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Travel & living abroad

Sub Saharan Africa

Eritrea

Flag of Eritrea
Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 10 December 2010

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with minor editorial amendments in the Travel Summary, Safety and Security - Local Travel and Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel. The overall level of the advice has not changed; we advise against all travel to some areas of Eritrea.

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)

Travel advice for this country

Travel Summary

  • We advise against all travel within 25 kms of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia and Djibouti.  We also advise against travel to Eritrea's border with Sudan, including the town of Tesseney; and in the area north and west of Nakfa, Agordat and Barentu. See Safety and Security - Local Travel.

  • The Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains closed and unmarked.  Several security incidents have taken place in 2010 along the border, particularly in the areas of Humera, Tsorona and Zalambessa. See Safety and Security - Local Travel.

  • All foreign nationals, including resident diplomats, are required to apply in advance for travel permits to leave Asmara. See Safety and Security - Local Travel - Travel Permits.

  • Dual British/Eritrean nationals should be aware that, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the British Embassy is unable to offer assistance in Eritrea.  The Eritrean authorities consider all British nationals holding either Eritrean or PFDJ identity documents (including out of date documents) as Eritrean nationals.

  • One British national required consular assistance in Eritrea in the period 01 April 2009 - 31 March 2010.

  • There is an underlying threat from terrorism in Eritrea. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

  • All British nationals travelling to Eritrea should register with the British Embassy in Asmara on arrival.

  • You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  See General - Insurance.

Safety and security

Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is an underlying threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. See our Terrorism Abroad page.

A number of terrorist incidents have been reported along the border with Ethiopia.

Safety and Security - Crime
Street crime such as theft and robbery is relatively rare in Asmara and other cities and towns, but appears to be on an upward trend.  Crime is also rare away from the main towns. Take normal and sensible precautions with regard to personal safety. We advise against walking around any town, late at night alone. Valuables, particularly cameras and passports should be kept out of sight.

See our Victims of crime page.

Safety and Security - Local Travel
We advise against all travel within 25 km of the border with Djibouti. In 2008 there was fighting between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region leading to casualties on both sides. The situation remains unresolved.

We advise against all travel within 25 km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia. In most places the border is neither marked nor obvious.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains closed. Several security incidents have taken place in 2010 along the border, particularly in the areas of Humera, Tsorona and Zalambessa. Since the relocation out of Eritrea of the UN Peacekeeping Mission (UNMEE) in 2008 the risk remains of cross-border tensions increasing and the security situation deteriorating very rapidly.

We advise against all travel to Eritrea's border with Sudan, including the town of Tesseney; and the area north and west of Nakfa, Agordat and Barentu.  In 2009, an attack on an International Mining Company vehicle to a road 35km north of Keren caused the deaths of one employee and two contractors.

There are extensive mine fields in Eritrea, particularly near the border with Ethiopia. Driving on main roads outside of the border areas is generally safe, though a landmine killed eight and injured several people along the same road in 2008.  We advise against driving on non-metalled roads, off-road driving and walking or hiking in the countryside.

We advise against travelling after dark in rural areas, where road signage/road barriers are scarce and steep drops common. You should be aware that in many parts of the country roads are difficult or impassable during the rainy season.

Safety and Security - Local Travel - Mobile phones
Telephone networks are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods a day outside Asmara and larger towns. Take this into account when travelling, particularly in rural areas. There are no agreements by Eritrean mobile telephone providers with any International mobile phone provider. You will not be able to receive or send calls or SMS text messages from any overseas mobile phone network on arrival in Eritrea.  Nor can local SIM cards be purchased without a resident’s permit.

Safety and Security - Local Travel - Travel Permits
All foreign nationals are required to have a travel permit to leave Asmara. Those working outside Asmara are also required to have a travel permit to leave their area of residence or work. Applications for such travel permits in Asmara are handled by the Department of Protocol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (or relevant ministry). Applications outside Asmara are handled by the local Zoba (Region) Administration Offices.  Permission may take several days to be granted and is sometimes refused or delayed.

Tourists seeking to travel outside Asmara should apply for travel permits at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue in Asmara.  Such permits usually take around 24 hours to process. There is no guarantee that permits will be issued.

Because of these requirements diplomatic staff from the British Embassy are unable to offer emergency assistance to British nationals outside Asmara quickly. If travel permits were not granted, the British Embassy is unlikely to be able to offer any Consular assistance outside Asmara. The potential lack of any assistance outside Asmara is something you should take into account fully before travelling.

Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel
There are international flights (some direct) from Asmara to Cairo (Egyptair), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Sana’a (Yemenia), Khartoum (Sudan Airways) and Dubai (Nasair). See the airline websites for specific details on flight schedules, ticketing and other information.

There is an airport departure tax of US$20 per passenger, it cannot be paid in Nakfa, unless you hold a resident’s permit.

See our Airline Security page.

Safety and Security - Local Travel - Sea Travel
There have been attacks of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Horn of Africa area.  Mariners are advised to be vigilant and to take appropriate precautions. Mariners should be aware that permissions and entry visas must be sought in advance before seeking to land in Eritrea.  See our River and Sea Safety page.

Safety and Security - Political
Eritrea Country Profile

Local laws and customs

Photography of government buildings and military installations is not allowed.  If in doubt, ask first. 

Dress modestly, especially in lowland and predominantly Muslim areas. Shorts and T-shirts are likely to draw attention. 

Homosexual behaviour is illegal, although the penalties are unclear. Discretion is advised.

See our Your trip page.

Entry requirements

Entry Requirements - Visas
British nationals need a visa to enter Eritrea. Ensure that any necessary travel documentation (including exit visas) remain valid for the duration of your stay.  The Eritrean authorities take breaches of their immigration laws seriously and travellers who have overstayed can face lengthy delays in regularising their position before departure or even detention.

Entry Requirements - Dual Nationals
Dual British/Eritrean nationals who enter Eritrea will be classed as Eritrean nationals by the Eritrean authorities.The British Embassy is unable to gain consular access to or obtain information on such dual nationals if they are detained by the authorities or otherwise in need of assistance. Dual nationals who enter Eritrea on an Eritrean identity card rather than an Eritrean passport should be aware that they are required to obtain an exit visa from the Immigration Office in Asmara before they are able to leave Eritrea.  

Entry Requirements - Foreign Currency
All foreign visitors are required to declare all foreign currency upon entering the country - filling in a form and showing funds. There is no limit on the amount that can be brought in. Ensure that you have had your completed foreign currency declaration form approved and stamped before you leave the airport.

On departure, you will have to show (using your foreign currency declaration form) that any foreign currency missing was exchanged at a branch of “Himbol”, the State foreign currency exchange. You may face prosecution leading to a heavy fine, as well as a delay to your departure from Eritrea, if you fail to comply with these regulations.

Entry Requirements - Yellow Fever vaccination certificate
All visitors over the age of one year need a Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate if arriving from a country where the disease is present.

Health

There is one private and three public hospitals in Asmara. Public hospitals in other towns are often poorly equipped.  Elsewhere medical facilities are even more limited. If you are travelling away from the large towns, we advise that you carry a comprehensive medical pack with you.

If you are taking prescription medicines, you should ensure that you have a sufficient supply for the length of your stay in Eritrea.

In the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 35,000 adults aged 15 or over in Eritrea were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at around 1.3% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%.  Exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.

Seek medical advice before travelling to Eritrea and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention visit the websites of NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.

See our Travel Health page.

General

General - Insurance
You should take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. Check any exclusions, and ensure that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake. Ensure also that your medical insurance covers the cost of air ambulance evacuation out of Eritrea in the event of a serious accident or illness. See our Travel Insurance page.

If things do go wrong when you are overseas see our When Things Go Wrong page.

General - Consular assistance outside Asmara

There are limits to what the British Embassy can do to assist British nationals outside Asmara. All diplomatic staff in Asmara need to apply for permission to travel 10 days in advance; this means that they are unable to offer emergency assistance to British nationals outside Asmara. Take this into account before deciding whether or not to travel to Eritrea.  Be aware that the Eritrean authorities have not always informed the relevant Embassy if a foreign national is in need of consular assistance (for example, if they have been taken into detention or are in need of medical attention). This applies inside Asmara as well as more widely in the country.

General - Consular Assistance - Statistics
One British national required consular assistance in Eritrea in the period 01 April 2009 - 31 March 2010 for the following type of incident; one death. During this period assistance was also requested with regard to lost or stolen passports (1 case).

General - Consular Registration
Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.

General - Passports
Although applications for British passports can be lodged at the British Embassy in Asmara they have to be forwarded to the British High Commission in Nairobi for processing. The issuing of a full passport usually takes three-four weeks. Emergency passports, good for a single trip back to the United Kingdom, can usually be issued by the British Embassy Asmara within two working days. You must provide satisfactory proof of nationality: all travellers should keep a photocopy of the biodata (photograph and personal details) page of their passport in a safe place or with friends or family in the UK.

General - Money
The economy is completely cash-based. There are no ATMs in Eritrea. Credit cards are not accepted anywhere except a few hotels such as the Asmara Palace, Sunshine and Crystal hotels.  It is also illegal to exchange currency other than at a branch of “Himbol”.  It is illegal to attempt to use foreign currency to make purchases in Eritrea.

The currency in Eritrea is the Nakfa. Nakfa are not convertible outside Eritrea. You should convert any excess Nakfa back to hard currency at one of the “Himbol” exchanges in town, as there are limits to what can be converted at the “Himbol” branch at the airport. To do this you will need the original currency transaction receipt. The Nakfa is currently pegged at the rate of 15 Nakfa to one US dollar.

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Contacts

Eritrea, Asmara, British Embassy

Address:

British Embassy
66-68 Mariam Ghimbi Street
Zip Code 174
PO Box 5584
Asmara
Eritrea

Telephone:

(00)(291) 1 20 28 38
(00)(291) 1 20 28 39 
(00)(291) 1 12 22 42

Fax:

(00) (291) 1 12 01 04

Email: Asmara.Enquiries@fco.gov.uk

Office hours:

GMT:
Mon-Thur: 0500-1330
Fri: 0500-0930

Local Time: (GMT + 3  hours)
Mon-Thur: 0800-1630
Fri: 0800-1230
Out of office hours, answering machine gives duty officers contact number

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