Learning how to use a Ugandan Sim Card and Mobile Money changed my experience in Uganda. Here is your how to guide and why it will make your travels in Uganda so much easier!
Why get a Ugandan Sim card
So if you are visiting a country for a small amount of time, your first thought might be to not get a sim card. However, getting a sim in Uganda is a brilliant idea because of the lack of good wifi and also to be in contact with the places you will be staying. Having a sim is also a really great way to handle and transfer money – more on that later!
How to get a Ugandan Sim Card
The best way to get a SIM is at the airport in Entebbe. It costs approx. 5USD to get a sim card. You need to provide your details and ID but it is a very simple process. You will set up your sim card pin at this point, make sure you remember it! If you do not fly into Entebbe, any of the phone shops in towns and cities will be able to sort you out.
Note: make sure you use a memorable number as your pin. You will need it for all future transactions!
Which network to choose in Uganda
There are 2 main networks in Uganda – MTN or Airtel. There is no significant difference between the 2. Most Ugandan people will have 2 sim cards, one for each network. You may notice that lodges will have a 2 phone numbers and then state which number to use for WhatsApp. This is because the price is different depending on which network you are using and which network the person you are calling is using.
How to tell if a phone number is Airtel or MTN
It is simple to tell if a number is MTN or Airtel by the beginning of the number. An MTN number starts with 0774, 0772 or 0782. An airtel number will start with 0752.
If you call MTN-MTN the ring tone will be almost like phone vibration sound rather than a ring. (This really confused me the first time and I thought it wasn’t connecting!) If you call MTN-Airtel it will be a beep sound.
How to top up a Ugandan sim card
This is the basic fundamental when learning how to use a Ugandan Sim Card and Mobile Money. You can top up your sim card by 1 of 2 ways. Using mobile money or using an in-person vendor.
To top up in person, you take cash to the network stand of your sim and ask them to top up for you. You will need to specify your phone number and also what you would like for example ‘10GB data’. This is paid for in cash only.
If you have mobile money already on your sim, you can top up on your phone. (More on how to add mobile money to your sim below).
If you have an MTN sim, dial *165# and call. If you are using an airtel sim, dial *185# and call. A screen will then appear with multiple options. To add minutes or data select ‘airtime and bundles’. You do this by ‘replying’ and typing the number of the option. Follow this process through until it confirms the process is complete.
So many lodges will have wifi but it could be wildly slow and not very dependable. If you like to be in contact with friends and family or need to do any form of work, data is what you need. It is not the cheapest ever but it won’t break the bank. 30GB is 100,000USH with a limit of a month.
Minutes to be able to talk to another Ugandan sim is called ‘Airtime’. You can top this up as just money or buy minutes or text bundles. If you are buying MTN-MTN or Airtel-Airtel, you can buy a bundle. If you are calling another network, you will need to just add airtime money.
Mobile Money in Uganda
Mobile money was the real game changing positive for me of having a Ugandan Sim card. It meant that I was able to transfer money and pay for things without carrying large amounts of cash on me. It was so grateful I learnt how to Use a Ugandan Sim Card and Mobile Money.
It is very common for people not to have a bank account in Uganda and often people’s money will be saved on their sim card. This is called ‘mobile money’. You can withdraw cash, you can pay for shopping/hotels and also use it to pay for data or phone calls. I use Revolut whenever I travel and to my horror I found that it was blocked in Uganda. With mobile money, I was able to transfer my money from the UK.
How to add Mobile Money to your Ugandan Sim
If you have cash and would like to add it to your sim, you can do this at a mobile money counter. You give the vendor the cash and state the amount of money you would like to be added to your sim.
As well as this, you can ask a friend to transfer money to your mobile sim and give them the cash. You can do this using the main sim menu: If you have an MTN sim, dial *165# and call. If you are using an airtel sim, dial *185# and call. There will be an option to pay a mobile number.
How to transfer money to mobile money from abroad
Download the app ‘Remitly’. It is very simple to set up your details and account. With this you can enter your card from your home country and any Ugandan phone number and be able to send money to either your own or someone else’s sim card. The money will arrive to the sim card up to 15 minutes but is usually slightly quicker. The Remitly app saves the details of your card and previous phone numbers so once you have transferred one time it Is very simple to repeat the process.
How to withdraw money from Mobile Money
To withdraw cash is a very simple process. You need to go to a street mobile money vendor. They are everywhere on the roadside. They could just be a person sitting on the side of the road with a book and table. To withdraw money they need your mobile phone number and how much money you want. You will receive an alert to your phone that says ______ is withdrawing an amount of _______ from your account. Enter your pin to confirm. You need to respond to the message with your pin and this will confirm the transaction. You will receive an SMS to confirm and your new mobile money balance. A small withdrawal charge is made for this and depends on the amount you withdraw.
As you need to confirm on your phone, someone can do this on your behalf as long as you have your phone on you (obviously someone you trust!). So you can be at home and someone get your money as long as you confirm your pin on your phone. While I was staying in Uganda, some of my friends did this as well as someone from one of the lodges I was staying in. It is useful system especially if you do not feel comfortable walking in a busy place clearly just having withdrawn a large amount of cash.
How to pay using mobile money
You can pay in most shops, restaurants and hotels using mobile money. This can either be done through a personal number of one of the staff members or a ‘retail payment’. If it is a tourist establishment, they will have instructions on how they would like you to pay. If you are paying someone using a personal number you can do this using the main sim menu: If you have an MTN sim card, dial *165# and call. If you are using an airtel sim card, dial *185# and call. There will be an option to pay a mobile number and follow the instructions.