Eritrea travel guide
Eritrea is a difficult country to define. Although in Africa, it doesn’t feel wholly African. While its broad shore faces the Middle East, it is not overtly Arabian. And though its capital evokes the spirit of Europe, it is far from European.
For such a small country, Eritrea offers an astonishing variety and it tends to attract a motley crew of visitors: from archaeologists to architects; scholars to scuba divers; historians to hikers; and cyclists to steam railway buffs.
While there are many reasons to come to Eritrea, there is one impression that endures when you leave: the remarkable kindliness of the Eritrean people. Making friends here is an unavoidable pleasure and one that touches the lives of so many visitors.
The country stretches along the Red Sea and is low-lying in the eastern coastal regions and western border with Sudan, with a precipitous mountainous interior rising to a majestic 2,500m (8200ft) above sea level.
Having been colonised in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavor with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa”. The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.
Eritrea also boasts an abundance of historical and natural attractions. The colonial and modernist architecture of its towns and cities is as stunning and startling as the wildlife that populates its mountainous escarpments, deserts and coastline.
Elephants, lions, baboons, gazelles, leopards, ostriches, turtles, dugongs and some of the continent’s rarest birds can all be found here. And with a coastline extending nearly 1,000km (621miles) along the Red Sea, Eritrea offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, as well as the most secluded beaches.
Once you’ve experienced Eritrea’s many secrets – travelled across its mountains and deserts, swam off its coastline, and met its warm people – it will only be a matter of time until you return for more.
117,600 sq km (45,405 sq miles).
5,401,231 (UN estimate 2016).
55.5 per sq km.
President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.
President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.
Last updated: 21 January 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The FCO advise against all travel within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia. Tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia are high.
The FCO advise against all travel within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Djibouti.
The FCO advise against all travel to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, including the town of Tesseney and areas north and west of Nakh’fa, Ak’ordat and Barentu.
All foreign nationals must apply in advance for a travel permit to leave Asmara. This includes diplomats. The British Embassy is unable to provide consular support outside the capital. See Travel permits and Consular assistance
The Eritrean authorities consider all British nationals holding either Eritrean or PFDJ identity documents (including out of date documents) as Eritrean nationals. The British Embassy is unable to offer consular assistance to dual nationals in Eritrea.
Six British nationals were provided with consular assistance in Eritrea in 2016. Constraints on travel within Eritrea means the British embassy in Asmara is unable to offer consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmara.
On the afternoon of 31 October 2017 a large group of protesters took to the streets in central Asmara. Shots were fired by local security forces to disperse the crowd. While such incidents are rare in Eritrea, you should exercise caution and avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Eritrea, attacks can’t be ruled out.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Crime levels are low but take sensible precautions with your personal safety. Don’t walk around late at night alone. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight. Keep a photocopy of the personal details page of your passport in a safe place, or with friends or family in the UK.
A large proportion of the population has access to arms under the government of Eritrea’s civilian militia programme. We have no evidence that these weapons have increased the threat of violent crime.
The FCO advise against all travel within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia. In most places the border is neither marked nor obvious. There have been serious border clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia in the past. Tensions remain high and there is a risk of further violence.
The border remains closed and is reported to be mined. In September 2011 a landmine exploded on the road between Senafe and Afoma killing five people.
The FCO advise against all travel within 25 km of Eritrea’s border with Djibouti. In 2008 there was fighting between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. The situation remains unresolved.
The FCO advise against all travel to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, including the town of Tesseney and areas north and west of Nakh’fa, Ak’ordat and Barentu. In 2009, an attack on an international mining company vehicle on a road 35km north of Keren caused the deaths of one employee and two contractors.
There are extensive mine fields in Eritrea. Driving on main roads away from border areas is generally safe. Avoid driving on non-metalled roads and walking or hiking in the countryside.
Avoid travelling after dark in rural areas. Road signage and barriers are scarce, and steep drops are common. In many parts of the country roads are difficult or impassable during the rainy season.
Due to the proximity of the Hanish islands in the Red Sea to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it’s highly unlikely permission would be granted to visit the south western Hanish islands that belong to Eritrea.
Telephone networks are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods each day outside Asmara and larger towns. There are no agreements between Eritrean mobile telephone providers and international providers. You will not be able to receive or send calls or SMS text messages from any overseas mobile phone network on arrival in Eritrea. Local SIM cards can’t be purchased without a resident’s permit. There have been unconfirmed reports that phone calls made on the local mobile phone network are recorded.
All electronic items (laptops, mobile phones, cameras etc) should be declared upon arrival. Failure to do so may result in their confiscation by Eritrean customs officials when you depart.
All foreign nationals must apply in advance for a travel permit to leave Asmara and the surrounding province of zoba Maekel. There are checkpoints outside of Asmara where your travel permit will be checked. Those working outside Asmara also need a travel permit to leave their area of residence or work. Applications in Asmara are handled by the relevant Ministry. For business travellers, applications are dealt with by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Applications outside Asmara are handled by the local Zoba (Region) Administration Offices. Permission may take several days to be granted and is sometimes refused or delayed.
Tourists wishing to travel outside Asmara should apply for a travel permit at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue in Asmara. Processing usually takes around 24 hours. When applying for permission to travel outside of Asmara, you should supply details of the car you’ll be travelling in. There have been reports of tourists not being permitted to use public transport to travel outside of Asmara and having to rent a car or use a private taxi.
Restrictions on travel by foreign nationals apply equally to foreign diplomats. Staff from the British Embassy therefore can’t provide consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmara.
Mariners must seek permissions and entry visas before attempting to land in Eritrea.
Recent piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, highlight that the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant.
Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue.
The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.
There are serious constraints on what the British Embassy can do to help British nationals in Eritrea. It can take up to seven days for foreign diplomats in Asmara to receive permission to travel outside Asmara. This means that the Embassy is unable to offer consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmara.
There are obstacles to the provision of consular assistance even in Asmara. The Eritrean authorities may not inform the relevant Embassy if a foreign national is in need of help and there have been recent instances where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Eritrea, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars and during major gatherings like sporting or religious events. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Photographing government buildings and military installations is not allowed. If in doubt, ask first. You need a permit to take photographs of the ‘tank graveyard’ in Asmara. You can apply for one at the Ministry of Tourism.
Dress modestly, especially in lowland and predominantly Muslim areas. Shorts and T-shirts are likely to draw attention.
Homosexual behaviour is illegal, although the penalties are unclear. Be discreet. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You need a visa to enter Eritrea. Visa applications can take a significant amount of time to process, so you should plan well ahead. Make sure any necessary travel documents including exit visas remain valid for the duration of your stay. The Eritrean authorities take breaches of immigration laws seriously and travellers who have overstayed can face lengthy delays regularising their position before departure, or even detention.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry to Eritrea and have at least two clear pages adjoining one another in your passport.
Dual British/Eritrean nationals entering Eritrea will be classed as Eritrean nationals by the Eritrean authorities. The British Embassy is unable to gain consular access to, or obtain information on dual nationals if detained by the authorities or otherwise in need of assistance. Dual nationals entering Eritrea on an Eritrean identity card rather than an Eritrean passport will need an exit visa from the Immigration Office in Asmara to leave the country.
Foreign visitors must declare all foreign currency over 10,000 US dollars or equivalent on entering the country. There is no limit on the amount that can be brought in. Make sure you have had your completed foreign currency declaration form approved and stamped before you leave the airport.
If you declared currency on arrival, when you leave you will have to show that any foreign currency missing was exchanged at a branch of ’Himbol’, the State foreign currency exchange. If you spend any US dollars at an official hotel you must get a receipt to present along with the currency declaration form when you leave the country.
You’re not permitted to take more than 500 nafka (ERN) out of Eritrea.
If you fail to comply with these regulations you may face prosecution leading to a heavy fine, as well as a delay to your departure.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Eritrea.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
There are three public hospitals in Asmara. Public hospitals in other towns are often poorly equipped. Elsewhere medical facilities are even more limited. If you’re travelling away from the large towns, carry a comprehensive medical pack with you.
If you’re taking prescription medicines, you should make sure that you have a sufficient supply for the length of your stay in Eritrea.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 122244 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
You’re not permitted to take more than 1,000 Nafka (ERN) out of Eritrea. Under 18’s aren’t entitled to hold any amount of Nakfa. If you’re exiting Eritrea and you hold in excess of the 1,000 maximum limit, it will be confiscated and where the amount exceeds ERN 5,000 you may face prosecution leading to a heavy fine, as well as a delay to your departure.
The economy is completely cash-based. There are no credit card or ATMs facilities in Eritrea. You’ll need to pay for everything in cash. Most hotels in Eritrea will require you to settle your hotel bill in US Dollars. It’s illegal to use foreign currency to make purchases except at a limited number of officially-recognised hotels. You should get a receipt for any such purchases.
The currency in Eritrea is the Nakfa. Nakfa aren’t convertible outside Eritrea. You should convert any excess Nakfa back to hard currency at one of the ’Himbol’ exchanges in town, as there are limits to what can be converted at the ’Himbol’ branch at the airport. You will need the original currency transaction receipt. The Nakfa is currently pegged at the rate of 15 Nakfa to one US dollar.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.