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Day 1 Addis Ababa: The best laid plans

As most of you who ready my blog know I like to be prepared for what the stated policies are, even if they are rarely enforced.
I landed at ADD ontime at 6:45 am but due to being in the back of the plane it was around 7 am before I deplaned. I knew I needed a Visa on arrival so I queued in that line which was long and getting longer (mistake 1: i should have exchanged money before getting in line since there was only 1 ATM outside of arrivals and it did not accept my card. Once you get your visa on arrival it is not really possible to go to the currency changers since there aren’t any outside the arrivals hall .
I had read the visa on arrival is $20 (or the sign said €17 would work too) and requires a passport photo. I had a stack of passport photos ($4 something for 4 at Costco) but I did not need one for this.

I then went to the finger print line and got fingerprinted and exited to the arrivals hall.

I found an ATM but it wouldn’t accept my card. It only had visa signs and mine is a master card…or maybe it was empty or never worked anyway, but oh well. It said bad card immediately after insertion so there I was with only $$ and I needed birr to get anywhere. The tourism people noticed I was looking around confused and I said I’m looking for a money changer. They changed money for me (i think that’s not really legal based on a flyer in my hotel room stating a receipt is always required, but oh well. I didn’t want to be stuck in the airport and I know not every country takes USD nor should they). I had a printout from Kayak with all of my airline and hotel confirmations and addresses. I presented that to the tourism people since they were offering to get me a cab. Apparently addresses don’t really exist here and actually the address the hostel listed was not really the address. I was looking for Atelefugne hostel, house 418 Tanzania Street. (Mistake 2: believing an address in a city where google maps can’t find anything and had no record of such an address instead of rereading my confirmation before the trip to see it had directions in it!)The cab drivers all fought over me all claiming to know where it was. Well it turns out that address meant nothing and I did not have a phone number on the printout from Kayak. My CDMA phone was not able to connect to what I’m assuming is a GSM cell network and I was unable to get the phone number. I tried pulling up my full confirmation but I needed internet for that. I asked the driver to stop at an internet cafe. Although we passed plenty of places that said internet cafe he said he had no clue what i was talking about and I was afraid he might just abandon me if we stopped. In Prague I always used McDonalds for their wifi so I asked if there was a McDonalds but the driver would also fail the golden arches test as he had no clue what mcDonalds is (and good for him!). After an hour of driving around I finally told him to just take me to the Hilton. I’d forfeit a night at Atelefugne, but it I’m already having this many problems so early on I’d rather have some creature comforts. I figured worse case scenario I’d pay for internet and get the phone number and directions, but Hilton had rooms so to the executive floor I went!

That’s good though since it’s walking distance to the Red Terror museum and has plenty of onsite travel agents booking overpriced tours which mean I can just pay the gringo (wonder what that is in Amharic) fee and not worry. Sometimes money is more valuable than time, other times I just want to pay and be done with it!

1 hour of riding in a taxi through horrible roads with random people sitting on the side of the road = 700 birr (i paid him 900 birr since it was my fault for not having more information)
Paying 4 times a night more for a hotel but knowing it will meet minimum standards: priceless



  1. Wow – a great arrival story.

    Neat thing to think about with the google map cross check in the future.

  2. Actually there is a money exchange in the arrivals hall. It’s the same one you see when queuing for customs/immigration, but they have a window to the arrivals area.
    Also a passport photo is not needed for VOA.

    What I also found to be easier when leaving the airport is to have the hotel or hostel pick you up from the airport and take a cab back. The airport taxis from the airport are notorious for overcharging.

    1. Yes, but you have to change money BEFORE getting your VOA as I mentioned. Once you get your VoA you are blocked from changing money and must proceed to the finger printers. I consider that all immigration and after you pass that (I have always considered the Arrivals hall to be the public part where your party can meet you) and there is no money changer in the Arrivals hall, only in Immigration. Also, the Atelefugne did not mention a hotel shuttle and I did not see a booth in the arrivals hall. so I took a taxi, but I rode the Hilton shuttle back to the airport. It’s $5/83 birr and goes directly on your room bill.

  3. Grace, when where you in Addis?
    As of Late July, there was both an ATM and FX counter after VOA on the right as you face immigration/ finger printers.

    I may be confusing Arrivals hall with what i am thinking. Once you are past that immigration and are picking up your luggage at the belt, there is a window for a money exchange on the far right when you are looking at the baggage belts. they have a FX board with the rates, as well as an ATM where they are checking baggage tags to make sure you are taking your bag.

    1. I was just there 2 days ago. They had the rope queue set up so you had to go from VOA to the finger printer and I always speed through the baggage area since I don’t check bags and once I exited immigration and customs into the public area there was only a single ATM which didn’t take my card and there was no money changer. That’s my point. Don’t get to the public area of the airport without changing money. Change in passport control before getting in the VOA line or if there is one in baggage claim change there, but don’t exit the secured area unless you have a Visa debit card. The ATM didn’t say Star or Cirrus or any ATM networks, it just had a Visa sign and for whatever reason my MasterCard debit card was rejected as “bad card”.

  4. Ok, yes i remember the ropes from VOA, i believe it is to the left of the cloud9 passengers – you are not obliged to go through that queue fyi even through its roped off ! 🙂

    But yes, as a general rule of thumb (i didnt have luck with any atm in addis) i would suggest readers dont rely on a working ATM and exchange at the airport and try and arraigne for a pickup. To give you an example, I got “taken” for a 450 birr taxi that i would later find out was less than 150 birr from where i was dropped off back to the airport.

    Also to give you another point of reference I hired a taxi for an all day tour for 800 birr who stayed with me and served as a “guide” at all the spots you mentioned + more. although he did break down in the afternoon but that was an adventure on its own :).

    1. My debit card worked just fine at one of the ATMs at the Hilton. I forget which one, but it did have a mastercard logo on it. I gave capitalone all of my countries so we’ll see if i get cutoff in Dublin.

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