Oct, 2017: Getting an Ethiopian visa from the embassy in Nairobi has a bit of a notorious reputation. At first we heard it wasn’t possible and then we heard it was possible but that it would be very painful. With some trepidation and armed with as much information as we could gather we arrived at the Ethiopian embassy in downtown Nairobi expecting the worst. Over the next 24 hours we met some amazing Aussie bikers travelling with not one but two pet dogs; were shot at by an out of control toddler with a plastic bow-and-arrow in the consulate waiting room; trudged back and forth between the Ethiopian embassy and consular section at least a dozen times; and made several frustrating trips to the Australian embassy in the middle of awesome Nairobi traffic. While the whole thing was exceedingly frustrating at times, in the end we got our three month Ethiopian tourist visa and were on our way. To hopefully make it easier for others in future we thought we’d write a quick guide about how to apply for an Ethiopian visa in Nairobi. Here it is.
DISCLAIMER: We are two Australian passport holders who got our three month tourist visas from the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi in October 2017. While we’re sure the inputs and process will be the same for most other nationalities we can’t guarantee that this is the case. We also can’t guarantee that the Ethiopian government won’t change something in the months since or in the future. After all TIA.
How to apply for an Ethiopian visa in Nairobi: why you need a three month visa
We applied for a three month Ethiopian tourist visa for two reasons. To start with after leaving Nairobi we were going to be driving through Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda before heading back through all countries and then up into Ethiopia. In short it would be several weeks before we would actually enter Ethiopia and we weren’t going to be returning to Nairobi to complete the application at a later date. The other reason was that there is simply so much to do in Ethiopia. From the Omo Valley to the Danakil depression to the historical north there is A LOT to see in Ethiopia. If you’re in the same position as us when you go to apply for your Ethiopian visa in Nairobi, we would advise telling them that you’ll be spending time in north Kenya and also provide a detailed itinerary of what you want to do in Ethiopia. Don’t mention that you also want to go to other countries like Uganda or Rwanda as they may tell you to apply for the visa there.
How to apply for an Ethiopian visa in Nairobi: required inputs
- Valid passport
- Letter of recommendation from your embassy: until we got this very irritating piece of paper from the Australian government at the exorbitant price of USD55/letter, we were not even allowed in the gates of the Ethiopian embassy. While we were told repeatedly by the Australian embassy actually in Ethiopia that a letter of recommendation wasn’t required for Aussies, the Ethiopian embassy staff in Nairobi dictated otherwise. Please, do yourself a favour and get a letter of recommendation certified by your respective embassy BEFORE you try for your Ethiopian visa. A copy of the letter we used based on the exact wording provided by the Ethiopian embassy themselves is provided below (form 1).
- Completed visa application form (form 2 below): despite our best googling efforts we couldn’t find this online so collected it from the Ethiopian consulate itself
- 1 x passport photo with your name written on the back
- Name, contact number and address of a hotel in Ethiopia which you can put on your application form
- A list of all the countries you have been before Ethiopia and all the places you want to visit in Ethiopia
- USD60 cash to pay for your 3 month visa / USD30 for a 1 month visa
How to apply for an Ethiopian visa in Nairobi: the process
A few points before we get started. The below process is based on you having all the above inputs successfully organised BEFORE you arrive at the Ethiopian embassy. Assuming that you do have all of the above inputs ready to go then you SHOULD be successful in getting your visa on the same day. We did ours over two days. Officially the Ethiopian embassy and consular section are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 12:00 noon. We were able to get in after 12:00 noon in the afternoon but again we can’t guarantee that this will be the same for you. It’s also worth mentioning that the Ethiopian embassy and consulate visa section are on different sides of the same block with separate entrances. In our experience you need to visit both. So, about that process…
- Arrive at the Ethiopian embassy gate on State House Road at 9am. Tell the security guard that you want to apply for an Ethiopian tourist visa and can you please see the ambassador. They will most likely ask to see your letter of recommendation and then hopefully let you in the gates.
- Head inside where you will have a brief interview with who we assume is the ambassador. He will ask a few basic questions about where you’re going, how long you’re going for etc. He will then write something in Amharic on your letter of recommendation and tell you to go around the corner to the consular section.
- Head around the other side of the block on State House Crescent and ask to see the consul / visa lady. Security will again ask to see your letter of recommendation (this time verified by the ambassador) before letting you in to see the consul. Depending on how early you are you may then need to wait a while to get your audience with the consul. The consul is a bit prickly and apparently deals better with women so if you have a woman in your party get her to do all the talking.
- The consul will ask you similar questions to the ambassador but this time in a bit more detail. If she is satisfied with your answers she’ll then give you the application form to complete (see copy below). Fill this in back in the waiting room including all the countries you have been before Ethiopia and everywhere you want to go in Ethiopia on the back.
- Once you have completed the application form, give this and your passport photo to the consul. Hopefully everything will be in order once again and she will give you the Commercial Bank of Africa account details of the embassy and tell you how much you need to pay.
- Head to the nearest Commercial Bank of Africa, pay your fee and ensure you get a bank receipt. If you’re getting visas for multiple people, ensure you get separate receipts for each person otherwise you’ll get in trouble from the charming lady at the Ethiopian visa section. Return to the consulate, show your bank receipt(s) and then hopefully that is your application done. Now the consul will hopefully give you a time to return later that afternoon to collect your approved visa.
- Return in the afternoon to collect your visa. Our’s was ready by about 3pm. Job done! At this point it’s worth mentioning that your visa is valid from as soon as it’s approved so make sure you factor that into your timing.
How to apply for an Ethiopian visa in Nairobi: a note on the new Ethiopian eVisa
It would appear that somewhat recently, Ethiopia has made it possible to get a single entry tourist visa online. Only certain countries can apply AND it’s technically only possible for those entering Ethiopia via the Addis Adaba international airport. Having said that we got lucky and used this service for my cousin in November 2017 when we entered Ethiopia via the land border at Omorate. The process was very simple and easy and he had his visa emailed to him within 24 hours of submitting his application. If you think this can work for you the eVisa portal can be found here.