Bargaining is normal (and expected) in all the markets, particularly in the capital, where the Arab influence from across the Red Sea is most felt. You should also haggle with the taxi drivers in the capital whose rates seem to fluctuate according to your nationality, naivety and negotiation skills.
Dangers & Annoyances
Djibouti is one of the safest destinations in Africa, partly because of the large Western military presence.
- Serious crime or hostility aimed specifically at travellers is very rare, and there’s no more to worry about here than in most other countries.
- In Djibouti City, take care in crowded areas and markets, as pickpockets may operate, and avoid walking on your own in the Quartier 1, immediately south of Les Caisses market.
- The risk of theft and pickpocketing diminishes considerably outside the capital.
- Note that Djibouti’s security services are sensitive and active. Remain polite and calm if questioned by police officers.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information for travellers.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade www.smartraveller.gov.au
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade www.voyage.gc.ca
- French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade www.safetravel.govt.nz
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
- US Department of State www.travel.state.gov
Djibouti uses 220V, 60Hz AC; plugs in general have two-round-pin plugs.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Djibouti does not use area codes.
|Djibouti's country code||253|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Djibouti is usually straightforward for visitors carrying a valid passport. Visas are available on arrival for most nationalities provided visitors have a letter of invitation from a local tour operator or a hotel.
There is no restriction on bringing in currency. Visitors may bring in the following amounts of duty-free items:
- up to 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco
- one bottle of alcohol
- one flask of perfume
You’ll need a valid passport and a visa to enter Djibouti. Disembarkation at the airport is usually simple. You'll be asked for a letter of invitation from a travel agent or a hotel in the country. Crossing at land borders is relatively easy, too, but be sure to have your passport stamped with an entry/exit stamp if you enter/leave the country.
All visitors, including French nationals, must have a visa to enter Djibouti.
Visas for Onward Travel
Ethiopia A one-month, single-entry visa costs DFr7200 (DFr12,600 for US nationals). You need to supply two photos. It takes 24 hours to process. Visas are also easily obtained at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.
Somaliland A one-month, single-entry visa costs DFr5600. You need to supply one photo and it's issued within 24 hours.
Tourist visas cost from US$50 to US$80 depending on where you apply, and are valid for one month. Visas can be obtained at the nearest Djibouti embassy (including Addis Ababa if you’re in the Horn). Some embassies are easier to deal with than others.
Travellers from most Western countries can also obtain a single-entry tourist visa on arrival at the airport, but you'll need a letter of invitation from a sponsor – a local tour operator or a hotel. Be sure to arrange it a few days prior to arrival. If you're travelling with a tour company they will take care of this for you. The visa costs €55 for three days and €80 for one month. Payment can also be made in US dollars.
You must have a valid visa to enter overland as none are available at borders. That said, travellers coming from Somaliland have reported having been allowed to purchase their visa at the Loyaada border for €80 or the equivalent in US dollars.
- Greetings Greetings are an important formality in Djibouti and should not be overlooked, even for something as simple as exchanging money or asking directions. As such, learning some greetings in French or Arabic ('salaam aleikum') will smooth the way considerably.
- Clothing As in all Muslim countries, it's greatly appreciated if women dress conservatively.
- Djiboutian time Impatience will get you nowhere in Djibouti, where time flows with the tides.
- Photographing people Always respect the wishes of locals. Ask permission to photograph if a candid shot can't be made and don't insist or snap a picture anyway if permission is denied.
- Bargaining Haggling over the price of goods is ok in markets.
Although homosexuality is not illegal per se in Djibouti, it's severely condemned by both traditional and religious cultures, and remains a topic of absolute taboo. Although gay locals obviously exist, they behave with extreme discretion and caution. Gay and lesbian travellers are advised to do likewise.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies specifically exclude dangerous activities, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even hiking. Always check the small print and make sure that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home. If you plan on diving, we strongly recommend purchasing dive-specific insurance with DAN (www.diversalertnetwork.org).
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
- There are a couple of internet cafes in Djibouti City. Outside the capital, internet cafés are virtually nonexistent.
- Wireless is widespread and free in most hotels in Djibouti City.
- Connection is fairly good by Western standards.
Possession and use of drugs – with the exception of chat – is strictly illegal and penalties are severe. So don’t think about bringing anything over the borders or buying it while you’re here.
Djibouti's security services are sensitive and active. There is no reason why travellers should attract the attention of the police, but if it happens, it's usually pretty harmless information gathering. Police, military and immigration officials are generally courteous and calm. In your dealings with officialdom, you should always make every effort to be patient and polite in return.
If you find yourself in a sticky legal predicament, contact your embassy.
The best map is the 1:200,000 Djibouti map published in 2004 by the IGN (French Institut Géographique National; www.ign.fr).
Newspapers The most widely read newspaper is La Nation (www.lanation.dj), published weekly in French.
TV Radiodiffusion Television Djibouti (RTD) broadcasts news and sports. Programs are in Somali, Afar, Arab and French. Most top-end hotels also offer satellite TV.
ATMs in Djibouti City only. Credit cards accepted in top-end hotels.
- The unit of currency is the Djibouti franc (DFr). Coins are in denominations of DFr1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. Notes are available in DFr1000, 2000, 5000 and 10,000.
- All the ATMs in Djibouti City accept Visa. ATMs accepting MasterCard are harder to find.
- Visa credit cards are accepted at some upmarket hotels and shops, and at some larger travel agencies and airline offices. Some places levy a commission of about 5% for credit-card payment.
- There are many banks and a couple of authorised foreign exchange bureaux in the capital. Outside the capital, banking facilities are almost nonexistent.
- The euro and the US dollar are the favoured hard currencies; euros and dollars in cash and an ATM card – preferably Visa – are the way to go.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Service charges are generally included in the bill and tipping is not normally expected.
- Hotels DFr200 per bag is standard.
- Restaurants For decent service 5% to 10%.
- Guides/drivers DFr2000 per person per day.
- Car parks It's a good idea to tip the men who watch (and sometimes clean) your car. A tip of around DFr250 is appropriate.
The following are common business hours in Djibouti. Friday is the weekly holiday for offices and most shops.
Banks 7.30am–12.30pm and 4-6pm Sun–Thur
Government offices 8am–12.30pm and 4–6pm Sat–Thur
Restaurants Breakfast 6.30am–8am, lunch 11.30am–2.30pm, dinner 6.30–10pm
Shops and businesses Typically 7.30am–1.30pm and 4–6.30pm Sat–Thur
The cost for a letter is DFr170 to Europe and DFr190 to North America or Australia.
As well as Islamic holidays, which change dates every year, the following are the principal public holidays in Djibouti:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Labour Day 1 May
Independence Day 27 June
Christmas Day 25 December
- Smoking Prohibited in indoor public places, at workplaces and on public transport; allowed in restaurants, on beaches and in most hotel rooms.
Taxes & Refunds
A sales tax is levied on most goods and services (but not in the tourism sector), but it's included in the prices quoted. It's not possible for visitors to claim a refund of sales tax paid on goods.
- When phoning Djibouti from abroad, you’ll need to dial the international code for Djibouti (253), followed by the 10-digit local number. There are no area codes.
- Mobile numbers start with 77; landline numbers start with 21 or 27.
- International and local calls are best made from the post office or from one of the numerous phone shops (look for the cabine telephonique signs).
GSM network through Djibouti Telecom; international roaming and local SIM cards available.
- Mobile-phone coverage is pretty good across Djibouti.
- Depending on which mobile network you use at home, your phone may or may not work while in Djibouti: ask your mobile network provider.
- If you have a GSM phone and it has been 'unlocked', you can use a local SIM card (DFr1000) purchased from Djibouti Telecom.
- You can buy credit at some shops in the form of scratch cards (DFr500 to DFr5000).
Djibouti is on GMT plus three hours. When it’s noon in Djibouti City, it’s 9am in London, 10am in Paris, 4am in New York and 8pm in Sydney. Djibouti does not operate a system of daylight saving; being close to the equator, its sunset and sunrise times vary only slightly throughout the year.
- There are two main types of toilet: Western sit-down, with a bowl and a seat; and African squat, with a hole in the ground. Standards vary tremendously.
- There are no public toilet facilities, but you can use the toilets in hotels or restaurants.
The Office National du Tourisme de Djibouti (ONTD; www.visitdjibouti.dj) is the only tourist-information body in Djibouti. It has one tourist office in the capital. Tour agencies are also reliable sources of travel information.
Information for travellers is hard to come by outside the country. In Europe, contact Association Djibouti Environnement Nomade, which functions as a kind of tourist office abroad. Run by Dominique Lommatzsch, a French national, it promotes sustainable tourism and can help with bookings in the campements touristiques.
Travel with Children
- Many important facilities for children, such as cots in hotels, safety seats in 4WDs, and highchairs in restaurants, are almost totally lacking.
- Items such as nappies, baby food and mineral water are easily available in the well-stocked Western supermarkets (but are between two to three times their normal price) in Djibouti City.
- For youngsters, snorkelling with whale sharks (between November and January) is a sure-fire hit. For kids, visiting the Decan, a small wildlife refuge, can be fun. Near Tadjourah, Plage des Sables Blancs is also a great place for families.
People with limited mobility will have a difficult time travelling around Djibouti, as there are very few facilities here and much of the country can be an obstacle course. Along streets and footpaths, kerbs and uneven surfaces will often present problems for wheelchair users, and only a handful of upmarket hotels and restaurants have installed ramps and railings. Also, getting to and around any of the campements touristiques will be extremely difficult given their remote and wild locations.
It is also worth bearing in mind that almost any destination in Djibouti will require a long trip in a 4WD.
Outside the odd humanitarian program, there is little volunteer work available in Djibouti. One option is Decan, an animal-rescue centre south of Djibouti City.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
There are very few work opportunities in Djibouti for travellers. Possible exceptions include jobs in the hotel industry (mostly at management level) and jobs for experienced divers at the country's only dive centre.
If you are looking for work, you will need to contact prospective employers directly and they should be able to advise on the necessary visa requirements.