Getting a tourist visa extension in Ethiopia

Ethiopian stop sign

For a black African country, Ethiopia is very modern and organised. But bureaucracy can be a challenge. Getting a visa extension in Ethiopia was tough!

„Who am I“, the official with the silver-coloured stripes on his sleeves spreads his arms theatrically, „to contradict government policies?“. Under no circumstances, he insists, would it be possible to extend the duration of our visa unless it is within five days of expiring. We don’t quite understand the contradiction in this. “Who am I …” he repeats. Well, he is the Head of Foreigners’ Reception in the Addis Abeba immigration office and certainly quite pompous about it, but we agree to come back four weeks later to apply for a visa extension.

The historical circuit around the north of Ethopia, including trekking in the Simien mountains, would easily merit 5 weeks, but the only immigration office is the one in the capital Addis Abeba and tourist visa are only issued for one month.
Thus we had to shorten our planned itinerary, and after 4 weeks we are back at the immigration office.

We receive a waiting number in front of a huge screen showing CNN in silent mode. “Passport photo”, a waitress-type assistant barks. The Polish tourists next to us didn’t bring one. “No problem” the assistant assures them and staples our pictures onto our application form. One hour later someone checks our application form and sends us to the Head of Foreigners Reception.

Gelada baboon in Ethiopia (not a visa official)
We had to leave the camera at the entrance to the immigration office

“Who am I…..” we hear him talk to some Israelis who now have to change their travel plans completely. After a mere glimpse on our form he sends us to to another pompous official residing in room 78, who gives us back our passport photos, files our cases into the computer and sends us into the next room to pay the visa fees. “Tomorrow, 11 am, room 90!” The whole procedure has taken us almost 3 hours.

We will need the passport tomorrow morning for another visa application, so we head back to room 80 and the pompous official. “I know what you have come to ask me,” he says, “it is about arrh-gent. But I cannot do anything…” “No no,” Natascha doesn’t even bother to listen to him, “we just want to ask you whether you can speed things up a bit.” Not surprisingly he cannot.

The next morning, we present ourselves in room 90. “11 am,” a grumpy official thunders and refuses to check whether the visa might already be issued. But this time for a change, after some cheerful small-talk, the who-am-I captain is cooperative. He writes a short note for room 90, and 10 minutes later we clutch the visa extension and rush on to the Djibouti embassy. And yes, we managed to get the Djibouti visa in time.

NB: Our travels to Ethiopia were not sponsored in any way. We paid all expenses ourselves. And no, we did not use a tour operator.

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