Visas are required for all foreign visitors traveling in Ethiopia (except for Kenya and Djibouti). Travelers from many countries* may obtain a one-month tourist visa upon arriving at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The cost for this document is €17 or $20 and requires two empty pages in your passport. Visa extensions for two additional months (at $20/mo) may be obtained at the Immigration Office on Churchill Avenue in Addis Ababa. Multiple entry visas, business visas, and three-month tourist visas can only be obtained at an Ethiopian embassy in your resident country.
Visitors to Ethiopia are allowed to bring:
Visitors are allowed to export goods purchased in Ethiopia up to a value of 500 birr ($ US). Certain items (antiques, skins, hides, etc.) require an export certificate. It is up to the individual traveler to do the research regarding permitted/excluded items.
It is important to bring a good first aid kit including: various sizes of bandages, antiseptic cream, antihistamine cream for bites, high SPF sunscreen, insect repellant, and other products depending on your susceptibilities. While there are some private clinics in major towns, the standard of treatment can be lower than in your home country. Make sure to bring any prescription drugs you need to take during your visit, as they may not be available in Ethiopia pharmacies.
Vaccination against cholera is required if you’ve visited an infected area within six days of arriving in Ethiopia; the same applies to yellow fever. If you have visited an area where the disease is endemic a certificate of vaccination is required. Recommended immunizations include yellow fever, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and polio.
Malaria is not an issue in higher elevations, but in areas like Awash Valley, Rift Valley, Omo Valley, and Gambella, outbreaks occur, so you may consider taking preventative measures.
Violent crimes are rare in Ethiopia, but petty theft and other minor crimes do occur, as they do in large cities all over the world. It is wise to be aware and cautious in any crowded public place. Certain sites require government guards to protect visitors but these are rare situations.
Obviously, the climate depends on where you travel and at what time of year. Traveling in the north is possible throughout the year except for serious hiking, which should be planned for the dry season. The main rainy season is from June to September, but rain should not be a deterrent for the adventurous traveler. When trekking in the Simien and Bale Mountains, you will need three layers of clothing including a rain poncho, and a three-season sleeping bag and tent. Epic Ethiopia will provide you with details on climatic conditions for your tour to help you pack appropriately.
The altitude of most areas guarantees a moderate climate, although the proximity to the equator makes for a strong sun. The lower areas of the country (Danakil, the Rift Valley, the Omo Valley, Gambella) are best visited in the cooler season, between November and March. As you know, temperatures all over the world are in a state of flux and unpredictability, so check with a weather bureau to assess the conditions you are likely to encounter during the time of your visit.
CLOTHING AND AMENITIES
The options depend on season and climate, which vary considerably. Light clothing for daytime and a jacket or sweater for evening are obvious choices. The culture tends to be conservative, so covering your knees and shoulders is suggested. Laundry is available in some hotels, but for clothes a “less is more” policy is wise.
Good walking shoes are advisable whether or not you plan to hike. A small umbrella can be useful during an unpredictable rain shower. Sunglasses and sunscreen are advised and the following items are also suggested:
PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO
The awesome opportunities to explore your hobby of photography/video will surprise you in Ethiopia. Extra film, batteries, or memory cards should be brought with you as they may not be available on your trip. (Note: electricity is 220V 50 HZ, so adapters are required in order to use sockets for charging.) Camping does not offer many opportunities for charging batteries, but most vehicles have 12 V cigar lighter sockets, which can be used to charge some batteries. Internet cafés may have spotty service and may not be able to read high-capacity memory cards, so bring a card reader or data cable just in case.
LANGUAGE AND RELIGION
Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state with 83 languages and 200 dialects, but Amharic is the national language. Learning some basic words and greetings in the language will enrich your travel experience. Most tourist destinations have staffs that are conversant in English.
Approximately half the population is Christian and the majority have traditional Ethiopian Orthodox beliefs. About thirty percent of the population practices Islam, and theses groups are found throughout the country. The remaining people belong to animistic tribal groups who practice the traditional religion of their tribes.
ECONOMY AND POPULATION
The number of people living in Ethiopia is estimated to be 85 million. Many of those reside in rapidly growing urban areas, but the majority live as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the economy, the principal exports being coffee, flowers, vegetables, and sugar. Livestock also makes up a growing portion of this income base.
FOOD AND DRINK
The ethnic multiplicity is reflected in the cuisine of the country. While regions vary, a typical meal will consist of wot, a spicy stew with meat, chicken, or vegetables that is served with injera, the traditional pancake that also serves as an eating utensil. In addition to regional dishes, foods of expatriate populations are available in the capitol (e.g., Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Italian, French, Greek, and others).
Ethiopia produces its own wines, especially tej, a honey wine. Ethiopians also drink lots of tela, a local beer, and araki, a distilled liquor.
Telephone, fax, and Internet are available at or near most tourist hotels, however Wi-Fi is rare and roaming is unpredictable. Technology, in general, is improving beyond the usual Third World status, but there are gaps in the coverage. Sim cards are available in some stores and depend on your provider. Currently, Ethio Telecom is the only Ethiopian provider, and it is undergoing structural changes. All this flux contributes to an unreliable communication network and travelers—especially from America—may need to lower their expectations.
The local currency is the Ethiopian birr (ETB). Click here for daily currency rates of exchange. Using credit cards for purchases is common in large cities, but only from specific providers, and single transactions have a 4000 birr limit. Cash transactions are most reliable, but conversions of dollars to birr must be done at a bank, and birr into dollars must be done at the same bank. Banks may be short on your national currency and be unable to make this conversion on the same day.
You should carry small notes and coins for tipping and small payments. In the south, there will be a small charge for taking photographs of some subjects.
While it is difficult to calculate an average day’s expenditures, you can assume approximately 300–500 birr per day for food, drinks, and personal spending. Any other fees for excursions or entrance fees are included in your tour price.
CALENDAR AND TIME
Suffice it to say that the Ethiopian calendar differs from the Western Julian calendar, without going into the intricacies that result in a New Year’s Day on September 11 (except on leap years when it is the on the 12th). Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Check local resources for other holidays or Epic Ethiopia will provide information that could impact your scheduled trip.
Ethiopia is in the GMT +3 hours time zone, but clocks are more mysterious.