Visa and Immigration
Except for nationals of Kenya and Sudan, Visa is a requirement for all foreign visitors to Ethiopia. Visitors should obtain visas from the Ethiopian Embassy in their country. If no Ethiopian Embassy is present in the visitor’s country of origin or residence, visas must be obtained from the nearest country that has an Ethiopian Embassy.
Nationals of some countries may be allowed to receive a one-month tourist visa on arrival in Ethiopia at the Bole International Airport. A recent introduction of an e-VISA service makes it possible for the same nationals to apply for a one-month visa.
One month tourist visa on arrival are available for nationals of: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States of America.
At a fee of USD 50 for one month and USD 70 for three months, also payable in EUR or GBP at little unfavourable exchange rate, visa on arrival at Bole International Airport is available. You must make sure to have 2 empty pages in your passport and it should be valid for at least 6 months when leaving Ethiopia. Photographs are not needed. There might be a queue for the issuing of visa on arrival. Multiple entry visa and business visa are not available on arrival and have to be obtained at the Ethiopian Embassy in your country of residence.
When there is no Ethiopian Embassy in your country of residence and you book a tour with us, we can apply for a visa on arrival for you at Immigration HQ in Addis Ababa.
Visa extensions can only be done at the Immigration HQ at Churchill Avenue in Addis Ababa. Bring a copy of your passport and the visa pages. Usually the process is straightforward but you can only collect your passport the next working day.
Professional video camera’s need a permit from the Government Communication Affair Office. Small modern consumer camcorders are usually not targeted but some older bigger models might be questioned. When needed we can assist you in obtaining a permit.
Visitors are allowed to import an unlimited amount of foreign currency but they have to declare foreign currency in excess of 3000 USD (or equivalent). To export foreign currency in excess of 3000 USD (or equivalent) the custom declaration of foreign currency has to be produced. Any traveler entering or exiting Ethiopia is only allowed to carry a maximum of 200 birr.
Duty free imports are permitted for up to:
200 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 250 gram of tobacco;
2 liters of alcoholic beverages;
1/2 liter of perfume.
Visitors may export goods obtained in Ethiopia, up to a value 500 birr. For the export of skins and hides and any kind of antique artifacts (e.g. crosses, paintings, bibles, etc.) an export certificate is required.
Vaccination against cholera is required if you have visited a cholera infected area within 6 days prior to arrival in Ethiopia. A yellow fever certificate is no longer mandatory for Ethiopia but it might be required when you arrive from a country where the disease is endemic.
Malaria is absent from big parts of Ethiopia due to high altitude but it does occur in lower area like Awash Valley, Rift Valley, Omo Valley and Gambella. Outbreaks of malaria are also known from Bahir Dar. Addis Ababa, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela are reported malaria free.
Consult your doctor for detailed advice about malaria prophylactics prescription and recommended immunizations.
There are private clinics in most major towns but in general the standards of treatment are limited. Pharmacies carry a range of medicines but we recommend to bring all required medicines with you.
Don’t forget a simple first aid pack, which would include: different size plasters and bandages, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bites, preferred painkiller, anti diarrhea tablets (e.g. containing loperamide), high factor protection sunscreen and insect repellant.
Ethiopia is a relative safe country. Violent crimes are very rare. Tourists should be aware of pickpockets and other petty thefts in the bigger towns. Be extra alert at crowded places like markets, around mini bus stands and at big public gatherings.
Boys selling chewing gum, sweets and the likes from a card box tray are notorious pickpockets in some parts of Addis Ababa using the tray as a cover. Be aware of situations when someone tries to distracts you by spitting on you and offer to clean it, drops some coins, pushing you, etc.
In some remote areas separatist movements have been active in recent years. Boundless Ethiopia Tours will only operate tours to areas permitted by (local) Ethiopian authorities and follow its guidelines. Contact your own government for detailed travel advise from their side.
Security in towns and at airports is tight, frisking or body scanning and inspection of bags when entering a building is common. Strict regulations are followed for domestic flights.
When to visit
Most of the country has the main rainy season from June until September with some short rains in March. Although it might drizzle for quite some time, most of the time its just a heavy shower (or downpour) after which the sun will come out again. In the north it is perfectly possible to travel all year round except for serious hiking tours. Southern Ethiopia (Omo Valley) however has a main rainy season during April and May and short rains in October/ November. Traveling to the south in April and May is not recommended as you might get stuck for a long time due to seasonal rivers and bad roads. Even un-seasonal rains cause sometimes problems in this region.
Because of the altitude the temperature in most of Ethiopia is moderate, seldom exceeding 25 degrees Celsius. The altitude combined with the proximity to the equator make the sun very strong and it feels considerably hotter when the clouds are gone.
In the lower areas of the country (Danakil, Awash, Rift Valley, Omo Valley, Gambella) it is considerable hotter with temperatures going (far) over 30 degrees Celsius.
The best time to visit the Danakil Depression is in the ‘cooler’ season between November and March.
What to bring
Pack light clothes for daytime and a jacket or (fleece) sweater for the early morning and evening. Remember Ethiopians are conservative dressers, it is appreciated to cover at least your knees and shoulders. Don’t bring to many cloths, laundry service is available in most hotels.
When you go out on trekking please bring soft bags as your luggage will be transported by mules. Most trekking is done at higher altitude (Simien Mountains/ Bale Mountains/ Lalibela), make sure you carry enough warm cloths. Day time temperatures are very pleasant but nights and early mornings can be freezing.
A good pair of walking shoes is advisable even if you don’t go for serious hiking. Pathways around many (historical) sites are rocky and uneven. Some people like to wear more sturdy hiking boots with ankle support but this is not really necessary. If you are comfortable with (nordic) walking stick you should bring.
Some people might like to carry a small folding umbrella which is handy in case of rain and sun. Light rain gear is advisable although you often will find shelter to let the shower pass
If you travel in malaria infected area a mosquito net might come handy in some hotels. Although in most hotels clean sheets are offered, some people prefer to travel with a sleeping bag liner.
Sunglasses, a cap and high factor sunscreen are advisable to protect against (strong) sunlight. Remember to drink a lot of water too.
A good torch comes handy in case of power cuts but it is also very helpful to find your way and have a better view in and around some churches and tombs.
If you are a light-sleeper you might want to bring earplugs. If your hotel is in the neighborhood of an Ethiopian Orthodox Church, prayers may start very early morning and last for several hours.
As wake up calls are not available everywhere, you better bring a small alarm clock if you leave your mobile home.
Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars. Even a small one stashed away in your daypack will be rewarded to enjoy stunning birds, wildlife and scenery.
Outside Addis it is difficult to find special items you might need, it is better to bring these from your home country.
Photo and video
Ethiopia has a lot to offer for photographers and video makers. Possibilities are boundless and you will most probably record much more than expected.
Bring enough memory cards (or film if you still use this) as it might be difficult to find in Ethiopia. Bring enough spare batteries with you although charging is possible in every hotel. Power cuts are common but mostly for a short time only. Electric supply is 220 V 50 Hz, sockets are suitable for 2 pin euro plugs. Charging batteries while camping is limited to a few places, but our vehicles have 12 V cigar lighter sockets.
Using video camera on historical sites, around churches and some other places (like Blue Nile Falls) will be charged extra, usually between 50 and 100 birr (USD 2-5) for Lalibela 300 birr (USD 15).
In the south it is custom to pay 2-5 birr (USD 0,10-0,25) per person per picture although events with an all inclusive entrance are becoming more available.
Telephone, fax and internet are available in or near most hotels which are used by tourists. International roaming is unpredictable and sms is not always possible or delivered. Data roaming is not possible, but most tourist hotels offer wifi services. Although progression is made connections are often slow and unreliable.
Ethiopia’s only telecom provider is Ethio Telecom. A 3G sim card for your sim-lock free handset is available in selected shops for 45 birr (USD 2). Your passport details and a photo are taking in the shop. 4G sim card is available at additional costs but this service is only available in Addis Ababa. Ask your shop if they are able to cut the sim card to the size you need.
Recharge vouchers are widely available in different nominations.
Balance enquiry: *804# then dial.
Recharge: *805*thirteen digit pins# then dial.
Mobile data is charged at 0.35 birr (USD 0.015) per MB ‘out of bundle’. Daily, weekly and monthly bundles are available with roughly 40-70% discount. Dial *999# and follow instructions to buy a bundle. You might need to choose option 3 first to change the language.
To configure your mobile for internet access enter etc.com as APN, no username or password required.
International SMS (unreliable and not possible to every provider) is charged about 5.30 birr, USD 0.25.
International calls are 8.63 birr (USD 0.41) to Asia, Europe, Middle East and North America. 10.29 birr (USD 0.49) to Africa, Oceania and South America. There is a special tariff of 23 birr (USD 1.09) to Diego Garcia, Ascension Islands, St.Helena, Tokelau, Norfolk Island, Sao Tome, Antarctica, Wallis and Futuna, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Nauru, Cuba, Falkland Islands, Niue Island, Maldives, Cook Islands, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Comoros.
The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB) which comes in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and 1 birr coins. Notes are available in 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 birr denominations.
Credit card acceptance is growing but still limited. The number of ATM are rapidly increasing with Visa cards more widely accepted but Mastercard (Maestro) is accepted at a growing number of banks among them the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and Dashen Bank. As an ATM only can produce 40 notes, a single transaction is limited to 4.000 birr. Or 2.000 birr when the ATM is loaded with 50 birr notes. It is better not to rely on credit cards and ATM’s and bring enough cash. Please note that old series USD banknotes are not accepted, they have to be of the series after 2000!!
Be aware it might be not so straightforward to change your birr back to your own currency. You need to keep your exchange slip and have to go to the same bank as where you exchanged your money in the first place. Sometimes they might not be able to produce enough cash. Your best bet might be one of the banks at Sheraton or Hilton Hotel. Besides this your driver/ guide doesn’t mind to get his tip in foreign currency, this might help you to balance your budget.
It is advisable to carry enough small notes (10 and 50 birr notes are very handy) for small payments and tipping. For southern Ethiopia you need to carry enough 1 birr coins and 1, 5 and 10 birr notes to pay for photographs. Only reasonable new notes are accepted here and notes are still preferred as the coins are only introduced recently.
Local spending varies greatly from person to person, depends on personal preferences and of course what is included in the tour price. For an average spending pattern calculate around 400 – 600 birr (USD 20 -30) per person per day on additional spending. When you stay at the high-end accommodation and take your meals there it will be more. This amount includes lunches, dinners, drinks and small personal spending. It does not include breakfast, excursions, entrance fees, etc. which are usually included in our tour price. Tips and expensive souvenirs are also not included as this is very personal.
Some average prices:
|1 course lunch||100-200||5-10|
|2 course dinner||200-300||10-15|
|Local wine (bottle)||200||10|
|Imported wine (bottle)||500||25|
High-end accommodation and Addis Ababa are more expensive, local restaurants up country cheaper.
A guideline for tipping:
‘Ferenji’ (‘foreigner’) restaurants: about 10% if service charge is not already included.
Local restaurants: rounding up the bill, 5% is fine.
Porter: 5 birr (USD 0,25) per piece of luggage.
Small service (ie taking you somewhere): 20 birr (USD 1).
Local guides: This is very personal and should be based on satisfaction , our suggestion 50 – 100 birr (USD 3 – 5) for half day to 150 – 200 birr (USD 7 – 10) per day. Needless to say higher tips are greatly appreciated.
Driver/ guide: Even more personal, you are spending a lot of time with them. You share special moments and you learn about their life. You can follow the suggestions above but we very much encourage to follow your own feeling and budget.