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Ethiopia

If you’re travelling to Ethiopia, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Latest Alert

On 3 December a tourist was shot and killed, and his guide was shot and wounded, while on a tour in the Danakil depression in Northern Ethiopia. There is increased military and police presence in the area.

There is an ongoing threat of civil unrest and violence, particularly in parts of the Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions. Irish citizens are strongly advised to remain vigilant, exercise caution, monitor local media, follow the advice of local authorities and avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.

As internet and other communication services may be restricted, it is advisable to have alternative communication plans in place and to inform friends/family of your travel plans. As of 26 September, local SIM cards (Ethio Telecom) will not work in mobile devices which have not been purchased in Ethiopia or registered with the authorities. In order to use an Ethio Telecom SIM card, you must register your phone at the airport and your device may be subject to tax. This change does not affect Irish or other international SIM cards which have been set up for roaming.

Security status

Demonstrations which have led to violent clashes have occurred intermittently in the Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions since late 2015. Since the lifting of the State of Emergency on 4 August 2017, security presence remains high. As the situation is unpredictable and could deteriorate without warning, we strongly recommend that demonstrations are avoided.

Serious confrontations between ethnic groups have taken place in recent months along the border of the Oromia and Somali regions. There has also been unrest and violent protests in towns across Oromia, including Sheshemane, Ambo, Wolisso, Dodola and the Illubabor zone.

There are ongoing military operations against insurgent groups in the Somali region and the situation is extremely volatile, particularly along the border with Somalia. Foreigners have previously been subject to attacks and kidnapping by rebel groups.There has been sporadic violence during 2017 in the Gambella region and along the borders with Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya, as well as in Gondar and Bahir Dar.

The border with Eritrea remains closed and the security situation in the border areas in Tigray and Afar remains unpredictable. On 3 December a tourist was shot and killed while on a tour in the Danakil depression. Foreigners have been kidnapped and attacked in this area in previous years. Travel to this area should only be undertaken with a recognised tour operator as they are generally supported by a military or armed escort.

There is a risk of terrorism from regional groups associated with al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. Security is tight in most hotels, shopping centres and other public places.

We advise against all travel to:

  • The border area with Eritrea, with the exception of the main road through Axum and Adigrat, and tourist sites close to the road (e.g. Debre Damo and Yeha)
  • The border areas with Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya
  • The Nogob, Jarar and Korahe zones of the Somali region

We advise against all but essential travel to:

  • North Gondar, particularly the woredas (districts) of Tsegede, Mirab Armacho and Tach Armacho
  • All other areas adjacent to Ethiopia's borders
  • The remaining areas of the Somali region
  • The Gambella region
  • The border area between Oromia and Somali regions

Emergency Assistance

We suggest you learn as much as you can about Ethiopia before your trip from travel agents, tour operators and guide books. The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems, start by talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.

You can contact the emergency services in Ethiopia by dialling:

  • Police: 91
  • Ambulance: 92
  • Fire: 93

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates

Safety and security

Terrorism 

There is a threat from terrorism in Ethiopia and security is tight in most hotels, shopping centres, and other public places. Irish citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of security awareness at all times and to avoid crowds and are strongly advised to review their personal safety and to remain vigilant, and to be cautious when frequenting prominent public places and landmarks

Crime

Crime remains relatively low in Ethiopia but muggings and armed assaults are reportedly on the rise especially in Addis Ababa. While violent crime, particularly against foreigners, is unusual, it is not unheard of. Crime increases significantly after dark and its best not to walk unaccompanied in Addis Ababa or elsewhere after nightfall. Please take sensible precautions:

  • Don't carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place
  • Don't carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home
  • Avoid showing large sums of money in public and don't use ATMs after dark, especially if you're alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business
  • Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, and arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible
  • Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafés, train and bus stations
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag snatching from vehicles stopped at traffic lights
  • Be alert when calling or texting on your mobile phone – it's best not to do this on the street. Violent muggings have occurred over mobile phones worth less than €20 in Ireland

Petty Theft

Bag snatching and pick pocketing are most common in areas frequented by foreigners such as the Piazza, Mercato, Bole and Churchill Road areas of Addis Ababa. Be especially watchful for pickpockets when getting out of taxis in these areas.

Reporting Crime

If you’re a victim of a crime while in Ethiopia, report it to the local police immediately. And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa if you need help

Visas

Ethiopian tourist visas (one month or three month, single entry) are available to Irish citizens upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The on-arrival visa process is available only at Bole International Airport and is not available at any of the other airports in Ethiopia. The visa fee at Bole International Airport is payable in U.S. dollars. Current visa fees are $50 for one month and $70 for 3 months – both are only for single entry.

Homosexuality

Homosexual activity is illegal and the subject is taboo for the majority of Ethiopians.

Social unrest

The political situation in Ethiopia is reasonably stable but there can be occasional outbreaks of social unrest.

We advise you to avoid demonstrations and public gatherings, which can sometimes turn confrontational. And always keep yourself informed of what's going on around you by monitoring local media and staying in contact with your hotel or tour organiser.

Driving

If you're planning to drive in Ethiopia, be aware that road safety standards are low and you need to be extremely careful while driving or walking on roads. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ethiopia has the highest rate of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world. We advise against travelling by road outside towns and cities after dark, due to the increased risk of road accidents.

Roads in Ethiopia are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and poorly lighted. Road travel after dark outside Addis Ababa and other cities is dangerous and discouraged due to hazards posed by broken-down vehicles left in the road, pedestrians walking in the road, stray animals, and the possibility of armed robbery. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians and livestock in the roadway, and the lack of adherence to basic safety standards for vehicles are daily hazards on Ethiopian roads.

It is unlawful to use a cell phone or other electronic communications device while driving in Ethiopia (even if it has a hands-free feature), and use of seat belts is required. Be sure to carry your valid driver's license with you, as well as proof of comprehensive local insurance coverage. While in a vehicle, keep your doors locked and the windows rolled up at all times. Keep bags, purses, and valuables out of sight — in the trunk, on the floor, or in the glove compartment. Do not carry unnecessary items in your bag; leave your credit cards, social security card, etc., at home. Do not open your doors or windows to give to beggars. Police can fine people for giving money to beggars.

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your international driving license and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and you risk being detained, fined or banned from driving if caught
  • Be aware of Ethiopia's traffic laws, such as speed limits
  • Wear your seatbelts at all times
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you're stopped at traffic lights

Traffic accidents

If your vehicle comes into contact with another, make sure that your valuables are secure before getting out of the vehicle and lock doors to prevent theft while you're not in the vehicle.

If there's a dispute at the scene, try to remain calm, don't engage physically, and try to take note of the other driver's name, licence plate, description, etc.

Vehicle hire

If you're hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you're allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

Ethiopian tourist visas (one month or three month, single entry) are available to Irish citizens upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The on-arrival visa process is available only at Bole International Airport and is not available at any of the other airports in Ethiopia. The visa fee at Bole International Airport is payable in U.S. dollars. Current visa fees are $50 for one month and $70 for 3 months – both are only for single entry.

Business visas of up to three months validity can also be obtained at Bole International Airport upon arrival, but only if the traveler has a sponsoring organization in Ethiopia that has made prior arrangements for issuance through the Ethiopian Main Department for Immigration & Nationality office in Addis Ababa.

Current visa extension fees are $100 for a first time one month extension, $150 for a second time 15 day extension, and $200 for a third time 10 day extension. Travelers whose entry visa expires before they depart Ethiopia must obtain a visa extension through the Main Immigration Office in Addis Ababa. Currently, there is a overstay penalty fee of $5 a day from 1 up to 15 days and $10 a day after 15 days. Such travelers may also be required to pay a court fine of up to 4000 ETB (300 USD) before being permitted to depart Ethiopia. Court fees must be paid in Ethiopian Birr. Travelers may be detained by immigration officials and/or required to appear in immigration court, and are required to pay the penalty fee before they will be able to obtain an exit visa (20 USD, payable in dollars) permitting them to leave Ethiopia.

Muslim and Christian society

Both Muslim and Christian Ethiopians generally dress in a conservative manner. Women usually keep their shoulders and knees covered, and in some areas they may wear more conservative clothing. Be aware that wearing sleeveless clothing or clothing which does not cover the knee may cause offence, particularly outside Addis Ababa.

Illegal drugs

Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms.

Western and Julian calendars

The Western and Julian calendars are used in Ethiopia. The year 2016 in the Western calendar is 2008-2009 in the Julian calendar. Christmas is celebrated on 7 January and New Year on 11 September.

Similarly, two systems of time are used. Ethiopian time is measured as a 12-hour day starting at 6am. Western 7am is referred to by many as one o’clock. Many Ethiopians are aware of this difference and will often convert times when speaking to foreigners.

Homosexuality

Homosexual activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment under the law. The subject  is taboo for the majority of Ethiopians.

Exporting antiques

You must get a permit to export antiques from Ethiopia. To avoid confusion on departure, you should keep receipts for any souvenirs you’ve bought, including crosses, which could be mistaken for valuable cultural artefacts.

In Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, you can fill in the customs declaration form in the baggage hall.

Photography

Ethiopian law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police/military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, airfields, etc.). Such sites are rarely marked clearly. Travel guides, police, and Ethiopian officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. Photographing prohibited sites may result in the confiscation of film and camera and arrest.

Money

Ethiopia is still primarily a cash economy. Dollars and some of the more popular travelers’ checks can be changed at the airport, and at some banks.

ATMs

There are some ATM machines at the major hotels and commercial centers that accept major international credit and debit cards, although connectivity problems sometimes limit their availability. While credit cards are gaining acceptance with some hotels, travel agencies, and merchants (Visa is much more widely accepted than Mastercard). It is best to check ahead and ensure you have sufficient cash reserves. Bear in mind that travellers’ cheques are not generally accepted outside Addis Ababa.

There are strict rules about taking foreign currency and Ethiopian birr out of Ethiopia.

You can’t take more than USD$3,000 (or equivalent in foreign currency) out of Ethiopia, unless you declared the amount when you arrived in the country or you have Ethiopian bank advice certifying the purchase of the foreign currency. And you can’t take more than 200 Ethiopian birr in to or out of the country.

Amounts over 200 Ethiopian birr, or undeclared amounts over USD$3,000 may be confiscated by the Ethiopian authorities.

In case of emergency, Western Union have offices in Ethiopia, which can facilitate money transfers.

Natural disasters and climate

Practical advice

  • If you’re travelling to Ethiopia, make sure you know what to expect – then plan and pack so that you’re prepared
  • Get local advice on how to manage in the case of a serious incident or dangerous conditions
  • Co-operate with local authorities and emergency services in the case of serious incidents

Altitude

Some people find it hard to adjust to the altitude in the Ethiopian highlands and need to avoid over-exertion.

Health

Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for Ethiopia.

Polio vaccination is recommended for all travellers from Ireland to countries where polio transmission is a risk.

Before travelling to areas where poliomyelitis cases are still occurring, travellers should ensure that they have completed the recommended age-appropriate polio vaccine schedule and have received a booster dose, if necessary. More information is available on the Health Protection and Surveillance Centre website.

Medical facilities

Although there are hospitals in all major towns in Ethiopia, facilities and the supply of medicines are extremely poor even in the larger towns outside Addis Ababa. Make sure you have adequate medical insurance, which covers medical evacuation by air ambulance, before your arrival.

Almost all regional hospitals will be unable to treat serious injuries or illnesses adequately. In the most serious cases, even the medical facilities in Addis Ababa may not be adequate. It may be worthwhile to carry a comprehensive medical pack if travelling or living outside Addis Ababa for an extended period.

Meningococcal meningitis

In February 2013, the Ethiopian Government and the World Health Organisation reported an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis around Arba Minch and Shebdino, in southern Ethiopia, with a number of deaths reported in the Arba Minch area.

If you’re travelling to the Southern Region, in particular Awassa, Shebdino and Arba Minch, familiarise yourself with the symptoms of meningitis and seek medical attention swiftly if you experience them. 

Waterborne diseases

Waterborne diseases are common in Ethiopia and you should either boil water before drinking, or use bottled water. Since water boils at temperatures below 100 degrees centigrade at high altitudes, boiling may not be adequate to ensure sterilisation in some places.

Malaria

Malaria is common in areas of the country below 1,800 metres or so. In the northern tourist circuit, most towns are well above this altitude. However, Bahir Dar is at an altitude of 1850 metres, and does experience cases of malaria.

Before travelling, get up-to-date medical advice as to whether you will need anti-malarial medication. When you arrive, take adequate precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes. You should also be aware that the full range of anti-malarial medications, which can be purchased in Ireland, is not available in Ethiopia.