How we got our Ethiopian Visa

Out of all the rainy days we had in Nairobi, there was one sunny one and we spent it inside the Ethiopian Embassy trying to get our 3 month visas. Our original Africa route included Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, but we had heard from various travellers that this visa is really hard to get and most people send their passports home, which was not an option for us. So, because of this we had already decided to drive the west coast until we arrived in Nairobi and talked to two travellers from the UK who had just gotten their Ethiopian Visa! Hearing this we looked at each other and decided: let’s give it a try then! If they just got it then how difficult can it be?… From the UK Overland travellers we got a list of things they needed for their application: a letter from your embassy, an itinerary, why you are applying for the visa in Nairobi and not in your home country, a list of countries you have visited in Africa + the ones you are planning to visit and a bank statement. Luckily, the Dutch embassy in Nairobi gives out a letter, which not all embassies do apparently (for all the Dutchies: make an appointment online!!). Ours simply said: […] Regretfully, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is not in a position to issue a certificate in support of voluntary visa applications. […] The visa office from the Ethiopian embassy is open from 9.00am – 12.00pm. We arrived a little after 10 o’clock and it wasn’t that busy when we got there. We were seated and after 5 minutes we were directly called into the Head Consul’s office. This is a stern looking lady (with tattoos on her forehead, neck and arms) who is clearly in charge and does not joke around.  She glanced over the papers we gave her, looked into our passports, found out that we don’t have Kenyan citizenship and simply said that we need to fly home to apply for a visa. We explained that we haven’t been home for 2,5 years, are not planning to go home and would like to apply here. She answered that she does not have the authority to give us the visa and that we needed to talk to the Ambassador. So, we walked around the block to the entrance of the Ethiopian Embassy and explained to the security officer that we needed to see the ambassador. She called someone, handed us the phone through the bars of her little office, and I talked to a receptionist telling me that the ambassador was out of town and that we should come back next week……Well, we weren’t planning on hanging around busy Nairobi that long! We walked back to the visa office and explained to the head consul that we tried to talk to the ambassador, but that he is not in and we are not here for another week. Was there another way, we asked her? Apparently not and within a minute we were standing outside again. We felt defeated and didn’t really know what to do next when a business man from the UK who had overheard our conversation with the head consul started talking to us. We explained our problem and he simply said: “I would just walk around to the Embassy building again if I were you and tell them you want to speak to the Deputy Ambassador. He should be in when the Ambassador is not and tell them you’re not leaving until you talk to him.”Since we didn’t really have any other ideas we decided to give his a advice a try and a few minutes later we were on the phone again with the secretary through the bars of the security office. She still wouldn’t let us in and we told we would just wait here then until we could. Five minutes later, the big steel door opened and we were told to come in. The deputy ambassador was a very friendly gentleman who was really interested in what we do and we talked to him for about 20 minutes about Ethiopia, our travel plans and where we had been so far. He told us he had no problem with approving our visas and he wrote something down (in Amharic) on our letters from the Dutch embassy. Elated we walked out of his office and quickly realized that we had about 3 minutes to walk around the block again before the Visa Office closes at 12 o’clock! We ran, knocked on the door at 12.01 and were told to come back at 14.00…… Allright, we needed to have lunch anyway and dealing with the Head Consul is not something to do on an empty stomach.Back at 14.00 we were the only ones there and she didn’t look too thrilled to see us. We gave her the letters that said she should give us a visa and she said: “He didn’t sign his name”  What? He didn’t sign? How should we have known this? It was written in Amharic! She clearly wanted us to turn around and admit defeat, but we just said that she should either call him to confirm or we would walk around again and have him sign it ourselves. She didn’t like both of those options and had someone walk to his office to have it signed instead.When our papers came back she wanted to know which countries we were going to visit next. We told her that we would visit Uganda and Rwanda first before heading to Ethiopia (big mistake) and she told us that we could apply for a visa in Uganda.  Our reasons for applying in Nairobi were that if we got a 3 month visa for Ethiopia, it would give us enough time to drive around Lake Victoria before going to Ethiopia and we needed to be sure that we would have the visa, because if we would not get it we would not come back to Kenya. She didn’t really understand our reasoning and said: “I can only give you a one month visa and if you visit Uganda and Rwanda first you will not have enough time.”  Yes, we do understand that, but we want a 3 month visa! She told us that she could not grant us a 3 month visa and this is when Rinus’ theater school training became useful: for approx. 5 minutes he gave an intense speech as to why she should give us a three month visa, ending in: if you don’t issue it we will go back to the Deputy Ambassador, because we know he will grant it. Exasperated, she sighed, and said: “ok, fill out the forms.” We grabbed the forms and walked out of the office before she could change her mind. By now it was almost 15.30 and she “kindly” informed us that the bank closes at 16.00 and that in order to get our visas we should hurry to make the payment. The Ethiopian Visa is not paid at the visa office itself (for corruption reasons) , but instead you have to go to a CBA bank (close to the Serena Hotel, a 15-10 minute drive from the Visa Office), with a piece of paper that says the account number and amount. Here you can pay the 60 USD for 1 visa in Kenyan Shillings (cash!) and in return you get a receipt that says you have paid which you give to the Consul. While Rinus found a motorbike driver to take him to the bank, I struggled to get a contact person for the random Backpackers in Addis I filled out in our papers. She insisted that she needed a first and last name of a contact person at the Hotel and that Mr. Martin (the name of the owner of Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place) was not enough information. Since this information was no where to be found and even calling to Ethiopia did not work, I finally filled out the details for the Dutch Ambassador in Ethiopia and that was good enough.  With our filled our forms and the payment slips we went into the office again and presented everything. The only thing she still needed was a copy of the passports. No problem! I always have……shit, I just got a new passport in Tanzania and hadn’t had time to make copies of it yet. Not really a problem since they have a copy machine there, but they charge 20 shillings for one copy and Rinus had exactly 14 shillings left after he paid for the visas earlier…  Obviously, she gave us a hard time over those 6 shillings and in the end Rinus had to run outside and ask his motorcycle driver (who he also hadn’t paid yet) to lend him some shillings which he did with a smile! With all the paperwork done all we had to do was wait. The Head Consul left, we smiled and wished her a pleasant day, while one of her minions wrote us our valuable 3 month visas, starting today.———————-Bring:Letter from your embassy (!! most important document, without it you will not get a visa !!). Explaining your travel and why you apply in Nairobi and not in your homecountry. We added a world map of where we have been and where we are planning to go.Itinerary for your travel through Ethiopiabankstatement (no one asked for it, but we put it among the papers anyway). List of countries you have visited and are going to visit after Ethiopia. Make sure you let them know you go to Ethiopia straight after Kenya. Contact name, address and number for a person in Ethiopia (someone from a hotel or your ambassador works). 1 photo. Enough Kenyan shillings to pay the visa.

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