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 really well. 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 or Vodaphone. (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.
Move over traditional voice calls and Skype … and make way for SmileVoice!
Have you downloaded the SmileVoice app yet?
With this innovative application, you can call anyone, on any number anywhere in Uganda and the world. You get cheap, crystal-clear calls across the world using your Smile data or Wi-Fi. Download SmileVoice for free from Google Play or the Apple Store.
All SmileVoice calls are charged in MBs. For example, if you have a 10 GB Anytime SmileData bundle and make local SmileVoice calls, calls are charged in MBs to your data bundle and your effective call rate per second is UGX 2.36/second –those are the lowest call rates on the market. (You don’t have to be a Smile subscriber to make use of this service by the way. It also works via any WiFi. Try it for yourself! I have, it’s brilliant!)
Have you tried Smile Uganda 4G LTE internet yet?
Since 2013, I’ve found that by far and away the fastest internet provider is Smile Communications Uganda. Tests prove that – despite claims from the competition – Smile 4G LTE is the fastest Internet provider in the country. Smile cover the majority of Kampala and are investing in more infrastructure to further expand their network.
Update July 2016: Smile 4G LTE is now available in Entebbe, Fort Portal, Gulu, Jinja, Kampala, Kabale, Lira, Masaka, Masindi, Mbale, Mbarara, Mpigi Town, Mukono, Soroti, Tororo and Wakiso.
You can buy a dongle, a portable MiFi, router (for the home or office), or visit one of the internet cafes Smile serve. I love my MiFi. It fits in my pocket, has five hours or more battery and can be used for up to 10 devices, e.g. your laptop, SmartPhone, tablet. If you’re feeling generous, you can let your friends have the password too! I’ve saved a number of client meetings by giving my clients the password to my MiFi 😉 Once you get used to the reliable high speeds of Smile 4G, I doubt you will have the patience for any other internet, even if it’s offered to you free of charge.
When Smile 4G first came to Uganda, I experienced my first half hour Skype video chat – with an uninterrupted great picture and great sound. This has become the norm for me now. As someone who spends so much of my time online, having a reliable – and fast – internet provider makes a huge difference to my life.
4G LTE broadband is the fastest mobile data service in the world. 4G LTE = Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution. Check it out!
My relationship with MTN
MTN, Airtel and Vodaphone have also introduced 4G LTE – but theirs is not as fast as Smile’s 4G.
I once spent an afternoon hidden in a MTN 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? If it’s maintenance time, why have I never received a SMS telling me so?
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!
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.