about cost of living here in Uganda. You can live on little or you spend a lot.  The questions are “How do you want to live?” and “What can you afford?”

Ugandans themselves live from a dollar a day to the sky is the limit.  Most live in a rather frugal manner since there is the monthly rent, power and water if you live in Kampala or some other city such as Entebbe.

Westerners coming here usually want certain things in life like running water, inside toilets, electricity, internet and other comforts they think that they cannot do without.

I used to live in what my friends called an upscale slum where I had a living room, inside toilet, and a bedroom, there is an outside kitchen with no running water and you use jerry cans to have water for cooking, for washing the dishes, laundry and the like. I did this simply to find out - what life was like for the average Ugandan.

This year I moved to a safer area, where I have a 2 bedroom apartment with two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, hot water in the bathrooms and the place is located in a nice neighborhood that has a view of Lake Victoria.  The rent in my old place was a 100 usd a month, my current rent is 275 usd a month.Cost of Living - Uganda

Getting  a house, apartment in Uganda means that you have to use a broker for a fee, in my case it was 40 usd plus his transport, and cell phone airtime.  I looked at 5 places to rent and I picked the one I have due to its quietness and pleasant location, a safe compound with barbed razor wire on top of the wall.

Two other apartments - one level houses are in the compound with nice neighbors and it is a lovely change.  Here in Uganda you have to pay 3 months up front, more and more landlords are asking for 6 months up front which meant 1,800 USD.  A new trend has also been one month damage deposit in the six month up front payment.  All of this is for unfurnished apartment or house and no curtains and no extra security padlocks

If you want a place downtown Kampala you will pay a lot more for less.  I live 15 minutes from downtown unless there is a traffic jam which usually ends after 9 am in the morning.

Furnishing a house:  You can buy imported furniture from places such as Malaysia, China, Pakistan and a set  will run upward to a thousand dollars, a locally made set is about 200 usd-which I have.  A small table with a couple of chairs can run about 50 usd, Curtains cost me about 90 usd for the whole house, padlocks run around 10 usd for quality ones which are used on the iron gates inside of the house.  We have communal padlocks on the main gate.

Bedroom - a queen size bed runs around 100 usd, a mattress can also be around 120 usd or less, this would be for a hard foam mattress, night stands are about 20 usd.  Better homes come with closets and locks on them in every bedroom and most often have a shoe-rack in them.  Dining Room Table with 4 chairs, glass top, heavy wooden legs -handmade, iron chairs - handmade - all for 250 usd.

Kitchen:  You will need a refrigerator, used one is about 150 usd, a new one over 500 usd plus.  A stove or cooker as we call it here starts at 250 usd plus new, but many people use a 2 burner table top range - do not buy an electrical one.  The economical way is propane gas.  A medium cylinder runs around 45 usd and lasts me 2 1/2 months.  If you minimize the use of electrical appliances since they use too much electricity and electricity here is expensive.  Used appliances are being faced out and the import of them will no longer be legal - shame- since then it limits Ugandans from having a fridge.

Sometimes you have built in cabinets in the kitchen - other times you buy something made locally for a 30 to a hundred usd to store your things in. 

Problems encountered in kitchens are things such as roaches - ants that enter and you have to be diligent in getting rid of them.  Do not buy the cheaper bug killer sprays but stick to Doom, it works best - I have no roaches in my house whereas my neighbors do.

I supplement my inside gas oven with some charcoal cooker where you use a small amount of charcoal and can cook something like beans for hours without spending too much.  I also have a locally made BBQ which cost me around 25 usd but local charcoal does not produce the flavor that charcoal in the USA gives to meats such as beef or chicken. 

Best Investment for the Kitchen in Uganda:  Buy a pressure cooker - it simply will save you money - I use a 5 liter one and I use it on most days.  My neighbors are a group of 4 men who use pressure cooker on their electrical stove and my other neighbor is also Indian - a family of 5 and you can hear the sound of the pressure cooker outside emanating from their kitchen.

Dishwasher:  You hire one here, we do not have the appliance-you can find it here or there, but it is rarely used since domestic help is a lot cheaper and again electricity cost.

Electricity:  One of the curses of many African countries and Uganda is included-there are regular power outages that can last up to 12 hours, in my case power goes out almost daily but usually just a few minutes and it comes back.  Power cost runs me about 50 usd a month, that means not having the water heater on all day, just about 20 minutes before you take a shower. In order to protect me from frequent power outages I invested in an inverter system and everything in the house will work when the power goes off except Fridge and Water Heater.

Water:  Runs about 8 to 12 usd a month- water pressure is different here, we use tank above the house and the flow is fine, sometimes when you take a shower you can wish for a bit of more pressure.

Television:  You can buy a brand name set such as LG, Sony, Panasonic for about 150 usd new - then you need at least a locally made antenna outside or satellite television called DSTV Multichoice here.  The large package of about 120 channels is 75 usd a month, the smallest package 10 usd a month and works quite well. HD TV is now available in Uganda via satellite television.

A DVD player runs around 50 USD and you can rent pirated movies, you cannot find any legal ones for 50 cents each.  In many cases they will have one complete TV season on one DVD, or 6 or more movies. One store in Kampala will sell complete seasons 1.30 USD such as CSI, Desperate Housewives…all pirated.  You can buy a whole season of a TV drama or comedy for 1 USD, compressed to fit on one DVD.

Telephone:  Most Ugandans do not use a land line, but mobile phones and incoming calls are free and outgoing calls run from 10 to 15 cents a minute.  Overseas calls from 15 to 30 cents each.  Buying a phone - many of the shops that are not run by the various phone companies sell fake goods.  I have a fake Nokia phone - it works fine - but many of the fake phones easily break down.  You an buy a quad phone in the west that is unlocked and you are set - there are extra charges for using a Blackberry or Android phone.

Internet:  You can get broadband here, not the kind you are used to, but it will run 75 usd a month and be limited to maximum of 10 gigs a month. 10 gigs in my case last me a full month. 

Domestic Help:  In Uganda one rarely has a washing machine since they are expensive here and are imported and the transport from Mombasa, Kenya and taxes add to the cost. 

The answer is a “house-girl” (not politically correct in the West), but which is the Ugandan term here for domestic help.  The cost is 25 dollars per month, plus transport per day of about 75 cents; you also have to have one or two meals a day for them usually morning tea (breakfast) and lunch.

The house-girl in my case cleans the inside of the apartment, dusts, mops, laundry, ironing, does the dishes twice a day, buys my vegetables, fruit and sodas and leaves at 4 to 6 pm six days a week, off on Sundays.

Domestic Help Guidelines:  If you are a person with reasonable things in your house it will be a lot more than what your domestic help has at home.  Do not leave any money around, keep valuables locked up...I have had money, mobile phones, belts, clothes, and many other things disappear such as food and meat disappear in the last few years with different employees.  Life is tough for them and though they may have all kinds of values from spiritual to ethical, but often the deep need wins out.  Just a week ago, my last house girl went with 10,000 shillings, less than 5 usd to the store and never returned.  Sad - it is a good thing she did not have 50,000 shillings.  The key is to treat domestic help with respect and to honor them...just do not leave things around...and when you send them somewhere to purchase something, quietly check your balance of money returned.

Askari:  Security Guard - In my case my share is 18 USD a month, he has a bow and arrow and I often give him supper and allow him to football matches on my TV - it is good to have a good relationship.  Most Westerners hire a security company which provides an armed guard with weapon for about 150 to 200 usd a month of which the guard sees very little.  There are constant problems with armed guards and guards period which the guard assist in stealing things.  I have not had that, since I try to maintain a respectful relationship with the person who watches our compound while I sleep.

Food:  Food depends on your taste and preferences as to what you like.  You can buy Ugandan items such Matoke plantain bananas and cook them, posho which is a maize meal and looks from a distance like mashed potatoes, beans and local meat which runs a dollar a pound.  I spend around 200 dollars a month for food and that is not extravagant for a westerner but a lot more than most Ugandans make, but I am trying to answer the question that Westerners pose to me regarding living here in Uganda.

I like to cook and so I buy meat from a Ugandan butcher at Rosa Brothers in Kansanga where I find some western style cuts.  Fillet of beef costs me about 2.50 per pound.  Pork is a bit less and chicken a lot more.  A chicken here runs about 5 to 8 dollars for a whole one, while I often buy cuts of chicken.

The butcher makes great German style sausage sand wieners that are some of the best in world and cost about 2.50 US dollars a package. They neatly package everything and seal it with an imported machine.  They also make bread and buns that are some of my favorite anywhere and run 1.25 USD each again using imported equipment from Denmark.  I have been in back of the Bakery-Butchery and the place is spotless.

My vegetables I buy at produce outlets since the vegetables around my house sold in local stalls are seemingly of lower quality. I also have produce such as broccoli and cauliflower, nice potatoes, onions, carrots, peas and French beans delivered each Thursday.  If I want a nice  So off I go to the Italian store where I can find even Broccoli, Cauliflower, spring onions, Bok Choy, zucchini, nice salad (packaged) fresh peas and beans, small potatoes and of course pasta.  After trying some of the pasta from Pakistan, Iran and Egypt, I am back to Italian.  The Italian store also carries Prosciutto one of my favorite treats once a month and real Salami, another treat here.  Local cheese is mediocre, but you can buy imported cheese, the mozzarella cheese is fine.

Rice, Uganda has great local rice such as Super or Tilda Brand which I use, since imported rice can be 2.50 dollars per kilo and more. When you buy food, stay away from processed and imported ones since that will add in cost.  Local cheese is ok, but expensive by local standards.  If you have this thing about Ramen Noodles they run 50 to 60 cents each here, compared to 10 each in the US. Thank goodness I found a local brand, new, called Maria - excellent quality and only 36 cents each.

Water:  Do not use tap water, where I live I can smell chlorine at times, but use bottled water at 75 cents for 1 1/2 liters of Rwenzori Brand water.  You can boil water and refrigerate it for a lot less.

Sodas:  Buy recyclable bottles of soda from Coca Cola or Pepsi.  A crate of 24 bottles of soda from a depot will run 6 usd.  Canned soda is imported and can cost 1 usd each.  Plastic bottled of coke or other soda 1.5 liters run 1.50 usd.  Bottled water can be purchased for 45 cents a liter.

Beer:  Most Ugandans drink local beer made by East African Breweries and or SAB-Miller.  The problem with beer is that most have added sugar, corn starch, are made with cassava and other things.  Only one beer - Moonberg Lager is made only with hops and barley.  Guinness is made locally under license and Tuskers export from Kenya is sold here.  A beer at a store will run from 90 cents to 95 cents for 500ml. 

Hard Liquor made locally:  There is Waragi - a word coming from War Gin - it is around 89 proof, do not buy any locally made waragi, often methanol is added and is fatal to many.  Official waragi is triple distilled and cost around 1.50 for 200 ml.

Coffee spirit around 89% proof, not available in most supermarkets but in small shops at 1 usd for 200 ml.

There are a few wines made locally, but for the most part it is imported and much higher in price than in the West.

Eating Out:  There are countless of restaurants for you in the greater Kampala area, including Ugandan, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Pizzerias, Fast Food, with prices that are most agreeable it comes to your pocket book. 

Entertainment:  Lots of things to do, Uganda's nightlife is vibrant and yet a bit different and price wise reasonable, you can hear live music, go to the theatre, movies, bowling, watch traditional dancing all prices lower than in the West.

When you come here as a Westerner you have to choose how you will want to live and the cost of living can greatly vary since most westerners will want certain comforts they are accustomed to such as proper toilets that you sit on, instead of a pit latrine or an inside African flush toilet and warm showers.  All this adds to the cost of living. 

The rent of a house here can vary from what I pay of 100 USD or less (for a time I was spending 40 dollars a month) to some paying 1500 to 2000 USD per month for a very nice Villa like home.

I have read on an Ex-Pat site that the average monthly expenditure for a couple would be 4400 USD per month…high by my standards and that would certainly be living in style and in a upper crust area such as Muyenga.

You can live here on a lot less than in the West, but if you want to live as the shakers and movers of Uganda, it will cost you a lot more. If you buy Ugandan things it will be lower, if you want processed foods from the West, you pay a lot more.  If you want high quality pots and pans, knives, you pay a lot more.  It means more expenses; you can always buy a set of aluminium pots without handles, no lids unless you buy some plain lids without handles.

Places to find Quality Goods:  Many fake goods are sold here - you will find knives such Solingen ones - that have never seen Germany and its quality makers but are cheap goods - called fake goods from China - China can make many good things, but they send  tons of junk to Africa.  You can buy forks and knives that will not break with one use.  Game Department Store has more quality goods - and the prices are competitive and they run weekly ads. At least with this company you know what you are buying are not fake goods.  It is very large and yet a Mini-Walmart.

Clothing:  You can buy second hand clothing from Owino Market or you can go various stores such Mr. Price and buy new clothing at a higher price, you can have a local suit made inexpensively in any style you want.

Complaints-None:  living is a is a matter of choice and choosing level of comfort that one likes.  As an expat (who does not work for a foreign company or NGO) I have chosen to live in a typical Ugandan neighborhood and it has worked fine with a few minor blips that add to the excitement. Others live in lovely neighborhoods paying 10 times more.  Life-style choices and what one is comfortable with and what one can afford.

If you choose to live away from Kampala, you can get a very nice place at a fraction of the price you pay in Kampala but then I like living in Kampala.

Life in Africa can be very inexpensive or cost a lot, the choice is yours….from Kampala…jon

Uganda Cost of Living Spiraling out of Control


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