I went to Ethiopia (for two hours)

About a month ago I booked a ticket to Nairobi with Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa. But when I saw the late arrival time in Nairobi (1:30am), I saw an opportunity to stay overnight in Addis to visit a local friend and see how the city had changed since my previous visits in 2008 and 2009. An added bonus was the chance to meet, interview and photograph a local company selling water filters (I am always eager to network!).

Being aware of visa requirements is always prudent and before booking my ticket, I checked to see if rules had changed. They had not: Canadians can still get a tourist visa on arrival for 20 bucks, said various websites including that of the consular services section of the Ethiopian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada. Just to be safe, I double-checked a trusted source of travel advice (lonely planet’s thorn tree forum) and also asked a couple of friends who had travelled there recently. After all this, I felt quite confident I would have no problems.

Well, on arriving at the airport tonight, I lined up for a visa and waited 45 minutes after which I was told by immigration authorities that because my stay was for less than 24 hours, I was eligible only for a transit visa. Such visas are organized by the airline and I was told to sort it out with them. The catch: the visa costs 70 dollars and requires a stay at a pre-determined hotel. And, since there were open seats on a connecting flight to Nairobi leaving within two hours (the same flight I had originally opted out of), there was no good reason why I should declare myself to be “in transit”, thus they doubted I would even be eligible for a transit visa. I tried to reason with the officials – and of course this went nowhere fast. Feeling the resistance, I decided to give in to the flow, and rebook my flight to head to Nairobi. Sometimes things are just not meant to be! And as soon as I did so, things started to work and my mood brightened. A pretty woman at the counter let me use her mobile phone to cancel my appointments and hotel booking and she managed to get my baggage moved on to the new flight ( and she spoke French!). Ethiopian’s inflight magazine, Selamta, was chock-full of inspiring travel reads. And my taxi driver at the Nairobi airport barely haggled with me over the price to my accommodation. :)

The upshot? If you are going to make a short visit to Addis, ie less than 24 hours, you might want to get yourself the tourist visa ahead of time. Or be prepared to wait in a very very long line for a transit visa at the airport.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always visit one of the half dozen or so bars in the terminal concourse and get yourself a local beer while you wait for your next flight. :p

St George’s Beer in Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

19 thoughts on “I went to Ethiopia (for two hours)”

  1. Question – so the transit visa is for if you are leaving the airport? I might be taking a flight that has a 3 or 5 hour layover in the Addis airport but I will not be leaving….also, how did you feel about safety in the airport? I will be a 24 year old girl by myself, “laying over” from 8:40 pm to 1 or 2 am.

  2. Hi Anne!

    Yes, if you are staying in the airport, you do not need a transit visa. The airport is fine – it is a bit of a zoo but perfectly safe. :) There are some chairs where you can lie down and sleep as well as restaurants and gift shops to look around in.

    Safe travels!

  3. Question – There really is no need for a transit visa if I simply stay inside the airport for 22 hours waiting for the next flight?

  4. That’s correct. However I still recommend you check with the Ethiopian consulate/embassy and the airline that will fly you to Ethiopia to confirm if there are any travel restrictions. Some airlines (e.g. Kenya Airways) request to see proof of your travel visa prior to letting you board the plane.

  5. I found it quite strange how the Ethiopian Embassy representatives (or Ambassador, not sure) said I’ll need a transit visa and that I have to get it from them and pay a fee rather than get it at the Addis Ababa airport. I then called the Ethiopian airlines and they said no visa is needed if I were to just sit in the airport waiting for the next flight.

  6. Hi Fritz,
    Strange indeed. there is nothing more frustrating than receiving conflicting information on immigration requirements as you are about to travel overseas! Have you told the Ethiopian authorities/embassy officials that you won’t leave the airport?

  7. Hey Ryan, yes I told them I won’t leave the airport and the embassy still insisted for me to carry a visa. I’ll be going to Mumbai and found another flight that stops in Addis Ababa Airport, only this time I have 30 minutes to switch flights. The airline representative said there will be enough time if I hurry. He also said its a small airport. I imagined that there won’t be enough time to be dealing with transit/tourist visas and will have to cut in front of the check-in line to move on to the next flight in order to make it. For this reason I won’t even bother applying for a transit visa at the embassy. Is it possible to make it to the other plane on time?

  8. Hi Fritz,

    30 minutes is a short time for a connecting flight, if that’s all you have gate to gate. Addis is a small airport but security lines can be long. If your boarding time (not “wheels up”) is 30 minutes after your arrival then you might make it. Especially if you have no shame and are willing to push to the front of line. :)

    The other thing is whether your baggage will make it. I’ve had bad experiences with baggage through Addis (with Ethiopian Airlines) – one bag damaged on one flight, one bag lost on another. If you’re flying only with carry-on, then I say go for it!

    Good luck!

  9. Thanks alot for the attention and help. I also called one of the ethiopian airlines representatives and he said if I hurry then there will be enough time. It’s pure “wheels up”, gate to gate hahaha I’ll have to run and get in front of the line. Will only have a carry-on bag partly due to your experience and the little time.


  10. Am travelling to south africa by march 2014 and am going through an Ethiopian airline from Nigeria and there will be stop over like 12 hours and i want to seized the opportunity to enter the country of ethiopia. please how do i get the visa?

  11. Hey,
    I have a transit with only three ours in bole airport,but at this time i want to meet my family who live in addis ababa so how could i meet them during this period.

  12. Hi Selemun,
    You’re unlikely to get a transit visa on arrival for such a short period of time so you may want to get it beforehand (either a tourist visa or a transit visa). If you are able to get the visa, you’d probably have time only for a quick coffee and a hug! :) Good luck!

  13. Hey im flying from Toronto to addis in a , then addis to Dubai. However there are two flights going out to dubai, but I opted to take the later flight which will have me transiting in the airport for 14 hours. will I be able to get a transit visa in the airport or shall I just get a tourist visa at the counsellor in Ottawa?

  14. Hi Adil, sorry for the late reply. If you are flying with Ethiopian Airlines you should check with them what option they recommend. With a 14 hour flight I think you should be able to get a transit visa but the airline or the consulate should be able to advise you. Good luck and have fun – in Ethiopia and Dubai! :)

  15. Hello,
    I will fly from Vienna to Seychelles, with 1 stop for 3 hours in Ethiopia. Do I need any kind of visa for this? I wont leave the airport.
    Thank you,

  16. Hi Anca,

    Probably not, but you should verify with the Embassy/Consulate of Ethiopia in your country or the airline you are flying with.
    Have a great time!

  17. Hi Anca,

    I will be in one of those flights, in October.
    Did you find out if there is a visa necessary for the lay-over?

    Thank you Ryan for the informative post!

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