Is Uganda Safe? Travel Safety Tips

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Crime is a serious risk in Uganda. Here's what you need to know to stay safe.

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Lake Bunyonyi in south western Uganda Photo © Getty Images/Shakked Schwartz

The short answer to the question, "Is Uganda safe?" is "not very". A longer answer appears on 7 March 2022, Uganda Travel Advisory from the U.S. Department of State: "Reconsider travel to Uganda due to crime, and terrorism".

A more subjective answer is that the country is moderately safe for tourists, who should take the usual precautions to be aware of their surroundings, protect their valuables and keep a low profile.

Uganda is an East African, landlocked country with a diverse landscape encompassing the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains and the immense Lake Victoria. Famous for its mountain gorilla sanctuary at Bwindi and abundant wildlife, it remains a popular tourist destination. Foreign visitors generate nearly 8% of the country's gross domestic product and employ nearly 7% of its total national employment.

If you intend to travel to Uganda, here's what you need to know:

Climate and weather

Uganda's climate is tropical. The country experiences two rainy seasons from March to May and from September to December. One-quarter of its land area lies outside the tropics and experiences the March to October rainy season only. Temperatures range in the mid-70s throughout the year.

Road safety

The roads in Uganda generally lack adequate maintenance, marking, and lighting. Expect broken-down vehicles, wandering pedestrians, and drunk drivers along with stray animals with overall poor roadway conditions. According to the World Health Organization, it has the 21st highest rate of road fatalities worldwide. Pedestrians comprise 40% of all road deaths with riders on small motorized two- and three-wheeled vehicles at 33% of fatal road accidents.

Public transportation, especially inter-city, can be hazardous to passengers who travel in poorly maintained small vans or buses. Ugandan public transportation drivers are generally poorly trained and reckless. Also, watch out for overloaded large trucks with inadequately secured cargo and unreliable braking systems.

There have been reports of highway robbery, including carjacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Visitors are cautioned to limit road travel outside towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.

Crime in Uganda

The OSAC.gov Uganda Country Security Report warns: "Crime continues to present a serious risk for those visiting or residing in Uganda. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Embassy continued to track reports of crimes against organizations and expatriates, including U.S. citizens".

The main cities of Kampala and Entebbe experience violent crimes of armed robbery, and home invasion. The local police frequently lack the resources and skills to respond effectively to serious crime. Outside of the cities, organized gangs have been known to rob and extort residents and visitors. Often gangs block major roads late at night to attack passing vehicles and commit sexual violence against their victims.

Safety tips for visitors include:

  • Maintain positive control of all valuables while in public
  • Walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic, carry only the items and cash that you are willing to lose and keep wallets and other valuables where they will be less susceptible to pick-pockets
  • Never leave valuables unattended in a hotel room, especially in the smaller hotels outside the bigger cities
  • Only use ATMs at prominent banks and use credit cards only at large hotels and other businesses that have a large international tourist business.
  • Visitors are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain vigilant and to be cautious by lowering their public profile when frequenting public places and landmarks. 
  • Beware of unattended baggage or packages left in any location, including in mini-buses and private taxis.
  • Limit the amount of cash you carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets in a hotel safe or another secure place. 

If you are a victim of crime

You should contact the local police, the nearest Embassy and your travel insurance provider where staff can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The emergency number in Uganda is 999, but reporting a crime directly to nearest the police station will result in a quicker emergency response.

Police response

The Ugandan police have made significant strides in their ability to react to crime and other incidents.

Most police stations throughout the capital city have few phone lines, meager radio communications, and a limited supply of vehicles, which are often in need of fuel. Police attempts to deter crime by placing their limited forces in static locations, supplemented by mobile patrols have been increasingly successful.

Although police corruption is extensive, as evidenced by frequent requests from police officers for "donations" to cover the cost of completing a police report or responding to a traffic accident we have seen an increase in the willingness of police management to intervene and punish those who solicit bribes.

The national emergency police response number is 999. Due to the limitations of the police, many local businesses choose to augment their security by employing private armed guards or watchmen. The quality of these services ranges from poor to adequate.

Foreign currency should be exchanged in authorized banks, hotels and other legally authorized outlets and proper receipts should be obtained for the transactions. Exchange receipts are required to convert unused Ugandan currency back to the original foreign currency. Penalties for exchanging money on the black market range from fines to imprisonment. Credit cards are not accepted at many hotels, restaurants, shops, or other local facilities, although they are accepted at the major chain hotels in Kampala.

Terrorism in Uganda

The US State Department has designated the capital Kampala as a medium-threat location for terrorism affecting U.S. interests. While terrorist groups active in the country have not targeted foreigners, obviously anyone can be a victim of a terrorist attack.

The Australian Smart Traveller website advises travelers to Uganda exercise a high degree of caution due to threat of terrorist attack, civil unrest and criminal activity, adding “Uganda has increased security arrangements in public places due to the threat of terrorist attacks. Expect body, car and luggage checks when traveling. Take official warnings seriously and follow advice.”

The most recent attacks were on 16 November 2021 when two explosions occurred near the Parliament in Kampala. 

Staying healthy in Uganda

The Centers for Disease Control has published periodic travel health notices for its visitors. In addition to recommending a host of vaccinations for tropical diseases ranging from malaria to yellow fever, the CDC also lists a variety of health safety precautions including:

  • avoiding diseases caused by contaminated water
  • preventing bug bites by using an EPA-registered insect repellent
  • avoiding contaminated animals, whose bodily fluids can spread Ebola and Marburg Virus and Rift Valley Fever

Only eat food that is cooked and served hot. Eat fruits and vegetables that you have personally washed in clean water or peeled yourself. Never eat food sold by street vendors. Only drink boiled water that is sealed and has been filtered and disinfected. Prefer carbonated drinks, hot coffee or tea, and pasteurized milk.

Travelers to Uganda should also avoid swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water. All bodies of water have been found to contain parasites, including schistosomiasis. Uganda has had outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and other bacterial diarrhea in the recent past, and the conditions for reoccurrences continue to exist in both urban and rural settings.

Malaria is prevalent in Ugandan, especially in rural regions. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area, and up to one year after returning home, should seek prompt medical attention and explain to the health care provider their travel history and which antimalarials they have been taking.

Health facilities in Kampala are very limited and are generally inadequate outside the capital. Even the best hospitals in Kampala suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies (particularly medicines). Visitors are advised to carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines, as well as a doctor's note describing the medication. There is a shortage of physicians, and emergency assistance is limited. Quality psychiatric services are almost nonexistent in Uganda.

Drugs and alcohol in Uganda

Uganda is located along the major narco-traffic routes between the Middle East, Asian, and West African heroin markets. Cannabis also grows throughout the country, is rarely policed, and is a major cash crop in remote areas.

Drug enforcement is lax. The Ugandan Police Anti-Narcotic force is ill-equipped, undermanned, and not well trained. However, in 2021 a U.S. citizen was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Alcohol use among adults in Uganda, according to a report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, is high. Almost 10% of the adult population in Uganda has an alcohol-use related disorder. Tourists will find cheap and plentiful alcoholic drinks. Beware of Ugandan Waragi, a potent homemade gin. Its 42% content of alcohol makes it one of the strongest alcoholic drinks in the world.

Also, tobacco smoking in Uganda, especially in public, can bring harsh penalties. Anyone caught smoking in a bar, restaurant, or other public place is liable to arrest with a minimum sentence of six months in jail and a fine of about $130.

Civil unrest in Uganda

Protests, strikes, and demonstrations in Uganda have typically been about local issues. When demonstrations become unruly, police suppression can become violent. The best advice is to avoid large demonstrations and leave the area when demonstrations begin to escalate.

Dial 999 in Uganda to contact the Ugandan Police Force dispatcher. For assistance from the US Embassy in Uganda see this online information page.

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21 Comments

  • christian siemens said

    My girlfriend will be volunteering for three months in Kampala and wants to explore some other cities and countries...how worried should I be?

  • David :) said

    Hi, i would be a bit worried depending on where she is going. Kampala is safe generally however visting other parts of Uganda without up to date information could be dangerous. Two days ago '27thNov16' 66 death toll as government crack down on a tribal king see link*


    *http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/62-dead-uganda-moves-tribal-king-161128092819220.html*


    - http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/62-dead-uganda-moves-tribal-king-161128092819220.html -


  • Nakatagi janiffer said

    Honestly, people think Uganda is horrible but I disagree, I have been in Uganda my all life and have travelled to most of the places around it,
    Uganda is safe and no hurt will come to you if you do exactly what you are supposed to do.
    if you planning to travel to Uganda, you should just read some tips.https://traveliry.com/travel-tips-for-travelers-in-uganda/

  • Jay said

    Uganda was relatively safe when I traveled there. What you really need to be aware of is protecting yourself against disease! I didn't do a good enough job and ended up with Typhoid. Rural Uganda was very nice, but I would be careful in the cities since there has been an increase in female kidnapping. Overall, it's a really cool place to visit though!

  • Kevin said

    I was attacked on 12th May 2018 in Kampala Uganda beaten up and nearly killed and my stuff stolen from me for suspicion of being an LGBTQ ????️‍???? (homosexual)
    This is travel advisory for any worldnormad member who is an LGBTQ traveling to Uganda to excercise caution and care while in Uganda.

    Watch this

    https://youtu.be/fV0tS6G8NNU

    Travel to Uganda if it is a must because of your safety

  • K said

    Of course Nakatagi thinks the place is fine. He lives there and likely has never been out of Africa since Ugandans have a very hard time getting visas. He is likely also not rich and since Ugandan currency is at the bottom of the totem pole and jobs are scarce... he probably couldn’t afford to leave even if he could get a visa. Easy to say a place is nice when you don’t know any different. It’s also easy to say it’s sade when you are a local because the pick pockets and robbers don’t target other poor locals. They target white people and westerners because they think they have money.

  • Timothy said

    Been going to Uganda on and off for about 3 yrs. The article is ok but perharps a bit too politically correct. I have had alot of good experiences in Churchill's pearl of Africa but i also have some friends who have had terrible experiences that made them loathe the place and never want to ever come back. This is especially true if you are caucasian. i've noticed that the indian/ chinese/ middle eastern community don't face many of the negative issues(at least not as much as U.K, U.S, European visitors.)
    probably the determining factor that permeates everything is the depressing poverty levels. The leaders have mismanaged the country into a total mess. poverty pushes the locals(who could have probably been kinder better people) to try every form of trickery to get a little bit of money from the "wealthy muzungu".
    If you are simply a short term tourist alot of the bad sides will be hidden from you and all you will see is smiling faces and nature in all it's magnificent splendour. but dare to dig a bit deeper and it is really depressing.
    Been trying to help youth groups to establish wealth generating projects but it is really an uphill battle.
    After all is said, Uganda is generally safe but make sure you go there prepared.

  • kazi nur haiul hossain said

    Uganda is nice place
    i feel it's all true because i've known about it.
    http://sportfishingtheworld.blogspot.com/2018/07/visiting-uganda-on-moderate-budget.html

  • Susan said

    How far is Kitgum from Kampala? I have a friend that goes to medical school in Kampala and lives at home at night in Kitgum. How far is Kitgum from Kampala? Are there dangerous wild animals around? Is he in a lot of danger of being violently attacked by criminals? Thank you for your help!
    Susan
    Idaho, USA

  • Vera said

    The distance between kitgum and kampala is 329km.Its about a seven hour drive.There is no way to study in kampala then go home to kitgum unless its a weekend.About the dangerous wild animals they are contained in the national parks.As to the danger of being violently attacked by criminals chances are not that high but your friend should be absolutely cautious.
    Vera

  • John Bede said

    I haven't been to Uganda lately but my friends tell me it isn't as good as it was in former times. It is advisable to travel plain and simple and not show off. Avoid travelling at night, or alone in lonely areas.
    I am an Indian born in Entebbe, Uganda. In those days Uganda was a very beautful place well maintained by the Britishers. Idi Amin and some others ruined Uganda and its economy. If those in government are honest and seek the welfare of the people and not their own, foreign countries will help Uganda's development a lot more.

  • Alex said

    I still think this post is a little exaggerated therefore it lack facts. Typically of western mentality of Africa. Uganda is a peaceful place to live though some services are lacking. Majority of us who come here are not rich so no need to really worry. The rural areas are beautiful and crime is almost non existent and people are very friendly. If someone is looking for information about Uganda check elsewhere.

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  • nicole said

    Returned from Uganda at the end of July 2019. The country is simply gorgeous. The people try to help as best as they can in most ares of the country. Having said that, my trip to Uganda was a real eye opener mainly the poverty of its people. I thought I was well prepared to see poverty but nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed. So sad!
    Uganda is also poor when it comes to sanitation. In our small group, even though we did not drink any local water, we all were sick, some of us, even contracted malaria (and yes, he was taking his anti-Malaria pills and was well inoculated). Upon returning home he ended up in hospital with a full blown malaria. The rest of our group now are on a watch list for dormant Malaria, and this until July 2020.
    Our experience with Uganda was a positive one for most of the time. The animals are incredible. If you wish to go, you must hire an experienced local guide who knows where to take you and where not to. Also, a one week safari is enough to cover 2 big national parks. We did 3 parks in 2 weeks which was too long.
    The government of Uganda is corrupt and pocketing everything...what else is new when you have a dictator at the elm. I feel very sorry for the local people, life is really hard over there.

  • Thomas Aagaard said

    Spend two weeks in Uganda back in march with my wife.

    A lot of the time I was with one or both my in-laws (who lived there for 10 years running an NGO ) and the rest was with my wife who also lived there for a few years, so my experience is not really comparable to most tourists. But I never had any issues.
    Be that in Kampala or when we drove to Hoima and then on Safari at Murchison Falls National Park.

    One of the first days I was in Kampala with the family but on one of the last days I and my wife took a "taxi" (a bus) there and spend the day on museums, shopping and similar. And for part of the afternoon I was on my own.

    I live in Denmark and I actually prefer walking around central Kampala to central Copenhagen.
    No crazy bikers, less aggressive street sellers who respected a No and fewer beggars. And the people are way more helpful.
    And getting from where we lived between Kampala and Enteppe to the center was faster, easier and a lot cheaper than if I try to get from the outer part of Copenhagen to the center.
    Sure traffic is pure chaos, but the result is that it is slow and come to a complete stop often so it is actually rather easy to cross most roads on foot without it being dangerous.

    It was easy to find a place to get cash when needed, my phone usually had a good connection even when in the middle of nowhere (better than plenty of places here in Denmark).

    I often ate at a local place. If there is a lot of people eating there and it is of average price, the risk of bad food is low. So never had any issues with the food.

    I would be more worried about being a Tourist in the US than in Uganda... the risk of getting shot is in the Us is about 80 times higher. Sure the crime rate is higher in Uganda... but risk and safety really depend on how you count it... I personally plan to go back to Uganda with my wife... and our daughter.

  • Julie said

    I have a friend that I've been writing to for 3 years. They are in the poor area of Kampala. She is working hard in school with the hopes of going to university. She said that if her grades are high enough, the government would pay for her to go to university. Does anyone know the answers to this. I would love to see this girl make it to a better life. Anyone know anything?

  • David said

    Uganda is amazing. I visited with a friend for a month. The food was great and we got no sicknesses or deal with crime. It was a truly amazing experience. I would very highly recommend going there.

    David

  • Richard said

    Please review your website as it's content about Uganda are Misleading the public.Uganda is one of the most dangerous places. Taken over by the military shooting kidnapping people at random killing and putting them in mass grave rest thrown in the lake' there is also silent genocide torture false imprisonment shooting even 2month. Babies.see also UK website on Travel to Uganda.
    See update attached human right violation

    https://dictatormuseveni.com/pre-election-violence/

    https://www.theelephant.info/documents/bruce-i-afran-report-on-governmental-abuse-violations-and-misconduct-in-advance-of-the-january-14-2021-presidential-election-and-its-aftermath/

  • Florence said

    Very very misleading Information on Uganda U are going to get people killed due your misleading Information Uganda is full of killings kidnapping people on the street almost 100 people are kidnappeda day and some killed country bloody dont u read the news see human rights Reports UN US EU and UK on what is happening in Uganda
    You are duty bound to tell people truth not to mislead them

  • jae said

    My husband and I sponsor a Ugandan student, now in his 20’s. He has endured malaria multiple times, tuberculosis, Covid-19 and robberies and police beatings bc of staying out after Covid curfew. He fears for his life if he needs to travel into Kampala. We are trying to help him get to Dubai eventually. It sounds frightening at this time with total political unrest. Don’t go!

  • Wadenga said

    Uganda has it's local political problems but they respect foreigners alot and they don't involve them. Ugandans don't like people who show off. Just keep your low profile and enjoy life here. Kampala has many robbers, thieves, pick pocketters, staying in other towns is even more safer than the capital city. Locals are very friendly especially if your social. The food is totally cheap starting from $1 a meal, you can also eat chips and chicken at only $2.
    Though no country is 100% safe to live in, if you have never come to Uganda then you won't know why Uganda average people survive on $3 per day. The raw food is very cheap

    Meanwhile I'm looking for a sponser to support my innocent daughter called Sarah. I'm 26 years old but I don't have a job to support my 3year old daughter's education carrier which is about to start, I failed to make it to university due to lack of tuition and the mother of my child dropped Sarah to me and went away for another marriage, whoever wants to support my child here is my email address (wadengahassan@gmail.com)
    I will be grateful if you come to visit Uganda when you have a daughter waiting to see you


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