Phone & SIM card rental in Addis Ababa

Mr. Feleg Tsegaye, President of ArifMobile, writes:

I run a travel startup based in Addis Ababa that works to connect travelers to local information in Ethiopia during their stay.   Right now we’re providing SIM card rentals to travelers as I work on establishing the hotline and train up the representatives and I’ve been working on raising awareness in the meantime.  Since Ethiopia’s telecom industry is dominated by a state-owned monopoly, customer service isn’t one of their strong suits and the process of getting a SIM card can take much longer for the uninitiated. Contact details are: +251-912-613-918, ftsegaye@arifmobile.com

Addis Ababa updates

– British Council has moved to near British Embassy, no longer has internet and newspapers, etc. for the public

– Several internet cafes and a few normal cafes now offer wifi; examples are Lime Tree on Bole road and Bon Café, right nearby. If transferring data from computers in internet cafes to laptops, users should make sure to have excellent antivirus software installed!

– Blue Tops has closed.

– ATMs accepting international credit cards now include Wagagen (sp?), which is in many of the large shopping centres on Bole and near Bole Medalem; the number of Dashen ATMs has also grown considerably

– SIM cards can be easily purchased throughout the city for 60ETB; 2 photographs (passport-sized) and a photocopy of ID are all that are required

– The Women Fuelwood Carrier’s Shop has moved to be nearer Entoto


Lots of general travel tips

Official guides – reasonably knowledgeable, but rarely needed
Unofficial guides – relatively ignorant, but sometimes needed to get rid of other “guides”, kids etc
Tour operators – they do a good job with providing transportation, food and accommodation, but don’t expect them to know everything about the places they’re taking you to – Bradt guide is your best friend!

Go for Bradt’s Budget options if you can afford those rather than the Shoestring ones. A good insecticide is recommended for all accommodations before settling in for the night. Insecticide will get rid of mossies and roaches, but offers limited protection against fleas and bed bugs.

SIM card
Available at post offices, just have a copy of your passport ready to hand over and say (if asked) that you have the residency visa (not the tourist one). Try another post office if the initial one won’t sell the SIM card if they find out you’re only a tourist, or try Western Union office inside the same post office – worked for me, third time lucky.

Using the dial up internet in Ethiopia can be a very frustrating experience. It could take up to 10 mins for the page to download and you can easily spend one hour in order to send one e-mail only. Do not rely on internet if you have to do any research eg shopping for plane tickets as their internet cannot cope with the Opodo and Expedia ads etc. The easiest way to communicate with your nearest and dearest outside of Ethiopia is by SMS. See above on how to get SIM card. Internet is surprisingly OK at some locations eg. Bahir Dar, Axum, Harar and Addis Ababa Sheraton.

Domestic flights on Ethiopian are very cheap, don’t forget to mention if you flew with Ethiopian internationally so you qualify for 20% discount (I think). You will have to re-confirm your flight!

Flying on Ethiopian internationally is a different matter. One way flights are only EUR1 cheaper than the return ones. 1 hour flight (and back) to Djibuti costs around EUR 200 – it could be cheaper to fly to London and back than from Addis to Entebe or Nairobi! I guess there are not many business class pax to African destinations so everyone pays the fixed, full price economy fare? 

VOA for certain countries available at Bole Airport: 1 month single entry visa. Extensions available at the Immigration Office in Addis, but be prepared to wait or to come back tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow or 2 days before the original visa expires etc – it all depends of the officer on duty.

Bradt Guide will keep you amused, informed and entertained as it is amazingly well written – you’ll learn much more than where to find a clean, cheap hotel or where to have a tasty injera. It’s one of the best travel guides I’ve had on my travels. Also, “The Barefoot Emperor: An Ethiopian Tragedy” by Philip Marsden will give you some insights about the unique history and culture of Ethiopia. You can see the replica of Sevastopol, Tewodoros II gun, in Tewodoros Sq in Addis.

Taxis – roughly Birr 10 per 1km, add Birr 10 to and from the Bole International

Bajaj (tuk tuk) – roughly Birr 1 per person per 1 km

Goran Jovetic, London, UK

Various updates

Habesha Kitfo restaurant in Gondar has apparently has been closed for a while.
A good place for Shiro tegabino  (or tagamino, not sure what is the correct transcription of this one, but the dish itself is my absolute favourite) is the Lucy restaurant next to the National Museum in Addis,  a very popular place with great food, a bit more upmarket, but still very affordable and while it is new, I think it may be more than a year old.
In Harar, two traditional Harari houses serve as B&Bs and are situated inside the walled city. One is managed by a lady called Rewda and the other by her sister. Prices are 250 to 300 birr per room with breakfast and usually a private bathroom. You can sit inside the traditional house, with all the decoration inside, it is really an interesting experience.


According to a friend of mine from Addis, SIM cards can now be bought for just over 100 birr. The red zebra that you mention in the guidebook is a very expensive deal compared to that. Also they will fail to inform you that if you come from addis to Lalibela during XMas you will not be able to get connection because of the saturation of the network, so no point in renting the phone for all that time. Apparently there is a trick where by you should turn off you phone when you leave addis and only turn it on once you are in lalibela, much more likely to get network that way. 

Dr Liza Debevec