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Eritrea travel guide

About Eritrea

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.

Key facts


117,600 sq km (45,405 sq miles).


5,401,231 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

55.5 per sq km.





Head of state:

President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.

Head of government:

President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Areas where FCDO advises against travel

Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against FCDO advice. 

Within 25km of Eritrea’s land borders

FCDO advises against all travel to within 25km of all Eritrea’s land borders. The land borders with Djibouti and Ethiopia are closed. Eritrea’s land border with Sudan is operational in response to the conflict in Sudan and people are crossing the border in both directions.  

Find out more about why FCDO advises against travel.

Support for British nationals in Eritrea

Consular support is severely limited in parts of Eritrea. If you’re in Eritrea and you need urgent help (for example, you’ve been attacked or arrested, or someone has died), call the British Embassy in Asmara on +291 1 202 838. If you’re in the UK and worried about a British national in Eritrea, call 020 7008 5000.

British-Eritrean dual nationals

If you are a British-Eritrean dual national, the Eritrean authorities consider you to be an Eritrean national. This applies if you hold identity documents issued by Eritrea’s Department of Immigration and Nationality, including out of date documents. The British Embassy is unable to offer consular assistance to dual nationals in Eritrea. Embassy staff will be unable to gain consular access to you if you are detained by the Eritrean authorities.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide and any specific travel advice that applies to you:

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Eritrea set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Eritrean Embassy in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Eritrea.

Passport validity requirements

To enter Eritrea, your passport must have an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the date you arrive and at least 2 blank consecutive pages for stamping.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Visa requirements

You must have a visa to enter Eritrea. For information about visas, contact the Eritrean Embassy in the UK or the nearest Eritrean embassy. Check with your airline or travel company for the latest information.   

British-Eritrean dual nationals

Dual nationals who enter Eritrea on an Eritrean identity card will need an exit permit from the Immigration Office in Asmara to leave the country.

Land border crossings

Eritrea’s land borders with Djibouti and Ethiopia are closed at the moment. It is unclear if and when the borders will reopen. Eritrea’s land border with Sudan is operational in response to the conflict in Sudan.    

Vaccination requirements

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Eritrea guide.

Depending on your circumstances, this may include a yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Customs rules 

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Eritrea. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.

Electronic items

You must declare all laptops, mobile phones, cameras and other electronic items. If you do not, they can be confiscated by customs officials when you leave.

Taking money into and out of Eritrea

Declare foreign cash or travellers cheques if the value is 10,000 US dollars or more. You will get a certificate, which you must keep to show when you leave.

When you leave Eritrea, you must be able to show that any foreign currency you have spent has been either:

  • exchanged at ‘Himbol’, the state foreign currency exchange
  • spent at an official hotel

If you cannot account for foreign money you’ve spent, you may be delayed or face prosecution, leading to a severe fine.

You are not allowed to take more than 1,000 Eritrean nafka out of Eritrea.

This guide also has safety advice for regions of Eritrea.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.   

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Eritrea

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Eritrea, attacks cannot be ruled out.

Military activity in the Red Sea area       

Military activity is currently underway in response to attempts by Houthi militants to prevent movement of international shipping in the Red Sea. While the area of activity is limited to the Red Sea and Yemen, there is a possibility that Travel Advice for nearby countries could change at short notice. You should continue to monitor Travel Advice and follow any relevant instructions from local authorities.

Political situation

Local security measures

In September 2022, the Eritrean government announced a national call-up of militia in response to the conflict in northern Ethiopia. The call-up has now ended following the peace deal between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Extra security measures may still be in place around Asmara and other regions of Eritrea. Get advice from your host, accommodation or travel operator.

Armed civilians

A large proportion of the population has access to arms under the government of Eritrea’s civilian militia programme. The British Embassy has no evidence these weapons increase the threat of violent crime.

Travelling outside of Asmara     

Foreign nationals must apply in advance for a permit to travel outside Asmara’s surrounding province, Zoba Maekel. There are checkpoints outside Asmara where officials will check your travel permit. Applications for permits are handled by the relevant ministry:

  • Ministry of Trade and Industry for business travellers
  • Ministry of Tourism, Harnet Avenue, for tourists
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs for diplomats

When applying, you must give details of the car you’ll be travelling in. There have been reports of authorities not allowing tourists to use public transport for travel outside of Asmara.

If you are living or working outside Asmara, you will also need a travel permit to leave your area of residence or work. Apply to the local region (‘zoba’) administration office. Applications may take several days to be processed and are not always successful.

Restrictions on travel by foreign nationals apply equally to foreign diplomats. Staff from the British Embassy cannot always give consular assistance in person to British nationals outside Asmara.


Protecting yourself and your belongings

Though Asmara is a relatively safe city, there is a risk of street crime, especially at night. To reduce your personal risk: 

  • do not walk alone at night
  • keep phones, cameras and passports out of sight
  • keep valuables somewhere secure, such as in a hotel safe

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

You must always carry ID. A copy of the photo page of your passport is enough. Keep the original and a second copy in a safe place.

Internet and phone access

Internet access is highly restricted in Eritrea, mainly limited to hotels and a small number of internet cafes. There is no 3G in the country. The national telephone networks are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods each day outside Asmara and larger towns.

International SIM cards will not work in Eritrea. You need a residence permit to buy a local SIM card and this can take several weeks. There have been unconfirmed reports that phone calls made on the Eritrean mobile network are recorded.

Using cameras in secure areas

Photographing government buildings and military installations is illegal. You need a permit to take photographs of the ‘tank graveyard’ in Asmara. You can apply for a permit at the Ministry of Tourism. Always ask if you want to take a photo in any area where security personnel are present.

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal. If convicted, you can get a prison sentence.

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Eritrea, see information on driving abroad.

You’ll need a 1949 version of the international driving permit (IDP) and your UK driving licence. Take both to the Ministry of Transportation and Communication and they will issue you with a driving permit.

You cannot get an IDP outside the UK so get one before you travel.

Road conditions

In Asmara, street lighting is limited by power cuts. Avoid travelling after dark during power cuts and in rural areas, where roads are unlit.

Road signage and safety barriers are scarce and road surfaces are uneven. Other drivers may drive without lights and some drive erratically or at speed. Tight blind bends and steep drops are common. In many parts of the country, roads are difficult or impassable during the rainy season.

Air travel

The UK Air Safety List (ASL) lists all known airlines in Eritrea that do not meet international safety standards and are banned from operating commercial air services to, from, and within the UK. Check the UK Air Safety List when considering which airlines to fly with. The list is maintained by the Department for Transport, based on advice from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Check whether your tour operator has concerns about airlines in Eritrea.

Sea travel

Mariners must get permissions and entry visas before attempting to land in Eritrea.

You risk being detained if you go ashore on the south-western Hanish Islands or any other islands that belong to Eritrea. See regional risks.

Piracy risk

The Southern Red Sea area is a hotspot for maritime crime and security incidents.  

There is still a significant risk of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, where piracy has been reduced but not prevented. The threat assessment of the combined international naval counter-piracy forces is that sailing yachts should not enter the designated high-risk area, due to the risk of hijacking.

This section has safety advice for regions of Eritrea. It only covers regions where FCDO has specific advice.

You should also read FCDO’s overall travel advice and safety and security advice.

Eritrea-Djibouti border

FCDO advises against all travel to within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Djibouti.  

All border crossings between Djibouti and Eritrea are currently closed. In 2008 there was fighting between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. Though relations have improved, the situation remains unresolved.

Eritrea-Ethiopia border

FCDO advises against all travel to within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia because of military activity on both sides of the border.

All border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea are currently closed.


There is a risk of landmines in the Eritrea-Ethiopia border area. If you are in the border area against FCDO advice, do not leave the main paved highways by car or on foot.

Eritrea-Sudan border

FCDO advises against all travel to within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Sudan because of military activity on both sides of the border. There are ongoing reports of banditry in and around the border area.

The border with Sudan is operational in response to the Sudanese conflict. 

Hanish Islands

It is highly unlikely that Eritrean authorities will issue permits for any vessels to visit the south-western Hanish Islands. These islands are very close to the conflict in Yemen. In the past 3 years, the authorities have detained mariners who landed without a permit. 

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Call 122244 and ask for an ambulance. 

Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of Eritrea. Read more about altitude sickness on TravelHealthPro.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

There is a limited range of medicines available in Eritrea, and many of those are produced locally. If you’re taking prescription medication, make sure you have a supply for your stay plus a contingency.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in Eritrea

There are 3 public hospitals in Asmara. Public hospitals in other towns are often poorly equipped. In rural areas medical facilities are even more limited. If you’re travelling away from the large towns, carry a comprehensive medical pack with you.

FCDO has a list of medical facilities in Eritrea where some staff will speak English.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Eritrea

Ambulance: 122244

Fire: 116

Police: 113 

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Consular assistance

Consular support is severely limited in parts of Eritrea. Constraints on travel within Eritrea mean the British Embassy is often unable to deliver in-person consular assistance outside the greater Asmara area.

The Eritrean authorities may not inform the British Embassy if a British national is in need of help. There have been recent instances where the Eritrean authorities have refused the embassy consular access to detained foreign nationals.

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Eritrea and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Asmara.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

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