Heading to Uganda? Congratulations! In this post, you’ll learn about Uganda currency (shillings), banknotes and coins, exchange rates and more. Learn how to handle your money while visiting Uganda, including ATMs, credit cards, and travelers checks.
Uganda Currency: 12 Things to Know about Shillings
So, let’s talk about money. When traveling to Uganda, you will need to know several things about how to use Uganda currency as well as a few money safety tips. Uganda is mostly a cash-based society, and the country’s official currency is the Ugandan Shilling (UGX) which is also represented by the symbol USh.
The Money of Uganda
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You may discover that many Uganda airlines, hotels, safari agencies, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority will charge you in U.S. dollars, but you can pay in Ugandan shillings if you wish. Elsewhere in Uganda, you will most likely find it easier to use Ugandan money. To maximize your travel experience, this article discusses 12 things you need to know about the Uganda Shilling.
1. History and Family of Banknotes of the Uganda Shilling
Would you believe that Uganda currency has changed seven times in the last 50 years?
After Uganda’s independence from Great Britain in 1962 and consequently the collapse of the Eastern African Currency Board in 1966, the Bank of Uganda introduced its first banknotes of 5, 10 and 20 shillings.
As Uganda politics evolved and changed with various leaders so did the currency with many different banknotes being introduced and modified to reflect the leadership present at the time. The latest change was in May 2010.
Current Uganda Banknotes
- 50,000 shillings
- 20,000 shillings
- 10,000 shillings
- 5,000 shillings
- 2,000 shillings
- 1,000 shillings
Current Uganda Coins
- 50 shillings
- 100 shillings
- 200 shillings
- 500 shillings
2. Uganda Heritage Symbols on Ugandan Banknotes
Take a look at the emblems on Uganda banknotes, and you will get an insight into the country’s natural, cultural, and historical heritage.
For example, on the 50,000 shillings note, you will see an image of the Independence Monument, a crested crane, the Bwindi tropical rainforest, silverback mountain gorillas, and the outline of a man wearing a Karimojong headdress. The International Bank Note Society has rated this Ugandan banknote as one of the most beautiful currency in the world.
- The 20,000 shillings note depicts the country’s coat of arms, a traditional drum, the Nile River, the Parliament Building in Kampala, and the Ugandan kob. You will also see symbols of coffee and cotton because these two cash crops are important to the country’s economy.
- Musical instruments on the 10,000 shillings note signify Uganda’s musical heritage while the coat of arms symbol displays spears and the waves of Lake Victoria. On the backside of this note, you will see an image of the Kiira Hydroelectric Power Station.
- In addition to the coat of arms on the 5,000 shillings note, you will see illustrations of Lake Bunyonyi and the MV Kaawa Ferry on Lake Victoria.
- On the 2,000 shillings note are the illustrations of the Speke Memorial, an outline map of Uganda with the equator, a woman uplifting a child, the Nile River, and the crested crane.
- The 1,000 shillings note depicts Uganda’s agriculture with symbols of a farmer working on a banana plantation and trucks in front of grain silos.
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3. Six Counterfeit Security Features
Uganda is the first country in Africa to use the advanced optical security feature against counterfeiting known as SPARK. Other security features on Uganda banknotes include:
- High-quality paper that is difficult to reproduce
- Watermark image of the crested crane with the denomination below the beak
- Special thread woven into the paper that changes colors when tilted.
- Foiled images on each denomination that change patterns at different angles.
- See-through section that displays symbols from the back and front sides simultaneously when held to the light
- Advanced optical security feature (SPARK)
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4. Stability of the Uganda Shilling
The Uganda shilling is a stable, convertible Uganda currency that floats against foreign currency on the international market. For you as a tourist, this means that you can exchange your home currency for shillings to pay for products and services everywhere in Uganda.
However, you will find that the euro (EUR), Great Britain pound (GBP), and the U.S. dollar (USD) are used frequently throughout Uganda. Many tour operators, such as those for gorilla trekking, and upscale hotels often quote in U.S. dollars, but you can use Uganda shillings for payment.
5. Exchanging Your Money to Uganda Shillings
When traveling to Uganda, you can exchange your home currency for Uganda currency before departure or after arrival. In Uganda, banks and forex bureaus (bureaux de change) in major towns will convert your money to the local currency.
When exchanging your money to Uganda shillings, it is recommended that you request smaller banknotes because you may find it difficult to obtain change for larger notes in some places. Plus, smaller notes make it easier for tipping.
If you are traveling from the United States, you must know that Uganda does not accept dollar bills any older than 2006 due to previous forgery experiences. Also, you should make sure your bills are in good condition when exchanging them for Uganda shillings to ensure acceptance and maybe even a better rate.
If you want to get the best possible exchange rate after arriving in Uganda, the best place to do so is in Kampala, the country’s capital city. If you are planning on gorilla trekking or going on a wildlife safari, the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) accepts euros, dollars and pounds and will also offer you fair currency exchange rates for gorilla permits and national park fees.
Before traveling to Uganda, you can go online and check various financial websites for the current exchange rate. Some of the more widely known sites include Google Finance, Yahoo! Finance, and OANDA. As of the writing of this article, the exchange rate is as follows:
- 1 EUR = 4379.64 UGX
- 1 USD = 3783.55 UGX
- 1 GBP = 4950.62 UGX
- 1 CAD = 2901.38 UGX
- 1 AUD = 2691.62 UGX
6. Using ATMs in Uganda
If you wish to use an ATM while in Uganda, you will most likely need a Visa debit or credit card because Visa is what is preferred in this country.
The best places to use an ATM machine are the largest and most common banks found throughout the country, which include Barclays, Crane, Stanbic, Orient, Centenary, and Standard Chartered. You will find at least one of these banks even in smaller towns.
4 Tips For Using ATMs in Uganda:
Prior to traveling, alert your home bank that you will be using your card in Uganda or else you may find it denied.
- Be aware of the daily cash withdrawal limit.
- Use ATMs that offer privacy and protect your PIN number as you punch it in.
- Do not accept assistance from volunteers at an ATM because they could be local scammers.
- Try not to let your cash run out because you may find some ATMs empty or non-working.
7. Using Your Credit Card in Uganda
Credit cards are not as widely used in Uganda as in other countries except in major hotels, posh restaurants and safari lodges. You should be aware that when using your credit card in Uganda, a surcharge of anywhere between 5 percent and 15 percent could be added to your bill.
To reduce your risks of credit card fraud and theft, it is best to not use your credit card in Uganda because scamming technology is becoming more sophisticated. However, if you do choose to use a credit card, you will need to use a Visa because most other cards are not accepted, except for MasterCard occasionally.
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8. Should You Use Traveler’s Cheques in Uganda?
With the exception of major international banks such as Barclays, Stanbic, and Standard Chartered, it is probably not a good idea to use traveler’s cheques in Uganda as many places will either not accept them or will exchange them at a terribly low rate and with extra fees.
9. Is it Okay to Bargain in Uganda?
One of the fun things about visiting other countries is bargaining with vendors over souvenirs and handicrafts.
In Uganda, some bargaining is acceptable at markets and family-owned stores, but make sure you take a kind and light-hearted approach while engaging in this because aggressive haggling is unwelcome. In well-established shops such as those in Kampala, you will find most items already priced and non-negotiable.
10. Tipping in Uganda
Tipping in Uganda is not really expected, but since you will find that many Ugandans are very poor with wages much lower than what you are accustomed, tipping vendors in Uganda shillings is much appreciated.
In restaurants, a reasonable tip is between 1,000 USh and 1,500 USh while for a national park ranger or safari guide, a good tip may be between 5,000 USh and 10,000 USh. For a taxi driver, you can just round up the fare to next whole amount as a tip.
11. Money Safety Tips While Visiting Uganda
In general, traveling in Uganda is safe, but you should always practice safety when it comes to your money. Here are a few tips:
- Wear anti-theft articles to hide your cash such a money belt or slash-proof backpack with secret pockets. Otherwise, keep your money in your front pocket instead of the back pocket.
- Don’t use ATMs in bars or anywhere that people could be watching you withdraw your money.
- Don’t flash your money in public places which could attract unwanted attention.
- Try not to use large bills in restaurants, bars or markets because this could make you a target for pickpockets.
- Ignore the money changers that frequent border crossings. They are often con artists who will cheat you with low exchange rates or counterfeit Uganda currency notes.
A little travel insurance is always a good idea. It covers emergency medical care, plus some policies will cover your belongings, including your camera and documents.
12. What’s the Sign and Code for Ugandan Shillings?
The shilling is the official currency in Uganda. Here is the sign and the code for the shilling.
- Sign: USh
- Code: UGX
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Once you know the facts about Uganda currency, traveling in Uganda should be much easier and trouble-free for you.
Understanding the Uganda shilling banknotes and how best to use them removes stress and prevents complications so that you can concentrate on enjoying the great experiences to be had in the Pearl of Africa.