Changing leftover birr in Addis Ababa

Charles writes:

I have just returned from a very enjoyable two-week group visit to Ethiopia. Your Bradt guide was an excellent companion and very useful on both day-to-day matters and the history and culture of the country. This was my first time using a Bradt guide and I will definitely consider using them in future.
A problem I encountered on the last day involved attempting to change my remaining birr back into dollars. I had just over $20 worth. The Dashen Bank branch in the Ghion hotel, where I had originally obtained my birr, insisted on copies of my passport page and my return flight ticket. Staff said this was a central bank requirement.
I did have the original receipt for the purchase of birr and a copy of my passport page. I did not have a return ticket however, merely an electronic ticket locator number. That is all most travellers would have nowadays. This was not enough however. Anyway, staff said, their photocopier was out of action so even if I had had a ticket I could not have copied it. How convenient for them was that?
Two other travellers in my group had a similar experience and the intervention of our local guide had no effect. (One later managed to change her dollars with the hotel cashier.) We were told we could change our birr at the airport. However, the exchange office on the departures level at Bole Airport said it could not exchange birr for dollars. So I have come home with $20 worth of useless and very grubby birr.
At best this is bureaucratic incompetence, at worst a scam by either the bank or the government to hang on to any dollars travellers exchange. This may be a one-off but I think travellers should  be warned.

3 thoughts on “Changing leftover birr in Addis Ababa

  1. Alistair Nicoll says:

    It is very hard to exchange back unused Birr. Airport often say they have no $. Best options are to go to one of the 5 star hotels or failing that find a tourist who wants to do an exchange

  2. Trish Graham says:

    We had a similarly infuriating experience at the Ghion Hotel and again at the airport where we were directed to an exchange bureau at the arrivals hall which, conveniently, was just closing for 1.5 hours! Fortunately we happened upon an exchange facility just along the corridor from the Duty Free shopping area at Departures level where we were able to exchange our excess birr into USD (with a Euro option), albeit at a relatively poor rate. The moral of the story is don’t exchange more than you think you will need.. it’s far easier to exchange hard currency into birr than the reverse!

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