Planning a trip to Uganda? Make sure you get yourself a local sim card on arrival. Buying a sim card in Uganda is fairly easy. In this guide you will find everything you need to know about Uganda sim cards for tourists. Where to buy one, up to date prices, mobile operators and the best network.
Local sim cards are the best way to stay connected and save on high roaming costs. Although I also wrote an article about the best international sim cards for travelers, I would NOT recommend these sim cards.
Local sim cards beat international sim cards in everything: price, network coverage, data speed, convenience! The first thing I do when I get to a new country is buying a local sim card. Recently I traveled on a big overland trip in Africa and also wrote sim card guides for: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa. So when in Uganda I figured out all the ins and outs about Uganda prepaid sim cards for tourists.
Based on my own experiences I recommend you to buy an Airtel sim card for Uganda on arrival.
Here is my friend Sean who tried buying an Airtel sim card on arrival, but then the system was down. Read more about my experiences buying a sim card in Uganda at the end of this blog.
Why buying a Uganda sim card
First of all it makes traveling so much easier, more convenient and even safer. Use taxi apps, find directions, restaurants, hotels, etc on Google Maps, translation apps and so on.
If you have read my blog posts with everything you need to know when you travel to Uganda, you also know that WiFi in Uganda is NOT reliable and very slow. Don’t rely on WiFi, buying a sim card is easy and CHEAP!
Mobile internet operators in Uganda
For a long time there were 3 main mobile internet operators in Uganda:
However, in April 2020 there was a new competitor on the Uganda sim card market: Lycamobile. This UK based brand is expanding its services to Africa and where Lycamobile is mostly operating as a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) like in Europe for example, they actually have a NTO (National Telecommunications Operator) license in Uganda. This means Lycamobile operates on its own network.
Where to buy a Uganda sim card
When flying into the country it is best to buy a sim card at Entebbe Airport. Click on the link to read my extensive guide for it. If for some reason you couldn’t buy a sim card for Uganda at the airport or you are traveling overland then I recommend you to go to one of the mobile internet providers service centers.
Everywhere on the side of the streets you will see kiosk of the mobile internet providers, however not every shop sells sim cards for tourists. Since every sim card needs to be registered with your passport and an official photo not every kiosk is able to sign you up.
The mobile internet shops have so called service centers and here you can buy prepaid sim cards.
Buying a Lycamobile sim card in Uganda is a little more difficult as there are not that many Lycamobile retailers yet. For example at Entebbe Airport and in Entebbe I did not see any Lycamobile retailers, neither throughout the country. I only found Lycamobile retailers in Kampala.
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Sim card registration in Uganda
Buying a sim card in Uganda is serious business. Every prepaid sim card will be registered on your name with your passport. A photo of your passport will be taken as well as a photo of you while holding the sim card next to your face. No joke! :)
The sim card registration in Uganda is very official and there is no way around. You have to first fill out a form, then your fingerprint is taken, then your passport is registered, then the photo session then it finally gets activated.
Therefore when buying a sim card in Uganda allow yourself a little time. Welcome to Africa! :)
When registering the sim card you need to create a PIN number and with every transaction like a top up for a new data bundle you will need to confirm with your personal PIN, so don’t forget it!
Social Madia Tax (OTT)
Mobile internet in Uganda is restricted and at times regulated. The best example is that on the day of National election in Uganda on January 13th 2021 there was NO INTERNET ACCESS country wide.
Although a major resistance against a proposed social media tax, the government pushed through the controversial social media tax called OTT. Whenever you want to use social media apps in Uganda you have to pay an additional tax. For tourists this is just a couple cents, but fo Ugandans this can be a lot of money.
For foreigners it is just a hassle, because it is not for the money. OTT social media tax for 1 week is 2,000 UGX ($0.5) and for 1 month it is 6,000 UGX ($1.5).
The government is about to change the Social Media Tax into a more general internet tax and wants to add 12% tax to all data internet packages. It would mean the end of the OTT in Uganda, but would make the data bundles slightly more expensive.
Nothing really to worry about for tourists as data bundles in Uganda are cheap!
Instagram and Facebook are blocked
Unfortunately Instagram and Facebook are blocked since the beginning of 2021 and so far there is no news that is about to chance. The Uganda government and Facebook are having a dispute and therefore Facebook and Instagram can NOT be accessed through a Uganda mobile internet connection.
Use of VPN in Uganda
Officially it is forbidden by law to use a VPN in Uganda. That said most young people I met are all using a VPN and they even advice you about good ones in the phone shops as well. Ask around for VPN apps that the locals use and choose the one you like the most.
A VPN lets you use Instagram and Facebook freely in Uganda and you also would not be required to pay the additional Social Media Tax (OTT).
Prices Uganda prepaid sim cards
A prepaid sim card from Africell costs 2,000 UGX, about $0.5 USD and comes with a little bit of credit. You will need to add credit to your account to add data bundles.
These are the most common Africell data bundles:
- 15,000 UGX = 4.5 GB data for 1 week - ($4.2)
- 20,000 UGX = 8 GB data for 1 week - ($5.6)
- 25,000 UGX = 8 GB data for 1 month - ($7.1)
- 50,000 UGX = 20 GB data for 1 month - ($14.1)
For 5,000 UGX ($1.4) you can buy a voice bundle that gives you 20 minutes to call + 200 MB for 1 week.
As you can see mobile internet in Uganda is cheap, so it is worth getting a local sim card. This is the link to the latest prices for Africell data bundles.
An MTN Uganda prepaid sim card costs 2,000 UGX and you can add credit to buy voice or data bundles. These are the most common data bundles:
- 20,000 UGX = 5 GB data for 1 week - ($5.6)
- 50,000 UGX = 10 GB data for 1 month - ($14.1)
Click on the link to see the latest MTN Uganda data package deals on their website.
As you can see MTN is much more expensive or let’s say gives less value for money than Africell. This is because Africell has a weaker network. But let’s look at Airtel.
Just like the other mobile internet operator an Airtel sim card also costs 2,000 UGX and they also have daily, weekly and monthly bundles. Here are some of the most common ones I would recommend:
- 15,000 UGX = 4 GB data for 1 week - ($4.2)
- 20,000 UGX = 7 GB data for 1 week - ($5.6)
- 30,000 UGX = 9 GB data for 1 month - ($8.5)
- 50,000 UGX = 20 GB data for 1 month - ($14.1)
Calling credit can be added additionally and for 2,000 UGX ($0.5) you get 45 minutes for 1 week.
Click on the link to go to the Airtel Uganda website and find the latest data bundle prices.
As you can see you get a more value for money with an Airtel sim card compared to an MTN sim card.
A Lycamobile Uganda sim card is free and can be picked up from any of the Lycamobile retailers. Register with your passport, recharge your sim card, choose a bundle and you are ready to go.
The Lycamobile Uganda plans are very affordable compared to the other mobile operators, but there are a couple disadvantages:
- The Lycamobile Uganda network is much smaller
- Their plans include only Lyca to Lyca calling credit
However their data plans have amazing value for money:
- 5,000 UGX = 5 GB data for 1 week - ($1.4)
- 7,000 UGX = 10 GB data for 1 week - ($2)
- 10,000 UGX = 20 GB data for 1 week - ($2.8)
- 25,000 UGX = 50 GB data for 1 week - ($7.1)
- 30,000 UGX = 100 GB data for 1 month - ($8.5)
No need to tell you that these bundles are by far the best prices seen when buying a sim card in Uganda. On top of that the these bundles included Lyca to Lyca calling and texting, even internationally.
Check out the latest information about the Lycamobile Uganda Plans.
Related: Ultimate Uganda Itinerary!
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Best 4G/5G network in Uganda
To find out about the best sim card in Uganda let’s also take a look at the network coverage for mobile internet.
Is there 5G in Uganda? YES! Surprisingly there is a 5G signal available in Uganda. It was the first country in East Africa to have a 5G signal. However, you can find a 5G signal only in Kampala and only with MTN.
Theoretically there is 5G in Uganda, but in reality I did NOT find it when I visited Kampala. When I walked into an MTN Service Center and asked about it, they didn’t even know about 5G in Uganda yet.
However, MTN and Airtel invested big time in 4G in the last 2 years and their mobile internet network coverage in Uganda is pretty decent. Especially on the main roads in Uganda you will mostly find a 4G signal.
As soon as you go off the beaten path the phone signal becomes weaker and the internet speed slows down significantly.
4G network Airtel Uganda
Airtel Uganda claims to reach more than 95% of the Uganda population and invested heavily in their network in 2019 and 2020. They actually have a little 4G coverage map on their website. Click on the link for more details about the Airtel 4G mobile internet network coverage.
4G network MTN Uganda
MTN claims to have the fastest 4G network in Uganda and their coverage is pretty good country wide. Just like Airtel they also invested a lot into upgrading their 4G network in Uganda. Click here for the MTN 4G coverage map.
4G network Africell Uganda
It is much harder to find more info about the 4G coverage of the Africell network in Uganda. Unfortunately they don’t provide any additional info on their website. Fact is that Africell is the smallest network in Uganda after of course Lycamobile who just entered the market.
4G network Lycamobile Uganda
Lycamobile is investing and expanding rapidly and their 4G coverage is growing fast. Still I would NOT recommend a Lycamobile sim card for traveling in Uganda. Click here for more info about the Lycamobile 4G coverage. There is actually a pretty detailed map available on their website.
Overall it is no secret that MTN and Airtel have the best 4G network coverage in Uganda and therefore I recommend tourists to buy a sim card from one of these operators.
However if you are going to Bwindi National Park for the gorilla trekking then I would recommend you buying an Airtel sim card. My friends with Airtel had an ok phone signal, but I had MTN and I could hardly connect.
Best sim card for Uganda
As you have seen the best value for money would be buying a Lycamobile sim card as for less than $10 you get 100 GB data for 1 month. However I would still not recommend tourist to go for a Lycamobile sim card.
For example traveling to Bwindi National Park you will be out of service for most of the time on the road and when in the National Park.
Based on all the above information about the network coverage and the prices it is clear that:
Airtel is the best prepaid sim card in Uganda in 2021!
My experience buying a sim card in Uganda
As you have seen I also wrote a blog about buying a sim card at Entebbe Airport however, that is NOT where I bought my sim card for Uganda. I went to Entebbe Airport only for writing the blog post, but I entered Uganda overland from Tanzania.
At the Uganda - Tanzania border of Mutukula there is no kiosk that sells sim cards for tourists. Therefore I had to wait until I got out of the bus in Masaka. It was already late, but just before curfew I managed to locate an Airtel shop. Although I preferably wanted an MTN sim card (best network I thought) I was happy at this hour with an Airtel sim card.
After the whole official process, which took about 15 minutes, the friendly people told me: sorry, can’t activate, the system is down! Damn, then I am not buying a sim card now!
The next day I woke up and had to go straight to Mbarara, one of the bigger cities in Uganda. Here I tried again to buy a sim card and this time I went to the MTN store. Again I needed to do the whole process and again same problem… system down. Luckily I could come back after lunch and the problem was fixed.
Finally I got my Uganda sim card and I was online! Throughout my Uganda trip I didn’t have any significant problems with my MTN sim card. However when traveling in Southern Uganda: Lake Mburo, Lake Bunyonyi and gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park I found out that my friends who had an Airtel sim card had much better phone signal than me.
Therefore I recommend people traveling to Uganda and trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to buy an Airtel sim card.
I hope all the above tips and tricks about Uganda sim cards were helpful. May you have any additional questions or information please leave me a comment below.
Enjoy your trip to Uganda!