Packing for Uganda

So you're coming to Uganda and you're smart enough to ask what you should bring. Below you'll find advice on what you can and can't get in country, which may or may not be what you expect.

Clothing

DO: Expect your clothes to get dirty, and possibly damaged. You'll spend most of your time in and on dirt. Pants or skirts that drag across the ground will be miserable.

  • DON'T: Dress down. So many people think cargo pants and hiking gear 24/7 is the way to go. Ugandans take a lot of pride in how they dress and look, and they like it when you do the same. But take the rest of the advice below into consideration as well...
  • DO: Wear clothes that make you feel normal. If you're the 24/7 hiking gear person, that's fine (unless you're working in an office here). If you like blazers and polos, that's also fine (unless you are hiking). Uganda is full of expats, all of whom bring their own style to the table, and most locals are quite used to the variety. If you do wish to fit in with the locals, dressing a bit nicer (business casual) in bright colors will be a hit.

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No skin above the knee (Women)

It is extremely culturally insensitive to wear clothes that show skin above your knees. That doesn't mean you won't see it in the country, but the women who do are largely stigmatized as sex-workers. Tank tops and skinny jeans are fine in larger towns.

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No pants in rural areas (Women)

Villages are often extremely conservative in their attire, and will be uncomfortable if women are seen wearing pants. When traveling in rural areas, please be considerate and make sure to wear long skirts or dresses.

DO: Dress for warm / hot weather, but definitely keep a rain proof jacket on hand. Also keep in mind that some regions can get pretty chilly at night.

DO: Wear jeans if you want to. Some people advise against it because they can get hot, which is true, but that doesn't stop most of us.

DO: Wear swimsuits by the pool. Two pieces are normal in locations frequented by tourists. Just be modest when you're in route.

DO: Consider an outfit's flexibility to hop on the back of a motorcycle if that's how you intend on getting around town.

DO: Take some time to shop here, you can find some great second-hand clothing at the markets and support the local economy. (But bring plenty of underwear.)

 

DON'T: Do business dealings in shorts, sandals, or tank tops. They're fine for travel, but considered unprofessional. (They're also not appropriate church attire.)

DON'T: Wear open toed shoes in most village areas. Jiggers are small bugs that climb in your toe nails and lay eggs (not a serious medical issue, but gross). You only need to be cautious when on foot in rural areas.

DON'T: (Women) Wear heels or platforms. It's rare to be on a sidewalk, and even more rare one that is level enough for heels. Some women risk it, but as someone who used to work a full shift comfortably in heels, I would never wear them here.

DON'T: (Women) Wear shorts at the gym. It's culturally insensitive and will likely get you undesired attention.  Yoga pants and long basketball shorts seem to be fine.

Recommended Shoes

We recommend comfortable and durable slip on sandals for everyday wear, a pair of lace ups, and dress shoes for special occasions.  Heavy duty hiking boots may come in handy to climb a mountain or two.

Recommended Women's Clothes

Most women wind up sticking to a warm weather version of their own style, however that might look. Don't forget occasions for dressing up, like weddings, funerals, or nights out on the town.

Recommended Men's Clothes

Bring pants and boots if you will be doing work or volunteering here.  Shorts are fine in casual settings.  Tank tops should be avoided in rural areas.

Power Problems

No matter where you are in this country, having power is not guaranteed. Almost any expat will tell you its one of the most frustrating daily stressors. Here are a few items you can bring along that will help you combat this issue and keep stress just a bit lower.  Also note the power plugs here are all European plugs and 220 volts so don't forget a power adapter!

  • USB Battery
  • Battery converter
  • Phone case / battery combo
  • Headlamp
  • Solar Flashlight/lantern
  • 110 Step down converter
  • Plug adapter
The traveler's quick guide to packing for uganda
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A quick trip to Uganda means packing light but having everything you might need on hand. Here's our recommended list for what you should and shouldn't bring from home, including a few suggestions that might surprise you.

or keep reading below for all the details and extended stay info

Toiletries

You can buy all the basics one would need to stay clean and hygienic. However, if you care about quality, brand, effectiveness, or FDA regulations you should bring the following with you. (kidding about the FDA part...sorta.)

What you can get here:

  • Soap
  • Hand soap
  • Shampoo / Conditioner
  • Toothpaste / Toothbrush
  • Deodorant (spray on)
  • Lotion
  • Mouthwash (most towns)
  • Floss (most towns)
  • Face wash (in Kampala)

It's possible to find good imported brands of shampoo, lotion, face wash, etc. but their high pricing will make you rethink its convenience. Depending on your length of stay, priorities, and frequency of shopping in Kampala, purchasing in country could be beneficial or could be a waste of money.

Definitely Pack:

  • Sunscreen (or Mzungu Spray)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bug spray (7-15% Deet is enough)
  • Wet wipes
  • Deodorant (extra strength)
  • Tampons

Optional, but Recommended:

  • Face wash
  • Loofah or washcloth
  • Liquid body wash
  • Shaving cream
  • Aloe or After Sun cream
  • Hair styling products
  • Tweezers & Nail clippers
  • Hair ties & bobby pins
  • Nail polish / remover
  • Cotton balls
  • Face Lotion (dry skin is a problem here)
  • Pumice stone (your feet get dramatically dry here)

 

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Makeup & Hair

Yes, makeup is normal in Uganda.  While it is becoming increasingly more available here, its still much more cost effective to bring your favorites from home. Yes, you will likely sweat off most of it, which is why we recommend these products:

  • Urban Decay Makeup setting spray
  • Urban Decay 24/7 Glide Eye liner
  • Waterproof mascara
  • Stay all day Concealer

If your hair doesn't like humidity you're in for a battle here.  We recommend finding ways to style it without electronic devices since power isn't a guarantee every day and you'll be uncomfortably hot using them here.  Some people do still use them, while others have found gels and mouse that tame frizz without them, while others just own the frizz.  These are some of the favorites we've found overtime.

  • KMS Anti-humidity seal
  • Garnier Fructis anti-humidity hairspray
  • Organix Argon and Coconut Oil

If you do still want to use heat styling for your hair, make sure to note the voltage here is 220v, and the plugs are European (learn more).  If you bring tools from your home country make sure you have the proper converter to plug it into.  I recommend this one.

Ladies: Tampons are not available here!  Plan accordingly!

Click here to learn about medications to bring.

Recommendations for Extra Comfort

E-Reader: There are some new book stores in Kampala with a decent selection, but they're pricier, and books here tend to get dirty and damaged without even trying. E-readers will be your best friend if you like reading at all.

Bedding & Pillow: If the bedding options aren't overpriced and low quality, they're secondhand. Pillows aren't common culturally here, so they're hard to find and sometimes stuffed with old clothing or hair extensions (yes, seriously.) If you're visiting tourist destinations you'll have access to pillows and good bedding, but if you're visiting rural areas you may not. Plan accordingly.

Laptop & Disc Drive: Arguably one of the coolest parts of Uganda is the cheap access to entertainment. DVD's of just about any movie or TV show is easily accessible in almost every part of the country for less than $1. Make sure you bring a disc drive or you'll be missing out.

Whatever Makes You Feel Normal: If you plan on staying in Uganda for a little while, you'll find yourself out of your comfort zone a lot. You'll appreciate coming home to a couple of things that comfort you, like photos, or journals, or whatever else it may be. It's different for everyone.

DON'T Bring Things to Give Away: We don't recommend bringing things you plan on giving away, unless you do it very thoughtfully. The handout gospel is actually hurtful to the economy and unfairly adjusts relationships between expats and locals.  Personal gifts are different, but we challenge you to consider if you'd give the same gift to someone from home before doing so.

More Recommendations:

  • Camera & selfie stick
  • Extra phone and laptop chargers
  • Metal French Press (glass ones break)
  • Hand crank coffee grinder (for power outages)
  • Thumb drive and hard drive
  • Towels & Washcloths
  • Small backpack for daily use
  • Vitamins & Probiotics
  • High quality yoga mat
  • Reusable ice packs
  • Extra underwear
  • Scented candles
  • Camping & hiking gear
  • Hot glue gun and glue
  • Duct tape & scotch tape
  • Zip ties in variety of sizes

Sunglasses

You can actually buy decently impressive knockoff Ray Bans almost anywhere in the country, which is fun, but obviously the quality isn't has high as the real deal.

Kitchenware

If you plan on cooking while here, we've gathered a few tips from other expats for you:

  • If you like nicer gadgets, bring those with you. You can get the basics but only mediocre quality.
  • Bring good knives and kitchen sheers
  • If you plan on buying in country, make sure you do it in Kampala, you'll have a much better selection and will save money.

Food in Uganda

Packing snacks for Uganda is different for everyone. Your diet will most likely change here. The local food is delicious, so we recommend trying it all. But, even with good food, you'll find yourself homesick for a few things.  Everyone misses different things when they come here, and most of the time what you crave will surprise you. To start out, it's advisable to only bring a few treats and explore your food options as soon as you arrive.  This will give you time to be adventurous and try new food, and also really know what food you'll want from home next time.

Available food is different depending on the area you're in.  Kampala has most things you might want either at a grocery store or a restaurant, but the smaller the town the less you'll find, and the choices will always change.  Be adventurous, and be flexible.

Popular Recommendations:

  • Mac n cheese
  • Protein bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Beef jerky
  • Granola
  • Chocolate
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Drink flavor powder
  • Coffee creamer powder
  • Seasoning packets (taco, ranch etc.)
  • Chocolate chips
  • Favorite candy
  • Favorite chips/crackers
  • Protein powder
  • Muffin mixes

Frequently Asked Questions

How much luggage should I bring?

Luggage you can bring in is mostly depending on your airline.  2-3 checked bags is common.  Once you arrive there are plenty of ways to travel with more luggage than your arms can carry, all of which are low risk, so you shouldn't let that dictate how much you bring with you.

Do I need to leave my wedding ring at home?

A lot of people do, but its not necessary.  There's not a big market here for rings, so its not typically a target of theft.  But still, bad things happen, and rings do get stolen.  Ultimately its up to you.

Can I travel with expensive gear & technology?

People do, but these are primary targets for theft, so make sure to use caution when traveling with them. If you're using public transport, don't let the bags out of your sight. It's also ill-advised to leave items in your hotel room unattended. And don't pull your phone out in crowded areas where its easy to snatch.