Uganda travel guide
A reputation for political instability and the looming shadow of Idi Amin have long – and unfairly – blighted Uganda’s fledgling tourism sector. Now, though, things are looking up for the East African nation once described as “the pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill.
And a brief look around is enough to show you why. From the second you step off the plane, the overwhelming impression of Uganda is one of rich natural diversity, friendly locals and a burgeoning cultural scene that is currently producing some of the most exciting artists in Africa.
Culturally, much of the action happens in the capital, Kampala, a hilly urban sprawl ringed by farmland and perched on the muddy banks of Lake Victoria. While most foreign travellers confine themselves to the city centre or the diplomatic quarter, Kololo, its worth venturing into the bustling bars and clubs of Kabalagala, where expats and locals meet for a slug of the local Nile beer and a friendly game of pool.
Away from the capital, Uganda’s towns and cities have little in the way of diversions (although Jinja’s location on the banks of the River Nile has made it a favourite with thrill-seeking rafters). Instead, head west towards the Congo border where, along with the fascinating pygmy people of Fort Portal, Uganda’s natural wonders reveal themselves.
A popular spot for wildlife watching is Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is home to four of the Big Five, a flock of flamboyant flamingos and the rare tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.
The star attraction, though, is the iconic mountain gorilla, which can be found further south in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. While you’re down there it’s also worth taking a detour to Lake Bunyonyi, a mountain retreat famed for its stunning vistas and freshwater crayfish.
More natural wonders await in northern Uganda, home to the magnificent Murchison Falls, and in the east, where visitors will find the outstanding desert crags and ossified anthills of Kidepo.
Regardless of where you go in Uganda, when it comes to leaving, it will be with a reluctant heavy heart.
241,038 sq km (93,072 sq miles).
41,487,965 (UN estimate 2016).
157.1 per sq km.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni since 1986.
Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda since 2014.
Last updated: 23 January 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The arrest of a number of opposition Members of Parliament following violence around the Arua by-election on the 15 August 2018 has led to heightened political tension. There is an increased likelihood of protests, which may turn violent, across Uganda. You should remain vigilant, avoid large crowds and public demonstrations and follow local media for updates.
UK health authorities have classified Uganda as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website
Petty and violent crime occurs. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Uganda.
Avoid travel by road outside major towns at night, except between Kampala and the airport at Entebbe.
On 1 August 2018, an outbreak of Ebola was declared in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The latest updates can be found on the World Health Organisation’s website.
Around 15,000 British nationals visit Uganda every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Opportunistic crime like burglaries, muggings, drive-by bag snatches and thefts from vehicles occur in Uganda. There have been a few cases of individuals being drugged and robbed on public transport and in bars. Don’t accept food and drink from strangers. Foreign visitors and residents may be targeted by scam artists. Be wary of strangers approaching you or your accommodation or contacting you by phone asking for personal information or financial help.
Don’t carry large sums of cash or wear expensive looking jewellery or watches. Take particular care of your passport. Take extra care when going out on foot and avoid walking after dark wherever possible.
Keep car doors locked and windows shut when driving in towns. There have been a number of thefts from cars and taxis while stationary in traffic. Don’t leave valuables in vehicles. If you are stopped by armed criminals, don’t resist.
Local travel - north-east Uganda
Inter-communal violence happens in north-east Uganda (sometimes referred to as the Karamoja region) as well as occasional attacks on security forces. Foreigners are not usually the target of the violence but you should remain vigilant and exercise caution if travelling in the region.
The north east is particularly susceptible to flooding during the rainy season (from March to May and October to November). Monitor local media and take care in all remote areas including the use of suitably equipped 4 wheel drive vehicles.
Local travel - northern and western Uganda
Take great care near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. There have been some clashes and there is a risk of banditry. The FCO advises against all travel to the provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo that border Uganda and against all travel to South Sudan.
Local travel - west Uganda
There have been a number of incidents of violent clashes in western Uganda in recent years including:
- in Kasese in November 2016 which left over 100 people dead;
- in Bundibugyo and Kasese districts during and after the February 2016 elections;
- in Bundibugyo, Kasese, and Ntoroko in July 2014 causing over 90 deaths.
There has been no suggestion that tourists or foreign nationals have specifically been targeted in these incidents, but if you plan to visit these areas, which are close to popular tourist destinations including Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Kibale National Parks, you should remain vigilant, exercise caution, avoid crowds and follow local media for updates on the current situation.
Local travel - south west Uganda
The parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo immediately neighbouring southwest Uganda have a history of instability and violent conflict can flare up with little notice. Take care when travelling in the area. The FCO advises against all travel to the provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo that border Uganda.
Local travel - eastern Uganda
Travel to eastern Uganda is largely trouble free, but during heavy rains there is a risk of landslides particularly in Bulucheke sub-county in Bududa District near Mount Elgon National Park, a popular tourist destination.
Local travel - National Parks
Use reputable, registered tour operators and contact the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) for up to date advice and information before you travel. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Parks are in the extreme south west of Uganda near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. It’s routine practice for security personnel to accompany tourists on gorilla-tracking visits in this area.
Some gorilla trekking operators cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo. You should avoid taking these tours. The FCO advises against all travel to the provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo that border Uganda, this includes Virunga National Park.
You can drive in Uganda using a UK driving licence for up to 3 months, after which you will need to get a Ugandan driving licence from the Uganda Revenue Authority or an International Driving Permit.
Travelling by road can be hazardous, particularly outside the main cities. Driving standards are poor, vehicles are often poorly maintained and the accident rate is high. Other road users may be driving without lights and livestock roam across the roads. The Jinja - Kampala and the Kampala - Masaka roads are particular accident black spots.
Speed limits in built-up areas are generally 50km/h and out of town 80km/h. The police enforce this law and breaking speed limits can result in a fine, imprisonment or both.
For reasons of road safety and security you should avoid travelling outside of the main towns after dark, except on the road between Kampala and Entebbe International Airport.
Make sure your vehicle is in good condition and stocked with items you might need in case of a breakdown or other incidents.
There have been a number of serious accidents involving Ugandan long distance bus services, linking Kampala with other towns in Uganda and internationally with Nairobi, Kigali and Dar es Salaam. Some overnight buses have been robbed after being forced to stop by roadblocks or by criminals posing as passengers.
You should avoid using matatus (minibus taxis following a particular route) and boda-bodas (motorbike taxis). Though cheap, matatus and boda-bodas don’t meet western safety standards, are generally in poor condition, badly driven and often don’t have proper insurance cover. Accidents are common, and can be fatal. There have been recent incidents of foreign nationals being mugged whilst using boda-bodas.
Large numbers of ferry passengers have died in accidents on Lakes Albert and Victoria in recent years. Police believe the accidents were caused by the overloading of passengers and goods.
Use a reputable ferry company and if you believe a ferry to be overloaded or unseaworthy, don’t get on. Familiarise yourself with emergency procedures on board and make a note of where the life jackets and emergency exits are located.
The arrest of a number of opposition Members of Parliament following violence around the Arua by-election on the 15 August 2018 has led to heightened political tension. There is an increased likelihood of protests, which may turn violent, across Uganda. On Sunday 19 August there were violent protests in Mityana which temporarily closed the road from Kampala to Fort Portal.
Political and other demonstrations can become violent without warning, causing loss of life and injury. The police have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse demonstrators. You should take great care and avoid all demonstrations and rallies where possible.
If you find yourself caught up in a political demonstration, remain calm and try to move away from the area by the safest possible route. If you’re travelling in a vehicle, ensure that the doors are locked. If you’re in your accommodation and there’s a demonstration nearby, remain inside if you judge that leaving your accommodation is threatening or unsafe. Familiarise yourself with the security procedures in place at your accommodation, and make sure appropriate precautions are deployed as necessary.
Contacting the British High Commission
You can keep up to date with travel advice by subscribing to email alerts. You can see messages about travel advice on social media by following @FCOTravel and @UKinUganda on twitter and fcotravel and ukinuganda on Facebook.
Read the FCO’s How to deal with a crisis overseas page for more information and advice.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Uganda. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
You should be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like hotels, transport hubs, restaurants and bars, and during major gatherings like sporting or religious events. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.
Following a number of arrests in Kampala on 28 September 2018, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) issued a warning of possible terrorist attacks around Independence Day which takes place 9 October 2018. You should remain vigilant at all times and follow the advice of the local authorities.
In 2010 there were bomb attacks in Kampala at venues screening the World Cup final killing over 70 people and injuring many more. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility and linked the attacks to Uganda’s military presence in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM), and threatened further attacks in the region.
The Ugandan authorities continue to work to reduce the risk of further attacks. There may be additional security checks, including baggage and car searches in public places, including hotels.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Homosexual activity is illegal and not tolerated in Uganda’s conservative society. Public displays of homosexuality like kissing in public places could lead to arrest and imprisonment. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a licence. Uganda is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which bans trading in ivory. If you’re caught buying or trafficking these goods you’re liable to be prosecuted and receive a prison sentence or a fine.
Smoking is prohibited in all public places, workplaces, transport and other outdoor places within 50 metres of a public place. Electronic cigarettes and shisha (water-pipe tobacco) are banned. There are penalties including fines and/or imprisonment.
Penalties for drug trafficking are severe.
Don’t take photos of military, official or diplomatic sites, including Owen Falls Dam at the source of the Nile near Jinja. If you are taking photographs of people, ask their permission first.
You may be stopped and asked for ID documents by officials. Carry a copy of the personal details page of your passport (the page with your photograph) with you at all times.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You’ll need a visa to enter Uganda. You can apply for a visa at the Ugandan High Commission in London or apply online for an ‘e-visa’. You can find full details of how to apply on the website of the Ugandan High Commission in London. You should give yourself sufficient time to apply for a visa and make sure when applying that the start date and validity covers the period you wish to travel.
You can also apply for an East African Tourist Visa. This is valid for 90 days and allows multiple entry into Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. You can apply for this visa on the ‘e-visa’ website.
Ugandan immigration officers decide how long travellers are permitted to stay in Uganda when they enter the country. This is usually between 2 weeks and 3 months, and the immigration officer will normally enter a handwritten note of this period next to the entry stamp in your passport. You can be fined and/or imprisoned for overstaying your visa. You can apply to extend the period of your stay at Ugandan immigration headquarters on Jinja Road in Kampala.
For more information about entry requirements, visit the Ugandan Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control website.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Uganda.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Uganda. ETDs must be valid for 6 months.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
Medical facilities in Uganda are limited especially outside Kampala. Medical help at the scene of an accident is likely to be limited. In the case of serious accident or illness, evacuation by air ambulance may be required. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Malaria and Schistosomiasis (bilharzia) are common in Uganda. There are regular outbreaks of cholera in Uganda. You should follow the health advice issued by the National Travel Health Network and Centre
UK health authorities have classified Uganda as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website
On 1 August 2018, an outbreak of Ebola was declared in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Ugandan authorities have put in place additional screening measures at Entebbe airport and the districts of Kasese, Hoima, Ntoroko, Kanungu, Bundibugyo Kisoro and Kabarole in western and south-western Uganda which border North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The latest updates can be found on the WHO’s website.
Only use boiled or bottled water, and avoid ice in drinks. Don’t eat food prepared by unlicensed vendors or where you have concerns about kitchen hygiene.
Particularly for longer periods of residence in Uganda, it’s good practice to keep spare basic provisions (eg, drinking water and non-perishable foods) at your accommodation, as there can be supply problems from time to time.
In the 2016 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 1,300,000 adults aged 15 or over in Uganda were living with HIV. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Localised flooding and landslides as a result of heavy rains can occur throughout Uganda particularly during the rainy seasons of March to May and October to November.
Uganda is in an earthquake zone. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
ATMs are widely available and credit cards widely accepted in Kampala and in other main towns.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.