Money in Uganda

Traveling in Uganda will bring you a few challenges, but handling money here doesn't have to be one of them. This is your guide to Uganda Shillings, converting currencies, and bartering for newbies.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the exchange rate?
USD/UGX 3600; EUR/UGX 4150; GBR/UGX; 4690 are the average exchange rates, but they fluctuate regularly so make sure to check rates for the most favorable exchanges.  Learn more about exchange rates here.
Can I use my credit / debit cards?

Short answer: no. There are a few hotels and tourist driven businesses that do accept major cards but most will have fees attached. The fact is if you want to eat or have transport and shelter, or do virtually anything, you'll need cash ready.

How should I exchange my money?

You can carry foreign cash into the country to exchange as long as they are large bills ($20-100 USD) and in excellent condition. ATM's are also easily accessible for international withdrawals except for extremely rural villages (ask your bank about fees abroad and make sure they know you'll be in another country before leaving).

Is bartering a common practice?

Yes! You'll learn very quickly that foreigners are often charged much more than locals are. That is largely because the starting price is expected to start the bartering conversation. Learn local prices fast and brush up on your bartering skills before coming.

Do you tip for services here?

Yes and no. It's not commonplace in Ugandan culture to tip, however, tourists are regularly tipping so most workers who serve expats have grown accustomed to receiving them.  If you do decide to tip, 1,000-2,000 for small services (meals), and 10,000-20,000 for larger services (private hire car) is a decent amount and can be very helpful to the worker.

I Wanna be a Shillionaire!

Spending 1,000,000 of any currency feels pretty awesome!  In Ugandan Shillings, 1mil will only add up to about $277 US Dollars, but it's still fun to make it rain 1,000 shilling bills!

currency conversion for beginners

Do's & Don'ts

DO Call Your Bank


Every bank is different. Contact your bank before coming abroad to 1) make sure they know you'll be traveling so they don't freeze your account, and 2) ask about international withdrawal fees and capped amounts. Some banks will raise a cap and waive fees if requested.

DON'T Exchange at the Airport


Airports will offer convenient currency exchanges, however instead of a set charge for the service, they will pad the exchange rate for a percentage of profit. So if you must exchange before leaving the airport, only take what you need to get you to the local bank or forex.

DO Exchange a Lot at Once


Less isn't always more. Most banks and foreign exchange services charge a one time set fee for exchanging your cash.  If you can organize it, wait until the exchange rate is the tipping in your favor and exchange all your cash at once to save some mula long term.

DON'T Bring Small or Damaged Bills to Exchange


Most places will NOT accept any bills smaller than $20 USD or any bills that are damaged or old.  If you have those bills and you are diligent in searching, you may be able to find somewhere willing to exchange them for you, but don't expect that most places.

DO Keep Your Cash Close


While Uganda is a very safe and peaceful place, the amount of money you'll be carrying into the country is more than most locals make in a year. The temptation for petty theft is high, and you'll be the prime target.  Be weary of pick pocketing and purse snatching while in the bigger cities.

DON'T Overpay for Services


A lot of services and purchases you'll make here have a relatively standardized price.  Don't be surprised when the price you're quoted is much higher than a local would ever pay.  You're not doing the economy, locals, or expats any favors by falling prey to these markups.  Ask around before buying and make sure you're spending the right amount.

Getting Paid for Work in Uganda

If you're coming to Uganda for a job you'll need to get ready for receiving your payments either in Uganda or through an international bank. A lot of organizations are also internationally based, and usually prefer to send payments from their headquarters (like the US or UK), but some will prefer to pay you locally.

Setting up a bank account in Uganda isn't difficult, but you will need proof of a non-tourist (work or investors) visa to do so.

Getting paid in another currency doesn't tend to be a problem here as it is very easy to withdraw money directly from an international account directly into shillings for affordable fees.

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Our Favorite Expat Banks

If you're making the move to Uganda and want access to your cash back home, most major banks will get the job done, but here are some bank recommendations that will save you some fees and headaches while you're here.

Charles Schwab

There are plenty of ATM's here, but you won't find a Wells Fargo, so making sure your bank doesn't charge for international withdrawals or for other bank's ATM usage is important. Even if your bank says they have no fees, there is also a standard $5 USD charge for all international withdrawals that your bank has to charge. However, Charles Schwab will reimburse this charge for you. Nice right!?

 

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Capital One 360

Capital One is one of the few banks that has no ATM fees AND no foreign transaction fees for debit cards. This comes in a little handier when debit cards are more frequently used, but will prove an advantage here more than a few times, and you'll be happy you're charge free. If you have a Capital One branch near your home, this is a great bank to try.

 

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The Mzungu Price is Real Folks!

If you're a foreigner, you'll find yourself in an ongoing battle against being overcharged because of the color of your skin. Join us in the discussion and the road to overcoming mzungu price fatigue.

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The Bartering Dance

It's a dance, not a science. It's a coordinated effort between two parties to find the price that works best for both. It looks different here than in other countries, it's much more relational and occurs differently when its a foreigner and a local. These tips aren't surefire for every negotiation, but they will help you stay in more in sync with each other.

Be Relational

This is not only for bartering, this is how you will get anywhere in Uganda. Relationship is a core value here, much deeper than first world countries are acquainted with. If you don't intentionally greet them, listen to them, and build a relationship, your business dealings will fall short of your desired goal.

Ask Around First

We bought a set of local chairs and they were only 30,000 each (about $8) which we were stoked about. Turns out they were supposed to be sold for only 10,000 each. If we had stopped to ask a couple people first we would've known how much it should cost before negotiating and that schemer wouldn't have gotten away with such an extreme markup. Asking first will usually remove the need to barter altogether because you'll find a lot of prices are static.

Don't Make It Emotional

If your purchase is emotional, they automatically have the upper hand. Avoid getting too attached to a purchase and have an idea of what you're willing to pay before negotiating. Even if you do really really want whatever it is you're negotiating for, don't reveal your attachment to the seller.

Consider the Product

Material costs here tend to be fixed (unless someone is trying to overcharge a foreigner to make extra cash), but labor costs are flexible. When negotiating, consider both factors about the product or service. If labor costs make up most of the value (paintings, yard work) there is a lot of flexibility in price.  If material cost is most of the price (dishes, food) there won't be much to negotiate.  Most material sales aren't very profitable to business owners to begin with, so don't be surprised when they really can't meet you halfway.

Ask for Half the Price

Ask them for their price, and then offer half of that. You're not actually going to get the price reduced in half, but their counter offer will help you see how low they're willing to go. If it starts at 20,000 and you offer 10,000, but they only counter with 17,000, its safe to assume they really can't go much lower than the 17,000. If they're comfortable meeting in the middle, you can assume they're still some room to keep bartering (and that they were probably trying to overcharge you to begin with).

Offer a Set Amount

A common phrase used here is "I only have ____" which means that's all the cash you brought to make the purchase. It doesn't necessarily mean its the only cash you have on hand, but it helps a lot if that's true.  If you know what you're willing to pay, hold the cash out and offer it to them, and don't budge.  They will decide if its worth it to them and let you know pretty quickly.

Ask for Their "Best Price"

Most shops know the lowest they will sell something for before you begin bartering. If you're at a small shop and someone says "The price is 20,000 but I will give to you at 15,000," that probably means they're happy to skip the bartering and go straight to their best offer. Asking them specifically for their "best price" will also tell them you'd like to skip the bartering as well.

Know When to Stop

Profit margins for small businesses here are very slim. Sometimes their best price is less than a 10% markup on what they paid for it. If you've been going back and forth for a little bit and they aren't budging on a price it's probably not because they're stubborn. Most likely they really can't go any lower. This is not the time to push harder, its the time to either buy or politely walk away.