Common Questions; What is the best currency to take to Uganda? Can I use US dollars? What kind of Credit or Debit Cards are accepted in Uganda? When is the best time to take out cash for the ATM? What kind of money is used in Uganda? Can my traveller’s cheques be cashed in Uganda? What bank services can I access while in Uganda? Can I ask about tipping and spending money while on Safari in Uganda?
Like many developing countries, Uganda is cash based society. This is true for things like your taxi, regular shopping at a local store, pay your hopital bill etc. and the Uganda Shilling (UGX) is the official currency. The trend is however different for the tourism industry and the preferred currency of choice is the US dollar.
Credit and debit cards are now accepted at many large stores in hotels, decent restaurants etc. in big cities. The whole country predominately uses Visa, MasterCard is next and a few places will accept American Express and Discover cards - all with an additional surcharge ranging from 3.5 to 6% or more for some companies. Bigger hotels may however not charge anything extra.
Several ATMs now take Credit and Debit cards. The fee is also based on what your bank may charge and at some ATMs it informs you of the fee and asks you to confirm you understand the fee will be deducted before it dishes out the money.
If you are going to buy a gorilla or chimpanzee permit then you have to pay in US$, Ugandan Shillings, Euro or GBP (you will be stung on the exchange rate if you don't pay in US$), this can be cash, or credit cards. Travellers cheques are not accepted not just by the UWA but it becomes a nuisance and investment of time, often with moments of frustration added. Best advice is, do not bring Traveller Cheques, use an ATM card instead.
The local currency is the Ugandan shilling (UGX) and denominations of 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000 2,000,1,000 and coins in 500, 200, 100, 50 are in circulation. Most tour operators, hotels and nearly everything for tourist is however quoted in US dollars. Although Euros and UK Pound are ok and widely accepted for changing money into Ugandan currency, the US Dollar is the currency of choice for the tourism industry not just in Uganda but all the East African countries. US dollars are the most useful hard currency, especially in small towns. There is a case for quoting all rates in US dollars, which are likely to mean more to readers at the planning stage of the trip, and which, given the instability of African currencies in general, is likely to be more accurate than local currency rates in the long term.
If you're bringing US dollars, try to avoid bills printed before 2003 as often they're not accepted (due to a higher risk of them being counterfeit notes). $100 bills in particular should be dated 2009 or later. Smaller bills of $20 and below always get a much lower rate than US$50s and US$100 bills – please ask for larger bills when you collect your money.
If you are in Kampala or Entebbe, the US dollars, UK pounds and euros - the process of converting these funds into local currency in Uganda could scarcely be more straightforward. Banks and Forex bureaus all around the capital will convert any of these currencies to Uganda Shillings at a moment's notice. At a private Forex Bureau, this transaction seldom takes more than a minute or two, and no passport or other documentation is required. A bit more paperwork is involved at banks. The exchange rates against any of the above currencies are generally more favourable at a Forex Bureau than at any bank, and previous day rates offered by a selection of the capital's more prominent forex bureaus are listed daily in The Monitor and New Vision newspapers.
Banks are open from 8.30 to 16.00 on business days – though some banks in Kampala do stay open 7pm and from 09.00 to 2.00 on Saturdays. Out of Kampala, forex complications have become things of the past with the expansion of private banks, notably Stanbic, Absa (Barclays), Centenary etc. into most regional towns. It's a pleasure to find that you can change cash or travellers' cheques for US dollars. UK Pounds and euro at fair rates established by the banks' head offices in Kampala. The exchange process at a bank might take a bit longer, but in most cases, you get a reasonable rate. You can as well use your credit card to get cash at banks, it may still take a bit of time, and there are fees. Also, you can change your traveler cheque at a bank but you will need proof of buy and passport to prove ownership of cheques you want to be cashed - the rate is however lower.
While these rates are slightly inferior to those offered by private forex bureaus in the capital, they are an improvement on the rotten rates usually offered by their upcountry counterparts. In fact, in the face of corporate competition, most regional forex bureaux outside hotels and other umbrella institutions have disappeared.
The most extensive banking network is operated by Stanbic with upcountry branches in nearly all major towns including Entebbe, Jinja, Mbale, Fort Portal, Kisoro, Mbarara, Hoima and Masindi etc. Absa (Barclays) Bank offers nearly the same coverage.
Forex Bureaus open up earlier, they typically close at 17.00 and are also open on Kampala, your best bet on Sunday are the private forex offices within the Garden City shopping mall, the Grand Imperial Hotel and on Kampala Road which are open seven days a week, as are forex bureaus and banks at Entebbe International Airport which normally stay open late enough to serve passengers on all incoming and outgoing flights. If later you do find you exchanged more than you actually required in Uganda, it's straightforward to convert it back to foreign currency in a matter of minutes at any forex bureau in Kampala or at Entebbe International Airport, albeit at a slight loss So far, so good! But as mentioned earlier, there are a few complications. In Uganda, as elsewhere in East Africa, US dollar banknotes printed before 2003 are not accepted, owing to aprevalence of forgeries dating from this period. Nor will banks or forex bureaus accept any torn or blemished notes, no matter how insignificant the damage. Again, significantly low rate - is offered for bills of US$20 or less.
The prime exceptions are a few major international banks, notably Stanbic, Absa (Barclays) (a maximum of US$500) and Standard Chartered which will accept American Express travellers' cheques. They may also accept Thomas Cook cheques but this seems to be at the discretion of the branch. As is normally the case, you'll need to show the bank your passport, but it is also likely they'll demand to see the proof of purchase.
With recent developments however, travellers cheques can generally be exchanged at most banks in Uganda and most forex bureaus. Rates offered are generally slightly lower than those advertised for cash. It is also possible to buy US dollar travellers cheques from Absa (Barclays), Standard Chartered and Stanbic Banks in Kampala for small fees.
This situation presents something of a quandary to anybody carrying travellers' cheques. The sole advantage of travellers' cheques over cash (and the reason that they effectively cost more) is the guarantee of a refund should they be lost or stolen, which will be nullified should the proof of purchase be lost or stolen at the same time. In other words, while the issuing companies decree that one should never carry travellers' cheques and the related proof of purchase in the same place, the banking rules in Uganda enforce one to do precisely this, and in the circumstance where arguably they are most exposed to theft - walking the streets of the capital. Fortunately, unlike Nairobi, Kampala is not a city that carries a significant risk of daylight theft, but clearly it does make sense to carry the travellers' cheques and proof of purchase separately on your person, or for couples to divide the two between them, reducing the risk of both being stolen at the same time. Should you not have your proof of purchase to hand, the Standard Chartered Bank on Kampala Road may exchange travellers' cheques after a grilling by the bank manager, but this is a lengthy process, with an uncertain outcome. It's worth double-checking before you sign any travellers' cheques that you have presented all the necessary paperwork and have an acceptable brand, and that the cashier is ready to accept them. Should you do so and the bank decides for whatever reason to decline them, you won't, of course, be able to use them elsewhere.
Use American Express ones only. All others you will have a harder time getting money or no money at all. You will pay a fee for exchanging them into, money.
ATM Machines: Most banks in the larger cities now have ATMs that take 4 digit PINs. If you have a VISA ATM card then there is a wide network of ATMs that will give you money and at better rates than from the Forex Bureaus. You get the best rate from your country's currency converted into Shillings. You can use a bank ATM and pay no fees at your home bank. Several ATM machines now take cards with a Mastercard logo. And some hotels and tour operators take American Express cards.
Make sure you let your bank know where you are going so they don't see unusual action and put a hold on the card.... otherwise you will not get any money out of the machine here in Uganda. Also your home bank may be able to advise you on the best ATMs to use when in Uganda. If your card is eaten by the machine, you can go to the bank the next business day with passport and get it back.
A couple of suggestions. Only use ATMs during business hours when the bank is open so if you don't get your card back or the $ does not come out you have immediate recourse. I suggest you preload your VISA before travel then you don't pay interest.
Tip: There are no banks, ATMs or forex bureaus before immigration, but, if you're in a pinch, an officer will hold your passport while you go get money from the ATM just beyond airport customs.
Do not use an ATM in a bar – where people are watching, you might become a target after withdrawing money.
Caution: Whereas Uganda has so many banks that accept foreign bank card especially Visa cards, we advise you not to rely so much on ATMs for payment. Most often the networks fail, cards get rejected or at times eaten, and the search for a working ATM may take hours and this delays your tour causing you to miss out some of the tour activities.
Even the UK government suggests not using credit cards in Uganda due to the possibility of someone stealing your card information. Cases of such have happened even in high end hotels according the UK government website. Cases of employees stealing your credit card information has happened here and other African Countries. Credit Card fraud and thefts have been on the rise in Uganda and become more sophisticated, and credit card fraud or theft has even been reported in major International Hotels.
If you have no other choice, the first choice of Credit Cards here is VISA. Several bank POS (Card readers) machines now take cards with a Mastercard logo, American Express cards, JCB and Union Pay. Some smarter hotels, restaurants, safari lodges can accommodate such payments.
In your country you can use your credit card for a purchase and that is what shows up on your bank statement at the end of the month – use your credit card to pay for your safari in Uganda – you will pay a minimum of 3.5% more – in some cases tour operators charge you 5% above the price. Hotels, Restaurants, Shops that do take credit card will all add a surcharge of 5 - 8%, but these are slowly becoming rarer as companies become more accustomed to people paying this way.
Wear a money belt around your waist to hide cash and if you don't have one put it in your pocket. Use safe in Hotel to put your airline ticket and also your passport. Make copies of passport, airline tickets and anything else that is an important document. Never flash any money in public such as in restaurants or public places since it will attract unwanted attention and it will be your loss.
Money Changers: Avoid them. At border crossings you will be haunted by them and many are con-artists who can make you think you are getting one amount, while in reality you will get a lot less. Even if you are counting along, their hands are quicker than your eyes.
Purchasing Items: Avoid using dollars when buying things such as crafts and souvenirs. You will lose money in the process. Convert your money to shillings at a Forex Bureau.
Bank to Bank (Electronic Funds Transfer - EFT) is the primary manner in which money sent to Uganda. You can wire money directly into any bank account from anywhere around the world by using the bank information provided by your Uganda contact. Note that even when this is a popular option in which our people send payments including for gorilla and chimp permits, there are costs attached and its best if you compare the various charges you may incur sending the money to us. please contact your local bank for the information you need and the likely charges.
TransferWise is a British and London based online money transfer service founded in January 2011. The company supports more than 750 currency routes across the world including GBP, USD, EUR, AUD and CAD, and provides multi-currency accounts. TransferWise works with several partner banks spread across the world.
Although a bank can be a quick way to convert your money to dollars or Uganda shillings, it isnít the best method to send funds here. Banks and other providers often add a markup to their exchange rate while advertising low fees, which means you could be paying huge hidden charges. TransferWise uses the real Reuters exchange rate like you see on Google and you only need to pay the low transparent fee. Thatís why itís cheaper. Sending money via this option however requires at least one of the two parties (sender or receiver) to have membership/account with TransferWise.
TransferWise Borderless account makes it possible for sending funds from UK (GBP £), Euros (EUR – €) or Australian dollar (AUD) to East Africa since it provides local bank details for those currencies which enable the sender transfer money from their account straight to the receiver’s Borderless account at no additional cost. Using TW the receiver converts the money US$ and sends it to Uganda – East Africa. Conversion fees vary from currency to currency and will also be determined by the amount to be converted. With our borderless accounts details, most of our clients from the UK and the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand find this a convenient way so send funds here. Not many tour operators however use Transferwise services as it’s seems not well advertised in Africa.
These are actually more straight forward than you can imagine, but are an expensive way to get your hands on cash. Wire transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram is the fastest method to send and recieve cash BUT PLEASE DO NOT USE THEM FOR THIS PURPOSE!!!...Consider other options. Western Union and Moneygram allow the scammers to anonymously collect the money from any victim without fear of the transaction being traced back to them. They can even claim to be in one place and in reality be in a totally different one.
Fake IDs make it highly unlikely the scammers can be traced when they receive the payments this way. WU and MG are perfectly legitimate services that the scammers have - once again - learned how to manipulate for their own needs.
Also transfers such as Western Union and MoneyGram always pay out in Uganda Shillings (or destination country's currency)....but the US dollar rules in Uganda's tourism industry.,...you then buy them at a Forex Bureau, you lose in the process.
Restaurants & Hotels: Avoid hotels that charge in US$, it limits where you can stay but if you come from the USA your dollar converted will stretch further. Use Uganda Shillings at restaurants.
AMEX, Visa, Visa Electron, MasterCard and JCB are the only accepted at a few choice establishments and in banks in the cities. You can now use your visa card to draw money from your bank account in Europe or America. If you are planning to pay for your safari, gorilla/chimpanzee tracking permit or car rental, go here to see the possible options. The Shilling is the currency used in Uganda but some people will take dollars and pounds in cash. The exchange rates vary from time to time but are readily available from banks and Forex bureaus.
Finally, please note that prices quoted here were collected during the middle of 2011. They will almost certainly increase noticeably during the lifetime of and exacerbated by international increases in oil prices.
Whether you are looking for additional Uganda safari information, Safari itineraries, competitive quotes, or have any other questions, feel free to contact us at or even just call +256 (0) 777201697, we are always happy to answer your questions