What makes Ethiopia a unique country to travel to?
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a developing country in East Africa. It is comprised of nine states and two city administrations (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa). The capital is Addis Ababa. Tourism facilities can be found in the most populous regions of Ethiopia, but infrastructure is basic. The government is led by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Despite several years of high economic growth, the country remains vulnerable to external economic shocks.
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain vigilant and to be cautious when frequenting prominent public places and landmarks. Varying your travel times and routes is advised. Pick-pocketing, “snatch and run” thefts, including from occupied vehicles and other petty crimes are common in Addis Ababa. These are generally crimes of opportunity rather than planned attacks. Beginning in 2011, purse snatchings and harassment by gangs of youths in the Bole area of Addis Ababa have increased. These incidents have occurred in both the daytime and nighttime. There were also beatings and stabbings of expats in the area. The number of residential burglaries has also increased. Travelers should exercise caution in crowded areas, and especially in the Mercato in Addis Ababa, a large open-air market. You should limit the amount of cash you carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets in a hotel safe or other secure place. You should keep wallets and other valuables where they will be less susceptible to pick-pockets. If you have a cellular phone, carry it with you.
You should be cautious at all times when traveling on roads in Ethiopia. Highway robbery by armed bandits in some border areas has been reported. Some of these incidents have been accompanied by violence. You are cautioned to limit road travel outside major towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible, in case of breakdowns. When driving, be wary of other motorists warning you of a mechanical problem or loose tire. This may be a ruse used by thieves to get you to stop the vehicle. Most of all be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times to ensure that you aren't being followed.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. Criminal penalties vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in your host country, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Ethiopian law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police/military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, airfields, etc.). Such sites are rarely marked clearly. Travel guides, police, and Ethiopian officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. Photographing prohibited sites may result in the confiscation of film and camera and arrest.
Persons violating Ethiopian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ethiopia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
If you are arrested in Ethiopia, you have the right to request that authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your detention or arrest in accordance with the 1951 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between the United States and Ethiopia. If you are detained or arrested in Ethiopia you should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy of your situation. Please be aware that the Government of Ethiopia does not recognize dual nationality, so U.S. citizens born in Ethiopia are accorded the same rights as any other U.S. citizens in the case of arrest or detention.
Amharic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic is the official national language and is used in commerce and administration. Tigrinya is the most widely spoken daily language and Orominga is also used. The liturgical language (Geéz) of the Ethiopian Orthodox church has produced a large and vibrant literature of considerable importance. English is taught in most schools, making it the most widely understood foreign language.
The Amharic alphabet has thirty-three(33) root letters or constants with seven(7) phonetics (vowels) or 231 symbols or letters. Additionally there are 40 characters that are use as combinations or shortenings of the 231 characters.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Health facilities in Ethiopia are very limited and are generally inadequate outside the capital. Even the best hospitals in Addis Ababa suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies (particularly medicines). There is a shortage of physicians. Emergency assistance is limited. Psychiatric services and medications are practically nonexistent. Serious illnesses and injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated from Ethiopia to a location where adequate medical attention is available. Such “medevac” services are very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay for the service in advance (often in excess of USD 40,000). See Medical Insurance information below. Travelers must carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines, as well as a doctor's note describing the medication. If the quantity of drugs exceeds that which would be expected for personal use, a permit from the Ministry of Health is required.
Malaria is prevalent in Ethiopia outside of the highland areas. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and explain to the health care provider their travel history and which anti-malarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention malaria website.
Ethiopia is a mountainous country and the high altitude may cause health problems, even for healthy travelers. Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world, at an altitude of 8,300 feet. Travelers may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, headaches and an inability to sleep. Individuals with respiratory (including asthma) or heart conditions should consult with a health care professional before traveling to Ethiopia. Travelers to Ethiopia should also avoid swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water (other than Lake Langano). Most bodies of water have been found to contain parasites. Travelers should be aware that Ethiopia has a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
Ethiopia has had outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea, possible cholera, typhoid, and other bacterial diarrhea in the recent past, and the conditions for reoccurrences continue to exist in both urban and rural settings. Further information on prevention and treatment of cholera and other diarrheal diseases can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases webpage.
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain vigilant, and to be cautious when frequenting prominent public places and landmarks. While Ethiopia is generally stable, domestic insurgent groups, extremists from Somalia, and the heavy military presence along the border with Eritrea pose risks to safety and security.
A number of al-Qaida operatives and other extremists are believed to be operating in and around Africa. Since the July 11, 2010, terrorist bombings in Kampala, Uganda, for which the Somalia-based, U.S. government-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility, there have been increased threats against public areas across East Africa. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against US interests in multiple regions, including Africa. In February 2012, leaders of al-Shabaab and al-Qaida announced a merger of the two groups.
U.S. citizens should strongly consider the risk of attending or being near large public gatherings, or venues where westerners gather on a routine or predictable basis, and which have no visible security presence. Such gatherings or venues can provide vulnerable targets for extremist or terrorist groups. U.S. citizens should avoid, if possible, using public transportation, including mini-buses, and should vary their travel times and routes to the extent possible. You are advised to avoid unattended baggage or packages left in any location, including in taxis.
There are periodic attacks on civilians as well as security forces in the Somali region of Ethiopia. In 2011, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces initiated an offensive against al-Shabab in Somalia, together with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has been in Mogadishu since 2007, resulting in an increase in the threat level in Ethiopia and neighboring countries.
In southern Ethiopia, along the Kenyan border, banditry and incidents involving ethnic conflicts are also common. You should exercise caution when traveling to any remote area of the country, including the borders with Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan, and avoid travel outside of the major towns in these border areas.
U.S. citizens are advised that, due to serious safety and security concerns, U.S. government personnel and their families are presently restricted from traveling to the following areas:
Ethiopia/Eritrea Border (Northern Ethiopia): Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in December 2000 that ended their border war. However, the border remains an active issue of contention between the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The border area is a militarized zone where the possibility of armed conflict between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces continues. U.S. government personnel are restricted from travel north of the Shire (Inda Silassie)-Axum-Adigrat road in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Personnel are further restricted from travel north of the road from Dessie through Semera to the Galafi border crossing with Djibouti, including the Danakil Depression and the Erta Ale volcano. In January 2012, a group of foreign tourists were attacked near the Erta Ale volcano in the Afar region near the Eritrean border, approximately 100 miles southeast of Adigrat in the Danakil Depression. The attack resulted in five deaths, three wounded, and four people kidnapped. The victims were European and Ethiopian citizens. The two Europeans who were kidnapped were subsequently released. On February 15, 2012, Ethiopia, which blamed Eritrea for the attack, retaliated by striking military camps in Eritrea where the attackers were allegedly trained. This episode illustrates the continuing volatility of the border area.
Somali Region (Eastern Ethiopia): Travel to Ethiopia's Somali regional state is restricted for U.S. government employees, although essential travel to the region is permitted on a case-by-case basis. Since the mid-1990's, members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) have conducted attacks on civilian targets in parts of the Somali regional state, particularly in the Ogaden zones. Expatriateshave been killed in these attacks. In 2010, the Government of Ethiopia initiated peace talks with the ONLF, which are ongoing. Despite these talks, there have been isolated incidents of violence continues. In May 2011, gunmen affiliated with the ONLF attacked a vehicle belonging to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), killing the vehicle’s driver, wounding one other, and kidnapping two other WFP employees. The kidnapped employees were later released.
Gambella Region (Western Ethiopia): Sporadic inter-ethnic clashes are a concern throughout the Gambella region of western Ethiopia. While the security situation in the town of Gambella is generally calm, it remains unpredictable throughout the rest of the region. Intensified conflict between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has increased refugee flows into Western Ethiopia. Travel to the border areas in the Beneshangul (Asosa) region is restricted to major towns.
Important Note: The Government of Ethiopia rarely informs the Embassy of arrested or detained U.S. citizens, even those detained at the airport by immigration or customs authorities. In some instances, U.S. citizens have been detained for weeks or even months without Embassy notification. If you are arrested or detained in Ethiopia, you have the right to request that Ethiopian authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your detention or arrest in accordance with the 1951 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between the United States and Ethiopia . If you are detained or arrested in Ethiopia you should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy of your situation.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ethiopia has the highest rate of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world. Roads in Ethiopia are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and poorly lighted. Road travel after dark outside Addis Ababa and other cities is dangerous and discouraged due to hazards posed by broken-down vehicles left in the road, pedestrians walking in the road, stray animals, and the possibility of armed robbery. Road lighting in cities is inadequate at best and nonexistent outside of cities. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians and livestock in the roadway, and the lack of adherence to basic safety standards for vehicles are daily hazards on Ethiopian roads. Many vehicles are unlicensed and many drivers lack basic driver training or insurance. Emergency services are limited or nonexistent in many parts of the country. Drivers should always carry spare tires, fuel, and tools on long trips as there is no roadside assistance. USG personnel must limit road travel outside towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible, in case of breakdowns. Public transport is unregulated and unsafe; if travelers do use public transport, they should use taxis, not minibuses or large buses and should ensure they are the only passengers in the vehicle.
While travel during daylight hours on both paved and unpaved roads is generally considered safe, land mines and other anti-personnel devices can be encountered on isolated dirt roads that were targeted during various conflicts, especially along the Eritrean border. Before undertaking any off-road travel, it is advisable to inquire of local authorities to ensure that the area has been cleared of mines.
It is unlawful to use a cell phone or other electronic communications device while driving in Ethiopia (even if it has a hands-free feature), and use of seat belts is required. Be sure to carry your valid Ethiopian driver’s license with you, as well as proof of comprehensive local insurance coverage, and your Ethiopian Identification card. While in a vehicle, keep your doors locked and the windows rolled up at all times. Keep bags, purses, and valuables out of sight — in the trunk, on the floor, or in the glove compartment. Do not carry unnecessary items in your bag; leave your credit cards, social security card, etc., at home. Do not open your doors or windows to give to beggars. Police can fine people for giving money to beggars.
If you are in a traffic accident, do not leave the scene unless you fear for your personal safety. Special units of the traffic police investigate traffic accidents. Normal investigative procedures require the police to conduct on on-scene investigation, after which all involved parties go to the Traffic Department for a vehicle inspection and to provide details about the accident for a final report. If possible, obtain the names and contact information of all persons involved in the accident and make a note of the extent of any injuries; make a note of any registration information (tag number) of other vehicle(s) involved; and obtain the other driver’s permit data, and give similar information or registration/permit data to the other driver and to the police upon request.