CAPITAL: ADDIS ABABA
LANGUAGE: AMHARIC, OROMO & ENGLISH
RELIGION: CHRISTIANITY & ISLAM
CURRENCY: ETHIOPIAN BIRR
POPULATION SIZE: 114 MILLION
CALLING CODE: +251
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While Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa, is relatively stable and safe compared to other African countries, travelling to this country is not completely risk free. Petty crime, such as mugging, pickpocketing and bag snatching, is very common and it is therefore advised to keep an eye on your belongings at all times, especially when traveling by public transport. Bole Medhanealem, Bole Atlas, Meskel Square and Yeka Hills are relatively dangerous areas in Addis Ababa and reports of violent incidents, such as robberies at knife point and the choking of victims until unconsciousness, against western foreigners have increased in recent years. Avoid traveling alone and by food in these areas, especially after dark. Be cautious when approached by strangers asking for help. Criminal gangs are known to beg or feign illness to rob someone by distracting your attention.
Political violence and civil unrest occur frequently in Ethiopia and demonstrations or other large events can unexpectedly and quickly turn violent. International events or national political developments can lead to the mobilization of large numbers of people. While foreign travelers are mostly not targeted on purpose, there is a risk of getting caught up in violent confrontations between protesters and security forces. It is therefore strongly advised to avoid any kind of large gathering of people, especially on days of national significance. Ethiopian authorities sometimes purposely shut down internet and telephone networks throughout the country during periods of civil unrest.
Many regions of the country are also prone to inter-ethnic tensions and violence. Areas at high risk of ethnic-based clashes are Oromia, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Tigray and Afar as well as the Southern Nations, Nationalities & Peoples Regional State. Even insignificant events such as an accident or soccer match could lead to a sudden outburst of violence.
Ethiopia has suffered from multiple terrorist attacks in the past and there is a continous threat of terrorism in the entire country. As a result of Ethiopia’s military presence in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has publicly threatened Ethiopia. The risk of terrorism is particularly high in Addis Ababa. Places known to be frequently visited by expatriates and western travelers such as hotels, restaurants, clubs, malls, markets, religious sites, government buildings, transport hubs and large public events are prime targets.
Traveling to more or less all Ethiopia’s border areas is extremely hazardous. The Ogaden region and in particular its border area with Oromia as well as Somalia is highly unsafe. Violent clashes between government forces and insurgents occur regularly. Al-Shabaab may carry out cross-border attacks from or kidnap travelers. Western foreigners are considered prime targets. Ethiopia’s border region with Kenya is dangerous due to the presence of armed groups. Cross-border violence occurs and there is a risk of kidnapping and armed robbery. Major towns and border crossing points are considered less dangerous. The security situation at Ethiopia’s border with Sudan and South Sudan, including the Gambella region, is extremely unstable and prone to violent crime, inter-tribal clashes and civil unrest. There is a high risk of banditry and kidnapping. There is an ongoing border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea and while the conflict seemed to have calmed down, cross-border violence can start again at any time.
COVID-19 in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has confirmed cases of COVID-19 and has introduced various measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Bole International Airport is still open for commercial flights, but the number of available flights is rapidly decreasing and airlines cancel or change flights at short notice. If you show signs of a cold or flu upon arrival, you might be requested to self-isolate yourself for 14 days or be transferred to a government isolation center where you are ought to remain until you are medically cleared. All land borders have been closed for people. The region of Tigray has declared a state of emergency and all travelers from Addis Ababa have to go in self-isolation for 15 days. Ethiopia’s policies might change suddenly and unexpectedly depending on how the corona-pandemic evolves. Remember that Ethiopia might lack the medical facilities to treat you adequately once infected with the corona-virus.
While Ethiopia’s road network has significantly improved in recent years, especially in and around Addis Ababa, many roads are still in poor condition, unpaved and inadequately marked. Roads can become impassable during the rainy season. Road travel can be chaotic and dangerous. Excessive speeding occurs regularly, drivers behave recklessly and vehicles are poorly maintained. Road lighting is limited in cities and nonexistent in rural areas. Pedestrians and animals can unexpectedly roam over roads. Roads, including highways, might be temporarily closed by security forces and local transport disrupted in case of civil unrest. Travelling at night both in a private vehicle as by public transport is strongly discouraged. Not only are broken down vehicles and roaming livestock hardly visible due to the lack of road lighting, there is also an increased risk of armed robbery.
Traffic accidents occur frequently and Ethiopia has one of the world’s worst rate of traffic fatalities. Especially traffic in and around Addis Ababa as well as the road between Addis Ababa and Djibouti is notorious. Involvement in a car accident can lead to severe punishments including custodial sentences and fines. When you are involved in a traffic accident, it is illegal to move your vehicle. Contact the police and remain in your vehicle until a police officer arrives. However, if you feel unsafe it is advised to leave the site immediately and proceed to the nearest police station.
Roadblocks and checkpoints have been set up along Eirtrean roads by local authorities and it is strongly advised to strictly follow their instructions upon encountering one. If you come across an unmanned roadblock, you should turn around and not attempt to pass it. Overland travel to Ethiopia’s border areas with Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan is risky due to the common occurrence of banditry, armed robbery and carjacking. Bandits often pretend to have a problem with their vehicle to lure drivers out. Landmines and other explosive remnants of war might be hidden under remote dirt roads and pose a hazard to anyone travelling to Ethiopia’s border areas with Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. It is therefore strongly advised to not go off-road without having checked with the local authorities if the area is clear of mines or even better, to be accompanied by a local and trustworthy tour operator. It is illegal to use electronic devices while driving, even in hands-free mode, and the use of seat belts are required. Downloaded maps are unreliable, it is advised to study and prepare your intended route carefully.
Public transport is unregulated and can be therefore be unsafe. Ethiopia has an extensive bus network as well as a railway service between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. Skybus and Selam are relatively comfortable bus companies and operate between Addis Ababa and major towns across the country. While minibuses, locally known as matatus, provide a cheap and fast way to travel within and between towns, this is not the safest way of transportation as these buses are often in disrepair. Taxis are commonly used and it is recommend to use the green and metered yellow taxis which are generally in better condition than the blue or white taxis. Ethiopia is easily reachable from Western countries by plane and its national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, is a highly reputable airline.
While there are hospitals in most towns, the quality of health care in Ethiopia is low and most medical facilities are short on qualified personnel and medical equipment. Medicines are short in supply and counterfeit products are widely sold. Access to medical care in rural areas is almost nonexistent. Standards at private clinics are slightly higher, yet medical evacuation is almost always necessary in case of serious health issues. Emergency medical assistance, such as helicopter or ambulance service, is limited, unreliable and can be very expensive. Dentistry services are generally unavailable. Both public and private care providers often require direct payment or a cash deposit before you are treated or hospitalized.
Many sorts of diseases are present in Ethiopia, yet travelers are generally not at high risk of contracting any of them under the condition that adequate precautions are being taken. There is a high risk of malaria in areas below 6500ft/2000m and an outbreak of chikungunya has recently been reported in the region of Dire Dawa. Other insect-born diseases that sporadically occur are dengue, leishmaniasis, filariasis, river blindness and the African sleeping sickness. Yellow fever is present as well as zika. Pregnant women or individuals who have the intention to try for pregnancy in the near future are advised to cancel or postpone their travels. Take anti-malaria medication and protect yourself against mosquito-bites by wearing light-colored, loose body-covering clothing and using mosquito repellent. The consumption of contaminated food or water can cause several diseases such as cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid and traveler’s diarrhea. Practice safe food and water precautions and avoid swimming in fresh water sources, such as lakes, rivers and ponds to prevent contracting schistosomiasis. The risk of contracting these diseases increases when travelling to areas with poor standards of hygiene. Ethiopia is vulnerable for outbreaks of meningitis, especially from December to June, and polio. HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent and travelers are therefore urged to avoid or take adequate precautions against exposure to other people’s blood or bodily fluids. Contact with all animals should be avoided in order to prevent getting diseases like avian influenza, Ebola and rabies. Ethiopia is a very mountainous country which can lead to altitude sickness even among the fittest travelers. Spend a few days on acclimatizing to the high altitude before getting active.
Ethiopia’s rainy season lasts from June to September during which heavy rainfall can lead to flooding and mudslides. Its dry season runs from October to may and can be accompanied by severe droughts. Severe weather conditions might decrease the availability of drinking water and basic food products and contribute to a rapid spread of diseases. Ethiopia is occasionally hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location in an active seismic zone. Even though Ethiopia has not experienced an earthquake for a long time, be aware that most buildings are not earthquake proof and might collaps in case of strong tremors. The Erte Ale volcano in the Afar region has been active since 2005.
While Ethiopia is a religiously diverse and tolerant country, local traditions, customs, laws and religions should be treated with respect. Acting and dressing modestly is advised. Be extra aware of your behavior and appearance during the Ramadan or when visiting a religious site.
Traditionally. Ethiopia adheres to the Julian calendar which is different from the internationally used Gregorian calendar. One year in the Julian calendar consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month of 5 or 6 days. Dates on official documents mostly follow the local Julian calendar. Ethiopia also has it own time system. Daytime hours are counted from 6:00, according to the standard 24-hour clock, and nighttime hours from 18:00. While most hotels and international organizations use the global time system, references to time by individuals and local organizations is often based on Ethiopia’s traditional clock system.
The use of drugs is strictly forbidden and be punished with prison sentences and heavy fines. While the local drug khat is legal, it is not allowed to export it. It is illegal to carry firearms. Taking pictures of military objects and personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, key infrastructure such as airports, roads and bridges, and the Presidential Palace in Addis Ababa is against the law. The possession of ivory is strictly forbidden. Antiques or religious artefacts are likely to be confiscated or you might be prosecuted if you cannot show an export certificate upon departure.
It is not allowed to enter or leave Ethiopia with more than 3000 birr. Entering Ethiopia whilst carrying more than 3000 US dollar or its equivalent in any other foreign currency must be reported upon arrival. Leaving Ethiopia with more than 3000 US dollar or its equivalent in any other foreign currency is not allowed unless a bank statement or approval document of your cash funds can be shown. Ethiopian authorities strictly enforce the laws. Ethiopia is primarily a cash-based society. Some banks do change dollars and travelers’ cheques for the local currency. Some major hotels and shopping centers have ATMs that accept international credit and debit cards.
Despite its female president and large share of female ministers, gender roles remain quite traditional on a local level. Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church sometimes deny women entry to religious sites. Women are advised to wear clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. Wearing sleeveless clothing might be offensive to the local population, especially outside Addis Ababa. While Ethiopia is relatively safe for female travelers, women might experience instances of catcalling or physical harassment. Women are advised not to travel alone and be cautious at all times.
Sexual acts between individuals of the same sex are illegal and can be severely punished including imprisonment up to 15 years. LGTBIQ-travelers are urged to keep a low profile and to not publicly display affection.
» Be up-to-date with routine vaccinations and boosters
» Get additional recommended vaccinations
» Purchase a comprehensive health insurance that covers travel in South Sudan, overseas medical costs and medical evacuation
» Take a first aid kit
» Bring all necessary preventive medication
» Keep a copy of important documents, such as passport, bank cards, health insurance card and medical overview online
» Bring enough cash
» Prevent predictable behavior, alternate travel routes and times on a daily basis
» Always keep a high level of situational awareness.
» Strictly comply to instructions given by local authorities
» Stay on well-used paths and roads
» Avoid places known to be often visited by Westerners and public buildings such as hospitals, government buildings, airports, military facilities, transport hubs, hotels and malls
» Avoid mass and politically motivated meetings
» Monitor local news outlets to stay up-to-date about political developments
» If you happen to be in an area affected by violence, leave as soon as possible. If safely leaving is not possible, find a safe spot, remain indoors and follow local advice.
» Always have an adequate stock of water, food, fuel, cash and medicines
» Only drink bottled or boiled water, only eat well-cooked food, peel your own vegetables and fruit, and avoid unpasteurized dairy products
» Be aware and respect local customs and traditions, dress modestly and behave discreetly
» Avoid the use of non-sterile medical equipment
» Avoid all contact with sick people and animals
» Do not swim in fresh water
» Wash your hands regularly with soap
» Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse
» Monitor local weather reports closely and take necessary preparations on time
» Always carry proof of your identity
» Consult a doctor immediately if you become ill after returning from Ethiopia
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