COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Eritrea is a poor East African country, the capital of which is Asmara. Formerly a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea became an independent country on May 24, 1993, following a 30-year struggle that culminated in an overwhelming referendum vote for independence. Tourism facilities are very limited. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Eritrea for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Eritrea, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
U.S. Embassy Eritrea
179 Alaa Street, PO Box 211, Asmara
Telephone: (291-1) 12-00-04
Facsimile: (291-1) 124-255 and (291-1) 127-584
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: You should have a passport and valid visa prior to arrival; visas are not generally available at the airport. Travelers visiting Eritrea using a foreign passport do not need an exit visa, provided they leave before the expiration of their entrance visa. Persons staying beyond the visa expiration date may be subject to fines or imprisonment, or be required to remain in Eritrea for an extended period while their case is reviewed in court. All long-term residents regardless of citizenship must obtain an exit visa prior to departure, unless they hold a difficult-to-obtain multiple entry visas. Upon entry and exit, visitors must declare all foreign currency, and may be asked to declare electronic equipment such as cameras, computers, and video equipment. Visitors must save all receipts for foreign exchange and present these upon departure to account for all foreign currency spent in Eritrea. Failure to report foreign currency or meet customs requirements usually results in both a fine and imprisonment. There is a $20 airport departure tax. With a valid local residence ID it is possible to pay in local currency; otherwise payment must be made in U.S. dollars. Information about the airport tax and entry/exit requirements is available from the Embassy of Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 319-1991; fax (202) 319-1304. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Eritrean embassy or consulate.
U.S. citizens born in Eritrea, to Eritrean parents, or who in any other way appear to have Eritrean origins, are required by the Government of Eritrea to register with the Immigration and Nationality office in Asmara within seven business days of their entry into the country. The Eritrean government sometimes subjects U.S. citizens of Eritrean heritage to the same entry/exit requirements as Eritrean citizens. See the “Special Circumstances” section below for more information about dual nationality.
HIV/AIDS restrictions: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Eritrea.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998-2000. United Nations peacekeepers patrolled the border until March 2008, when Government of Eritrea diesel fuel restrictions resulted in the peacekeepers’ withdrawal. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia maintain large military presences along the border and all border crossings into Ethiopia from Eritrea remain closed. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and to the Southern Red Sea region, including the port of Assab, as there have been military tensions in these areas.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious problem throughout the country. There are reports of accidents and incidents where vehicles and people occasionally detonate mines. Many detonations occurred on relatively well-traveled roads in and near the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea; subsequent investigations indicated that several mines were recently laid. In September 2011, press reported that a vehicle in Senafe, 60 miles south of Asmara, ran over a landmine, killing five persons and injuring the 34 others. Vast areas of the country still have not been certified free of mines and unexploded ordnance left over from both the 30-year war for independence and the subsequent 1998-2000 conflict with Ethiopia. U.S. citizens should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials have not certified as safe.
Although Eritrea and Sudan have diplomatic relations, the procedures for crossing their common border are variable and subject to change. Overland travel between the two countries is dangerous and ill-advised. Travelers crossing from Eritrea to Sudan north and west of the Keren-Barentu road risk becoming victims of banditry, kidnapping or insurgent activity. Numerous incidents have been reported since 2008, apparently involving insurgents or criminals in this area. The U.S. Embassy also received reports of sporadic bombings of vehicles and government facilities in the Gash Barka region near Sudan in 2007 and 2008. If travel near the Eritrean-Sudanese border is essential, travelers should consult both the Eritrean authorities and the U.S. Embassy in advance. Foreign travelers who wish to visit any area outside of Asmara must apply at least ten days in advance for a travel permit from the Eritrean government.
U.S. citizens are urged to avoid sailing off the coast of Eritrea. In August 2011, three separate incidents of piracy were reported off the Eritrean coast near the port of Assab. Multiple high-speed skiffs with armed persons onboard continue to attack merchant vessels. If transit around the Horn of Africa is necessary, it is strongly recommended that vessels travel in convoys, maintain good communications contact at all times, and follow the guidance provided by the Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA). U.S. citizens should consult the Maritime Administration’s Horn of Africa Piracy page for information on maritime advisories, self-protection measures, and naval forces in the region.
U.S. citizens are also urged to avoid remote Eritrean islands, some which have Eritrean military facilities.
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CRIME: Crime in Asmara has increased due to deteriorating economic conditions along with persistent food, water, and fuel shortages, and rapid price inflation. Travelers should exercise vigilance in their personal security and take safety precautions regarding the valuables they carry and areas they visit. Eritrean authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate crime or prosecute perpetrators.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law. Do not attempt to take advantage of street or black market exchange in foreign currency. It is illegal and there are extremely stiff penalties. Utilize government exchange at the airport, hotel or bank.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are in Eritrea, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems are vastly different than our own. You may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport or identification with you. It is illegal to take pictures of government buildings. Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail, as could a traffic accident, whether or not you are at fault. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States; for example you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods in Eritrea, even if you are not prosecuted in Eritrea.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Eritrea, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Persons violating Eritrea’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Eritrea are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Arrest notifications in Eritrea: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Eritrea, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. However, in Eritrea, contrary to the Vienna Convention, such requests are not generally granted.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: The Government of Eritrea requires all foreign residents, including diplomats, to apply for travel permits 10 days in advance for travel outside of Asmara city limits. This restriction can delay or prevent the Embassy from providing emergency assistance to U.S. citizens outside of Asmara since U.S. diplomatic personnel are not excluded from this restriction. Travelers should also be aware that travel permits are only valid for the approved final destination and do not allow for additional stops along the way to or in the proximity of the approved destination. In addition, travel to religious institutions, for example monasteries, requires separate travel permission even when such facilities are located in or near approved destination cities. Foreign travelers not adhering strictly to the terms of travel permits have reported being detained by law enforcement authorities, and their drivers have been jailed.
The consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara has been closed for most visa services since February 2007. It is fully open for American Citizen Services in Eritrea, including reports of birth, passports, and notarial services.
Currency exchange on the street is illegal.
Eritrea has complicated citizenship laws and does not recognize renunciation of Eritrean citizenship. Dual nationals who enter the country on Eritrean travel documents are treated as Eritrean citizens, regardless of their other citizenship. U.S. citizens born in Eritrea, or who otherwise are considered to have acquired Eritrean citizenship, may be subject to certain obligations, including being drafted into national service, regardless of the documents they present at entry. (National service is approximately nine months of military training, followed by an often unspecified and open-ended number of years in military or other government service.) In some cases, U.S. citizens of dual nationality and Eritrean Lawful Permanent Residents of the United States have not been allowed to leave Eritrea as they have been drafted into national service.
U.S.-Eritrean dual nationals who enter the country on an Eritrean passport or national ID card must obtain an exit visa prior to departure. The exit visa application process can significantly delay travel plans. Exit visas may be denied, even for persons who entered Eritrea legally. Eritrean dual nationals are required to pay a 2% income tax on overseas earnings to the Eritrean Government prior to being granted an exit visa. Additionally, Eritrean authorities sometimes do not allow Eritreans who left the country after 1993 to depart Eritrea after visiting the country, even if they have a U.S. passport and a valid Eritrean visa.
Dual nationals cannot obtain civil documents such as birth and death certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, educational transcripts, property ownership records, or court records without proof of payment of the 2% income tax. The only exception is for hardship purposes (students and those unable to work) and this must be stated in writing by an Eritrean Embassy abroad only after registering there.
Persons of dual nationality are at risk of being arrested or held without charge for questioning. The Eritrean government does not recognize the U.S. citizenship of dual nationals. It will not inform the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of U.S. citizens, and has not responded favorably to requests by Embassy officials to visit incarcerated U.S. citizens. When arrested, a person may be held for many days without being told the purpose of his or her incarceration. Conditions are harsh – those incarcerated may be held in very small quarters without access to restrooms, bedding, food or clean water. Visitors are advised to exercise caution when taking photographs in Eritrea. Foreigners in Asmara have been harassed and detained by local police and plain-clothes security officials for taking photographs of street scenes in the city. No law has been cited, but the justifications given have been that unmarked government buildings are in the background and/or that the pictures are being taken illegally for commercial reasons.
All foreign nationals in Eritrea are required to apply for permits to travel outside of Asmara. Travel permits must be presented upon request. Although formal police checkpoints no longer exist, persons have been asked to present travel permits at beaches, restaurants, and social events, so lack of formal police checkpoints should not discourage travelers from legally obtaining a travel permit. Persons have been jailed for not being able to show a valid travel permit. Applications for travel permits are available at the two Ministry of Tourism offices located on Harnet Avenue and Airport Road.
Accessibility: While in Eritrea, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation limited, although the government is committed to equal access for the handicapped. Eritrea is not able to comply with ADA standards but there are more accommodations for handicapped persons in Eritrea than in most developing countries. The majority of persons using wheelchairs do so in the streets rather than on the sidewalks, due to lack of sidewalks. Pedestrians must also often walk on the street for the same reason.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities and physicians in Eritrea are limited. In 2010, the Eritrean government closed all private medical clinics and laboratories. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventative medicines because pharmaceuticals may be in short supply. Food and water-borne illnesses are very common among travelers, so drink only bottled or purified water and eat foods that are cooked or peeled. Malaria and dengue fever are serious risks to travelers in the lowlands of Eritrea, particularly during the rainy season (November to February). One of the worst dengue fever outbreaks in recent Eritrean history occurred during the winter of 2009-10 in Massawa. Asmara, because of its altitude, is generally considered free of these mosquito-borne illnesses. Travelers to the lowlands are urged to carry mosquito repellent and mosquito nets, especially during the rainy season.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out BEFORE you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Eritrea, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. According to the World Health Organization’s first report on global road safety in September 2009, Eritrea’s roads are deadly. The roads between major cities (Asmara, Massawa, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Barentu, and Keren) are paved and in relatively good condition, though winding mountain roads do not generally have guardrails. Secondary roads and roads in remote areas are usually unpaved and in poor condition. U.S. citizens should avoid traveling on these roads, especially at night. Bad weather can also make the condition of poor roads worse. If you must take unpaved roads, check first with local government and village officials as new minefields continue to be discovered. Even in Asmara city, some road surfaces have deteriorated to dangerous conditions. Eritreans are found travelling on foot nearly everywhere due to lack of transportation, often dressed in dark clothing and in unlit areas at night, which creates unpredictable and dangerous situations on roads. Street lighting may not exist in some locations, and power outages continue to leave some neighborhoods in the dark. Speed limits may not be obeyed. Travelers should check with the Embassy of Eritrea regarding drivers’ license requirements prior to your traveling to Eritrea.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance litter the countryside in many areas, occasionally causing injuries and deaths. Although the UN conducted de-mining efforts until late 2007, evidence of new mines has been reported, particularly in areas near the Ethiopian border. All areas that are not well traveled are potentially dangerous due to live mines, especially north and west of Keren. There are also minefields near Massawa, Ghinda, Agordat, Barentu, south of Tessenae, Nakfa, Adi Keih, Arezza, Dekemhare, and in a roughly 40-kilometer (24.8 mile) wide region just west of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border between the Setit and Mereb Rivers.
Many Eritreans use inexpensive public transportation, especially bus service. Travelers should avoid taking buses due to extreme over-crowding. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Asmara, but usually carry multiple passengers along pre-defined routes. If an empty taxi is available, a customer may request a "contract" taxi, which accepts no additional passengers, for a higher fixed price. Drivers should be aware of heavy and erratic pedestrian, livestock, and bicycle traffic obstructing vehicle flow. Children and the elderly sometimes wander into the path of moving traffic, as do slow, motorized carts. Elderly or disabled people may not always yield to faster moving traffic.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Eritrea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government of Eritrea’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Eritrea dated November 7, 2011 to update sections on Threats to Safety and Security, Crime, Special Circumstances, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.