Ethiopia Basics

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The Basics

Time: Local time is GMT +3.

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Two-pin plugs are used. Even in Addis Ababa, electricity supply is irregular and blackouts are common.

Money: The official currency is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks and authorised hotels. Credit cards have limited usage outside of Addis Ababa, and even in the capital they are only accepted by major establishments. Visitors should carry hard currency with them, preferably in US dollars. ATMs are sparse, but banks are usually open every day except Sundays from 8am to 11am and 1pm till 4pm.

Currency Exchange Rates

ETB1.00 = USD 0.03GBP 0.03CAD 0.05AUD 0.05ZAR 0.52EUR 0.03NZD 0.05
Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: Amharic is the official language, although over 80 local languages are also spoken. English and Arabic are widely spoken as well as some French and Italian.

Entry requirements for Americans: US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required and can be obtained online or on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at Addis Ababa.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: British citizens require a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required, and can be obtained online or on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at one of the main airports. Holders of British passports with endorsements other than 'British Citizen' should check with the embassy to confirm their entry requirements.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at Addis Ababa.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required, and can be obtained online or on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at Addis Ababa.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required, and can be obtained online or on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at Addis Ababa.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required, and can be obtained online on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at Addis Ababa.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon arrival in Ethiopia. A visa is required, and can be obtained online or on arrival in the country for those travelling as tourists and arriving at Addis Ababa.

Passport/Visa Note: Foreign visitors to Ethiopia may obtain a tourist visa on arrival, if arriving at the international airports in Addis Ababa. E-visas can be obtained before departure online at www.evisa.gov.et/. Work visas are also obtainable, but requirements should be confirmed in advance. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Ethiopia, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Travel Health: Travellers to Ethiopia are recommended to have hepatitis A, hepatitis B, yellow fever, meningococcus, and cholera vaccinations. Malaria is prevalent in the lowlands (below 6,562 feet/2,000m) and altitude sickness may affect travellers to the highland areas, including Addis Ababa. Bilharzia is present in many of the lakes in Ethiopia and travellers are advised to drink boiled or bottled water, as waterborne diseases are prevalent. A rabies vaccination is recommended for anyone who will be spending a lot of time in wilderness areas or around animals, and a polio booster is recommended for adults who had the vaccine as children. Medical facilities are poor outside of Addis Ababa, while in the capital, hospitals are available but medical supplies are erratic. Visitors should bring their own regular medications with them and arrange comprehensive travel insurance.

Tipping: Tourist hotels and restaurants usually add a 10 percent service charge to the bill. Otherwise, tipping is fairly common, but only small amounts are customary. Tourists should note that locals may expect a tip for being photographed.

Safety Information: The vast majority of trips to Ethiopia are trouble free, but safety precautions are recommended. Visitors are cautioned to avoid all public demonstrations and large crowds, particularly in Addis Ababa, and to keep a low profile in public places. Valuables should not be displayed. Most of Ethiopia can be explored in relative safety, but there are travel warnings in place for some areas and travellers are advised to check travel warnings on reputable government websites before planning their itineraries. Caution should generally be exercised in all border areas and the British FCO advises against all travel to within six miles (10km) of the borders with Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya, though there are a few exceptions to this rule made for prime tourist hotspots and main roads. Travel warnings are also in place for parts of the Somali region, parts of the Danakil desert, parts of the Gambella region and the town of Jijiga. Overland travel to Sudan or Kenya is dangerous due to armed bandits, and should only be attempted in a convoy. There is a high threat from local terrorism in the country, and, although it is not directed at foreigners, visitors need to be cautious in public places. Flooding often affects Ethiopia between June and September each year, with flash floods sometimes killing hundreds of people in low-lying areas.

Local Customs: The Ethiopian Highlands are mainly Orthodox Christian and restaurants do not serve meat dishes on Wednesdays, Fridays, and during Lent. The Ethiopian calendar, which is similar to the Julian calendar, consists of 13 months (12 months of 30 days, and a thirteenth month of five or six days). Moreover, homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia. Shoes should be removed before entering mosques and churches. Photographs should not be taken of military buildings and airports, and permission should be asked before photographing religious festivals and people.

Business: Etiquette is very important in Ethiopia, both socially and in business. Formal attire is expected of men and women. Greetings are very important and the shaking of hands is the norm for first meetings. Ethiopians like to establish good relations with one another and personal relationships are the cornerstone of business. English is understood by most businessmen in Addis Ababa, as well as some French and Italian. Ethiopians respect their elders, so visitors should show the same courtesy. Business hours are generally 8:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday, with an hour taken at lunch, but may vary from business to business.

Communications: The international dialling code for Ethiopia is +251. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). The area code for Addis Ababa is (0)1. Telephone, fax and postal facilities are available in most main towns. Internet services are increasing in availability.

Duty Free: Travellers to Ethiopia over the age of 18 years do not have to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 2 litre of alcoholic beverages; 2 bottles or 600ml of perfume.