28

Apparently it is strictly illegal to import used computers into Uganda, per Uganda Revenue Authority re. passenger arrivals at Entebbe International Airport:

Prohibited goods are goods whose importation is strictly not allowed by any law in force. For example, used electronics such as used computers/Laptops, used fridges, used TV sets, used underwear among others. If you are found/convicted of importing prohibited items, the penalty ranges up to 5 years in prison or a penalty of 50% of the value of subject goods and the costs of destruction.

This is immediately concerning to anyone travelling with their own computer(s), which are by definition used, and thus illegal prima facie. The URA put out a video interview (English after the first few minutes) which claims that this ban doesn't apply, for visitors and returning residents alike, to equipment you have been using outside Uganda and which you are importing for your own use. But I haven't seen this in writing.

(It did occur to me that 99.999% of arrivals to EBB are successfully smuggling used underwear. But the gentleman in the video mentioned laptops as being very common contraband, so I think the action thresholds here are different.)

It's all well and good that this interview informally alludes to an exemption for personal equipment, but when we're talking about the potential destruction of one's possessions, the loss of essential work tools, and/or criminal charges, one needs a bit more certainty here. This is much more onerous than the usual, "if our agent thinks you're trying to sell it, then we're gonna tax you."

In fact, the supposed exemption is almost a self-contradiction. URA categorizes goods into "Allowable", "Restricted" and "Prohibited"; used computers are "Prohibited", which means strictly disallowed, not allowed under some conditions (which would instead be "Restricted"). This is highly confusing and scary.

Is there anything official, in writing, that makes it clear that importing your own computers for your own use is not a crime?

And if so, is there anything official, in writing, and public, that clearly sets out how personal use is differentiated from illegal commercial importation? Or is this purely at the discretion of URA staff?

Given the seriousness, there are some compounding specifics to consider:

  • If you're a Westerner carrying a dated computer, are they going to conclude (by profiling) that you're trying to hawk it?

  • What if you have two or three different types of computer, for different purposes? For instance: (1) a small, cheapie notebook for carrying around, (2) a better one to keep at home for development work, and (3) a desktop in pieces for later re-assembly, more suitable for larger storage, video editing, etc. Having overlapping/redundant equipment can, in my actual travel experience, improve flexibility and resiliency. Is this going to attract jail time?

  • If in addition to the computers, you have various other electronic gadgets, is your situation now even more dire?

  • The interview video in several places mentions the importance of proof of ownership. What if someone gave you the machine or you otherwise don't have the receipt? Would intimate familiarity with the machine (passwords, installed software, quirks) help?

How do digital nomads and others who depend on electronic gear get into Uganda without running afoul of their laws?

7
  • 1
    I included the "compounding specifics" in the same post because they're closely tied to the same root problem (used computers being illegal). These can be taken out if considered to detract from the root question. Jan 2 at 7:02
  • 3
    "importing" and "bringing in" are not the same thing at all. Importing involves bringing something in and leaving it behind. When you visit a place and bring things with you that you take away with you, that's not importing those things. Jan 2 at 18:52
  • 3
    @KateGregory Not necessarily true, though there may be different definitions. When bringing commercial goods or other things of high value, you often need to do a temporary import if you intend to take it back with you. This will typically exempt you from VAT and custom duties, but there's more paperwork and controls than when just bringing personal belongings. In the eyes of custom authorities it's still imports, even if temporary. I don't know if Ugandan law allows temporary imports of used computers though.
    – jkej
    Jan 2 at 20:24
  • 2
    By the same logic, wouldn't you be required to travel without underwear? Jan 3 at 7:52
  • 1
    @Criggie I'm not sure it's safe (particularly with contraband) to assume that taking something across a port of entry will not be considered importation. Customs can't know for sure you're not, for instance, leaving it at a secondary residence (especially on a multiple-entry visa), or even that it doesn't just break down before you leave. If you can say confidently that Ugandan/EAC law, regulations or policies would definitely exclude the described scenarios from their definition of "importation", then that might make a good answer. Jan 4 at 21:30

1 Answer 1

30

You're seriously overthinking this. The law is intended to stop the practice of dumping broken or obsolete electronics (basically e-waste) in bulk into the country. As explained in the official video you yourself linked to (!), importation of personal goods that you intend to take out of the country when you leave is fine.

That said, bringing three computers including a disassembled PC (!?) would be just asking for trouble in almost any country, so don't do that.

More broadly, this is Africa: the precise wording of the regulations is irrelevant, if somebody in Customs decides to take issue with what you're bringing they can always find some excuse. They won't, though, since as a Westerner (which I presume means you're visibly non-African), Customs people know you can bring all sorts of resources to bear if hassled too much (embassy, lawyers, press etc), and they'll pick on easier targets.

1
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 4 at 16:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .