Bargaining is expected in markets and for contract (ie not shared) taxis. In most other situations, prices are fixed.
Dangers & Annoyances
Eritrea is a safe country for travellers, certainly one of the safest in Africa, but you should take the usual precautions, and keep up with government travel advisories.
- Be careful of discussing sensitive topics with locals you don't know well; being overheard by the wrong ears can land both of you in trouble.
- When travelling throughout the country be aware of conditions on winding rural roads, and try to avoid driving at night.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on travel in Eritrea:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- US State Department (https://travel.state.gov)
The country's electric grid is subpar, and at the time of writing, rolling blackouts affected the entire country; higher-end hotels and restaurants in Asmara often have generators, but outside of the capital there is often only electricity for a couple of hours per day. In rural regions, some villages are not connected to the national grid at all.
Embassies & Consulates
Australia, New Zealand and Ireland do not have diplomatic representation in Eritrea.
Italian Embassy Look for Villa Milloni on BDHO Ave, from which the consular entrance is up the small side street to the left.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Eritrea's country code||291|
Entry & Exit Formalities
While procedures at the border are not complicated when entering by air (a de facto requirement for most travellers while the travel permit system remains in place), the necessary visa formalities before arrival can be quite time consuming.
Items of historic or cultural importance may not be taken out of Eritrea under any circumstances.
Most foreign nationals require visas from the Eritrean embassy or consulate accredited to their home country before they depart from that country.
While citizens of Uganda and Kenya may visit visa-free and citizens of Sudan can obtain visas on arrival, all other foreign nationals require a valid visa to enter Eritrea. In the majority of cases visitors are required to apply at the embassy or consulate that is accredited to their place of residence, a process than can often take months between application and approval, but increasingly travellers report that tour agencies in Asmara are able to provide visa-on-arrival invitations with minimal fuss. Whichever route you decide to pursue, begin the process well before your travels begin.
- Handshakes Members of the same sex will shake hands when greeting one another, but men will usually wait for a woman to proffer her hand first.
- Right hand The left hand is traditionally considered unclean, and all public actions (handshakes, eating, offering an item to others) should be performed with the right hand.
- Dining Traditional Eritrean meals are generally eaten with the hands, though foreigners will often be offered cutlery. When eating from a communal dish, diners should take only the portion that is directly in front of them.
- Timeliness Notions of timeliness are more relaxed than in many countries, even in a business or professional context.
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Eritrea, and punishable by up to three years in prison. LGBT travellers visiting the country report that in practice the issue is rarely acknowledged or discussed, but in no circumstances would it be wise to bring attention upon oneself.
Accessing the internet has grown much easier in the past few years, and every small town seems to have at least one or two internet cafes. These will generally sell login details for set blocks of time (anywhere from 30 minutes to four or more hours) that are valid for a certain period, usually a few days.
However, speeds are stiflingly slow at best and downright unusable at worst. For the most part expect minutes or more to send a message on popular messaging apps, half an hour to upload even the smallest attachments, and device paralysis if by some chance you have a mandatory update.
A 2015 report by a UN special investigator of human rights described Eritrea as a police state where there is 'no rule of law'. Locals report that unofficial prisons are an open secret in the country, and numerous locals have stories of spending time in these places because of a misspoken criticism or poorly received joke at the administration's expense.
Travellers should take their personal security situation very seriously while travelling in Eritrea, and be aware that any illegal activity (including attempting to change currency outside the official exchange market) can be grounds for arrest.
Embassy staff are required to apply for travel permits 14 days or more in advance of travel, so particularly outside of greater Asmara it may be difficult or impossible for representatives of foreign governments to render assistance to their nationals in the event of an emergency situation or encounter with the law.
There are no international ATMs in Eritrea and credit cards aren't much use. Bring all the cash (US dollars get the best rates) you expect to need.
If you run short of funds there is a Western Union transfer at the Commercial Bank of Eritrea in Asmara.
The official exchange rate for Eritrean Nakfa (nfa) is set by the government. All banks, exchange kiosks and official hotel exchange bureaux are legally required to provide these official rates, and visitors are legally required to only change money at these rates.
While locals may approach travellers offering to exchange money at rates of nfa25 per US dollar or more, changing any money outside of official channels is a serious legal offence and can carry serious consequences, up to and including imprisonment.
Only very rarely will businesses accept credit cards, and as these payments must be processed through networks outside the country, they often incur surcharges of up to 5%.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping up to 10% of the bill is appreciated but not always expected in restaurants, and sometimes this will be included as a service charge. In smaller cafes rounding up a few nakfa is appropriate.
Most businesses and offices are open from 8am to 6pm, with a midday break between noon and 2pm for lunch at government offices and smaller businesses.
Banks 8am–noon and 2pm–6pm Monday to Friday
Bars and clubs 6pm–midnight Monday to Saturday
Government offices 8am–noon and 2pm–6pm Monday to Friday
Restaurants and cafes 7am–10pm
Shops 9am–noon and 2pm–7pm Monday to Saturday
Photography of government buildings and sensitive industrial locations (power plants, ports etc) is strictly prohibited. As a somewhat conservative culture, it's also courteous to ask before taking photos of people, particularly women in traditionally Islamic regions of the country.
Though slow, the main post office in Asmara is reliable. Expect to pay nfa10 per postcard to anywhere outside of Africa.
Eritrea observes the following national holidays:
Lidet (Orthodox Christian Christmas) 7 January
Timket (Orthodox Christian Epiphany) 19 January
Fenkil Day 10 February
Women's Day 8 March
Fasika (Orthodox Christian Easter) April/May
International Day of Workers 1 May
Independence Day 24 May
Martyr's Day 20 June
Revolution Day 1 September
Geez New Year 11 September
Discovery of the True Cross (Meskel) 27 September
Birth of the Prophet November/December
Christmas Day 25 December
- Smoking Permitted in most places in Eritrea, but very uncommon among the local population.
Taxes & Refunds
Taxes are included in marked prices, and no refunds system is in place for purchases made in the country by departing travellers.
Local calling is possible from numerous blue payphones around the major cities, but for international calling you'll do better to visit the Eritrea Telecom Building in Asmara. For either, an EriTel phone card is necessary, purchased from shops or directly from EriTel offices.
Procuring a local SIM card is nearly impossible for international visitors, and SIM cards from international providers will not connect to Eritrean networks.
Eritrea is on East Africa Time (GMT/UTC plus three hours), and does not use daylight savings time.
- There are very few public toilets, but most restaurants will let you duck in to use their facilities if you ask.
- Outside of Western-oriented hotels, most toilets are of the squat style.
Travel with Children
There are few facilities in place specifically to aid travellers with children, but the requirement to travel in private transport generally means that moving between destinations won't be any trouble. Aside from the main few streets of each city, most are not paved; don't count on moving around extensively with a pram.
Few or no facilities are in place in Eritrea to assist mobility-, visually- or hearing-impaired individuals. Come prepared with anything you'll need, and ideally with backup of the most essential items.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Since the Eritrean government expelled most international NGOs in the early 2000s, opportunities for formal volunteer projects in the country have been few. Check with the International Red Cross or UN bodies that still have representation in the country.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Women are guaranteed equal rights under Eritrea law, and female travellers should encounter no unusual difficulties.
Finding work in Eritrea at an international salary and benefits level is best done from outside the country, but choices are limited. Inquire directly with international organisations such as the Red Cross and UN bodies, embassies with local representation, and international schools that hire teachers from abroad.