Currency & communications

The currency of the country is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB). As per 15th March, 2018, these are the official rates for most common currencies:

Any google search will give you today’s exchange rate to your country’s currency.

The Birr is a coin that has suffered deflation along the years. I remember when in 2008  it used to be 14 ETB for 1 Euro!!! Almost one third of what it is now; unbelievable!!!

Now, most local places (taxis, stores, pharmacies, etc) will only accept ETB, but hotels and tourists-oriented businesses will definitely accept foreign currency (as there is a shortage of it and people crave to get them).

You can change money at the airport at your arrival or at any given bank with your passport. Make sure to keep the receipt along your trip as it may be requested (though not very common). The price is very similar in most of the places so it does not make much of a difference one bank or the other.

The biggest note is the 100 ETB, which is honestly nothing. Say that you carry 500 USD (around 14,000 ETB) for your trip, that means you need a wallet where 140 notes of 100 fit in. 🙂 Pretty big, isn´t it?

ATMs were a dream in Ehiopia years ago (I think only Sheraton Hotel had one), but they have recently become very popular countrywide (precisely right when in the most developing countries they are disappearing!). However, it may occur that your foreign VISA or Mastercard does not work in many of them, that the ATMs are out of service or that the network is down, so be ready for that!  Common banks that normally work fine include: Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Zemen, Awash, Oromia or United Bank, among others. Be aware of the commission and the exchange rate that your bank may apply for withdrawals.

PHONE & INTERNET

It is very easy to get a SIM card in Ethiopia but be aware that to fight contraband they have recently banned all foreign devices to work with Ethiopian SIM card in the county unless activated! The fastest and easiest way to activate it is at the airport on arrival. Just communicate to the authorities that you would like to use your phone with an Ethiopian SIM card and they will unlock it for you (if you forget it, which is possible, just go to Telecom and they will do it for you). I think that it is still not possible to get a SIM card at the airport so you will have to go with your passport to one of the many Ethio-Telecom branches (ask around, every neighborhood has one) and if you are lucky and there is not a big queue (normally there is) you will get it in less than 30 minutes for 30 ETB.

Once you get your SIM card make sure that it fits the size for your phone (normal, small, nano) or ask around to cut it for you (15 ETB). To add balance, you can buy credit almost anywhere and you will get one of these “mobile cards” (as they call them):

Balance cards go from 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 to 500, though it is very hard to find more than 100 ETB.

Telecom offers service information in English or Amharic. To charge your phone you have to dial *805# and call, then follow instructions.

For internet packages (3G or 4G) you can subscribe once your SIM has already balance on it, dialing *999#  and call, following instructions and choosing among the different daily, weekly and monthly packages. If you want to use a modem in your laptop you can buy it at Ethio Telecom. You will need to buy the device and choose and amount to charge monthly. For more info, please visit Ethio Telecom website: http://www.ethiotelecom.et)

The best connection is normally obtained through the phone (4g, but it is very expensive and you will quickly run out of balance). Cyber cafes are normally slow. Hotels are a very good option for fast and reliable internet, though in most cases consumption is required, after which they will give you a 1 or 2 hours voucher.

In the last couple of years there has been a shortage of 3G internet service for mobile phones outside Addis Ababa, so don’t expect your device to have access to Internet everywhere you go. Also, during specific times, the government had shut down internet service for different reasons. Not knowing exactly what the benefit is, I’m sure that the lost for the many companies that today rely on internet has been huge (and for the country itself as well).

Anyhow, find yourself confident to be able to use internet in Addis and major urban towns, but not in the countryside.

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