Tripindigo Handbook: Money, Health, Mobiles, Scams, WIFI, Sport equipment
Useful and good-to-know information for an easy journey
Currency in East Africa
Kenya uses the Kenyan shilling and in Tanzania the Tanzanian shilling is the legal currency. Although both are called shilling, there is a big difference in value. A thousand shilling in Kenya is worth just under 10 USD (just over 9 EUR) whereas a thousand Tanzanian shilling is only worth a little under 50 cent USD (around 40 cent EUR).
When travelling to Tanzania, you might find it difficult to buy Tanzanian shillings before arrival (ie in your home country). This is because it is illegal for non-residents to import and / or export the local currency. So any currency you are able to purchase abroad is actual illegal.
It is easier (and legal) to purchase Kenyan shilling before arrival as both residents and non-residents are allowed to import and / or the Kenyan shilling. Only if you want to import more than USD 10,000 do you need to declare it (for export this is above USD 5,000).
South Sudan uses the South Sudanese Pound (SSP), having replaced the Sudanese Pound in 2011. Divided into 100 piasters the currency is volatile, with the country experiencing severe foreign exchange limitations.
Uganda uses the Ugandan Shilling (USh) divided into 100 cents. Most services are quoted and paid for in local currency. It is advisable to have a small amount of USD on you.
Rwanda’s currency is the Rwandan Franc (RWF). Many tourism services are priced in USD, whilst eg: public transport is paid for using the Franc.
We state often on this site where and where not to exchange foreign currency. eg: street dealers are not the place to do it; Hotels usually offer the service but at worse rates than the banks. Where ever possible pay for goods and services using local currency. You’ll definately not get a more favourable price using foreign currency – usually the opposite.
Health and Vaccinations
Make sure you book a visit to your (travel) doctor to check which vaccinations you might need. This needs to be done approximately 6-8 weeks before your departure date to ensure you can receive the vaccinations you need, some need a second or even a third visit to be completely protected.
For more information about your health and vaccinations for your East African holiday, see /travel-guide/health-and-vaccinations
We all want to stay connected nowadays, even when we are on holiday. To avoid huge bills at the end of your trip because of roaming it is best to turn off data roaming completely when you go on holiday to East Africa.
In the more trendy cafes and some hotels and lodges you will be able to log on using wifi, but if you want to be able to check your messages more regularly you can of course also buy a local sim card. You can get them at the main international airports, they offer sim cards including data as well.
Please be aware that coverage of the networks does not cover the entire country and it is very possible you will have large areas you won’t be able to pick up any signal. This of course depends hugely on the areas you visit.
Online purchases and card transactions
Online buying is not at all unusual, nor is the use of credit cards. When buying off a website, ensure that the payment provider has good security. How to do this? Their name eg: Direct Pay Online will be clearly displayed on the website. It’s easy to look up their credentials. Any reputable business will offer their services with an accredited payment provider.
Common sense must prevail: we all know that internet cafes are unsafe for the divulging of any private or sensitive information .Don’t use them for this purpose.
Do not let your credit card out of your sight – go with the restaurant attendant to use it if there isn’t a portable terminal. This is good advice for any place in the world.
Being asked for money once one has taken a photograph of someone or something is not a scam: it’s good custom to clear with the person / shop owner the fact that you’d like to photograph them / their home / their shop. (In some cultures having one’s photograph taken is unlucky, it is a no no).
Scams – watch out for
East Africa has its fair share of scammers out there. Like anywhere else on the planet, especially in touristy or crowded areas you will need to make sure you pay attention to what it happening around you to avoid being taken advantage off.
Pickpockets and snatching:
It is best to leave any excessive show of wealth at home. Flashing expensive watches, phones and jewellery can attract unwanted attention.
Don’t use your phone when walking the streets as it is easily snatched. If you have to use your phone when you are out or in a busy area, try to find a quiet spot, preferably with your back against a wall or similar.
And similarly be sensible about your handbag. When walking alongside a road, carry it on the other side over your shoulder and keep your elbow tucked in. Backpacks can be worn in front of you in busy areas to keep an eye on it.
Don’t put wallets and phones in back pockets of your trousers either.
When driving in a car it is best to keep your windows up and your doors locked. This is especially good practice if you are in any built up areas, especially the bigger cities, and driving slowly or standing still (usually because of traffic). Don’t open your windows to give to beggars either, as they might grab more than you wanted to give.
These are simple precautions you can take to keep yourself safe, not only in East Africa, but anywhere in the world.
Do not exchange currency anywhere with street dealers. For one, it’s illegal. Secondly, fake notes are not unheard of.
The willing guide and helper
Most people will be very happy to help you if you ask them anything, but of course there can be some who would like to take advantage of the unknowing tourist by pretending they can assist you with your query, or even offer their services unprompted. Once you follow them, it might become clear after a while they actually don’t know what they are talking about, but they still might want a reward, or simply lunch money for their efforts.
Exploring, especially on foot
It is always a good idea to check with locals if you want to explore a city or other area too, ask them if it is safe to do so. Especially if you want to venture out at night, some locations which are perfectly fine during daytime, may not be very safe during the night.
Kilimanjaro other guided excursions
For those of you going to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, it is good to know the guides and porters sometimes pretend at the end of the climb, after you have given them their tip, that the tip is not enough.
There are guidelines for giving tips of course. And please remember when deciding on the size of your tip that often the porters and guides don’t get a very good salary. But if you have given your guides and porters a decent tip, then don’t fall for the ‘it’s not enough trick’.
Reputable companies will ensure their guides and porters are treated fairly, have good gear and are paid a decent salary. By using these companies you might be able to avoid this scam.
Golden rule: ask upfront and establish the expectation. It always works.
Sports equipment – travelling with
If you are keen to do a specific sport when on holiday in East Africa, it is best to check thoroughly to see what the possibilities are for rent. And when you are asking what is available, make sure you are very specific and everything you need is in good working order.
The opportunities for sport are endless.It is an excellent outdoor adventure and activity based destination, but the infrastructure for most sports is still in its infancy at best, and at worst totally non-existent.
You may find some places have boards you can use for kitesurfing, and they may have sails too (but the selection of sizes might be limited), but what about the harness? Make sure they maintain things like the safety release.
For horseriding safaris it is good to check what they have in terms of safety equipment too, and the same is true for mountain biking and for example paragliding. If you are interested in diving there will be adequate equipment if you book through a reputable diving company. If you have your own bcd, regulator, wetsuit, fins and mask it might be worth bringing those to ensure you are comfortable.
Snorkelling equipment can generally be borrowed for free at the better hotels, but the quality might not be what you are used to. This of course depends on what type of accommodation you have booked. Kayaks on the other hand you will most likely not be able to find for rent, unless you are happy with the basic ones some hotels might offer for rent (or for free) to potter about on the ocean or on a lake.
But if the main reason for your holiday is the sport you want to participate in, you might want to look into the option of bringing your own equipment. Most international airlines offer options to travel with your sporting equipment, some for free, and for others you might have to pay a nominal fee.
Keep in mind that if you need to fly somewhere within East Africa and you are flying with small aircraft, that the size and weight restrictions are very limiting and usually very strict.
If you want to impress the locals you can learn some Swahili before you go. It really is very much appreciated and you will be rewarded with a huge smile for your efforts.
There are several online options to take a course, including Duolingo which has very recently started with a Swahili course. It is a great way to learn some Swahili and be able to greet and thank your hosts in their own language.
If you are an independent traveller it will be more important for you to learn Swahili when your trip takes you to Tanzania. In Kenya you will generally be able to find many English speaking locals anywhere in the country. In Tanzania you won’t be able to find English speakers outside the main tourist areas and some places in the main (tourist) towns like Arusha, Stone Town and Dar es Salaam.