Djibouti travel guide
Tucked away in the Horn of Africa, diminutive Djibouti offers ethereal landscapes, traditional tribes and mega marine life by the camel load – little wonder this slice of East Africa is being touted as the next big thing.
Refreshingly devoid of large-scale tourist developments (for now, at least), you won’t find international hotel chains outside the eponymous colonial capital. Tourists are still something of a rarity and it is not uncommon to be invited into a family’s home to share a pot of tea.
Contrasting strongly with the bright blue skies and the colourful macawis worn by locals, the flat plains outside Djibouti City have a harsh and otherworldly aesthetic, which are celebrated by the local tribespeople in poetry and song. The loose rocks that litter the khaki-coloured ground amid semi-wild herds of camel speak of the country’s volcanic past.
Away from the capital, which is wafted by a cool Red Sea breeze, Djibouti becomes oppressively hot in the summer months. Locals move slowly and purposefully; at least until the daily delivery of khat, a semi-narcotic plant chewed like gum, which seems to stop daily life in its tracks.
If you do manage to defy the heat, there are ample opportunities to connect with the natural world. Visitors can scale the dormant Ardoukoba volcano, explore Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa, or go snorkelling with whale sharks in the Red Sea. Found in the Bay of Ghoubbet, these slow-moving giants trawl the Djiboutian coast, gorging on plankton.
Exhibiting a blend of African and Arabian culture, the people of Djibouti are equally fascinating. Gracious and welcoming to foreigners, their country still largely works along tribal lines, but it is quiet, unthreatening and small enough to get to grips with. Above all else, though, it’s absolutely stunning.
23,200 sq km (8,958 sq miles).
899,598 (UN estimate 2016).
35.7 per sq km.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh since 1999.
Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed since 2013.
Last updated: 21 August 2019
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 the border with Eritrea.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Djibouti. Attacks can’t be ruled out and could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
Djibouti remains one of the main routes for those fleeing the conflict in Yemen. Limited arrangements are in place to facilitate onward travel for British nationals arriving in Djibouti. However, the UK government’s ability to help is limited and you’ll be expected to cover the cost of visas, accommodation, insurance and onward travel yourself. Any travel options you pursue are taken at your own risk.
Consular support is limited in Djibouti as there is no British Embassy. The British Honorary Consul in Djibouti can only offer limited help. However, the British Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia can provide consular support to British nationals. If you need consular assistance you should contact the British Embassy in Addis Ababa. If you’re in the UK and worried about a British national in Djibouti, call +44 (0) 20 7008 1500.
Be aware of the risk of banditry if you travel outside the capital city.
Piracy remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. See Sea travel
Safety and security
Petty crime is not uncommon in Djibouti. Don’t walk around town alone late at night. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight.
The FCO advise against all travel to the border with Eritrea. In 2008 there were military clashes between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. The situation remains fragile and further conflict is possible.
Take great care if you travel to remote areas of the country notably the border with Somaliland, the north-west of Somalia and on roads north of Tadjoura where there are military roadblocks. You should respect the advice given by those operating the roadblocks and, if required, seek formal military approval for a journey.
Avoid travelling outside city centres after dark; vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be on the roads. Driving standards are generally poor and on the main Djibouti-Ethiopia road there are a very high number of large trucks. Many drivers use the (legal) narcotic khat and this contributes to speeding and unsafe driving. Roads are generally narrow, poorly lit and poorly maintained. Police set up wire coils as roadblocks on some of the major roads, which are not clearly visible at night. Stay on paved roads. Unmarked landmines are present in the border region with Eritrea, but in other border areas most landmines have been marked or cleared. The borders between Djibouti and Ethiopia and Djibouti and Somalia are not always clearly identified.
A new railway line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa opened on 5 October 2016 and is now operating a passenger service. There have been no reported safety incidents.
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.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Djibouti. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
Djibouti and international interests within Djibouti (including several military bases and personnel) may be seen as a legitimate target by Al Shabaab because of Djiboutian participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, and international support to the Somali Government. Al Shabaab has previously issued public threats against Djibouti. In May 2014, they claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a restaurant in Djibouti city, which injured foreign nationals.
Be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas and bars, and during major gatherings like sporting or religious events. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches were being viewed.
Follow the advice of local authorities, take care while travelling around the country and avoid large gatherings.
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.
Local laws and customs
Djibouti has a predominantly Muslim population. You should dress and behave in a conservative manner.
Whilst drinking alcohol is permitted, drunken behaviour could result in a two-year prison term.
Homosexual behaviour is not illegal, but public displays of affection such as kissing or handholding by same-sex couples could lead to prosecution by the authorities under laws prohibiting attacks on “good morals” given the cultural norms in Djiboutian society. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
During Ramadan you should show respect to those who are fasting and take care not to offend Islamic values.
Photographing infrastructure (such as ports, public buildings, airports, military facilities and bridges) is prohibited. Your equipment will be confiscated and you could be arrested. When taking photos near prohibited places you should take care and seek local advice if you are unsure.
French, Arabic and Somali are widely spoken.
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.
British nationals need a visa to enter Djibouti. You should get a visa before travelling. Applications may take several weeks to process and should be made well in advance of travel. Visas on arrival are issued at the discretion of the Djibouti immigration authorities. You must also have evidence of your onward journey.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Djibouti.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, transit and exit from Djibouti.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 35 09 62 or 35 27 12 (switchboard) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
From May to October the climate is very hot and dry.
Djibouti is in an active volcanic and earthquake zone. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. There was intense rainfall across Djibouti in May 2018, leading to flash floods and damage in Djibouti City.
Credit and debit cards are not widely accepted. Where credit cards are accepted, visa cards are often required. ATMs are normally available in Djibouti City but may not accept Mastercard. You should make sure that you carry sufficient hard currency.
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.