It is hard to find first hand accounts regarding the viability of working remotely, traveling, and living in the ‘Dark Continent.’ I know because I ounce looked into living in either Kenya or Tanzania and found little info to go on. (I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, so I figured if I made the expense to travel there, I would stay in the region for a few months to really get to know the place.)
Redditor u/bellard32 posted a useful account on r/digitalnomad of his experiences working remotely in Uganda and Tanzania. Here are some of the more useful data points and how they mesh with my understanding of the situation.
So before I went travelling through Uganda and Tanzania, I couldn’t find much information on what I should expect about working remotely in Africa. For context, I work for a very flexible company that allows all of it’s employees to work from wherever makes them happy. My girlfriend and I decided to do a five week trip to these two countries, and I worked two of those weeks.
A commenter asked about the author’s job. He responded that he is a customer service manager for a web company. Online customer service is one of the few jobs that is truly compatible with remote and interrupted work schedules.
I knew a digital nomad who did online customer service for a cryptocurrency trading site. Modern customer service chat software allows companies employ large, remote staffs that can login to the systems whenever they want. The software queues customers and doles them out to the employees that are logged in. Employees get paid based on the volume and quality of support they provide (two very easy metrics for the software to report). The downside is that pay is typically low.
My job mostly just requires an internet connection for written communication via email and Slack. I work a lot with online tools like Google Docs and Sheets, AirTable, Google Analytics, etc. A few times a day, I have video meetings via Google Hangouts. So I don’t require a heavy internet connection most of the time, outside of those video calls (which did end up being the most difficult part of working in Africa).
In the present day, concerns about internet connections are becoming something you don’t really need to ask anymore. Cellular internet has reached just about every region of Earth that has electricity. Cellular data plans are insanely cheap in the 2nd and 3rd world vs the 1st. As the author noted, only video is still an issue. 5G will solve this in the next few years.
Didn’t work here but I did have a sim card for my phone. Internet connection in the major cities were mostly fine, usually at H+. Outside of the cities, the internet was poor, either E or non existent. Don’t expect to go gorilla trekking in Bwindi in the morning and be using an active internet connection in the afternoon. Our accommodations varied on whether they had internet or not. When they did, it wasn’t uncommon for it to go down for a while, and reception would just shrug and say “it’ll maybe be back online later”. I know there are shared working spaces in Kampala, but I didn’t make use of these.
I always get a sim card in country for the above reasons – not to mention self-reliance.
We visited Entebbe, Lake Mburo, Lake Bunyonyi, Bwindi Forest, Queen Elizabeth Park, Fort Portal and Kampala. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t recommend working in most of those places, except for Kampala and Entebbe, and maybe Fort Portal if you’re staying in the city.
Tanzania – Arusha
Our Tanzania chapter started in Arusha, where my girlfriend did a week of volunteer work, so that was a good week for me to start working again. We stayed a little off the beaten track, with a host family north of the downtown area. So I’m not sure what the internet is like in the main city itself, but even in the surrounding village areas it was manageable. …
I just used my phone as a hotspot most of the time. My sim card was also via Halotel, as I was told that they had the best coverage. I bought 6GB of data for 25,000 shilling (~€9.50), and by the end of the week I had used just about all of it (again, with the video meetings eating through most of my data).
I never had issues with losing a signal, and I was always able to communicate with my colleagues using Slack. Using Hangouts definitely varied. Sometimes I was able to hold a normal meeting, but then other times the person on the other end would tell me that I was breaking up. Usually our solution was to just turn off the video and make it an audio-only call, and then we could hear each other again.
I frequently tested the internet speed while I was there, and usually the download and upload speeds hovered between 1 – 2.5 MB/s. Not fast, but good enough to get most of my work done. If it did ever fall below 1 MB/s, it was temporary, though that did definitely hinder my ability to be online.
Here, I took vacation days in the south, and worked while in the north. That was definitely the right call. I frequently didn’t have any cell coverage in the south, and the hotel wifi was very slow (couldn’t even really upload pictures to Google Drive). In the north, I was back in that 1 – 2.5 MB/s zone. Not great, but good enough to get my work done.
For the most part, working in Nungwi was essentially the same experience as working in Arusha, so that text above applies here too.
It’s possible to work remotely in Uganda and Tanzania! Though mostly in the busy areas. Definitely try to do a bit of research about where you’re staying before you go, and don’t expect hotel wifi to get you through it – I’d recommend having a sim card as a back up. Generally, the more populated the area, the more likely you won’t have issues, and heading to the rural areas will mean you’ll encounter more issues.
This is just my experience though! I can’t pretend to be an expert after just 5 weeks. But like I said, I found it hard to find information on working remotely in these countries before I left, so I wanted to leave a record for anyone else considering it.
Additional information gleamed from the comment section
Commenter: I was in Kigali for a month and I found it boring and rigid. The green was a nice change from the arid brown in Tanzania and a good chunk of South Africa, but they are super up tight about rules. More than once i had a cop chase me down the street to yell at me for not getting his permission to cross the street – in a crosswalk. Once, I stepped on some grass in a park and I got yelled at for that too. I have low tolerance for that level of crap so I headed to Uganda – which was also slightly cheaper.
Commenter: Rwanda has better infrastructure (sidewalks and street lights), which is nice. In Uganda we got far more “hey mzungu!!!”, but you learn to smile or ignore it. Oddly, the Rwandans are more reserved in general, but we get more people touching my kids (brown) hair in Rwanda.
Commenter: I spent three weeks in Kigali (though not as a digital nomad), and I loved it there. Very safe and clean although likely not as cheap as many foreigners may assume. I liked the less touristy feel of Rwanda
When I first considered living in Africa I figured it would be the cheapest place on Earth to live due to their poverty. I thought I could find a little spot to live and exist indefinitely on my savings while I worked on digital projects. WRONG.
Generally, you have two tiers. The lower tier is mud huts or shanty towns with bad sanitation, low nutrition food, crime, and lacking infrastructure. You don’t want to be there. The higher tier is actually more expense than a lot of places in the West. There isn’t much (if any) middle ground. Inefficiency, corruption, and a lack of domestically produced goods inflates the price of everything related to a Western standard of living. This is all a broad generalization for an enormous continent, but it is mostly true.
Commenter: Kigali is nice, but i found it to be pretty expensive. Actually I found lodging in cities in east africa to be expensive in general if you want anything remotely close to western standards (you can get significantly nicer places for cheaper in many areas of Europe).
Commenter: I’m in Kigali now. It’s definitely more expensive than Uganda, but not in a global sense IMO.
Cheap 4G internet is available from popconn or Mango. $6.66/month for 5Mbit down/1.5Mbit up, unlimited. $22/month to up the cap to 100Mbit or whatever full speed is.
Did you feel safe in Uganda? I’ve been reading mixed reviews lately.
Commenter: I am a white, fairly young woman, and I am constantly followed by men of all ages in some tourist spots in Africa when I travel alone.
Author: Yes, we definitely felt safe. We got stared at a lot, and most people loved shouting “muzungu!” at us as we walked/drove by (especially children, but also adults). Muzungu is their word for “foreigner”, I guess. It was funny at first, but got a bit tiring by the end. So I would say I often felt singled out and didn’t quite blend in (obviously as a white person in Africa), but I never sensed any aggression and in most cases they said it with a smile.
Commenter: I travel with my wife and 4 kids and never felt unsafe in either Uganda or Rwanda.