Risks in Ethiopia

Crime/violence: LowAlcohol-related violence, petty theftHIV/AIDS: Low2-3 % of the adult population or 1 in 50 infectedAuthorities/corruption: Low - MiddleSecurity guards might be rudeTransportation: Low - MiddleWild animal crossings everywhere; bad roadsHealth: MiddleFlea, tick and mosquito bitesNature: Low

Ethiopia is a relatively low-crime country compared to Kenya, South Africa and some other countries on this continent.

Avoid traveling to the eastern part of the country beyond the city of Harar. Somali separatist groups occasionally launch guerilla attacks. Most expats who go there are US military personnel actively training the Ethiopian army's anti-terrorism unit. Many others are Chinese, Indian or Malaysian representatives of oil companies, who have been targeted in major guerilla attacks resulting in dozens of casualties.

Armed insurgent groups operate in the Oromiya and Afar regions.

In 2008, a hotel in the town of Jijiga and two hotels in the town of Negele Borena were bombed.

Organized crime and gang violence are very unusual in most parts of the country. However, in the border areas of Sudan Gambella Region and Kenya, there are reports indicating occurrences of banditry. Avoid these areas.

Though Ethiopia has a secular government, the people are very religious. The two dominant religions the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam strongly influence day-to-day life. Due to their influence the government implements certain rules and laws that could appear unsettling to westerners. In particular, homosexuality is illegal, and not tolerated.

Compared to other African countries, robbery is not a major problem in the cities and towns. However, travelers are advised to look after their belongings. Travelers should be cautious at all times when traveling on roads in Ethiopia. There have been reports of highway robbery, including carjacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Travelers are cautioned to limit road travel outside major towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.

Travellers with vehicles and cyclists may often be the target of stoning by local youths when driving in rural areas.

Outside of Addis, you will likely encounter many children who will approach you and ask for money. The greeting of "Hello money" is a common one. A typical scam is to ask you to purchase a dictionary for their school, which the overpriced tourist shops just happen to carry for $50 each - this is a scam. It may pain you to ignore these kids especially those who grew up in the West and remember the 1990's famine post-Derg. Many will tell stories about coming from the countryside and having to pay their own schooling, or not having shoes. While they are undoubtedly poor, these are lies to try to guilt you into giving them money that they can spend on buying a material good instead of life necessity.

If a child tries one of these schemes on you, do not hesitate to politely tell them that you cannot give them any money since it will just encourage them to tell lies instead of growing up to be an honorable person. Ethiopia is a socialized state where almost all of the basic necessities of life are provided. For sure the children who approach you are poor, but do have free education, housing, clothing, and meals; typically they are looking just to make some extra money to buy a football jersey or some other material good to show off to their friends. The adults on the other hand are very kind and friendly, and frown on this behavior from their own kids but cannot stop it.

After being denied money, children will typically ask for a donation of clothing with a very sad puppy-dog face unless you are wearing a football jersey, they will ask straight up if they can have this - not out of need, but materialistic desire. There are conflicting opinions on whether to give even clothing: one faction believes that bringing your old clothing donations from home are a win-win, since going to a good cause. The other faction believes that this only encourages children to keep begging instead of leading an honest life, and they would only take your shirt and sell it in the market for money to buy a material good football jerseys are especially the hot item among kids. One thing you can be sure to donate without any negative repercussion is food.

Prostitution is legal, but be careful not go in places that are brothels. Brothels are illegal, and there are the possibility of police raids. Do not interact with prostitutes that are below the legal age of consent, punishments are severe. Also be aware of those with HIV/AIDS, even though in Ethiopia, it is a small risk.

Be careful of the food you eat, and don't stay in the sun too long. If you get sick, go to one of the big private hospitals, eg, Korean, Hayat, St Gabriels.

Do not drink tap water. Bottled water for drinking is available almost everywhere in small, medium and big bottles. Addis tap water is better than in many other cities, but even there hotels generally recommend guests not to drink it, nor to eat salads and uncooked foodstuffs that are commonly washed in tap water. Make sure you drink enough water, especially when the weather is hot.

Consult a doctor before going to Ethiopia and stock up on prescription drugs you require. The risk of malaria is low in the capital and the highlands, but high in the lake regions and lowlands. Doxycycline for malaria prevention is cheap in Addis.


There are numerous internet cafes in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Nazret, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Awasa and other cities. In Addis Ababa, connection speeds are more than adequate for performing tasks such as checking e-mail most of the time. A typical internet cafe will have a dozen computers using one broadband usually starts from 128kbps connection. Ethiopia's international connection is unstable: On bad days, even a broadband connection will only deliver dial-up speed, because the whole country's traffic is running via an undersized backup satellite connection.

To use the internet costs between 25-35 Ethiopian cents/per min in the bigger cities but outside the cities it usually costs more than 1 birr/per minutes.

Most of the computers have USB, so maybe you'll be interested in using a portable e-mail program like Thunderbird portable from an usb-stick. Take care of computer viruses! Most computers or flash disks in use are infected.

Outside of bigger towns, it is harder to find a working Internet connection and the charge per minute is often much higher than in bigger towns.

Ethiopia is currently in the process of deploying an internet filter, to access blocked sites, use a VPN or use the free, open-source TOR Project. Following an international outcry, a new law that appeared to ban the use of Skype and other VOIP services has been replaced. Personal use of VoIP services such as Skype has been legalised as of July 2012.


Ethiopia has one of the most efficient postal services in Africa. Many attribute this success to the extensive network of Ethiopian Airlines. However, mail does not get delivered to your address. You are required to buy a post office box. Once you get a post office box, the flow of your mail will be consistent. Post cards to Europe are at 2 birr; North America 5 birr. 2007


Ethiopia uses GSM as in Europe/Africa, operated by Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation ETC and limited 3G. Currently there are decent coverage around big cities such as Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Adama, Bahir Dar, Awasa, Harar, Dese, Gonder, Mekele, and Nekemete. It is expanding into small cities. For all travellers, having a mobile phone is a must. It is cheap and easily available.

There are only few stores rent SIM cards: you can rent SIM card and phone inside Addis Ababa Sheraton hotel but is it very expensive. Your best option is to a rent SIM card and mobile phone from a local store. You can also buy a SIM card from many local stores try anywhere that sells phones. You will have to give the seller a copy of your passport ID page, 2 passport style pictures, and 40 birr as of 20/03/2010. You'll have to sign an agreement that you will not commit any crimes with your phone. All local stores will have calling cards you can purchase to call internationally. Other places to rent SIM cards or phones include ArifMobile which offers additional services with their SIMs.

Roaming charges are very steep. For a short visit, your best option for mobile access is to rent a SIM card with a phone . While roaming arrangements are said to be in place in practice you may find it impossible to get a connection that works reliably, or at all.


See also: Amharic phrasebook

Amharic is the first official language of Ethiopia. The language is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic, and if you know either one you'll recognize some cognates. In all parts of the country everyone speaks Amharic to some extent, no matter what their first language may be. The language is written in the Ge'ez script.

In big cities, most people under 40 speak some English. English is the primary foreign language taught in schools. In rural areas, find local school children to translate for you for a fee that could be next to nothing. Ethiopians have a distinct way of speaking English. Because it is heavily accented, it might be a bit difficult to understand it at the beginning. However, when you get used to the way they pronounce some English words, it will become fairly understandable.

Up north in Tigray, Tigrinya is the primary language, and it's also written in Ge'ez. However, Amharic is widely understood.

In the middle regions, Oromo ( is widely spoken. Oromo language uses a Latin alphabet.


The country code for calling Ethiopia is 251. The Ethiopian dialing plan changed on 17 September 2005, such that the two-digit city code changed to three digits or, from outside the country, one to two digits and six-digit telephone numbers changed to seven digits. The city code for Addis Ababa, as of 17 Sep 2005, is 011 or 11 from outside Ethiopia. An on-line telephone number converter, which will convert an old number to the new number, is available here: (


Ethiopians are very proud of their culture, identity, and country. Avoid criticizing their cultural lifestyle, especially their brand of Christianity Oriental Orthodox. Avoid all contentious religious discussion, or you may risk all good will and hospitality you could have been afforded. Rather than argue about the merits of Orthodoxy or Islam, it's best to ask friends to explain their customs, festivals and beliefs and to listen with respect.

The Ethiopians' relationship with the westerners is generally free of racial animosity. However, there is considerable suspicion and even xenophobia toward foreigners in the countryside. Ethiopians can be short-fused if they feel they are not treated as equals.

If a woman is with a man, ask the man's permission to talk to her beforehand. For a man to avoid eye contact with a woman is considered a sign of respect. If you're a foreign woman and are in public with a man, don't be upset if Ethiopian men address all questions to him. They will do this not to slight you but to show respect. This will be the case on public transport and in restaurants. Likewise, if you are a foreign man, maintaining a formal distance from women will be seen as good manners.

It is very important that you remove your shoes when entering a home.