Ethiopia – Business Travel

Business Customs

Ethiopia has its own unique calendar; it has 13 months: 12 months with 30 days each, and one month of five or six days depending on the year.  The Ethiopian calendar year begins on September 11, which is the Ethiopian New Year.  The government fiscal year starts on July 8 and ends on July 7.  Both the Ethiopian calendar and fiscal year fall in two Gregorian calendar years.  This is important for U.S. companies organizing their visits to Ethiopia.  Companies should avoid the Ethiopian New Year, as many government officials, offices and key private sector companies are not available.  Companies should be aware of the Ethiopian fiscal year when approaching the government to finance goods and services to ensure funding and an appropriate approval timeline.

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 noon 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, some of which are often out of service due to connectivity problems. 

Travel Advisory 

Please visit the following websites for travel information and advisories: 

U.S. Citizen Services – U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia (

Visa Requirements 

All travelers coming to Ethiopia will need to apply for their visas through the Ethiopia Embassy in the country they are in (or through neighboring countries).  Travelers will be denied boarding and/or entering the country if they do not have a valid visa in their passport.  Each Ethiopian embassy may have different requirements for requesting visas in advance of travel.  Currently, U.S. travelers to Ethiopia can apply for an eVISA online through the Ethiopian Embassy website.

U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link:  State Department Visa Website


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.  ATMs are available at hotels, shopping centers and other recreational centers.  ATMs are sometimes out of service due to connectivity problems or power outages. Some of the ATMs 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 ATMs usually indicate on the ATMs which debit cards the machine accepts. 


Currently, there are two telecommunication service providers in the country, Ethio Telecom, the state-owned enterprise, and, as of 2022, Safricom.  Phone and internet services are poor due to the lack of sufficient infrastructure, and frequent power outages.  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 officially launched its fifth generation Long Term Evolution (5G LTE) service in a few locations of Addis Ababa for internet users.  The 5G service has better band width with faster connectivity to the internet.  


Many international major airlines use Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport including Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, 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.  Feres and Ride are two popular ride-hailing mobile apps.  In addition, individual taxis and other company owned rides are widely available.  Official airport taxis are yellow.  Visitors are not advised to use public buses or collective taxis (minibuses) due to safety concerns.  Taxi rates should be agreed upon before making the journey for some private taxis.  Some taxis and Ride services are metered. 


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. 


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.  Travelers diarrhea is common.  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 COVID-19, tetanus, cholera, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, rabies, and typhoid. 

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.  

Table: Ethiopian Holidays 2023 

Day Date Holiday
Monday  January 2  New Year’s Day (Observed)
Saturday  January 7  Ethiopian Christmas (Genna) 
Monday  January 16 Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Thursday  January 19  Epiphany (Timket) 
Monday  February 20 Presidents’ Day 
Thursday  March 2  Victory of Adwa 
Friday  April 14  Ethiopian Good Friday 
Sunday  April 16 Ethiopian Easter (Fasika) 
Monday  May 1  May Day (International Labor Day)
Monday  May 1*  Eid-al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) 
Friday  May 5  Patriots’ Victory Day 
Sunday  May 28  Downfall of the Derg 
Monday  May 29  Memorial Day 
Monday  June 20 (Observed)  Juneteenth  
Thursday  June 29*  Eid-al-Adha (Arefa) 
Tuesday  July 4  Independence Day 
Monday  September 4  Labor Day 
Tuesday  September 12 Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash) 
Thursday  September 28 Meskel 
Monday  October 9 Columbus Day 
Friday  October 27*  Birthday Prophet Mohammed (Moulid) 
Friday  November 10 Veterans Day 
Thursday  November 23 Thanksgiving Day 
Monday  December 25  Christmas Day 

* 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 in Ethiopia 
Ethiopia Investment Commission 


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Written by Ethiotime1

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