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