According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Ethiopia has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise increased caution.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Addis Ababa as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Please review OSAC’s Ethiopia-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a developing country in East Africa. It is comprised of nine regional states and two city administrations (Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa). Tourism facilities can be found in the most populous regions, but infrastructure is basic. The overall security situation has been affected by internal unrest.
While statistics on crimes against Westerners are not publically available, anecdotal reports suggest that petty crimes against Westerners remain elevated. Crime is generally opportunistic and non-violent/non-confrontational. Foreigners (ferengis) can be targeted for crimes, as it is assumed that they possess valuables and are more susceptible to becoming victims. Pedestrians and foreigners unaware of their surroundings are targeted most for crimes (pickpocketing, snatch-and-run thefts (including from occupied vehicles), and other petty crimes). Petty crimes (pickpocketing, purse snatching, and harassment by gangs of youths) occur at random in Addis Ababa. These incidents are more common in areas where there are large numbers of pedestrians. Travelers should exercise caution in crowded areas, especially in the Mercato open-air market.
Physical violence is uncommon but does happen. If you are threatened with violence over money/belongings, RSO recommends complying with demands and attempting to end the confrontation as quickly as possible.
Residential burglaries in areas populated by embassy personnel and expatriates are not common but do occur on an isolated basis. Valuables are best kept locked in a secured area at work. Only give your keys to a trusted person; do not leave them in possession with others (guards). Identify a secure lockable area away from windows where you can hunker down in case of an intruder. Alarms, guards, and dogs are outstanding deterrents to criminals.
There are reported instances of Western females being victims of sexual assault/groping by local males. These reports tend to be made by women in rural towns or villages but can occur anywhere.
In response to political unrest, the government of Ethiopia suspended internet and mobile data traffic in October 2016 before restoring limited service. Access to certain social media platforms remains prohibited, and the Embassy has experienced difficulties in communicating with American citizens. For more information, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report, “ How Government Oversight of Media and Communications Affects Operations in Africa.”
Other Areas of Concern
Criminal violence and political violence in Addis Ababa and in southwestern and southeastern Ethiopia has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. U.S. citizens are advised that, due to serious safety and security concerns, U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from traveling to the following areas:
Ethiopia/Eritrea Border: Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in December 2000 that ended their border war. The border remains disputed and is a militarized zone. The possibility of armed conflict between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces exists. U.S. government personnel are restricted from travel north of the Shire (Inda Silassie)-Axum-Adigrat road in the Tigray region. Personnel are restricted from travel north of the road from Dessie through Semera to the Galafi border crossing with Djibouti. In December 2017, a European tourist was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen at the Erta Ale Volcano in the Afar Region. This followed a previous attack in January 2012, also in Erta Ale, where a group of foreign tourists was targeted, resulting in five deaths.
Somali Region: Travel to Somali regional state is restricted for U.S. government employees, although essential travel is permitted on a case-by-case basis. Since the mid-1990s, members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) have conducted attacks on civilian targets there, particularly in predominantly Ogadeni zones, and expatriates have been killed. Despite peace talks, incidents of violence continue. Al-Shabaab maintains a presence in Somali towns near the Ethiopian border, presenting a risk of cross-border attacks targeting foreigners.
Gambella Region: Sporadic inter-ethnic clashes are a concern. While the security situation in Gambella town is generally calm, the rest of the region remains unpredictable, and there were several incidents of violence in 2016. Intensified conflict between Sudan and South Sudan has significantly increased refugee flows into western Ethiopia. Refugee camps are strictly controlled. All access should be preapproved by the UNHCR and the host government. Journalists have been detained and deported for not possessing proper permissions when attempting to access these refugee camps.
Benishangul-Gumuz Region: Travel to the border areas in the Benishangul Gumuz Region (Assosa) is restricted to major towns north of the area where the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being constructed due to political sensitivity.
Ethiopian/Kenyan Border: Banditry and incidents involving ethnic conflict are common. Security around Moyale is unpredictable, and clashes between Ethiopian forces and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) have been reported.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ethiopia has one of the worst rates of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world. Roads are poorly maintained and inadequately marked. Road lighting is inadequate at best and nonexistent outside of cities. Road travel after dark outside cities is dangerous and discouraged due to hazards posed by broken-down vehicles, pedestrians and stray animals, and the possibility of armed robbery. 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. Many vehicles are unlicensed, and many drivers lack basic driver training or insurance. Emergency services are limited to nonexistent in many parts of the country. There is no roadside assistance. U.S. government personnel must limit road travel outside towns/cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible, in case of breakdowns.
In October 2016, an American citizen was killed while driving on the outskirts of Addis Ababa when two individuals threw boulders at the victim’s car. One of the boulders penetrated the window and struck the victim in the head. While authorities do not believe that the victim was targeted based on citizenship, an isolated number of diplomats reported that their vehicles were pelted with stones while driving outside of Addis Ababa.
Additionally, flash protests have occurred throughout the Oromia region. These protests often turn violent. In October 2017, while traveling through Metu, an American Embassy vehicle was stopped in the middle of a flash protest and pelted with rocks.
Always have your car keys ready as you approach your car and be on the lookout for individuals waiting close to your car, especially at Bole Airport. Do not open your doors/windows to give money to beggars, which are prevalent in Addis Ababa. It is unlawful to use any electronic communications device (even hands-free) while driving, and the use of seat belts is required. Carry a valid Ethiopian driver’s license, proof of comprehensive local insurance coverage, and your U.S. passport or Ethiopian Identification card. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
If you are involved in a vehicular accident, be aware that a large crowd may gather and could become hostile and aggressive. If you fear for your safety, go to the nearest police station. Special units of the traffic police investigate traffic accidents. Normal investigative procedures require the police to conduct an 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; photograph vehicular damage; 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.
Public Transportation Conditions
Most public transport is unregulated and unsafe. If travelers use public transport, they should use the newly deployed metered taxis (not minibuses or large buses) and should ensure they are the only passengers in the vehicle. A light rail system began operations in the capital in late 2015; there have been no safety or criminal incidents reported. Beware of unattended baggage/packages.
Bole Airport services may be slow or not up to Western standards. Travelers are recommended to have Ethiopian currency for taxi fare; fares are typically negotiated in advance with the taxi driver. Ethiopian Federal Police are posted throughout the airport and parking lot areas and can assist in an emergency. Watch out for unofficial porters who approach your vehicle with the intent to steal items during loading/unloading.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Addis Ababa as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
A number of al-Shabaab operatives and other extremists are believed to be operating in/around the Horn of Africa.
The government released a November 2013 warning that al-Shabaab intended to carry out attacks in Addis Ababa and other areas of the country.
On October 13, 2013, a bomb exploded in a residential neighborhood of Addis Ababa. The bomb detonated prematurely and killed two individuals believed to be al-Shabaab members who had intended to attack Ethiopian soccer fans attending a World Cup pre-qualifying match.
The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums, or via the broader social media approach, continues to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine which message will inspire a violent extremist.
U.S. citizens are advised to consider the risk of being at/near venues where Westerners gather on a routine/predictable basis. These can be targets for extremist or terrorist groups.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Addis Ababa as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
In 2017, widespread demonstrations took place across towns in Oromia and Amhara regions. Some turned violent and resulted in casualties. Road travel was also disrupted in certain areas, affecting some Western organizations. As of January 2018, these demonstrations were ongoing. Most occur with little to no warning and often turn violent.
Demonstrations are held on occasion that are often large and may take place in/near city centers. Demonstrations must be approved in advance by the government and are typically well covered by local police. Instances of violence have been reported, so foreigners are advised to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.
The government occasionally cracks down on demonstrations conducted by Muslim organizations. Some demonstrations have resulted in arrests of protestors, and some have had reported violence and deaths of both activists and law enforcement officers.
There have been reports of ethnic violence, especially on the Oromo/Somali border regions, which have resulted in casualties.
Ethiopia is located in the Rift Valley, and there is a risk of earthquakes, although none have occurred recently. Buildings are not built to earthquake safety codes and may collapse due to strong tremors.
Ethiopia is not considered to conform to Western standards for workplace security. A primary example is in construction throughout Addis Ababa, where scaffolding is made from local timber with few safety features on construction sites.
Communications (cell phone and internet) are controlled by the government, and both systems go down frequently and have been shut down during periods of civil unrest. Telecoms are unreliable, and there are numerous dead spots for cell phone coverage.
Ethiopia is primarily a cash economy. Many hotels and establishments are not permitted to accept foreign currency or may be reluctant to do so. ATMs are readily available throughout the city, and major hotels and commercial centers accept major international credit/debit cards, although connectivity problems can limit their availability. They are accepted at the Hilton, Sheraton, Marriott, and Radisson Blu Hotels in Addis Ababa. While credit cards are gaining acceptance, there have been reports of unauthorized charges; it is best to check ahead and ensure you have sufficient cash reserves. Foreign currency should be exchanged in authorized banks, hotels, and other legally authorized outlets, and proper receipts should be obtained for the transactions. Exchange receipts are required to convert unused Ethiopian currency back to foreign currency. Penalties for exchanging money on the black market range from fines to imprisonment. Some hotels and car rental companies, particularly in Addis Ababa, may require foreigners to pay in foreign currency or show a receipt for the source of foreign exchange if paying in local currency. Resident and non-resident travelers can carry up to US$3,000 in foreign currency in/out of Ethiopia with proper evidence of its source. Employees of embassies and foreign organizations or individuals entering into the country through embassies or foreign organizations on temporary employment (e.g., to attend seminars, training, etc.) may leave the country carrying more than US$3,000 cash only when they can produce evidence that they were paid directly from a bank. Residents may carry foreign currency upon departure, but only by producing evidence that the currency was purchased from a bank or by producing a customs declaration not more than 45 days after it was issued. Travelers can carry up to 200 Ethiopian Birr out of the country.
There is an abundance of pirated merchandise for sale, readily available from street vendors, which is illegal to purchase under U.S. law.
The significant construction boom of high-rise buildings in Addis Ababa has led to an increase in privacy concerns for residents. Lack of zoning laws has resulted in tall buildings being constructed in residential areas, which inhibits privacy.
Personal Identity Concerns
Female travelers should be cautious if traveling alone.
Homosexuality is considered a crime and is a prosecutable offense.
Individuals of Somali origin, regardless of citizenship, may be stopped, arrested, and detained for an extended period with no charges. U.S. citizens of Somali origin are advised to prepare for this contingency and are recommended to carry copies of all important documents and the contact information for the U.S. Embassy.
Ethiopia does not recognize dual nationality. The government has stated that Ethiopian-U.S. citizens, in almost all cases, be given the same opportunity to invest in Ethiopia as Ethiopians. Ethiopian officials have stated that Eritrean-U.S. citizens will be treated as U.S. citizens and not be subject to arrest simply because of their ties to Eritrea. However, Eritrean-U.S. citizens are not permitted to obtain tourist visas upon arrival at the airport.
Travelers should be cautious when traveling in/along the border with Somalia, where there is an ongoing kidnapping threat to foreigners by al-Shabaab. A kidnapping threat against Westerners has been active in the Dolo Odo area of the Somali region since 2013. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”
While you are traveling in another country, you are subject to its laws.
Permits are required before exporting antiques or animal skins. Antique religious artifacts, including Ethiopian crosses, require documentation from the National Museum in Addis Ababa for export.
Ethiopian law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police/military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, and airfields). 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/camera and possible arrest. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
The government rarely informs the U.S. 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 months without Embassy notification. If you are arrested or detained, you have the right to request that Ethiopian authorities alert the U.S. Embassy in accordance with the 1951 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between the U.S. and Ethiopia. If you are detained or arrested, you should use whatever means of communication available to alert the U.S. Embassy of your situation.
Crime Victim Assistance
The emergency line is 991.
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy. If your passport is stolen, the Embassy can help you replace it. For violent crimes, the Embassy can help you find appropriate medical care and contact family members or friends. Consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney, if needed.
The Ethiopian Federal Police (EFP) are responsible for investigating crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of federal courts, including any activities in violation of the Constitution that may endanger the Constitutional order, public order, hooliganism, terrorism, trafficking in persons, and transferring of drugs. The EFP also maintains law and order in any region when there is a deteriorating security situation beyond the control of the regional government and a request for intervention is made; or when disputes arise between two or more regional governments and the situation becomes dangerous for the security of the federal government. The EFP safeguards the security of borders, airports, railway lines/terminals, mining areas, and other vital institutions of the federal government. The EFP delegates, when necessary, its powers to regional police commissions.
Regional police handle local crime under their jurisdiction and provide officers for traffic control and immediate response to criminal incidents.
Health facilities are very limited and are considered adequate only for stabilization and emergency care. Hospitals in Addis Ababa suffer from inadequate facilities, outdated equipment, and shortages of supplies/medications. There is a shortage of physicians and other qualified medical personnel. Emergency assistance is limited. Some hospitals have ambulance services, but these are limited, unreliable, and require an on-scene cash payment.
Psychiatric services and medications are very limited; there is only one psychiatric hospital: St. Yared, which requires payment prior to admission.
Travelers must carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines and 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. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
The Embassy maintains a list of physicians and public/private hospitals that have ambulance services on their website. For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
Local air ambulances are available from:
East African Aviation
Captain Girma Gebre General Manager
The closest international medevac planes are in Nairobi, Kenya, and would take on average 14-16 hours to get to Addis Ababa due to delays in obtaining air space and landing permissions.
International SOS Assistance operates from Johannesburg, South Africa.
AMREF “Flying Doctors of East Africa” is the closest company to Ethiopia and based in Nairobi. Phone: +254 (20)699-2299
Email: emergency @flydoc.org
All facilities require a cash deposit (dependent on the type of medical condition) before admittance and forbid medical release until all accrued charges are paid.
Serious illnesses/injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated to where adequate medical services are 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. The cost for medical evacuation may range from U.S.$40,000 to $200,000.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
All routine U.S. immunizations (measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis A, and tetanus) should be up to date prior to arrival.
Ethiopia is a mountainous country, and the high altitude may cause health problems even for healthy persons. Addis Ababa is the fifth highest capital in the world at an altitude of 8,300 feet. Individuals with respiratory, high blood pressure, or heart conditions should consult with a health care professional before traveling. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report “Traveling in High Altitude.”
Most bodies of water have been found to contain parasites. Schistosomiasis is caused by a parasitic worm that is spread by fresh water snails. The larval stage of the worm can burrow through your skin when in contact with contaminated fresh water. Avoid wading, swimming, bathing, or washing in, or drinking from bodies of fresh water. Significant risk exists throughout the country, except in Lake Langano. Highest risk exists in the Omo River and surrounding areas.
Ethiopia has a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in urban areas or along major trucking routes. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions. Please verify this with the Ethiopian Embassy before you travel.
Ethiopia may have periodic meningitis and polio outbreaks. Meningococcal meningitis epidemic activity occurs in most regions but is predominant in the western half of the country. Meningococcal Meningitis Quadrivalent vaccine (A-C-Y-W135) is recommended, especially if prolonged contact with the local populace is anticipated and for all children and health care workers. All personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy who have not been vaccinated for meningitis are advised against traveling to the affected areas during the peak meningitis transmission season.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has had outbreaks of acute diarrhea, possible cholera, typhoid, and other bacterial contagion, and the conditions for reoccurrence continue to exist in both urban and rural settings. It is recommended that all travelers receive typhoid immunization, but it is not required for entry. Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers even in large cities and luxury accommodations. Talk to your doctor about short-course antibiotics and loperamide to take with you in case of diarrhea while traveling. Travelers can diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest risk of traveler’s diarrhea is from contaminated food. Drink only beverages from factory-sealed containers, and avoid ice (because it may have been made from unclean water). For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?”
Rabies immunization is recommended for all travelers staying for more than four weeks or who will have remote, rural travel or expect animal exposure. Even in urban areas, dogs may have rabies, and bites/scratches from mammals should be immediately cleaned with soap/ water and medical evaluation sought to determine if additional rabies immunization is warranted. Modern rabies vaccines are not readily available in Ethiopia. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “When Wildlife Attacks.”
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Ethiopia.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Country Council in Addis Ababa is active, meeting biannually. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation:
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Entoto Road, P.O. Box 1014, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Business hours: Mon-Thurs: 0730-1700; Fri: 0730-1230
Ethiopia is GMT +3
Embassy Contact Numbers
Switchboard: +251 11 130-6000
Marine Security Guard (24 Hours): +251 11 130-6911/2442
Please take the time to tell our Embassy about your presence in-country by enrolling in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Ethiopia Information Sheet