Ethiopia - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.

Last published date: 2020-07-20

Business Customs

Business hours are usually from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Most businesses close for lunch for an hour between 12:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. On Fridays, most government offices close for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Business attire is typically standard business suits and exchange of business cards is an expected practice. In some instances, small gifts are exchanged. U.S. firms should maintain close contact with local distributors and customers to exchange information and ideas. Relationships developed through periodic personal visits is the best way to keep distributors apprised of new developments and to resolve problems quickly. Meetings are far more effective than communication via email.  Ethiopians tend to be formal during initial meetings and become less so once personal relationships are developed. Individuals are universally addressed by first name rather than by last name (no family name is used; the second name is the person’s father’s first name). For a man, the common title (comparable to “Mister”) is “Ato”. Women are generally addressed with “Woizero” (Mrs., if married) and “Woizerit” (Miss, if single). Business is often conducted at the office or during a meal. Business entertaining may be conducted at Ethiopian cultural restaurants, which include traditional dancing and food, international restaurants, or in personal residences. Most services must be paid for in cash (local currency). Credit cards can only be used in a few hotels and high-end shops. Addis Ababa has a limited number of ATMs, many of which are often out of service due to connectivity problems.

Travel Advisory

Please visit the following websites for travel information and advisories:
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1113.html
http://et.usembassy.gov/u.s.citizen.services

Visa Requirements

Visas are required for all visitors to Ethiopia (with the exception of nationals of Djibouti, Kenya and, as of mid-2018, Eritrea) and can be requested at embassies of Ethiopia abroad or online. Citizens of the United States and nationals of some other countries are eligible to obtain and purchase tourist visas at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport upon arrival ($50, paid in U.S. dollars), but it is advised to obtain a business visa prior to arrival to avoid problems or delays. Passports must be valid for six months beyond the end of the traveler’s stay in Ethiopia. Passengers transiting through Ethiopia holding confirmed onward flight bookings within 72 hours may be able to obtain transit visas on arrival. A departure tax of $20 is levied on all foreign travelers. The $20 departure tax is usually included in the airfare. 

U.S. companies that require travel of foreign business persons to the United States should be advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following links:

U.S. Embassy visa Website: 
http://et.usembassy.gov/visas

Currency

The Ethiopian official currency is the Birr. The Ethiopian Birr is not freely convertible. All local business transactions are conducted using Birr. The local commercial banks usually exchange U.S. dollar for Birr at daily exchange rates set by the government of Ethiopia. Ethiopian commercial banks do not issue credit cards to their customers. Payments of bills via credit card is accepted only in luxury hotels and high-end supermarkets. ATM machines are available at hotels, shopping centers and other recreational centers. ATM machines are sometimes out of service due to connectivity problems or power outages. Some of the ATM machines such as those operated by the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Dashen Bank, United Bank and Zemen Bank accept Visa and Master card debit cards but not all ATM machines accept debit cards. Banks operating the ATM machines usually indicate on the ATM machine which debit cards the machine accepts.

Telecommunications/Electronics

There is only one telecommunication service provider in the country—the state-owned Ethio Telecom (ET) that operates all fixed, mobile, and internet services. Phone and internet services are poor due to the lack of sufficient infrastructure, lack of competition, and frequent power outages, although this capacity has improved with Ethiopia’s connection to the undersea/ground fiber optic cable built by Seacom via Djibouti. SIM cards and phone cards (for minutes) are available for sale through retail outlets, supermarkets, and hotels. There are pay phones available both inside the airport and in parts of the city. Internet service is available at major hotels  and at numerous internet cafes throughout the capital and in some larger regional cities. Ethio Telecom has also officially launched its fourth generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) service in the city of Addis Ababa for internet users. The 4G service has better band width with faster connectivity to the internet. 

Transportation

Many international major airlines use Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport including Lufthansa, Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airways, Egypt Air, Kenyan Airways and Emirates. Ethiopian Airlines, which is a member of the Star Alliance, operates domestically with service to major cities within the country. Private charter plane services are also available for domestic travel. A few hotels operate reliable airport shuttles. In addition, individual taxis are widely available. Official airport taxis are yellow, while basic taxis are painted blue or yellow with a code at the side. Visitors are not advised to use public buses or collective taxies (minibuses) due to safety concerns. Taxi rates should be agreed upon before making the journey. Some taxis are metered.

Language

There are more than 80 major language groups in Ethiopia. Amharic is the national language and is spoken throughout the country. Oromiffa and Tigrinya are other widely-used Ethiopian languages. English is the second official language and is understood in most towns among the more educated segments of the population.

Health 

Addis Ababa is located 8,000 feet above sea level, which may cause health problems, even for otherwise healthy travelers. Individuals may experience shortness of breath on exertion, slow reaction times, fatigue, nausea, headaches, leg cramps, ringing in the ears, and insomnia. These symptoms may be worrisome at first, but adaptation to the altitude occurs in most people within a period of one to four weeks. Drinking large amounts of water sometimes relieves these symptoms. Visitors should only drink bottled water and exercise caution if choosing to eat uncooked vegetables or meat. Travel diarrhea is a common occurrence and it is not a specific disease but describes symptoms of an intestinal infection caused by various bacteria, viruses, or parasites found in contaminated food or water. Health facilities are limited in Addis Ababa and inadequate outside of the capital. Many medications are not available. The central highlands of Ethiopia have very little malaria, due to the altitude. Malaria prophylactic measures are not necessary in Addis Ababa, however, many regions outside of Addis Ababa are in malaria zones. All travelers should possess a valid health certificate for yellow fever vaccination; this is required for travelers coming from yellow fever risk areas. Other recommended vaccinations include: tetanus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, meningitis, poliomyelitis, and rabies.

Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays

Ethiopia is in the GMT +3 hours’ time zone. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of twelve months of 30 days each and a 13th month of five or six days. The Ethiopian day starts at 6 a.m. (dawn) instead of 12 a.m. Ethiopians often quote meeting times that are six hours different than an international clock. Be sure to confirm time and date schedules to avoid confusion. 

Ethiopian Holidays 2021

Ethiopian Holidays 2021

DAY

DATE

HOLIDAY

 

Tuesday

January 7

Ethiopian Christmas (Genna)

Monday

January 19

Epiphany (Timket)

Monday

March 2

Victory of Adwa

Friday

April 30

Ethiopian Good Friday

Sunday

May 2

Ethiopian Easter (Fasika)

Friday

May 1

May Day

Tuesday

May 5

Patriots’ Victory Day

Saturday

May 12 or 13*

Eid-al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)

Thursday

May 28

Downfall of the Derg

 

Thursday

July 19 or 20*

Eid-al-Adha (Arefa)

Friday

September  11

Ethiopian New Year

Sunday

September  27

Meskel

Thursday

October 18  or 19*

Birthday Prophet Mohammed (Moulid)

* Holiday based on the lunar calendar. Date is subject to change. 

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Duty-free import is permitted for up to: 
•    200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco
•    1L of wine or spirits.
•    500ml of perfume or eau de toilette.

Visitors may export religious artefacts, antiques and animal hides with the correct export certificates. Those wishing to take animal skins and hides out of the country must apply for a permit from the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority. For the export of antiques and religious artefacts, it is possible to obtain export certificates at the customs office.

Travel Related Web Resources 

Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Culture and Tourism
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa Consular Section (U.S. citizen information)
U.S. Foreign Commercial Service
Ethiopia Investment Commission