Visa fun

So this post is more for the future PULSE assignees. Many of us have had issues with Visas no matter what country you are going to. You can do all the research that you like and get support from external parties but if you have a country that has recently changed their rules then it is likely that there are very few people who know that new process. So as of 2015 here is some advice on applying to work here in Ethiopia. Please note that even after i first wrote this blog they have changed the rules again, and sometimes it can just depend on who you see. Nothing is set in stone.

So there are two visa options that you can go with; a business visa or a work permit.

Pros Cons
Business Visa ·      After initial 30 days you can renew for a further 30 days then 15 then 10 (total 85 days)

·      Please note this changed in November and they were only offering 10 days. They may have changed this after the problems they had with this. I was lucky i got 60 days!!

·      Limits you to 30 days

·      Is Single Entry only

·      After 85 days you must return to home country.

·      There is no certainty that they will renew a visa extension

·      With all the extensions and return home it will not reach the full 6 months.

Work Permit ·      Will give you multi entry to the country

·      Will give you entitlement to be in country for whole duration of assignment.

·      You can also get Resident permit which will give you discount on internal travel and accommodation.

·      Your NGO may not be able to carry out the process.

·      It is a long and complicated process


Firstly you want to check has your NGO had international volunteers before? Or, are they willing to go through the ‘Work Permit’ process? If the answer is no then it isn’t the end of the world, you just have to plan your return home strategically and go down the ‘Business Visa’ route.

Whichever option that you go for to start with you have to get a business visa from your home countries embassy. I recommend that you check your country first but for me dealing with London it goes like this;

Business Visa: Documents required; ‘Visa application form’ downloaded from Ethiopian Embassy website, Passport photos (you only need one but get many as you will need them for later), copy of passport plus actual passport, copy of details of return flight, Invitation letter from NGO (have this letter emphasis that you are a volunteer and that you are supported by GSK. I can provide a template if the NGO needs help), finally you need a copy of the Ethiopian immigration form (details below on how to get this). You will also need the payment in cash at present this is £42. You can post all of this down or you can go direct into the office which is walking distance from South Kensington tube station. You can only apply for 30 days business visa, note that this time starts from when they stamp not from when you arrive in the country. Also note that this is single entry only so if you leave the country you will need to start the above process again.

Immigration form: Your NGO needs to go to the immigration in Addis Ababa. They must complete the invitation to country form; have a copy of their invitation letter, copy of the NGOs licence (they need to take original plus their stamp). Once this is signed off the immigration people will send a copy to the embassy which you have stated as yours and to the NGO. The NGO must forward this onto you also so you can take to the embassy.

Renewing. Once you are in the country and your 30days have expired you need to go to the Ethiopian immigration and have with you; passport plus copy, NGOs invitation letter. Note: take as much documentation with you as it can change on a daily basis. If possible take an Amharic speaker with you to ease the process. You will have to go to several points firstly pick up a new form, complete this while in queue at next point. Once they stamp this you will need to go up the steps through security to the next section go to room 79 where you will get picture taken, then to room 98 to pay your $60. You will then need to come back and collect your passport and new visa in a few days time.

So with your initial 30days, plus your 30 days extension you can then do 15 days then 10 days before you have to leave the country to start the whole process all over again. (Manalbutt)

Work Permits: This is the dream for most people. You can only apply for this once you are in the country with your business visa. You apply through the ministry of Labour & Social Affairs, the documents you will require are: Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs form x3, 4 passport photos, passport plus copy, Letter from MWECS, letter from GSK (stating volunteering), MOU signed between the NGO & GSK, NGO licence, Education qualifications and or CV, plus a letter from the FMOH (or whichever ministry your NGO is linked to). The GSK letter plus copies of your qualifications need to be certified through E&Y. I recommend that you get this completed before leaving; this can take up to a week to be completed.

Once you have all your documentation you will take this to the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs who will ask you to return in 10 days (ensure you have enough days on your visa). As i was unable to get the final letter from the FMOH i was not able to continue with my application. My understanding is that you pay $xx amount to the ministry, you then take this to the immigration office pay some more but you then can get a work permit and a green residence card which lets you in and out of the country as you wish.


When i went a few weeks back to ask for my 30 day extension and was told i could only get 10 and then out there was much panic going on in my head, but then you just have to think ok we can get around this, with much persuasion from me and with the help of my Amharic speaking colleague we were passed to several different people. I started scenario planning, but ended up being very lucky and receiving a very rare 60 days (celebration time) Although this was a few days earlier than planned it was better than the 10 days, i am hoping that i can get a tourist visa at the end. But hey, i have scenario options in my head just in case.

If you speak to many PULSE volunteers they have all had challenges with visas, once in country you will also get to hear stories, just know you aren’t alone and you just have to become resilient. Good luck.


  1. Hey Kaye
    Totally agree with you. As current volunteers, we should compile our experience on visa applications for the next volunteers. I fed this back to the PULSE team too.
    For Nigeria, it was a struggle with a few of us working together trying to figure out a process that seemed complex, but was fairly straight forward. For Rwanda, I did not bring originals of all the documents, so ended up with 2 x 3months visas, potentially missing out on a residents permit and some resident discounts.

  2. I was a Pulse volunteer in Kenya in 2012 and your story brings back memories of trying to obtain a work permit. I travelled in and out of the country 3 times and worried about being stopped by customs. I never obtained a work permit and was contacted that it was approved two months after my assignment ended.

  3. Great information here. I obtained my visa myself for Asia. Thankfully I live near Washington DC as it took three trips to complete. However here the work visa means nothing. They go by the passport stamp. Every 59 days I must leave the country and return. If you overstay, it can be revoked and a stamp goes in your passport saying you didn’t follow immigration law. It’s sad that the countries that need the most help make it the most difficult to get a VISA for!

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