Dangers & Annoyances
Somaliland was safe at the time of writing, and our on-the-ground research included Hargeisa, Las Geel, Berbera, Borama, Zeila, Tog Wajaale, Sheekh, Burao, Erigavo and Maydh. However, despite what officials claim, there is an element of uncertainty regarding the security situation. The Somalilanders have established law and order in their separatist territory, but as long as their unruly brothers from Puntland and Southern Somalia don’t settle for peace, there will be an element of risk – borders are not terrorist-proof. Prospective travellers should carefully monitor the situation before setting off. In late January 2013, after French troops liberated Saharan cities in northern Mali from fundamentalist rebels, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued an advice against all travel to Somaliland.
Although security has improved in previously high-risk areas such as the Sanaag province, check the situation locally before heading there. Travel in the Sool region is currently unsafe due to conflict in Puntland, which claims this province.
Organising a Police Escort
Independent travel is possible in Somaliland, but there are restrictions. Since the murder of three aid workers by Somali terrorists from Mogadishu in 2003, local authorities have taken the safety of Westerners very seriously, to the point of being overprotective. But no wonder: if foreigners were to encounter a ‘problem’, Somaliland’s diplomatic efforts to gain international recognition would be ruined. In fact, petty crime is almost unheard of and Somalilanders welcome travellers in their country.
In principle, foreigners are required to travel accompanied by a member of the Special Protection Unit (SPU) outside Hargeisa, whether you travel on public transport or private car with driver. If you don’t have a soldier with you, you’ll be turned back at checkpoints. That said, this rule is ambiguous and erratically enforced, as local authorities seem to change policies on a regular basis. At the time of research, we were told that foreigners are permitted to travel without an SPU officer between Hargeisa, Berbera, Burao and Borama, and between Hargeisa and the Ethiopian and Djiboutian borders. In theory, you are allowed to use public transport between these towns. However, prior to leaving Hargeisa, it’s a good idea to meet the Police Commissioner Secretary at the Somaliland Police Force Headquarters, who will either issue a waiver letter on the spot or give a call to the soldiers at checkpoints so that they let you through. If you don’t have an escort or a waiver letter, you might be turned back at checkpoints.
For all parts of the country east of Burao, you must have SPU protection (two armed soldiers, though one may be considered enough – again, check the situation with the Somaliland Police Force Headquarters) and travel in a private vehicle. It also helps at checkpoints if you have an official form from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Tourism that lists all the places you intend to visit in the country.
All hotels can arrange SPU protection. It costs about US$20 per day for a soldier, plus food. Having a soldier can sometimes be fun, and soldiers can also act as interpreters and de facto guides. It’s a good idea to buy a few bunches of chat (leaf chewed as a stimulant) to facilitate things at the various checkpoints.
Keep your ears to the ground and seek local advice before setting off.
Electricity is 220V, 50Hz, with square three-pin sockets as used in the UK.
Embassies & Consulates
The only official foreign representation in Somaliland is the Ethiopian Liaison Office, which acts as a de facto embassy. It’s not signed; it’s on a backstreet not far from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Tourism.
Somaliland Liaison Offices abroad include the following:
Entry & Exit Formalities
- You will need a visa to enter Somaliland. Visas are not issued at the airport.
- The most convenient place to get a visa is Addis Ababa. They are issued while you wait through the Somaliland Liaison Office and cost US$40 for a one-month visa. Visas can also be obtained in Djibouti, the UK, the USA and France; visa fees cost about US$40, although requirements tend to vary arbitrarily from one Liaison Office to another (US$80 in the USA).
- Another option is to go through a local sponsor, such as the Oriental Hotel, the Ambassador Hotel or the Maan-soor Hotel. Email them the (scanned) ID pages of your passport and give them at least three days to organise the visa. They will email a visa certificate back to you as an attached document. Print it and present it upon arrival at the airport (or at any land border). Note that this is a certificate; the original visa should have been deposited at the immigration office at the airport (or at the border post, if you arrive by land) by your sponsor. In many cases your sponsor will be waiting for you at the airport with the original visa. If you plan to enter Somaliland at Tog Wajaale (from Ethiopia), ask your sponsor to send the original visa to the Somaliland border post (your sponsor will put it in an envelope and give it to a reputable taxi driver heading to Tog Wajaale). Hotels charge US$20 to US$50 for the service, and expect that you spend a couple of nights with them.
Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Tourism
It helps at checkpoints if you have an official form from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Tourism that lists all the places you intend to visit in the country (be extensive). For Las Geel, Zeila and all travel east of Burao, this form is mandatory. Get there in the morning, fill in the form, fork out US$25 and it’s issued on the spot. It’s on a side street near Imperial Hotel.
Visas for Onward Travel
The Ethiopian Liaison Office can issue Ethiopian visas. You’ll need two photos, US$20 and a letter from the Immigration Department Office Headquarters, though this letter is not always required by the Ethiopian officer. The whole process should take less than a day provided you arrive early in the morning.
* It’s worth checking with your insurance company if you’re covered in case of emergency while travelling around Somaliland.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Establishments with wireless are identified in reviews here with a [wifi]icon.
- Internet cafes can be found in all major towns.
- An increasing number of hotels, including budget and midrange places, have complimentary wi-fi.
- Connection speeds vary from pretty good to acceptable.
- Somaliland’s currency is the Somaliland shilling (SISh). There are bills of SISh500 and SISh1000.
- Your best bet is to carry considerable amounts of US dollars (vastly preferable to euros) that can be exchanged for shillings in hotels, shops and bureaux de change; payment in US dollars is accepted everywhere. Bring a good stash of smaller denomination bills.
- At the time of writing one ATM was being installed in Hargeisa, and there were plans to introduce more ATMs in the city. Don’t get too excited, though – there’s no guarantee that they will work with foreign credit cards; check while in Hargeisa.
- There’s no chance of changing your travellers cheques.
- If you need to wire money, you’ll find Dahabshiil, Western Union and WorldRemit offices in Hargeisa.
US$1 = SISh6500
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
The following are common business hours in Somaliland; exceptions are noted in individual reviews. Friday is the weekly holiday for offices and most shops.
Banks 7.30am to 12.30pm and 4pm to 6pm Saturday to Thursday
Businesses 7.30am to 1.30pm and 4pm to 6.30pm Saturday to Thursday
Government offices 8am to 12.30pm and 4pm to 6pm Saturday to Thursday
Restaurants breakfast from 6.30am, lunch from 11.30am, dinner 6.30pm to 9pm
As well as major Islamic holidays, these are the principal public holidays in Somaliland:
Restoration of Somaliland Sovereignty 18–19 May
Independence Day 26 June
- The international dialling code for Somaliland is +2522.
- There are several private telephone companies including Telesom and Somtel in Somaliland.
- International telephone calls made from Somaliland are the cheapest in Africa (less than US$0.20 per minute).
- Mobile-phone coverage is good and being continuously expanded as new phone towers are built. Mobile-phone users can use their phones in Somaliland. If you have a GSM phone that is unlocked you can purchase a new SIM card from any Telesom or Somtel branch – this gives you a local number to call from and is much cheaper in the long run compared to global roaming.
We’ve unearthed a number of locally run programs. There’s no language barrier – English is the lingua franca. Male and female volunteers are welcome. Board and lodging are provided but you’ll have to pay for your international airfares.
All the people we met told us they could ensure the safety of volunteers, but it’s wise to review the local security situation before settling in.
Edna Adan Hospital The best-resourced hospital in Hargeisa (and Somaliland) welcomes health professionals, including general practitioners, gynaecologists, paediatric surgeons, midwives, pharmacists, radiologists and microbiologists. Students are accepted if they’ve completed at least four years of study.
University of Hargeisa With 3400 students in 2009, the University of Hargeisa is quickly expanding. Foreign lecturers in law (with a specialisation in constitution law, judiciary reform, civil law systems and civil procedures) are in hot demand. One semester minimum.
Havoyoco The Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (Havoyoco) is an NGO that was founded in 1992 in Hargeisa. Its objectives include raising awareness on social issues (such as HIV or family life education through an itinerant circus in remote settlements), capacity building and youth training (especially street children who were members of militia). Volunteers who can train youth in masonry, carpentry, cooking, sewing and mechanics are welcome. Minimum three months.
Sheekh Secondary School The small town of Sheekh is a major educational centre, and a welcoming place where you’ll quickly be made to feel at home. There’s a shortage of teachers in the following subject matters: English, biology, chemistry, history and geography. Pupils are from 10 to 22 years old.
Sheekh Technical Veterinary School Somaliland is heavily reliant on livestock farming for its foreign exchange earnings and needs more professionals to sustain livestock export and meet the demands of the livestock industry, especially livestock product inspection and animal health. The state-of-the-art Sheekh Technical Veterinary School seeks volunteers in the following fields: veterinary epidemiology, quality management, food safety and standards and library management. Minimum one semester.
Abaarso Tech Founded in 2008, this nonprofit secondary school located in a village about 18km outside of Hargeisa admits the top 1% of 8th grade students in Somaliland. Welcomes volunteers in the following fields: English, maths, science and computer science. No minimum stay required.
Weights & Measures