VisasEvery national (except Kenyans) need a visa to enter Ethiopia. Single-entry 1 -3 month tourist visas can be issued upon arrival at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa for most European, US, Australian and Canadian nationals (click here to see complete list). There is confusing information about whether you pay for visas with US Dollars (you need to prove you have at least $100) or Ethiopian currency (which you can get at the bureau de change at the airport). Either way, you'll also need 2 passport size photographs. To get the most current visa information; for business visas and multiple-entry tourist visas, contact your local Ethiopian Embassy.
Proof of an onward or return ticket is frequently asked for upon arrival in Ethiopia. If you are planning to enter Ethiopia by land, you should obtain a tourist visa in advance from your local Ethiopian Embassy. Visas issued by embassies are valid from their date of issue so take this into consideration.
Health and ImmunizationsImmunizations
A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is no longer mandatoryin order to enter Ethiopia, but if you've recently traveled to a country where it is present you will need proof of immunization. For US yellow fever vaccination clinics click here.
Several vaccinations are highly recommended when traveling to Ethiopia, they include:
- Yellow Fever
- Hepatitis A
There's a risk of catching malaria in many parts of Ethiopia especially areas that lie below 2000 meters (6500 feet). So while the Highlands and Addis Ababa are considered low-risk areas for malaria, you still have to be careful and take precautions. Ethiopia is home to the chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria as well as the dangerous falciparum strain. Make sure your doctor or travel clinic knows you are traveling to Ethiopia (don't just say Africa) so s/he can prescribe the right anti-malarial medication. Tips on how to avoid malaria will also help.
Addis Ababa and Ethiopia's highlands (which you'll be visiting if you're planning on doing the historical circuit) are at high elevations. High altitude can affect healthy individuals in a number of ways including: dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches.
SafetyFor the most part traveling in Ethiopia is safe, but you should take the same precautions as you would traveling in any poor country (see below). It is also wise to avoid all border areas (with Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya and Sudan) since there's still pockets of political unrest, and kidnapping of tourists in these areas have occurred in the past.
Basic safety rules for travelers to Ethiopia
- Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage.
- Don't walk on your own at night in Addis Ababa and other major tourist towns.
- Watch out for pickpockets at the Mercato in Addis Ababa
- Don't wear jewelry.
- Don't carry too much cash with you.
- Wear a money belt that fits under your clothes.
- Don't carry a lot of camera equipment especially in the major cities.
- Avoid travel at night because roads are perilously filled with potholes, livestock, and broken down vehicles.
When to Go to EthiopiaThe best time to go to Ethiopia depends on what you're planning to do when you get there. The tourist board markets Ethiopia as "the land of 13 months of sunshine" which is a little optimistic since there is a rainy season from June to September. In fact the weather varies tremendously throughout the country, see "Ethiopia's Weather and Climate" for information about average temperatures and rainfall. Also, depending on your interest, there are many good months to visit Ethiopia:
- The Historical Circuit (Lalibela, Gondar, Bahir Dar) -- October to March.
- Trekking -- October to March
- Omo River tribes -- June to September and November to March
- Ethiopia's major festivals -- Timkat (19 January) and Meskel (end of September or early October.)
Currency and Money MattersForeign currency is rarely used in Ethiopia, instead you'll be paying for most hotels, tours and food with Ethiopian currency -- Birr. 1 Birr is divided into 100 cents. There are 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Birr notes. The Birr is very stable and there is no significant difference between the official rate and black market rate. Click here for current exchange rates.
Cash, Credit Cards and ATM's
The US Dollar is the best foreign currency to bring with you to Ethiopia and it can be exchanged at banks and foreign exchange bureaus. US Dollars should be carried in cash (they do not accept travelers checks).
Major credit cards can be used to pay for flights with Ethiopian Airlines and maybe 2 of the big hotels in Addis Ababa - but that's about the extent of their usefulness. It's best to bring cash and good old-fashioned traveler cheques.
ATM machines in Ethiopia do not recognize foreign debit or credit cards.