Entering Ethiopia by air is painless, including if you have to pick up your visa upon arrival at Bole International Airport.
Ethiopian border officials at land crossings are more strict. While official Ethiopian visa rules suggest that visas can be obtained on arrival, in practice, they're only available for those who arrive at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport by air. What that means is that you must have a valid visa to enter overland as none are available at borders. Those entering with vehicles should have all the necessary paperwork and expect a lengthier process.
There’s no limit to the amount of currency that can be brought in, but no more than Birr100 can be exported and imported. You may import 2L of spirits and 200 cigarettes or 100 cigars duty-free.
Most visitors flying into Addis Ababa can either obtain an e-visa beforehand (www.evisa.gov.et) or acquire a one-month visa upon landing (US$50). If arriving by land, you must obtain a visa at an embassy in advance.
At the time of writing the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi was only issuing visas to Kenyan citizens or residents, a situation that has remained unchanged for a few years. Not a major problem if flying from Nairobi to Addis, where most people can get one on arrival, but a real pain for overland travellers. If coming overland, plan accordingly and get one elsewhere in Africa. Note also that Ethiopian visas are not available at the Moyale border crossing.
If travelling north to south across Africa then the good news is that visas were being issued without much fuss in Khartoum.
The above information is likely to change, so double check in advance. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree) is good for up-to-date information.
In theory a yellow-fever vaccination certificate is mandatory, as is a vaccination against cholera if you’ve transited through a cholera-infected area within six days prior to your arrival in Ethiopia. These are rarely checked, but you probably wouldn’t want to risk it.
All important documents (passport data page and visa page, credit cards, travel insurance policy, air/bus/train tickets, driving licence etc) should be photocopied. Leave one copy with someone at home and keep another with you, separate from the originals.
Be aware that visa regulations can change. The Ethiopian embassy in your home country is the best source of up-to-date information.
Bring US$125 (48-hour service) or US$150 (24-hour service), a hotel reservation, a plane or bus ticket out of the country, and one passport photo to the Djibouti Embassy early in the morning and you’ll usually have it by the next day. Visas can also be obtained on arrival at the airport in Djibouti.
The Somaliland Embassy produces one-/two-month tourist visas for US$40/60. It requires two passport photos and it’s issued while you wait.
South Sudan is not used to tourists, and, boy, can you tell that when you go to its embassy. No-one in the embassy seems too sure of what's required, so just in case bring along with you proof of sufficient funds, a letter stating the purpose of your visit, two photos and US$100. In addition you may be required to supply a letter from your home employer and they may ask you to attend an interview. Once you’ve done all that, one-month visas are issued in 72 hours.
The Kenyan Embassy charges US$50 for three-month tourist visas. Two passport photos are required. Applications are taken in the morning only, with visas ready the following afternoon. Visas are also easily obtained at the Moyale border and at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
Unless you’re using the services of a registered Sudanese tour company, then obtaining a tourist visa at the Sudanese Embassy is mission impossible.
Instead, apply for a transit visa, which is valid for one month from date of issue and allows up to two weeks in Sudan from the date of entry. Transit visas are relatively easy to obtain, but you will require: an onward visa for Egypt, two photos and, for most nationalities, US$100 cash. Americans, you get to pay US$200. It normally takes a day to issue.