Heading to Uganda, and wondering – how am I going to stay connected to my friends and family at home? I’ve got you covered! Here’s the low down on how mobility, MTN, Airtel, Airtime and Mobile Money work in Uganda.
Fun fact: Did you know there’s a social media tax in Uganda? Yep. People are taxed to use social media like instagram and facebook. But more on that later.
When you arrive in Uganda – depending on who you are travelling with (solo, with an NGO, organization, etc. etc. etc.) it might be in your best interest to just get a SIM card from the airport upon your arrival. It is definitely more expensive to do it this way but WAY more convenient and in my opinion, worth it. Plus when I say it’s more expensive – it’s still not “expensive.” Just more than you would pay if you did it in Kampala or Entebbe at a service centre. By doing it this way you get to avoid those long crazy lines and figuring out how and when to get to a service centre (especially if you aren’t staying in the cities!). There are two places you can do it at the airport – the first is when you exit the secure area and turn right there is a little kiosk inside the airport, and the second is when you physically leave the airport and walk towards all the many drivers with signs – behind them there is another kiosk where you can do it.
Once you get a SIM card you are basically good to go anywhere in Uganda – just make sure when you first get it done that you find out your phone number, create a pin and then pay to get a little bit of “airtime” and “mobile money” for calling and data.
Airtime = money that you put on your phone and is used as minutes. I’m not sure the amount of airtime equivalent to 1 minute locally or internationally but you should be good to go with 20,000 ugx for a while, especially if you aren’t calling abroad (but you should be fine with that amount even if you are). There are different data plans that you’ll have to talk to the service worker about depending on your situation as they go for 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, etc. I’d recommend getting enough data and airtime for 2 weeks so that you don’t need to worry about filling up while you adjust to this new country. You will also need to pay your OTT (or social media tax) for the month when you get data. It isn’t that expensive – about 6,000 ugx/month.
Okay so now that you have gotten your SIM card, you have a bit of airtime, data and you’ve paid your OTT tax you’re essentially good to go anywhere. When you need to fill up and get more airtime or data (or mobile money… more on that later), you can easily do it at any of the thousand little MTN (or Airtel) kiosks that are scattered around the country and look like this:
You just go up to these workers, and give them the amount that you want added to you phone in terms of mobile money or airtime and they will do it for you there. Okay time to explain mobile money: Mobile money can essentially be used to pay a lot of things in the country. Let’s say for instance you give 50,000 ugx to one of these workers and ask for them to put it on your phone as mobile money, then you’ll have 50,000 ugx of MTN money that you can use to buy data, airtime, even safe boda’s (through the safe boda app), and more. You can also send mobile money to others easily so you can pay people like that too! There are different codes you dial in your phone to buy data, pay OTT, get airtime, etc. and to be honest I have not learnt nearly half of them. Here are the ones that I’ve found helpful:
*150# : this brings up a menu for options to buy internet (data), buy bundles (data and airtime), pay OTT and more. Remember you have to have mobile money on your phone to be able to pay for these services – and you give the physical money to one of those thousand kiosks that you see around the country to get the mobile money. Complicated enough yet?
*165# : this brings up another menu that allows you to send money, view airtime and bundles (again?), momopay – which I believe is mobile money?, and to view your account and balances
*131# : this will bring up your airtime and data balance
ALSO: there is exceptional service across the country, which is very surprising when you’re trekking gorilla’s in Bwindi National Park or scouting out tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth and get a text message!
Okay, I don’t know if this was helpful or even more confusing. If you have questions or are worried about service in Uganda 1) you can definitely email me firstname.lastname@example.org but 2) don’t worry. It will quickly become much simpler once you arrive and see it for yourself. The service here is good, and people will be able to help you and answer your questions.