Foreign travel advice

Ethiopia

Summary

Download map (PDF)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel to:

  • 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 Nogob (previously Fik), Jarar (previously Degehabur), Shabelle (previously Gode), Korahe and Dollo (previously Warder) zones of the Ethiopian Somali Region
  • within 10 km of the border with South Sudan
  • within 100 km of the Ethiopian border with Somalia and Kenya in the Afder and Liben zones of Ethiopia’s Somali region
  • within 10 km of the border with Sudan and the other parts of the Kenyan border, with the exception or principal roads/towns

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:

  • within 10 km of the border with Eritrea, with the exception of: the main road through Axum and Adigrat; tourist sites close to the main roads (eg Debre Damo and Yeha); and open border crossings with Eritrea and the main roads to these border crossings. You should take local advice and not walk away from roads or towns unaccompanied
  • all other areas of the Ethiopian Somali Region, including Siti zone, Fafan zone (with the exception of the main road and railway line to Djibouti), and the areas of Liben and Afder zones more than 100km from the Somalia and Kenya borders
  • the woredas (districts) of Tsegede, Mirab Armacho and Tach Armacho in North Gonder zone
  • the two woredas (districts) of the Agnuak zone of the Gambella region that border on South Sudan (Dima and, Goge), Etang Special Woreda, and the Gambella wildlife reserve.

State Media have announced there were attacks targeted against senior regional government officials in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar on 22 June 2019. Roads in to and out of both cities may be closed at short notice. Anyone in Addis Ababa or the areas around Bahir Dar should keep a low profile and follow the advice of local authorities. All internet connections, including mobile data, are currently not working.

Around 20,000 British nationals visit Ethiopia every year. Most visits are trouble free but there are a number of issues you should be aware of.

There are frequent incidences of civil unrest in Ethiopia, including protests and strikes. Some of these can cause temporary closure of roads or disruption to local business and transport, and in the past some have escalated into serious violence. These incidents are often limited in duration and localised. Where they occur, the British Embassy will advise staff to reconsider any travel plans they have to the specified area and not to travel until the situation has calmed. Similarly, you are advised to reconsider travel to areas where disturbances are reported. This travel advice will flag incidents of concern, where British Embassy staff have received advice, but as unrest can occur with little or no notice you are also advised to monitor local news and, if you’re unsure, contact local authorities or reputable tour operators in the areas you’re travelling to.

Tensions are raised in the Somali Regional State and on the border between the Somali and Oromia Regions following clashes in a number of locations, including in the East and West Harerge zones and in the areas surrounding the town of Moyale on the border with Kenya. These clashes have led to a number of deaths. Although there are no reports of foreign nationals being targeted, you should exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities. You should also be aware that road travel – including on the route between Dire Dawa airport and Harar City – may be disrupted.

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.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. Consular support is severely limited in parts of Ethiopia where we advise against all travel and limited where we advise against all but essential travel.

Ethiopia is primarily a cash based society and banking facilities, including card payments and ATMs are very limited outside major cities.

In May and August 2018, there were reports of Ebola outbreaks in Democratic Republic of Congo. You may see some additional checks taking place at arrival on all flights into Bole Airport in Addis Ababa.

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.

Terrorism

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.

The terrorist group Al-Shabaab, although based in Somalia, poses a threat across the East Africa region. The group continues to link attacks to regional countries’ military presence in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission, and continues to threaten all countries who have military forces in Somalia. The Ethiopian authorities have successfully disrupted a number of planned attacks and made a number of arrests. In November 2016, 8 Somali nationals were found guilty of trying to carry out terror attacks in public areas in Addis Ababa and jailed for 9 years.

Following recent political changes in Ethiopia, a number of indigenous opposition groups have renounced violent activities and have been removed from the Ethiopian Government’s list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

There is a threat of kidnapping in Ethiopia’s Somali region, particularly in the eastern areas to which the FCO advise against all travel. Historically there have also been incidences of kidnapping in the Danakil area of Afar region. You should be vigilant, particularly in towns and cities in the Somali region of Ethiopia, and including in areas where the FCO does 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 is 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

Crime

Addis Ababa and other major urban areas are comparatively safe compared to many African cities. Nonetheless, petty theft and mugging is on the rise. Be vigilant if approached by strangers seeking assistance - criminal gangs are known to use distraction techniques including begging or feigning illness. Take particular care when visiting crowded public places, especially at night.

There has been an increase in the level of reported crime against both expatriates and nationals in the Bole and Yeka hills areas of Addis Ababa. These have included robberies at knife point and the choking unconscious of victims by their attackers. You should familiarise yourself with the geography if travelling in these areas and exercise caution. If threatened, hand over your valuables without resistance. 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. Keep car doors locked whilst in your vehicle, and when parking 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. For 2018, these include 7 January (Ethiopian Christmas); 18/19 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); 26/27 September (The Finding of the True Cross/’Meskel’). Large crowds also gather on Ethiopian (Orthodox) Easter; Eid Al Fitr; Eid Al Arafa and the Birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. Various parts of the country also have local festivals which can lead to large gatherings, often centered around Saints days.

There have been a small number of cases of arbitrary detention of British nationals in Ethiopia in recent years. There’s 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 will not necessarily notify embassies when foreign nationals are detained. Even if requested, adequate consular access is not always granted.

Local travel

Health and safety precautions like life jackets in boats or protective railings at historical sites are rarely in place in Ethiopia.

Road travel

Driving standards and vehicle maintenance are often poor, and traffic accidents are a regular occurrence in Ethiopia, especially in Addis Ababa and on the Addis Ababa-Djibouti road. In Addis Ababa, British Embassy staff are advised to use only the metered yellow taxis as these generally have higher standards of maintenance than the blue and white taxis.

Under Ethiopian law, drivers involved in car accidents can face severe punishments, including custodial sentences and fines. You should be very careful when travelling by car. If you’re involved in a traffic accident you should remain in your vehicle and call the local police. You should avoid confrontation and await their arrival to resolve the matter.

In the past some localised demonstrations have led to temporary closures of roads. However, not all reports on social media channels of such disruptions are accurate. If you’re unsure, you should contact local authorities or reputable tour operators in the areas you’re travelling to. If you encounter a roadblock you should follow the advice of local authorities at the road block if they are present. If you encounter an unmanned roadblock, turn around and don’t attempt to pass it.

When travelling outside Addis Ababa, you should avoid driving after dark in rural areas: vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be roaming on the roads. Medical facilities outside the capital are extremely limited so carry a comprehensive medical pack. You should also consider communications – whilst mobile telephone services are increasingly widespread, connectivity cannot be guaranteed, and there have been multiple examples of mobile internet being closed down with no notice. You may wish to consider travelling in a party and leaving details of your travel itinerary with a reliable person.

Air Travel

Following the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 on Sunday 10 March, operations at Bole international airport have returned to normal.

Specific considerations - Afar Region

The FCO advise against all but essential travel within 10km of the border with Eritrea, with the exception of the border crossing at Burre (Debay Sima).

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 is no running water and medical options are very limited.

Tourism in the area has previously been targeted by armed groups in 2007, 2012 and 2017. You should only travel to this area with a recognised tour company and when booking check that your group will be supported by an armed police or military escort.

Specific considerations - Amhara Region

The FCO advise against all travel within 10km of the border with Sudan, except for the principal road to the Metema crossing point. We also advise against all but essential travel to the woredas (districts) of Tsegede, Mirab Armacho and Tach Armacho where political disputes have in the past turned violent. Amhara Region’s major tourist sites of Lalibela, Bahir Dar, Gonder town and the Simien Mountains are not within these areas.

There were sporadic demonstrations and violent clashes in Amhara region in 2016 and 2017. On at least 3 occasions a low-strength grenade was thrown. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.

Specific considerations - Gambella Region

There has been violence, inter-communal clashes and armed attacks in the Gambella region. While foreigners have not been targeted, there’s a risk of being caught up in the violence.

The FCO advise against all travel to the four woredas (districts) (Akobo, Wantawo, Jikawo and Lare) of the Nuer zone, and to the Jore woreda of the Agnuak zone. We further advise against all but essential travel to the two woredas (districts) of the Agnuak zone of the Gambella region that border on South Sudan (Dima and, Goge), Etang Special Woreda, and the Gambella wildlife reserve.

Specific considerations - Oromia Region

The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the Kenyan border with the exception of major towns and crossing points.

There continue to be increased tensions and periodic violence between Oromia and the Ethiopian Somali Regional State, including, around Moyale, and in East and West Harerge zones, which border Harar and Dire Dawa. Road travel may be disrupted. If you’re in areas close to the Somali Region exercise caution and follow the advice of local authorities. You should take the same precautions if in the western part of the Guji zone near the border with the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region where there has also been violence.

There have been protests and demonstrations in a range of towns across the Oromia region. These were at their height in 2016 but have continued more sporadically since that time. Towns in the Wellega and Shewa zones, and West Arsi zone, including Ambo, Wolissa, Nekemte and Shashmene, have been particularly affected. But demonstrations have also been witnessed elsewhere including in the Bale zone to the south-east. Some protests have turned violent and resulted in casualties; others caused severe disruption to road travel including major roads to and from Addis Ababa.

In some instances international investors have been threatened, although we’re not aware of foreign tourists having been targeted. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.

Specific considerations – Ethiopian Somali Regional State

The FCO advise against all travel to the Nogob (previously Fik), Jarar (previously Degehabur), Shabelle (previously Gode), Korahe and Dollo (previously Warder) zones of the Somali Region and to within 100km of the Kenyan and Somali borders in the Afder and Liben zones. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to all other areas of the Somali Regional State, with the exception of the main road and railway to Djibouti through Fafan zone.

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. Foreigners have been caught up in the violence or targeted. There have also been attacks on staff working for international NGOs.

Specific considerations - Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region

The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the borders with South Sudan and Kenya.

There have been some instances of civil unrest in towns in the Sidama zone, including Hawassa, and clashes along stretches of the internal border with the Oromia region, especially in the Gedeo Zone. Whilst such disturbances have been less frequent than in several other areas of Ethiopia, a number have turned violent at short notice. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.

Specific considerations – Tigray Region

The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the Eritrea border with the exception of the main Axum-Adigrat road; established tourist sites adjacent to it such as Debre Damo and Yeha; the border crossings at Zalambessa (Setrha) and Rama (Adi Kuala); and main roads to these border crossings. You should take local advice and not walk away from roads or towns unaccompanied.

Specific considerations – Benishangul-Gumuz Region

The FCO advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Sudan.

There have been occasional instances of civil unrest in and around Assosa. You should familiarise yourself with the advice above about avoiding large gatherings, and should follow the advice of local authorities and your tour operator.

Local laws and customs

The traditional Ethiopian calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar that is widely used internationally. New Year is in September and there are 12 months of 30 days followed by a 13th month of 5 days (or 6 in a leap year). The Ethiopian calendar is 7-8 years behind the Gregorian calendar. If dealing with official documents, you can expect the date to be written in the Ethiopian calendar.

Time of day is also counted differently by traditional Ethiopian mechanisms. Daytime hours are counted beginning from what would be 0600 using a globally standard 24-hour clock, and nightime hours from 1800. “2am” on the Ethiopian clock is therefore equivalent to 0800. Most hotels and larger organisations’ documents, including all airline tickets, are expressed using the global clock rather than the traditional Ethiopian clock. But many individuals and smaller organisations continue to use the Ethiopian clock. If you are not sure the time of a meeting or an event check with your host which clock is being used (‘Ethiopian time’ or ‘Western time’).

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse and largely tolerant country. However, many believers are devout in their respective faiths and you should make sure to respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious sites of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Outside Addis Ababa, particularly in rural areas, women may wish to dress modestly to avoid the possibility of causing offence. Modest dress is a must when visiting religious sites.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast each Wednesday, Friday and in several other periods. In predominantly Orthodox areas, at these times only vegan dishes are likely to be available except in larger hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners.

Homosexual acts (applying to both sexes) are illegal, and carry penalties of between 1 and 15 years imprisonment. Be sensitive to local laws and customs and avoid public displays of affection. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

It’s illegal to carry more than 1000 birr in local currency when entering or leaving Ethiopia. If you’re found to be carrying in excess of that amount 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 US dollars (or the equivalent) in foreign currencies. Travellers leaving Ethiopia with more than USD$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.

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 and 25,000 birr.

Drug offences are treated seriously in Ethiopia. Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Khat is a legal drug in Ethiopia but it is an offence to take it out of the country. Bags are regularly searched at Addis Ababa Bole Airport and anyone found to be in possession of Khat is likely to face criminal prosecution.

Entry requirements

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.

Visas

You will need a visa to enter Ethiopia. E-visas can be purchased in advance from the Ethiopian Immigration website. Visas on arrival are also available for tourists at Addis Ababa (Bole) International airport, at a cost of approximately $US50 for 1 month and $US75 for 3 months. It’s recommended that you bring US$ cash to pay for this. All other categories of visitor must get a visa from the Ethiopian Embassy closest to their place of legal residence before travelling. The penalty for overstaying your tourist visa is $US10 per person per day. If you overstay you will have to pay your fine in full before you are able to leave Ethiopia.

To obtain a business visa for Ethiopia you may require prior approval from the Ethiopian Department of Immigration and Nationality Affairs office before submitting your application to the Ethiopian Embassy. You should check the latest instructions with your nearest Ethiopian Embassy.

Passport validity

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.

Immigration status

If you’re visiting Ethiopia on a tourist visa, you will be unable to take employment, including voluntary employment. If visitors are caught in breach of their immigration status they may face severe fines or possible imprisonment.

Once you’re 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.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Ethiopia.

Health

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.

There are a number of hospitals in Addis Ababa but only private hospitals offer a reasonable standard of basic care for minor health problems. Dentistry options are especially lacking. Ambulance services are also limited. Outside the capital medical facilities remain 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. You should contact your insurance / medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Malaria is common in areas of the country below 2,000 metres above sea level. Addis Ababa sits at 2,400 metres but a number of sites popular with tourists are below 2,000.

Bilharzia is present in the vast majority of lakes in Ethiopia - you should check before swimming.

Water-borne diseases are common. Drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.

Money

Ethiopia is largely a cash based society. Credit cards are accepted at only a very few outlets in Addis Ababa and it is not normally possible to get currency advances against a credit card. International bank and debit cards are accepted at major banks’ ATMs in the capital but there are very limited banking facilities in most other areas. Make sure you have an adequate supply of cash before travelling outside the capital.

If you change foreign currency into Birr, you should ensure that you keep your receipt, as without this you are unlikely to be able to change any left over money back at the end of your trip.

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.

Travel safety

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 looking for a previous version of the FCO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.

Further help

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.