Ethiopia travel guide
Though Ethiopia’s reputation remains somewhat tarnished by its turbulent history, tourists are returning to the country in increasing numbers, keen to discover its wondrous landscapes, ancient religious sites and fascinating indigenous tribes.
One of the oldest Christian nations in the world, Ethiopia is a multicultural, multifaceted destination where the art of hospitality is alive and well: visitors are typically greeted with a steaming cup of coffee, which was first discovered in this very country.
Most visitors start their Ethiopian odyssey in the sprawling capital, Addis Ababa, a lively city nestling in the lofty Entoto Mountains. Renowned for its ubiquitous cafés, brutalist architecture and awful traffic jams, in Addis Ababa it is not uncommon to see smartly dressed businessmen walking down the same streets as local shepherds.
Few linger long in the Ethiopian capital, choosing instead to head north to Lalibela, a pilgrimage site famed for its ancient churches, which have quite literally been hewn out of a cliff. Lalibela is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia: other notables include the fairytale castles of Gondar, the walled city of Harar and the mysterious stelae of Aksum.
Ultimately, though, it’s Ethiopia’s epic landscapes that really capture the imagination; from the verdant peaks of the Simien Mountains to the sulphur fumaroles of the Danakil Depression, the scenery could inspire paintings, provoke poetry.
These wild environments sustain ancient tribes such as the Bodi, whose men live on a diet of blood and milk in a bid to become the region’s fattest man, and the Hamer, famous for their dangerous bull-jumping ceremony, which is considered a rite of passage for young men.
Ethiopia has come a long way since the famine of 1984 (which prompted Bob Geldof to write the fundraising hit Do They Know It’s Christmas?), but the country, though culturally rich, remains economically poor. Travelling around it can be hard going, but for those who ride it out, the rewards are immense.
1,104,300 sq km (426,372 sq miles).
102,836,362 (UN estimate 2016).
90.1 per sq km.
President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu since 2013.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn since 2012.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins and Italian-style plugs with three round pins in a line are both used.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
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 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
within 10 km of the border with Eritrea, with the exception of the main road through Axum and Adigrat, and tourist sites close to the road (e.g. Debre Damo and Yeha)
areas off the principal roads/towns within 10 km of the borders with Sudan and Kenya
within 10 km of the border with South Sudan
the Nogob (previously Fik), Jarar (previously Degehabur), Shabelle (previously Gode), Korahe and Dollo (previously Warder) zones of the Somali region.
within 100 km of the Ethiopian border with Somalia and Kenya in the Afder and Liben zones of Ethiopia’s Somali region
the four woredas (districts) (Akobo, Wantawo, Jikawo and Lare) of the Nuer zone and the Jore woreda of the Agnuak zone of the Gambella region
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
the woredas (districts) of Tsegede, Mirab Armacho and Tach Armacho in North Gonder
three woredas (districts) of the Agnuak zone of the Gambella region that border on South Sudan (Dima, Goge and Etang) and the Gambella wildlife reserve
The State of Emergency called in October 2016 in response to protests and unrest in the Oromia and Amhara regions was lifted on 4 August 2017.
Internet services, disconnected on 30 May 2017, have now been restored. However internet and other mobile data services can be restricted without notice, hampering the British Embassy’s ability to assist you. You should have alternative communication plans in place when travelling in Ethiopia. If you’re in Ethiopia and you urgently need help (eg if you’ve been attacked, arrested or there has been a death), call +251 (0)11 617 0100. If you’re in the UK and concerned about a British national in Ethiopia, call 020 7008 1500.
From 26 September 2017, you won’t be able to buy and use Ethio Tel SIM cards in mobile devices that haven’t been purchased in Ethiopia or registered with the authorities. If you wish to use Ethio Tel you must pass through airport customs to register devices and may be subject to tax. This change doesn’t affect UK or other international SIM cards.
From 26 to 27 September 2017, Meskel celebrations will take place throughout the country. Traffic will be extremely busy, and many roads will be blocked from 2pm on 26 September until midnight on 27 September. You should avoid large gatherings and be conscious of opportunist pickpockets and thieves.
On 1 October 2017, the Oromia region will celebrate Irreecha, a cultural thanksgiving festival. Last year at the largest gathering in Bishoftu (Debre Zeyit), there was a stampede which led to a number of injuries and deaths. You should avoid large gatherings. If you’re staying in the Oromia region seek information from local authorities and contacts on where celebrations are planned and exercise caution accordingly.
Tensions are raised on the border between the Somali Region and Oromia following recent local clashes in a number of locations in East and West Harerge zones, which are adjacent to Harar and Dire Dawa. There were protests in Jijiga, the capital of the Somali Region, on 13 September 2017. Road travel may be disrupted. If you’re in the area, exercise caution and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Demonstrations and violent clashes took place in the Oromia and Amhara regions in 2016. The situation has calmed considerably, but protests may occur with little warning and could turn violent. You should monitor local media, avoid large crowds, remain vigilant at all times and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
There are local media reports of a possible hand grenade attack on 25 April 2017 at the Du Chateau Hotel in Gondar Town. This reportedly resulted in 5 people being injured, including a foreign national.
On 1 April 2017, there was an explosion at the Florida International Hotel in Gondar, reportedly the result of a grenade attack. Three people are reported to have been injured. Two separate explosions at hotels in Gondar and Bahir Dar occurred in January 2017. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Ethiopia. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
You should be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants, bars and places of worship and during major gatherings like religious or sporting events. There is a threat of kidnapping in Ethiopia’s Somali region, particularly in the eastern areas to which the FCO advise against all travel.
The Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains closed. Several security incidents have taken place along the border. The risk of cross-border tensions remains. There is a threat of kidnapping along the border.
Owning ivory is strictly prohibited in Ethiopia. Anyone caught in possession of ivory can expect to be detained by police.
Around 20,000 British nationals visit Ethiopia every year. Most visits are trouble free.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Ethiopia. Attacks could be indiscriminate including in places visited by foreigners. You should be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants, bars and places of worship and during major gatherings like religious or sporting events.
There have been several minor attacks at hotels in tourist areas but it’s unclear whether these have been related to terrorism or domestic unrest:
- on 1 April 2017, there was an explosion at the Florida International Hotel in Gondar, reportedly the result of a grenade attack. This follows two separate explosions at hotels in Gondar and Bahir Dar in January 2017.
- there was an explosion at the Anwar Mosque in the Merkato area of central Addis Ababa on 11 December 2015.
The terrorist group Al-Shabaab, although based in Somalia, poses a threat across the East Africa region. The group continues to link attacks in the region to Ethiopia’s military presence in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission, and continues to threaten all countries who have military forces in Somalia.
In the past 4 years, Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for attacks in Uganda, Djibouti and Kenya. The ultimate aim of Al-Shabaab is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the wider region, including parts of Ethiopia.
The authorities of Ethiopia have successfully disrupted a number of planned attacks and made a number of arrests. In November 2016 eight Somali nationals were found guilty of trying to carry out terror attacks in public areas in Addis Ababa and jailed for nine years.
A number of indigenous Ethiopian and ethnic Somali groups which operate in Ethiopia are actively engaged in a militant campaign against the Ethiopian government, with most of their activity centered on the Ogaden region.
There’s a threat of kidnapping in Ethiopia’s Somali region, particularly in the eastern areas to which the FCO advise against all travel. You should be vigilant, particularly in towns and cities in the Somali region of Ethiopia, even in areas where the FCO do not advise against all travel. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.
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.
Safety and security
Petty theft and mugging is common and on the rise. Take particular care when visiting crowded public places, especially at night. There have been incidents of violent assaults in the Bole area at night and in more secluded areas, such as the Entoto Hills, during the day. Don’t travel alone in these areas if possible. Keep valuables like cameras and passports out of sight. Be aware of the risk of pick-pocketing, and bag and jewellery snatching including from vehicles stopped at traffic lights in Addis Ababa. Incidents involving parked and unattended cars are on the increase. When parking in Addis Ababa, leave your car in a well lit and guarded area. Consider fitting anti-shatter film to all windows on your vehicle.
Large crowds are common on key national and religious dates. These include 7 January (Ethiopian Christmas); 19 January (Epiphany/’Timket’); 2 March (Victory of Adawa); 5 May (Ethiopian Patriots’ Victory Day); 28 May (Downfall of the Derg); 11/12 September (Ethiopian New Year); 27 September (The Finding of the True Cross/’Meskel’). Large crowds also gather on Ethiopian Easter; Eid (End of Ramadan); Eid Al Arafa and the Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
There have been a small number of cases of arbitrary detention of British nationals in Ethiopia in recent years. There is a risk that this could reoccur – particularly where tensions are heightened (for example around major events, or in locations that might be deemed sensitive for security reasons). You should carry copies of your passport and the contact details of the British Embassy, Addis Ababa at all times. This may help if you’re questioned or detained. However, you should be aware that the Ethiopian authorities have in many cases failed to meet their international obligations to notify Embassies when foreign nationals have been detained. Even if requested, adequate consular access is not always granted.
When travelling outside Addis Ababa consider travelling in a party and leave details of your travel itinerary with a reliable person. Carry a comprehensive medical pack. Telephones, including the sole mobile network, are unreliable. Wherever possible do not leave vehicles unattended. The Entoto hills near Addis Ababa are a popular spot with tourists and expatriates but there has been a recent increase in break-ins on unattended vehicles. In January 2014 there was an attempted robbery against a lone female on the Entoto walking trail.
Health and Safety precautions like life jackets in boats or protective railings at historical sites are rarely in place in Ethiopia.
Visiting the Afar region
If you’re planning to visit the Danakil desert area, you should be aware of the risk of excessive heat and the difficult terrain in some areas, notably around the volcano of Erta Ale. Facilities are basic in Danakil; there’s no running water and medical facilities are limited.
Demonstrations and violent clashes took place in the Amhara region in 2016. In August 2016 there were violent clashes between protestors and security forces in Gonder, Bahir Dar, and Debretabor.
On 1 April 2017, there was an explosion at the Florida International Hotel in Gondar, reportedly the result of a grenade attack. Three people are reported to have been injured. This follows 2 separate explosions at hotels in Gondar and Bahir Dar in January 2017. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
There were been widespread protests across the Oromia Region in 2016, with West and South West Shewa zones particularly affected including the popular tourist destination of the Wenchi crater. Some protests turned violent and resulted in casualties; others caused severe disruption to road travel.
On 2 October 2016 up to 100 people died during a stampede at the Irreechaa religious festival in Oromia. On 8 October 2016 a number of farms and properties were destroyed in Gelana (Borena Zone), Yirga Chefe and Dilla (Sidama Zone). On 4 October, 2016, a US national travelling by car was killed by rocks thrown by protestors on the road from Holeta to Addis Ababa.
In December 2011, two Swedish journalists were found guilty of supporting terrorism having entered Ethiopia illegally from Somalia. Any journalist wishing to operate legitimately in Ethiopia should get the necessary accreditation.
Tensions remain along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, which occasionally flare up into cross-border clashes.
There are cross-border tensions in the Tigray and Afar regions and the security situation has deteriorated. Take great care if you travel on the road from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, including via Asaita, due the high number of road traffic accidents.
There is banditry in the areas bordering Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. If you are crossing into Kenya or Sudan, keep to the main road and seek advice from local authorities about travelling in convoy.
There is local instability, lawlessness, military activity and a general risk of banditry in the Somali region. Since the mid-1990s, insurgent groups, some affiliated with terrorist organisations, have clashed with government forces, particularly in the Ogaden. Foreigners have been caught up in the violence or targeted. There have been attacks on staff working for international NGOs. Avoid overnight stays unless you are in secure accommodation.
There has been violence, inter-tribal clashes and armed attacks in the Gambella region. While foreigners have not been targeted, there is a risk of being caught up in the violence. Tensions remain high in the region with the possibility of further clashes. In late January and early February 2016, ethnic tensions in Gambella city and surrounding areas resulted in a number of casualties. Federal authorities were deployed and a curfew imposed. A cross-border raid on 15 April 2016 in Jikawo, part of the Gambella region on the border with South Sudan, resulted in 208 civilians being killed. There were also been reports of clashes between different groups in the Gambella region on 21 April 2016, resulting in 17 people being killed.
On 7 November 2016 in the Surma Woreda near Mizan in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, a group of Czech and Slovak Nationals were attacked and robbed by armed men who threw rocks at their car, seriously injuring one. Their Ethiopian driver was shot and subsequently died.
Unauthorised and official roadblocks can appear with little or no warning. If you encounter a roadblock you should follow the advice of local authorities at the roadblock, if they’re present. If you encounter an unmanned roadblock, turn around and don’t attempt to pass it.
Under Ethiopian laws, drivers involved in car accidents can face severe punishments, including custodial sentences and fines.
Driving standards are poor, and traffic accidents are common and sadly often fatal. You should be very careful when travelling by car.
You should avoid driving after dark in rural areas: vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be roaming the roads.
Traffic accidents are a regular occurrence in Ethiopia and Addis Ababa specifically. If you are involved in a traffic accident you should remain with your vehicle and call the local police. You should avoid confrontation and await the arrival of the police to resolve the matter.
Protests and demonstrations sometimes take place in Addis Ababa and other cities. In the past, some of these have become violent. You should avoid any protests or demonstrations.
Local laws and customs
There is a large Muslim population and generally Ethiopians dress in a conservative manner. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
The Ethiopian Highlands are mostly Orthodox Christian with ‘fasting’ each Wednesday, Friday and during Lent when only vegetarian dishes are available (except in larger hotels).
You will need an export certificate to take antiques out of the country, otherwise the items are likely to be confiscated and you may face prosecution.
Owning ivory is strictly prohibited. A number of British nationals found with ivory jewellery have had their items confiscated by authorities and fined between 5,000 – 25,000 birr.
Homosexual acts (applying to both sexes) are illegal, and carry penalties of between 1 and 15 years imprisonment.
Drug offences are treated seriously in Ethiopia. Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind.
It is illegal to carry more than 200 birr when entering or leaving Ethiopia. If you are found to be carrying in excess of 200 birr the money will be seized and a prison sentence is possible.
You must declare to customs officials on entry or exit any cash in excess of $3,000 (or the equivalent in other foreign currencies)Travellers leaving Ethiopia with more than $3,000 must present a bank advice notice if the currency was purchased from a local bank or a valid customs declaration form obtained at the point of entry. A bank advice notice or customs declaration form becomes invalid if 45 days or more have elapsed since the date of issue.
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 will need a visa to enter Ethiopia. Visas on arrival are only available for tourists at Addis Ababa (Bole) International airport, at a cost of approximately $US50 for 1 month and $US75 for 3 months (Euros, US dollars and Ethiopian birr are all accepted). All other categories of visitor must get a visa from the Ethiopian Embassy closest to their place of legal residence before travelling. Penalties for overstaying your visa can be severe (see below – Immigration Status).
If you travel to Ethiopia as a tourist you won’t be able to take employment, including voluntary employment. If you are caught in breach of your immigration status you may face a severe fine or possible imprisonment.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Ethiopia. Make sure you have two blank pages in your passport on arrival.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Once you are in Ethiopia you will not be able to change your immigration status. If you have any concerns about your immigration status in Ethiopia, you should contact the local immigration authorities:
Security, Immigration and Refugee Affairs Authority
Telephone: (+251-11) 1553899
Tourist visitors to Ethiopia should be aware that they will be unable to take employment, including voluntary employment, whilst visiting Ethiopia on a tourist visa. If visitors are caught in breach of their immigration status they may face severe fines or possible imprisonment.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Ethiopia.
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.
There are a number of hospitals in Addis Ababa but only private hospitals offer a reasonable standard of basic care for minor health problems. Elsewhere, medical facilities (including dentistry) are extremely poor. You should carry a comprehensive medical pack when travelling out of Addis Ababa. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, evacuation by air ambulance and repatriation.
In December 2013, an outbreak of dengue fever was reported in Dire Dawa City.
In June 2013 an outbreak of Yellow Fever was reported in South Omo Zone and the World Health Organisation launched a mass-vaccination programme to contain the outbreak.
Malaria is common in areas of the country below 2,000 metres.
Bilharzia is present in the majority of lakes in Ethiopia.
Water-borne diseases are common. Drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
Addis Ababa sits at 2,400 metres above sea level.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 907 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Credit cards are accepted at only a very few outlets in Addis Ababa. It is not normally possible to get currency advances against a credit card. Make sure you have an adequate supply of hard currency or travellers-cheques.
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.