Tsada Amba, Eritrea
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Tsada Amba, Eritrea

© Edward Denison, 2013

Eritrea Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

117,600 sq km (45,405 sq miles).

Population

5,401,231 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density

55.5 per sq km.

Capital

Asmara.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.

Head of government

President Isaias Afewerki since 1993.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50 Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.

Eritrea is a difficult country to define. Although in Africa, it doesn’t feel wholly African. While its broad shore faces the Middle East, it is not overtly Arabian. And though its capital evokes the spirit of Europe, it is far from European.

For such a small country, Eritrea offers an astonishing variety and it tends to attract a motley crew of visitors: from archaeologists to architects; scholars to scuba divers; historians to hikers; and cyclists to steam railway buffs.

While there are many reasons to come to Eritrea, there is one impression that endures when you leave: the remarkable kindliness of the Eritrean people. Making friends here is an unavoidable pleasure and one that touches the lives of so many visitors.

The country stretches along the Red Sea and is low-lying in the eastern coastal regions and western border with Sudan, with a precipitous mountainous interior rising to a majestic 2,500m (8200ft) above sea level.

Having been colonised in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavor with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa”. The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.

Eritrea also boasts an abundance of historical and natural attractions. The colonial and modernist architecture of its towns and cities is as stunning and startling as the wildlife that populates its mountainous escarpments, deserts and coastline.

Elephants, lions, baboons, gazelles, leopards, ostriches, turtles, dugongs and some of the continent’s rarest birds can all be found here. And with a coastline extending nearly 1,000km (621miles) along the Red Sea, Eritrea offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, as well as the most secluded beaches.

Once you’ve experienced Eritrea’s many secrets – travelled across its mountains and deserts, swam off its coastline, and met its warm people – it will only be a matter of time until you return for more.

Travel Advice

Coronavirus travel health

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Eritrea on the TravelHealthPro website.

See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

International travel

Eritrea’s land borders are closed. Some international flights have resumed, including Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Fly Dubai and Turkish Airlines. Options for leaving Eritrea remain limited. Check with your airline before you travel.

Entry and borders

See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Eritrea.

Returning to the UK

Travelling from and returning to the UK

Check what you must do to travel abroad and return to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting. If you will pass through a red list country, book your hotel quarantine package before travelling to the UK.

You are responsible for organising your own COVID-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements. You should contact the Consular Affairs Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information on testing facilities.

Be prepared for your plans to change

No travel is risk-free during COVID. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Plan ahead and make sure you:

  • can access money
  • understand what your insurance will cover
  • can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned

Travel in Eritrea

An internal travel ban has been lifted. Check-points are in place between main towns. Public transport (buses and taxis) are operating normally. Private vehicles are allowed on the roads.

All foreign nationals, including diplomats, must apply in advance for a travel permit to leave the Asmara region. See Travel Permits and Consular Assistance.

Accommodation

Hotels are open.

Public places and services

Most shops and business have re-opened following the easing of lockdown. Cinemas and night-clubs remain closed.

Healthcare in Eritrea

For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.

Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health

View Health for further details on healthcare in Eritrea.

See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.

COVID-19 vaccines if you live in Eritrea

This page will be updated as information is available about how you can get a vaccination in Eritrea. You can sign up to get email notifications when this page is updated.

Find out more, including about vaccines that are authorised in the UK or approved by the World Health Organisation, on the COVID-19 vaccines if you live abroad.

If you’re a British national living in Eritrea, you should seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider. Information about COVID-19 vaccines used in the national programme where you live, including regulatory status, should be available from local authorities

Finance

For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.

Help and support

If you’re in Eritrea and in need of urgent help, contact the British Embassy.

Further information

For further UK government guidance on support you can access whilst abroad, visit our waiting to return guidance. This includes guidance on finance, health, and staying connected.

Crime

Though Asmara is a relatively safe city, there have been increased incidences of criminality over the last twelve months. You should take sensible precautions with your personal safety. Don’t walk around late at night alone. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight. Keep a photocopy of the personal details page of your passport in a safe place, or with friends or family in the UK.

A large proportion of the population has access to arms under the government of Eritrea’s civilian militia programme. We have no evidence that these weapons increase the threat of violent crime.

Local travel

There are extensive mine fields in Eritrea, especially in border areas. Driving on main roads away from border areas is generally safe.

The FCDO advise against all travel within 25km of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia, with the exception of the border crossings at Debay Sima – Burre. All border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea are currently closed - travellers should check local advice before proceeding to the border. In the border area use main paved roads and avoid driving on non-metalled roads and walking or hiking in the countryside. In September 2011, a landmine exploded on the road between Senafe and Afoma, to the east of Senafe, killing 5 people.

The FCDO advise against all travel within 25 km of Eritrea’s border with Djibouti. In 2008 there was fighting between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. Though relations have improved, the situation remains unresolved.

The FCDO advise against all travel to Eritrea’s border with Sudan, with the exception of the road to, and main town of Tessenei. There are ongoing reports of banditry in and around the border area.

Avoid travelling after dark in rural areas. Road signage and barriers are scarce, road surfaces are uneven – causing erratic driving. Tight blind bends and steep drops are common. In many parts of the country, roads are difficult or impassable during the rainy season.

Due to the proximity of the Hanish islands in the Red Sea to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it’s highly unlikely permission would be granted to visit the south western Hanish islands that belong to Eritrea.

Travel Permits

All foreign nationals must apply in advance for a travel permit to leave Asmara and the surrounding province of zoba Maekel. There are checkpoints outside of Asmara where your travel permit will be checked. Those working outside Asmara also need a travel permit to leave their area of residence or work. Applications in Asmara are handled by the relevant Ministry. For business travellers, applications are dealt with by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. 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 wishing to travel outside Asmara should apply for a travel permit at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue in Asmara. Processing usually takes around 24 hours. When applying for permission to travel outside of Asmara, you should supply details of the car you’ll be travelling in. There have been reports of tourists not being permitted to use public transport to travel outside of Asmara and having to rent a car or use a private taxi.

Restrictions on travel by foreign nationals apply equally to foreign diplomats. Staff from the British Embassy therefore can’t easily provide consular assistance to British nationals outside Asmara.

Sea travel

Mariners must seek permissions and entry visas before attempting to land in Eritrea. This includes all islands in the Red Sea that belong to Eritrea.

Due to the proximity of the Hanish islands in the Red Sea to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it’s highly unlikely permission would be granted to visit the south western Hanish islands that belong to Eritrea. Those landing without a permit have previously been detained.

Recent piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, highlight that the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant.

Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue.

The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.

Consular Assistance

Consular support is severely limited in parts of Eritrea. Constraints on travel within Eritrea means the British Embassy in Asmara is unable to offer consular assistance easily to British nationals outside the greater Asmara area.

There are obstacles to the provision of consular assistance even in Asmara. The Eritrean authorities may not inform the relevant Embassy if a foreign national is in need of help and there have been recent instances where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals.

The Eritrean authorities consider all British nationals holding either Eritrean or PFDJ identity documents (including out of date documents) as Eritrean nationals. The British Embassy is unable to gain consular access to, or obtain information on dual nationals if detained by the authorities or otherwise in need of assistance.

If you’re in Eritrea and you need advice which is not covered by reading our travel advice then you can contact us online.

Consular support is severely limited in parts of Eritrea. If you’re in Eritrea and you need urgent help (for example, you’ve been attacked, arrested or someone has died), call the British Embassy in Addis Ababa on +251 11 617 0100. Alternatively you can call the local number +291 7 660 207 (8am to 4:30pm, Monday to Thursday or 8am to midday, Friday).

If you’re in the UK and worried about a British national in Eritrea, call 020 7008 5000.

Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Eritrea, attacks can’t be ruled out.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.

Be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars and during major gatherings like sporting or religious events. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.

There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.

Photographing government buildings and military installations is not allowed. If in doubt, ask first. You need a permit to take photographs of the ‘tank graveyard’ in Asmara. You can apply for one at the Ministry of Tourism.

Telephone networks are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods each day outside Asmara and larger towns. There are limited agreements between Eritrean and international mobile telephone providers. You will not be able to receive or send calls or SMS text messages from most overseas mobile phone networks on arrival in Eritrea. A resident’s permit is required to buy a local SIM card and this can take several weeks. There have been unconfirmed reports that phone calls made on the local mobile phone network are recorded.

All electronic items (laptops, mobile phones, cameras etc) should be declared upon arrival. Failure to do so may result in their confiscation by Eritrean customs officials when you depart.

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. Be discreet. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Eritrea set and enforce entry rules. For further information contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to. You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

Entry rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Entry to Eritrea

All land borders are closed and are not expected to re-open in the near future. Some international flights have resumed. See International Travel.

Regular entry requirements

Visas

For information about entry requirements, contact the local immigration authorities or the nearest Eritrean Embassy. You should also check with your airline or travel company for the latest information.

Passport validity

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry to Eritrea and have at least two clear pages adjoining one another in your passport.

Dual nationals

Dual British/Eritrean nationals entering Eritrea will be classed as Eritrean nationals by the Eritrean authorities. The Eritrean authorities consider all British nationals holding either Eritrean or PFDJ identity documents (including out of date documents) as Eritrean nationals. The British Embassy is unable to gain consular access to, or obtain information on dual nationals if detained by the authorities or otherwise in need of assistance. Dual nationals entering Eritrea on an Eritrean identity card rather than an Eritrean passport will need an exit visa from the Immigration Office in Asmara to leave the country.

Foreign currency

Foreign visitors must declare all foreign currency over 10,000 US dollars or equivalent on entering the country. There is no limit on the amount that can be brought in. Make sure you have had your completed foreign currency declaration form approved and stamped before you leave the airport.

If you declared currency on arrival, when you leave you will have to show that any foreign currency missing was exchanged at a branch of ’Himbol’, the State foreign currency exchange. If you spend any US dollars at an official hotel you must get a receipt to present along with the currency declaration form when you leave the country.

You’re not permitted to take more than 500 Nafka (ERN) out of Eritrea.

If you fail to comply with these regulations you may face prosecution leading to a heavy fine, as well as a delay to your departure.

Yellow fever certificate requirements

Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.

UK Emergency Travel Documents

UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Eritrea.

You’re not permitted to take more than 500 Nafka (ERN) out of Eritrea. Under 18’s aren’t entitled to hold any amount of Nakfa. If you’re exiting Eritrea and you hold in excess of the 500 maximum limit, it will be confiscated and where the amount exceeds ERN 5,000 you may face prosecution leading to a heavy fine, as well as a delay to your departure.

The economy is completely cash-based. There are no credit card or ATMs facilities in Eritrea. You’ll need to pay for everything in cash. Most hotels in Eritrea will require you to settle your hotel bill in US dollars. It’s illegal to use foreign currency to make purchases except at a limited number of officially-recognised hotels. You should get a receipt for any such purchases.

The currency in Eritrea is the Nakfa. Nakfa aren’t 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. You will need the original currency transaction receipt. The Nakfa is currently pegged at the rate of 15 Nakfa to one US dollar.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Eritrea on the TravelHealthPro website

See the healthcare information in the Coronavirus section for information on what to do if you think you have coronavirus while in Eritrea.

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.

General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.

The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.

While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

Local medical care

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

There are three public hospitals in Asmara. Public hospitals in other towns are often poorly equipped.  Elsewhere medical facilities are even more limited. If you’re travelling away from the large towns, carry a comprehensive medical pack with you. See list of Eritrea medical facilities.

If you’re taking prescription medicines, you should make sure that you have a sufficient supply for the length of your stay in Eritrea and to manage any unforeseen events as there is only a limited range of medicines available in Eritrea.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 122244 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).

Foreign travel checklist

Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.

Travel safety

The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.

When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.

Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.

Refunds and cancellations

If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.

For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Registering your travel details with us

We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.

Previous versions of FCDO travel advice

If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.

Further help

If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.