Making an international phone call from Uganda can be pretty straightforward. It can also be a right pain in the kabina (bottom).
When I first arrived in Uganda as a volunteer, I very rarely called home. For some reason outbound phone calls from the UK to Uganda were easier. Skype video calls just didn’t work.
Making a Skype call from Uganda – back in the day…
A Skype conversation would go something like this:
Caller: How are you?
Me: I’m fine. How are you?
Caller: I’m sorry, what are you saying? You’re breaking up a bit. Can you say that again?
Me: I can hear you. I’m fine, how are you?
Caller: Oh dear I can’t really hear you, there’s a bit of an echo on the line, I don’t think I’m going to be to cope with this.
I think to myself: “This conversation is starting the same as the one before and the one before that. Can we move on and have an actual conversation?”
… Call drops off…
The average conversation lasted for four minutes. I would redial and we would have a minute and a half conversation. The whole conversation proceeded in one and a half minute chunks, before one or both of us just gave up.
How to make international calls from Uganda using your mobile phone
Calling directly from your mobile phone is now far cheaper than it used to be. In fact, sometimes it is cheaper to call than to send a SMS. Skype too is better, thanks to improved internet speeds – just don’t expect to always have video! Rainy weather can affect the quality of the internet too (the quality of the call can also be affected by someone cutting through the internet cables under the sea!)
Loading extra airtime on your mobile phone to make an international phone call is one option, whether: Africell (was Orange), Airtel, MTN, UTL, Tangerine or Vodafone. (It’s very rare to have a home landline phone in Uganda). Airtime can be purchased in tiny amounts and just about anywhere. Mobile money ‘M sente’ has revolutionised airtime and bill payments. Kenya led the world in developing M-Pesa, the first solution for sending money and airtime and paying bills via your mobile phone.
My relationship with MTN
I once spent an afternoon hidden in an airtime vendor’s shack in downtown Kampala, sheltering from an immense thunderstorm.
And then of course there’s “MTN Sunday.” What is that all about? Without fail, every Sunday for several years, I lose contact with everyone. Texts disappear or arrive a day and half later, thus “would you like to meet for Sunday lunch?” has to be organised a day or two in advance. (So if you need to contact me on a Sunday, please call me, don’t SMS! Better still, use my Vodafone line).
If Sunday is maintenance day, why have I never received a SMS telling me so? (I wrote this in 2013 – it is still true in 2018).
Have you tried International Airtime Top Up?
This service allows you to top up your mobile credit across 250+ mobile networks worldwide (and you don’t need a Ugandan number to use it). You can also use International Airtime Top Up to send airtime instantly to any of those same mobile phone networks. Check out their web site above for various payment options.
So how does the muzungu call abroad now?
Video Skyping works like a dream now with 4G. My sister prefers FaceTime and mum calls via WhatsApp. I can’t belive how easy it is to call internationally from Kampala now!
Do you have any tips you’d like to share on how to call internationally from Uganda?
… And if you have other travel tips or expat travel advice you’d like to ask or share, please contact the Muzungu.