Eritrea

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Monday, 04 August 2014.   It has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. We continue to advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Eritrea due to the unpredictable security situation and the restrictions imposed by local authorities on travel within Eritrea.

Eritrea overall

Regions bordering Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti

Summary

  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Eritrea due to the unpredictable security situation and the restrictions imposed by local authorities on travel within Eritrea.
  • If you do decide to travel to Eritrea, you should exercise extreme caution. You should avoid all demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent and closely monitor media for information on events and developments that may affect your security and safety.
  • We strongly advise you not to travel to all border regions due to ongoing conflict and instability between Eritrea and the neighbouring countries of Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
  • All foreign nationals, including Australian consular officials, must obtain permits to travel out of the capital, Asmara. If you do travel outside of Asmara and encounter difficulties, the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular services, including emergency assistance, may be limited.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Eritrea. The Australian Embassy in Cairo provides consular assistance to Australians in Eritrea. There have been recent incidents where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals. Travellers should be aware that the Australian government may not be able to provide timely consular assistance in case of detention.
  • See also our advice for business travellers.
  • Given the dangerous security situation in Eritrea, we strongly recommend that you register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Eritrea for the most up-to-date information.

Exit permits are required to leave Eritrea. Obtaining these permits can be time consuming and may ultimately be denied. The Australian Government cannot influence the Eritrean Immigration Department to issue exit permits if problems are encountered.

Foreign nationals must pay a departure tax unless they hold a valid Eritrean resident permit. Payment is required in US dollars. You should seek advice from local authorities about the cost of the departure tax as the amount may change.

A valid yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if arriving in Eritrea from an area where yellow fever is present. South African authorities require travellers from yellow fever risk countries, including Eritrea, to show proof of yellow fever vaccination. Failure to produce a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate may result in being placed in quarantine or refused entry.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and Security

Terrorism

There is a low threat from terrorism in Eritrea.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

In planning your activities, consider the kind of places known to be terrorist targets and the level of security provided. Possible targets include government and military interests, clubs, restaurants, bars, schools, places of worship, outdoor recreation events, markets, public transport and tourist areas. Airports and aircraft are also possible targets.

Civil unrest/political tension

We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Eritrea at this time due to the restrictions imposed by local authorities on moving around the country and the risk of sudden instability and violence.

On 23 December 2009 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution imposing sanctions against Eritrea in response to the ongoing border dispute with Djibouti, as well as Eritrea’s support to armed groups in Somalia. Anti-sanctions protests have occurred in Eritrea. You should avoid all demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent and closely monitor media for information on events and developments that may affect your security and safety.

Border with Ethiopia: We strongly advise you not to travel to the disputed border area between Eritrea and Ethiopia, including the town of Barentu, because of the extremely dangerous security situation, the risk of violence and bomb attacks, the presence of landmines and the risk of kidnapping. In March 2012, Ethiopian military forces conducted operations inside Eritrea. They advanced into Eritrea before withdrawing back across the border.

A peace agreement signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000 is yet to be fully implemented and the border is heavily militarised and remains closed. Political tensions remain high and both sides are on heightened alert. Hostilities could escalate at any time. There are no direct flights between the two countries. See also our travel advice for Ethiopia.

Border with Sudan: We strongly advise you not to travel to the regions bordering Sudan, including the town of Teseney, because of the dangerous security situation. There is a high risk of banditry and insurgent activity, including bomb attacks. You should not attempt to cross the disputed border with Sudan as all checkpoints remain closed. See also our travel advice for Sudan.

Border with Djibouti: We strongly advise you not to travel to the border with Djibouti, including the port of Assab. There were military clashes between Eritrea and Djibouti in June 2008 and the situation remains unresolved. You should monitor local information sources for current security information.

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.

For more information about kidnapping, see our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin.

Crime

Street crime is rare but does occur in cities and towns, including the capital, Asmara. There are reports of an increase in the incidence of crime.

Banditry is common near the Djibouti border and along the coast north of Massawa and on some rural roads. In October 2009, a local employee and two local contractors working for an Australian mining company were killed when their vehicle was attacked north of Keren.

Money and Valuables

The economy in Eritrea is cash-based and there are no ATMs. Credit cards are not accepted, except for in a limited number of hotels where use will incur significant additional service charges.

You must declare all foreign currency brought into Eritrea. While there is no limit on the amount that can be brought in, you may be asked to prove that you have the funds declared. On departure, you must prove that any missing foreign currency was exchanged at a branch of the state foreign currency exchange, Himbol. Failure to comply can result in prosecution.

It is illegal to exchange money anywhere other than at a Himbol branch. Some officially recognised hotels may accept foreign currency but otherwise it is illegal to use hard foreign currency in Eritrea. You should check with your hotel before travelling to determine what the best way to pay is.

Australians should review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe abroad.

Local travel

Travel permits: We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Eritrea due to travel restrictions imposed by local authorities. All foreign nationals are required to obtain permits to travel out of Asmara. Foreign nationals residing or working outside of Asmara also need a travel permit to go outside their normal area of work or residence. Applications are processed by the Department of Protocol in Asmara and Zonal Administration Offices (for foreign nationals living/working outside of Asmara). Australians should take these requirements into consideration when making travel plans as there may be delays in the issue of permits. Australian consular officials must apply for a permit to travel outside of Asmara ten days in advance of travelling.

If you do receive permission to travel outside of Asmara and encounter difficulties, the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular services, including emergency assistance, may be severely limited. There have been recent incidents where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals.

Heavy pedestrian, bicycle traffic and livestock pose hazards when driving.

Driving on main roads outside of border areas is generally safe, but rural roads and off-road driving can be dangerous. Avoid travel after dark in rural areas. There are paved roads between the cities of Asmara, Massawa, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Baretun and Keren. Roads leading to smaller villages are unsealed. Roads in mountainous regions and through the escarpment may not be well maintained. Narrow winding roads with crumbling edges often do not have safety barriers. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Public transport, particularly buses, is often overcrowded.

There are extensive unmarked minefields in Eritrea, particularly near the border with Ethiopia. Walking and hiking in rural areas can be dangerous.

Landline, mobile telephone and internet services are often unreliable and may only work for limited periods. Australian travellers should contact their telecommunication providers to check about international roaming.

Piracy: There is a high risk of piracy in the coastal areas of Eritrea. There have been attacks by pirates against all forms of shipping in and around Eritrea's waters and the Gulf of Aden. Pirates have been using mother ships to attack shipping further than 1,000 nautical miles (1,850km) from the coast of Somalia. All forms of shipping are attractive targets for Somali pirates, including commercial vessels, yachts and luxury cruise liners. We strongly advise Australians to maintain a high level of vigilance and to exercise extreme caution when anywhere near these waters.

For more information about piracy, see our piracy bulletin. The International Maritime Bureau issues piracy reports on its website.

Airline Safety

See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation incidents in Eritrea.

Please also refer to our air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Eritrea, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter. There have been recent incidents where the Eritrean authorities have refused consular access to detained foreign nationals. Travellers should be aware that the Australian government may not be able to provide timely consular assistance in case of detention.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include long prison sentences.

Homosexual acts are illegal. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Serious crimes may attract the death penalty. Serious crimes may also attract corporal punishment.

Taking photographs of government buildings and military installations is not allowed.

It is illegal to exchange money anywhere other than at a branch of the state foreign currency, Himbol. It is also illegal to use hard foreign currency in Eritrea.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

There are strict standards of dress and behaviour in Eritrea and you should take care not to offend. If in doubt, seek local advice.

Information for dual nationals

Eritrea does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Eritrean dual nationals who are arrested or detained.

Australian males who hold Eritrean citizenship may be required to undertake military service upon their return to Eritrea. Prior to travel, Eritrean/Australian dual nationals should seek advice from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Eritrea.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities in Eritrea are extremely limited, particularly outside Asmara. Medicines are often unavailable and can be extremely expensive. You should carry a comprehensive medical pack if you travel away from large towns. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation (at considerable expense) to a destination with appropriate facilities would be necessary.

It may take some time to adjust to the high altitude and low oxygen levels of Asmara and surrounds. If you suffer from heart ailments or high blood pressure, it is recommended you seek medical advice prior to travelling to this area.

Malaria occurs widely and throughout the year in Eritrea. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever and filariasis) are also a risk to travellers. We encourage you to take prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid insect bites including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, light-coloured clothing and ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, hepatitis, schistosomiasis, meningococcal disease and tuberculosis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

There have been ongoing outbreaks of polio in countries across the Horn of Africa. Travellers should ensure they have completed a primary course of polio vaccination and receive a booster dose prior to travel. If you are unsure of your polio vaccination status, check with your doctor or travel clinic at least eight weeks before you depart.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour provider, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the police in Eritrea on 12 77 99. (Travellers should be aware that emergency services and the telephone network in Eritrea are unreliable.)

If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

To contact the Australian Government for consular assistance in accordance with the Consular Services Charter, see contact details below:
Eritrean authorities have not always informed the relevant embassy when foreign nationals need consular assistance. You should consider this before travelling. Travellers should be aware that the Australian government may not be able to provide timely consular assistance in case of detention.

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Eritrea. You can obtain consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Cairo:

Embassy address and contact details:

Australian Embassy, Cairo

11th floor, World Trade Centre
1191 Corniche el Nil
Boulac, Cairo
EGYPT
Telephone: (20 2) 2770 6600
Facsimile: (20 2) 2770 6650
Website: www.egypt.embassy.gov.au

See the Embassy website for information about opening hours.

If you are travelling to Eritrea, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the above mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural Disasters, Severe Weather and Climate

Eritrea is in an active volcanic and earthquake zone. A major volcanic eruption in June 2011 led to the closure of Eritrean airspace for an extended period. Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

The rainy season runs from June to September. Unpaved roads in the western lowlands may become impassable.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.