Live in Ethiopia

I created this tab for those who plan to come to Ethiopia with the intention of living here for a longer period to time: students, volunteers, workers,… any kind of expat that plans not to come as a tourist but rather become a resident.

WORK PERMIT: NOT EASY.

First slap, eh? Well, if you are planning to come and work just like that, forget about it. Ethiopia has very strict legislation regarding newcomers. You need to arrive after being hired by a company, NGO or mission.

The process is normally like this: with your invitation letter from the company that is hiring you, handle an application to the embassy of Ethiopia that belongs to you (some countries don’t have an embassy and you may be assigned to another country). You will get a 1 month Business Visa to come to Ethiopia. Once here, you apply for your work permit through your company, and once you get it, you will be granted a 1-year resident permit. You are ready to go. Simple, right? Wait:

The problems will start as soon as you get in touch with the Ethiopian Embassy in your country, as they are normally very inefficient and absent. It takes ages for them to answer your request (if they do), so I advice to go personally there (even if it is in another country, like in my case, where I had to go to France).

In order to justify that you are going to work in Ethiopia, in most of the cases (and unless you are investor who is bringing a lot of foreign currency into the country) you need to specify why is this company going to hire you: what makes you so special that no Ethiopian can perform the job? If you can demonstrate it (normally through degree certificates that don’t exist in the country), then you might get a chance.

Once in Ethiopia, the process to get the working permit and resident permit is not smooth either. Let’s say it clear: they don’t like it, they don’t like you. You will be paid a foreigner salary on a position that an Ethiopian will get 1/3 of it. Jealousy? Unfairness? Maybe a bit of both. So, bad faces, long queues, time wasted… this teaches you the first lesson: patience in Ethiopia is a not a virtue, but a necessity.

Hopefully, you will get your working permit, and your resident ID, which, by the way, you will have to renovate every year! Don’t you think you’ll scape that easy!

 

VEHICLE & LICENSES: A HARSH JOURNEY

Now, attention here because unless you work for an NGO, embassy or a big corporation, you will not be able to register a vehicle on your name. Just like that. You can drive your company’s car if you get your license here, but forget about buying a vehicle and register it under your name. Literally impossible. Why? Ask Ethiopian authorities.

To get your Ethiopian license you will have to do the following: bring you country’s driver license, have your embassy in Ethiopia authenticate it (some countries may have to send this document back home), go to the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs and validate the authentication, and finally go to Kaliti Transport Authority, fill the form, pay the fees and get your license. This process can take up to 1 week, if lucky. This reminds me that when I went to Zanzibar I obtained my driver’s license at the airport on arrival. It was done in 5 minutes. And that’s why I call Ethiopia a country that simply enjoys making things complicated 🙂

If you have the tools to bring a car from abroad, be aware of the taxes. A car that in Europe costs 6000 EUR, can cost here up to 20,000 EUR (more than 200% of the price) due not only to the shipment expenses, but mainly to the taxes applied to importing vehicles (unless you are a diplomat or work for an NGO, because obviously then you can’t afford to pay for it, so you will be honourably exempted from taxes; poor people…)

If you do manage to drive, welcome to the jungle. This the craziest city for peaceful drivers. I am sure there is always something worse (Kenya, India…) but you need to get ready to drive in a no-rule country (even though big efforts are being made to improve it).

Many call Addis Ababa the capital of Africa, as it hosts many international organisations and NGOs, including the headquarters of the African Union. Given the amounts of meetings, ambassadors, diplomats and VIPs that visit the city, expect the road to be blocked by the authorities on specific dates. Sometimes without even warning, federal police will align all the way from the airport to the visitors’ destination point (AU, hotel, Primer Minister’s house…) and cut the road until the car has made its way. Drivers have learnt to live with the patients that this requires.

 

RENTING A PLACE: RELATIVELY EXPENSIVE.

Knowing that Ethiopia has one of the lowest GDPs in the world, it can very surprising the prices of the housing here, and I struggle to think how the locals manage. If you have a foreign salary it should not be a problem. Of course there are different standards that I will try to list here. The prices differ from neighborhood to neighborhood and if the place comes furnished or not, but I will try to stick to a good location (Bole, Kazanches) with a furnished option:

  • Slums: many people have historically lived in adobe houses, government houses or slums that are very small and have very poor hygienic condition. This, obviously, is not an option for you unless you are the main character of the “City of Happiness”. Price: 20-500 ETB (1-15 USD) 
  • Rooms: the lowest price will be found renting a room in what they call a “service” (rooms outside main old villa houses). Locals rent these rooms for 1000-5000 ETB and they share common facilities like the open area of the compound, shower (cold most of the time), toilet (latrine), and cooking facilities. I lived here for 3 months sharing a room with 3 more people. It was an experiment to understand the culture, but I won’t do it again. Price: 1000-5000 ETB (30-175 USD)
  • Condominium: this has been a trending all around the country in the recent years thanks the government’s program to destroy slums and provide fair housing for Ethiopians. The truth is that when they get it they normally rent it out to recover back the investment that they had to make to buy it. We could define condominium as a G+4 social apartments, poorly finished, but at least with toilet and kitchen facilities and individual rooms (when not a studio). I lived in 2 different condominiums very happily for about 3 years, but water and power cuts, cockroaches, furniture and door problems were constant. It is just poorly done and you have to learn to live with it. Price: 5000-20,000 ETB (175-750 USD)
  • Luxury apartments: some visionaries have decided to invest in luxury apartments that could be defined like condominiums, but well-done: security, generators for power cuts, satellite and internet service, parking, good furniture, etc. Price: 30.000-120.000 ETB (1000 USD – 4000 USD)
  • Houses: Now what I think here is that part of this market is spoiled because of big NGOs that pay their employees housing no matter their prices. Diplomats live in compounds that normally will cost from 1000 to 2000 USD in any other place of the world, but here they are inflated to 5000-10.000 USD, as the owners of the houses know that NGOs and big companies don’t have any problem paying for that. The consequence: inflated costs, unrealistic prices. Can’t wait for the boom to collapse. Depending on the number or rooms, location, garden area, owner niceness, and conditions of the house, prices goes from: 26.000-260.000 ETB (1000 USD – 10,000 USD)

There are many house dealers that work on commission (10% of first month payment), and sites to find housing (though I think at a very inflated price, so I won’t list them here).

 

FOOD AND HYGIENE: WARNING NEEDED

I do love Ethiopian food. However, I recently found that that much coffee, spices, red meat and injera sourness has been affecting my stomach. I hope it did not produce any ulcer or something similar.

Ethiopia cuisine can be very good, but sometimes spicy for the foreigner’s paladar. They use a lot of oil (and in many cases the unhealthy cheap one) and peppers (locally called “berbere”) which makes their stews oily and spicy. Be aware!

They fast many days of the year, so it is possible that, even supermarkets may offer it, you don’t find meat or animal products in local places, and you will have to stick to vegetarian places, which is not a bad idea sometimes. Raw meat is a classic on holidays and celebrations (I love it but it always makes me sick!).

Injera, as I said before, is the base bread, but be aware of its acidity. Too much can bother the newcomer’s stomach, and to get used to it will take some time. The brown one is healthier in iron and the white one is easier to eat for delicate intestines like mine.

There are some international restaurants in town. Be aware that some ingredients are really difficult or expensive to find: olive oil, fish and seafood, real chocolate, cheese, cold meats, wines, etc.

Bottled water is advised against tap water for the risk of cholera outbreaks, typhoid and other water related diseases. Power cuts can damage food that need to be refrigerated (for example, dairies; be aware).

Forget about getting quality fish in the capital. The only place where you will succeed at that will be in cities near the lakes, where you can find Tilapia and Nile Perch. In Addis, the fish is inexistent or not fresh, and the one imported is prohibitively expensive.

WORKER AT HOME: NOT A BAD IDEA

Most Ethiopians like to have some help at home, and that include workers, guards and/or drivers. I never had a driver or a guard, but I know they can become like family members and help you in many different issues. Guards are normally very handy at keeping the houses safe (even though I hardly ever heard of trespassing properties) as well as do some shopping around the neighborhood.

Regarding workers (“serratenya”), some people have them interns and other don’t. They are trained to cook, clean and wash the clothes (washing machines are not very common here and I bet you don’t even know how to hand wash your clothes). This has been very helpful for me once I became busy at work, and you can definitely teach them some home-cooking and dishes from your country (if you find the ingredients to cook with them). Some workers also can be nannies and babysit in case you have kids; in that case they will definitely become part of your family and separations at the end of your stay are always very painful.

The challenge with workers will be their ability to speak English, which, if they do, will increases their salary. A full time intern worker can go from as cheap as 1,500 to a maximum of 5,000 ETB with all expenses covered (50 USD – 175 USD). Don’t forget to sign a contract with them and stamp it at the notary. Local dealers can help to do that with a commission fee.

 

NETWORKING: PRETTY EASY

Addis is a big city but still feels to me like a village. You’ll find that expats go to the same places, so it won’t be difficult to network with them if that is what you are looking for. I always preferred to know the countries that I live in through their people, but it is not less true that you can find interesting individuals from all over the world along the way, and that you may need to network for work reasons as well.

There some physical and online places where you can all meet:

Cultural institutions: Alliance Française, Goethe Institute and British Council normally hosts cultural events, film festivals, workshops, concerts and more. Go to their sites and subscribe to their newsletter if you’d like to catch up on them.

Local places: Fendika traditional house in Kazanches and Jazz Village in Ghion Hotel are 2 of my favorite places repeatedly mentioned in this blog. Great opportunity to listen to good music, have some food, drinks and meet your friends.

Restaurants: some restaurants organize activities to attract people: French “La Lyonesse” has Tuesdays games and “Louvre” offers Wednesday night cine-forum; Monarch and Jupiter Kazanches hotels have both Thursday nights live concerts;  Italians Via-Via and Villa Verde have Trivial and dance nights once and then. Explore the guide “What’s Out Addis” that you will find at any hotel, as they are normally up to date on these events.

Online sites: Facebook has some groups to connect with people but they have lately horribly become full of ads: “What’s out in Addis”, “What’s happening in Addis”, and searches like that will give you the clue to follow. There is a famous google group call “oddsnsodsnaddisabeba” where people exchange information, buy & sell things, etc. It’s been very useful!

Nightlife: I had my nightlife time, which is now fading into the past. As far as I remember, the best places in town are these: A/V, H2O, Stockholm, Black Rose, Jolly, Flirt, Memo and Illusion. I guess my friend Josep should write a chapter of his own here. I introduced it to him and he mastered it!

 

BUROCRACY: NO WAY TO DESCRIBE IT

No easy, but I’ll try! Well… coming from a country where things are very organised, digitalised, detailed and pretty straight-forward, this can be the right representation of hell on Earth. When you come to live in Ethiopia you may have to go through different public institutions to get some paperwork done: immigration, contracts, notary, banks, transport authorities, etc. When the day comes, try to get a good sleep the night before, bring some good book or podcast and dress yourself with a lot of patience, as the inconveniences that you will go through are countless; let me try to list down few of them here:

  • There is no light.
  • The system’s network does not work.
  • The workers are not still in the office even though the office is already open.
  • The workers are gone even though is not closing time yet.
  • There is no information window.
  • There is nobody in the window, as they are probably having coffee.
  • There is no queue system and you have to find your way around somehow (probably fighting).
  • The queue is too long so you better come back another day.
  • The forms are only in Amharic.
  • You arrive at 11:45 and they tell you they close for lunch from 12-2pm (2 hours break and it’s not even 12!!!!)
  • “Something” does not work “today”.
  •  To finalize your paperwork, instead of having everything logically centralised in one place, you have to go to 3-4 different offices that are very far from each other, with the consequent wasting your time.

Some people do hire locals to do their paperwork; I always refused. If you really want to get to know the country, you have to do this at least once in you life, it’s an experience you can’t miss and that teaches you a lot about yourself, your patience skills and your answers to adversity. If you don’t care about this beautiful statement, then just hire a local 🙂

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