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Local laws and customs

The traditional Ethiopian calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar that is widely used internationally. New Year is in September and there are 12 months of 30 days followed by a 13th month of 5 days (or 6 in a leap year). The Ethiopian calendar is 7-8 years behind the Gregorian calendar. If dealing with official documents, you can expect the date to be written in the Ethiopian calendar.

Time of day is also counted differently by traditional Ethiopian mechanisms. Daytime hours are counted beginning from what would be 0600 using a globally standard 24-hour clock, and nightime hours from 1800. “2am” on the Ethiopian clock is therefore equivalent to 0800. Most hotels and larger organisations’ documents, including all airline tickets, are expressed using the global clock rather than the traditional Ethiopian clock. But many individuals and smaller organisations continue to use the Ethiopian clock. If you are not sure the time of a meeting or an event check with your host which clock is being used (‘Ethiopian time’ or ‘Western time’).

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse and largely tolerant country. However, many believers are devout in their respective faiths and you should make sure to respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious sites of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Outside Addis Ababa, particularly in rural areas, women may wish to dress modestly to avoid the possibility of causing offence. Modest dress is a must when visiting religious sites.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast each Wednesday, Friday and in several other periods. In predominantly Orthodox areas, at these times only vegan dishes are likely to be available except in larger hotels and restaurants catering to foreigners.

Homosexual acts (applying to both sexes) are illegal, and carry penalties of between 1 and 15 years imprisonment. Be sensitive to local laws and customs and avoid public displays of affection. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

It’s illegal to carry more than 1000 birr in local currency when entering or leaving Ethiopia. If you’re found to be carrying in excess of that amount the money will be seized and a prison sentence is possible.

You must declare to customs officials on entry or exit any cash in excess of 3,000 US dollars (or the equivalent) in foreign currencies. Travellers leaving Ethiopia with more than USD$3,000 must present a bank advice notice if the currency was purchased from a local bank or a valid customs declaration form obtained at the point of entry. A bank advice notice or customs declaration form becomes invalid if 45 days or more have elapsed since the date of issue.

You will need an export certificate to take antiques out of the country, otherwise the items are likely to be confiscated and you may face prosecution.

Owning ivory is strictly prohibited. A number of British nationals found with ivory jewellery have had their items confiscated by authorities and fined between 5,000 and 25,000 birr.

Drug offences are treated seriously in Ethiopia. Don’t become involved with drugs of any kind. Khat is a legal drug in Ethiopia but it is an offence to take it out of the country. Bags are regularly searched at Addis Ababa Bole Airport and anyone found to be in possession of Khat is likely to face criminal prosecution.

Import regulations:

Free import of max:
– 400 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco (only for passengers of 18 years and older);
– 2 liters of alcoholic beverages (only for passengers of 18 years and older);
– 600 milliliters of perfume;
– goods for personal use.

Arms and Ammunition regulations:

Prohibited: Firearms and bullets or parts thereof. Import license required for hunting guns.

Export regulations:

Free export of goods for personal use. Pets: Cats and dogs must be accompanied by veterinarian good health certificate issued at point of origin.

Baggage Clearance regulations:

Baggage is cleared at first airport of entry into Ethiopia. Exempt: baggage of transit passengers with a destination outside of Ethiopia when the onward flight is within 24 hours.

Currency Import regulations:

Local currency (Ethiopian Birr-ETB): up to ETB 200.- per person.
Foreign currencies: for nationals of Ethiopia: not allowed. For other nationals: up to a max. of USD 3,000.- or equivalent, without bank permit.

Currency Export regulations:

Local currency (Ethiopian Birr-ETB) if passengers hold a re-entry permit: ETB 200.- per person.
Foreign currencies : up to the amounts imported and declared, if exceeded USD 3,000.- or equivalent.

Airport Tax

No airport tax is levied on passengers upon embarkation at the airport.

Due to strict custom regulations, it may cause problems at the airport to carry more than the usual basic electronic devices , especially if they are new. Import Tax payment may be required. Souvenirs imitating historic artifacts have to be approved not original by the National Museum in Addis Ababa, if not they can be confiscated at the airport customs before leaving Ethiopia. Purchasing receipts have to be saved. You may want to consult your local Ethiopian Embassy if you want to bring high standard equipment. In many places, small fees are charged for photos taken of people, especially in the southern tribal areas of Ethiopia. Video fees can be very high in national parks and other guarded places.